Originally commissioned and published by the Free Word Centre

The average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years

– United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2011

“It is genocide. I accuse the oil companies of practising racism because they do in Ogoni what they do not do in other parts of the world.”
– Ken Saro-Wiwa, 1993

The story of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta is one of severe injustice.

Before oil was first discovered in commercial quantities by Shell in 1956, the Niger Delta, home to approximately 31 million people and over 40 ethnic groups, was sustained by a system of rich agriculture and natural resource. Inhabitants also benefited from one of the largest and most important wetlands and marine ecosystems in the world, with an estimated 75% of the Niger Delta population relying on the environment for farming and fishing as a means of sustaining their livelihoods.

It is crucial to remember that though oil production began in 1956, imperialist structures, stemming from the beginning of the twentieth century, facilitated this process. In 1937, under the rule of the British Empire, Shell was given exploration rights to the whole of Nigeria. Therefore, though the discovery of oil was thought to increase the wealth of Nigeria, in a global market desperate for crude oil, the move to oil production wasn’t based on the needs of the indigenous communities of the Niger Delta, but rather part of the expansion of British imperialist powers, which have continued to the current day.

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Previously published by Red Pepper.

assata-autobioAssata Shakur is the US government’s hangover. Many black political activists of the 1960s and 70s were systematically targeted by the FBI, falsely convicted and at times killed in order to destabilise the black power movement. However, after being convicted of killing a police officer in 1977, Assata’s escape from a similar fate remains a defiant and symbolic act of resistance. Though the evidence of the murder trial, both forensic and medical, is overwhelmingly in Assata’s favour (there were no traces of gun residue on her fingers, no fingerprints on the gun in question and with the injuries sustained from being shot at three times it would have been impossible to shoot at the police officer), she is considered a threat to the US government and is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list. Forty years on, Assata Shakur is still a dangerous woman.

With this in mind, it’s clear that Assata: An Autobiography, republished by Zed Books in July, is as imperative a read and powerful a defence against the FBI’s ongoing claims as it was in the year of its original publication in 1987. The autobiography begins at the shootout involving the police officer and from there Assata takes us through her subsequent legal battles. This is interspersed with emotionally charged poetry and recollections of formative experiences throughout her life, which lead up to her political awakening and involvement in the black power movement. In the final chapter, she brings us up to the 1987 present day – having escaped from prison, she is living in Cuba.

Through Assata’s experiences, we are invited to look directly into the mechanisms of power and the measures the US government has taken to uphold its winners and subjugate its losers. She shows us how the police, backed by the FBI, operate with impunity under the guise of neutralising ‘black nationalist hate groups’, while Assata, much like her black radical counterparts of the time, is systematically targeted and vilified for an array of fictitious crimes. The language used by US officials offers a critical case study in systemic power and denigration. The parallel between the public depiction of Assata and her eloquence and compassion is palpable throughout the autobiography. Words used by the police and media to describe her, such as ‘threat’ and ‘enemy of the state’, create a reductive caricature of a woman seeking justice and equality.

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Ten years ago we’d never heard of names like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. And yet today, for many, they are modern pillars of daily communication. Social media has become an omnipresent host to our daily interactions with 72% of all internet users now active on some form of social media. We have an array of social media outlets to suit every kind of action, personality type and human expression- both newsworthy and banal – and our engagement online is increasingly unwavering; we send around 500 million tweets per day and spend on average around 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on Facebook, for example.

Social media has revolutionised the way we disseminate and receive information. While there are benefits to this, how does it affect the way we communicate with each other, who we choose to interact with and most of all how we feel? The video, The Innovation of Loneliness (above) is an effective and terrifying short film that in its essence presents us with the hard contradictory truth we’ve been avoiding; while we’ve never been so well ‘connected’ we have never felt so lonely. Read More

First published on the RSA blog


Open-Book1When was the last time you read a good literary book? Or recommended one? Though a staple for some, reading a good novel increasingly feels like a luxury not all of us can afford in the midst of busy schedules and digital distraction.  Additionally, in a time where literary novel sales are declining and libraries are closing, it’s clear that our appreciation for the literary masterpiece is waning. It also seems as if children are beginning to mirror our increasing disengagement with literature; according to the National Literary Trust, only 40% of children aged 8-16 read daily in 2005, a figure which dropped to 30% in 2011 and by a further 2% in 2012.

However, a study in Science journal connects reading literary fiction with Theory of Mind; the ability to emphasise, imagine and understand the mental states of others. As part of the study, one group were given excerpts of literary fiction, while other groups read popular fiction and non-fiction. When finished, participants were asked to take a test to assess and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. Interestingly, there were stark differences between those who had read literary fiction and those who had read non-fiction. Those who read the literary fiction excerpts exhibited increased levels of empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Participants who had read excerpts of popular fiction were also deemed less able to connect empathically.

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Originally published here in the Guardian

A young woman holding the EU flagUkip’s recent rise in popularity and the increased fervour behind talks of an EU referendum has placed the matter of the UK’s future within Europe at the forefront of the mainstream agenda. But when I read these headlines, something just doesn’t ring true. David Cameron’s claim that the people of Britain are unhappy with the relationship between Britain and the EU does not reflect my own experiences – or those of my peers.

I studied as an Erasmus student in both France and Italy. Not only did I come away fluent in two languages, but this experience informs my outlook in all kinds of ways – whether by informing my ability to translate reports for work or by giving me a lasting sense of snobbery for inauthentic Italian restaurants back in the UK.

A recent report from the Fabian Society shows that the majority of the 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed claimed they would vote yes to EU membership in a referendum. Far from donning rose-tinted glasses about the current state of the EU, the report reveals that the majority of young people, despite economic instability and the burgeoning eurozone crisis, still feel positive about the UK’s involvement within the EU.

What’s clear here is there is a discrepancy between Ukip’s and the Tories’ anti-Europe rhetoric, and the views of the pro-European majority among the younger UK generation. Why do rightwing political parties continue to dismiss young people’s views – and the potential to be gained from staying within the EU for younger generations? Read More

The film Black Power Mixtape is a look back in history to the struggles of the US civil rights movement, with footage from 1967 to 1975. Retrieved from the depths of Swedish television archives, the film is a collection of interviews, images and commentary by Swedish journalists of the time. Directed by Göran Olsson, it pays fitting tribute to the power of documentary and, from a contemporary point of view, demonstrates the dividends of documentation in the midst of struggle and political activism.

Using footage shown in chronological order, the film gives an insight to the visions of different pivotal activists in the black power movement. Interviews and speeches with leading figures prove both touching and powerful. Activist Stokely Carmichael’s sharp turn of phrase, in the context Read More