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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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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

I am by no means rich. And where I understand that actually, on a global scale I am rolling in it, on a day-to-day basis the local market will always prevail over the highbrow food court. I am more Tesco (forgive me) than Waitrose and I am not above the odd splurge at Poundland (for that I am not sorry).  I try to be careful with my money and if you’d have spoken to me before Live Below the Line,  I’d have told you with sincerity that I by no means take money for granted.

Live Below the Line is a new and challenging campaign that aims to raise awareness of the estimated 1.4 billion people who are trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty. The challenge is to live on £1 a day for five days, the same amount that someone living in abject poverty in the UK would have to survive on. The idea is to put yourself directly in the place of those living in extreme poverty in the UK so that it becomes something you can’t switch off and push aside at will, but a living reality. Read More

April saw the much debated burka ban come into effect in France. With reported acts of resistance already underway, the ban means that women seen wearing the burka and niqab (full Islamic veils) in public can receive a €150 fine or a French citizenship course.

Considered a violation of human rights and a slur against Muslims by many of its critics, the law in itself makes no explicit reference to the burka or niqab. In fact it’s the absurd elephant in the room as the law, labelled  ‘prohibiting the concealing of the face in public’, oddly makes no direct mention of women or the veil in what can only be assumed as a misguided attempt to appear neutral.

However there is no doubt that the estimated 2000 Muslim women who wear the burka in France have been targeted here. Deemed a ‘sign of subservience’, by French president Sarkozy, the niqab and burka have been growing sources of contention in France for years.  With many other European countries such as Belgium and Holland threatening to jump on the bandwagon, we have to ask ourselves; will this ban actually solve anything? Read More