Today I’m thinking of painted halos. A metaphor, see? How the crowned are throned and made into angels . . . people with halos painted by other people without.
Of sheroes, I may have found one in a political leader. Is such a thing at all possible? Do politicians today without painted halos exist? Politicians? They are scary for true. Their plasticity. Their shape-shifting toothy lies. Their cold, stern, power-driven philosophies. I’m wondering. We in Africa have known and seen great freedom fighters, great thinkers, great human beings. Most lived embattled lives until their early deaths (usually by murder). Thinking tonight about this could-be-a-shero and her dance of fire.
Since ancient times, dance in Africa has been a rigorous discipline, artistry indivisible from life’s rhythm. Instruction to learn a dance is a long, long process over years and years of study. A dance draws on the elements; the natural world; the spiritual world; the dancer’s soul divinity. To see a dancer glide is to witness craft honed through arduous dedication.
My could-be-a-shero’s name is Manjerngie Cecelia Ndebe. During a peaceful protest vigil, tear gassed by the new US-trained special security police, she was arrested, dragged to jail, incarcerated without charges for hours. Her dance of fire was in the streets, baptized in the blood of those murdered by the police: The bony hungry protesters weakened by malnutrition, outraged at their condition. Her dance of fire was in a filthy jail cell.
Said Martin Luther King, Jr., “I am not afraid to go to jail for justice.” This is the dance of fire Manjerngie Ndebe danced. She knew the costs. Regardless, she danced to the elements dodging bullets. Sheroic. There may be other deeper reasons, too, why she, the Standard Bearer of a registered political party (the Liberia Reconstruction Party) was manhandled and snatched off the streets. In an open letter, she boldly challenged Ellen Loj, the head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Her burning words (excerpted):
“Through the war and now in the name of peacekeeping, the international community has created jobs for its member country citizens in various capacities like experts, GEMAP, UNMIL, UNDPD, USAID, International Contact Group, EU, and many others without paying income taxes to Liberia while many Liberians are unemployed.
“The international community brought in GEMAP September 2006 and under its continual monitoring and control, Liberia has been rated among the top corrupt countries of the world. The oil wells on the coastlines of Liberia have been given to companies of member countries of GEMAP through corrupt legislative bills written and forced on the Liberian Legislature for passage by the international community that came in to protect us from corruption.
“Through the Diamonds for Development bill of 2006, the international community also gained unlawful access to our diamonds, gold, precious metals, precious wood, and other natural resources by corrupt means that the elections has been rigged to protect.
“The expenditure on the salaries, benefits, and logistics of UN and other international organizations’ staff in Liberia could carry out domestic agenda development in Liberia for 50 years. It is time you all leave Liberia so we can manage our resources and develop our land. If there is peace for eight years while are you still here while UN in the Ivory Coast is leaving already? Is it not because of our oil, diamonds, and other natural resources that you are expanding your stay in Liberia to exploit?
“With your recommendation and control Liberia’s security is under foreign command against our constitution and armed robberies in Monrovia are high while our borders, sea, and resources are exploited by all of you. We are the only democracy in the world without our army defending our cause and a foreign chief of staff against our constitution is in place that Madam Loj has never condemned.
“UNMIL continues to be here not for the protection of Liberians or Liberian peace but for the protection of foreign exploitation of our resources and to suppress justice and the rule of law. UNMTL Headquarters are not accessible to Liberians and to enter there, security checks are worse than at international airports.”
Who is this woman, this fire dancer, this modern day Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti? We will see. May the dance not be too arduous. May she not crack a rib, or lose her life. May her halo prove to be unpainted.
Mwetana: We Are Moving