The Rape of the Mother of Achilles
By Tayo Aluko
“The women had their Achilles tendons cut. So, between rapings, they couldn’t run.”
I heard those awful lines in an amazing play at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre in September 2006, and I haven’t been able to forget them since. The play was called The Overwhelming, and was about the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It was an excellent production, and whilst I wouldn’t describe it as entertainment, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As I said in the discussion after the play, I only wish a lot more people had seen it, instead of being glued to the X Factor, football, or spending the evening in the pubs and clubs that night.
What - those revellers might well have asked - has this got to do with them? Why should modern-day Liverpudlians be interested in the continued savagery and brutality of Africans so many years after their liberation from their colonial masters? And why haven’t they progressed, despite billions in aid, a full two hundred years after one famous white man - if the recent film Amazing Grace is to be believed - single-handedly abolished the slave trade that removed millions of them from their motherlands?
As we all know, slavery is not a thing of the past. And as an undercover Czech reporter revealed (or confirmed) in a recent BBC TV documentary, it is taking place on British shores. Today. Eastern Europeans are being trafficked to the UK, and the fruits of their labour end up on our supermarket shelves.
We also already know - don’t we? - about trafficking from Eastern Europe for the sex industry in Britain. Young East European women are kidnapped and end up as sex slaves in Britain and other countries in Western Europe. What they undergo when they get here is rape, simply and harshly put. And I’m sure some of that goes on behind the beautiful facades of some Liverpool buildings.
From Liverpool and other parts of Britain and Europe, men travel to places like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, where there is a highly developed sex tourist industry specialising in all forms of debauchery. Male and female children - many of them kidnapped by organised gangs, as in Eastern Europe - are the victims of these tourists.
Speaking metaphorically, Africa has been a victim of rape for centuries. For her, being well-endowed with oil, diamonds, coltan, cocoa, copper, rubber and countless other natural assets, has been more of a curse than a blessing. As for the most precious resource of all – her children – they may no longer be forcibly pulled away from her and transported elsewhere in chains, many are now forced to leave her bosom to seek sustenance elsewhere, as they find her breasts sucked dry by others.
Not only has she been - and continues to be - exploited by several nations, including Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, America, and now resource-hungry China, her Achilles tendons have also been cut: her peoples’ humanity and their glorious histories have been buried and denied in order to justify the enslavement of her peoples. This to me is the most cruel crime, and the most painful injury of all.
Africa is humanity’s mother, humanity’s sister. How many Europeans would stand idly by and watch their mother or sister get gang-raped? For centuries, Africans have fought to protect their motherland, and as a consequence, all too many Europeans are buried in African soil the length and breadth of the continent. In today’s versions of those historic battles, the bodies of mostly working-class and underprivileged soldiers are flown home almost daily to Liverpool and other cities from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones. This is as good a reason as any for Liverpudlians to take an interest in what happens in other lands, and a reminder of the fact that inhabitants of those lands want respect and fair trade, not European-style 'democracy' or 'aid'. It is fortunate that European oil workers in trouble spots like Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta region are routinely released alive from regular kidnappings, rather than being summarily executed.
Here in Britain, we see that the system of capitalism which delivers cheap goods to our supermarket shelves using cheap labour - East European, African or whatever, is now also causing the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' to widen more and more, at an alarming and surely unsustainable rate. The longer we allow this system to continue, whether by continuing to partake of the spoils of actual or sexual slavery here or abroad without asking questions, the longer we remain as guilty as the supermarket barons or people traffickers. The nearer we also bring the day when we too join the ranks of those who find themselves raped by 'the system'. Two questions to ask for starters: is the current 'credit crunch' not a symptom and result of this sickness in our society? Is it not in everybody’s interests to individually and collectively fight for justice in whatever way they can?
Back in Rwanda, as the women’s tendons continue to reconnect and heal, hopefully the people – and Africans generally, will also strive to mend the bonds between themselves, broken and kept apart by the greed of people far away (and some in their own midst). Just as importantly, they need to reconnect the chords between themselves and their histories, traditions, humanity and spirituality, in order for Mother Africa to be able to get up off her knees, and with the right and appropriate support, get away from her tormentors and make her way back home to safety. She should not need to run either: in time she will rediscover her defiant, beautiful, dignified African walk.
Nigerian-born Tayo Aluko is an architect, property developer and performer in Liverpool.
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