Seeds, solidarity and synergy: A visit from Samia Nkrumah
25 February 2015
When we found that Food Sovereignty Ghana had elected to send Samia Nkrumah to represent them at Take Back Our World, I was aware that it was a bit of a scoop. She is a key food sovereignty and anti-GM spokesperson and one of few politicians to speak out about the dangers of corporate controlled seeds in Africa. And she is also the daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, renowned independence leader and Ghana’s first post-colonial president.
Whilst drafting her timetable around our conference we knew it was a great opportunity to show her what food sovereignty projects we have here in the UK. We were also keen to give the opportunity to Pan-African organisations in London to hold an event specifically for them. Since we already had her committed to a conference that was all about us, we decided we would organise the Pan–African event in a very hands off manner. So I found some great co-hosts: Community Shared Knowledge, Goldsmiths Pan-African Society, Pan–Africanist Magazine, and Student Action for Global Justice Internationalist Society and went about getting the word out.
So, soon after she arrived off a plane from Accra, I found myself discussing Ghanaian politics with Samia as we travelled up to Organiclea, an agroecological workers co-op in North East London.
It is always great to connect international food sovereignty delegates with Organiclea. Last year, we took Janet Maro who runs Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania, to do a skill share there. They have managed to build an energetic, inclusive and overtly political project which offers a practical vision of what food sovereignty could look like in the UK. Elizabeth and Darren, who run their system change and outreach programmes (part of what makes Organiclea so great), gave Samia a tour around their 12 acres. They showed her their amazing glass houses (already utilising the winter sun to produce rocket), the south facing vineyard, and the terraces of food trees, fruit bushes and brassicas.
After the tour we settled into the strangely hypnotic task of seed harvesting. This involved separating last years’ precious seeds away from the chaff, getting them ready for the spring planting season. This small job was specifically chosen as symbolic task to represent the fight Ms Nkrumah and the rest of the food sovereignty movement in Ghana have against the Monsanto law. As I sat, fiddling with delicate chicory seeds, I was distinctly aware of what Ghanaian farmers could lose if this law was passed. A right as simple as saving and swapping seeds would be threatened as corporations privatise the seed supply and push their own hybrid varieties onto future generations. To top the symbolism off, by chance, Samia ended up saving seeds from a plant that Janet Maro gave Organiclea in a seed swap last April. Genetic information weaving its way between struggles for food sovereignty from Tanzania to Chingford and then back again to Ghana.
Samia had a big impact at Take Back Our World. We had to turn people away from her session it was so full. One of her key messages was that the African independence movement is not over. The wave of neo-colonial influence has bought up many of Africa’s leaders and the neoliberal consensus still holds strong. “The worse you think of politicians, the more you should become political" she said as she tried to agitate for the politics of the alternative. For this she said “we need to complete the unfinished business of independence - control of our resources and our economy”.
The Pan-African event ended up being so packed that we had to change rooms. Samia spoke alongside Esther Stanford-Xosei from the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe and Sebastian Ordoñez Muñoz from Inter Community Forum. They all spoke passionately about the need to connect struggles in Africa and with those in the diaspora. As the names and legacies of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Julius Nyerere were avidly discussed, some identified a leadership deficit in the pan-african movement whilst others questioned the need for leaders at all.
The evening ended in a hubbub of conversation and planning. What felt good was that a number of attendees mentioned how great it was that an NGO had been part of organising an event that was so hands off. This is a model that we will look into in the future. Specifically as it is really important to work with diaspora communities rather than speak for them.
Now that Samia has flown home, all in all it has been a great solidarity visit from our allies in Ghana. Can’t wait to see what projects they have in store for us!