The number of African immigrants arriving to the United States has roughly doubled each decade since the 1970s. There are almost 2 million African immigrants currently living in the U.S., accounting for about 4.5% of the immigrant population. Although this is not a large number, they have the fastest growth rate of any immigrant group. Almost half of all Africans are Muslim, which means a notable portion of the African immigrants arriving to the U.S. each year are too. This is significant considering Trump’s stance on Muslims in the United States.
Under a Trump administration, there would certainly be a reduction in the number of refugee and asylum statuses granted, including to Muslims seeking protection from fundamentalism in their home countries. The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, almost 40,000. Most of them were from the Middle East, however, and I have not been able to find numbers on African Muslim refugees. Trump argues that allowing Muslims into the U.S. puts the country at risk for terrorist attacks, although there is no evidence that this is true. Anecdotally, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by those on student visas or those with long-time ties, including citizenship.
Cutting off a safety route to Muslims who are seeking to separate themselves from the homelands that have oppressed them is exactly the opposite of what a security-minded Trump should be doing to minimize terrorism. By allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., we strengthen ties to global Islamic communities, improve our image, and separate disaffected Muslims from the places that foster malcontent towards Americans. African countries from which the U.S. would be wise to accept more immigrants include those with growing extremist tendencies, e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, and Mali. Barring such individuals’ entry into the U.S. system keeps them in fundamentalist locations, where they can then live with a much more jaded view of the West.
These are all hypothetical concerns because, although Trump will be arguably the most powerful head of state in the world, bureaucracies are still bureaucracies. He will (hopefully) still have to make such inhospitable immigration changes within the confines of a government slow to change. He will be bolstered by a Republican Congress, but it is yet to be determined how much GOP support he will enjoy. Since he is divisive among his own party at this point, he may very well get in his own way when it comes to realizing his goals of isolating Muslims from the American mainstream. Let’s hope that is actually the case, that he, and his ill-chosen words, is his own greatest obstacle. If not, if he does what he claims he wants to do, American-Muslim relations can only become more precarious.
I had the lucky timing to arrive to Bane, Nigeria, the hometown of Saro-Wiwa, on a Thursday morning. This was fortunate because every Thursday at 6 a.m. the women of the area, and a few men as well, conduct their weekly prayers and fasting at Saro-Wiwa’s tomb. The event lasts until the afternoon, and includes singing, dancing, reading of bible passages, and even a nap when the temperatures rise. It is a sight to behold, a completely unforgettable experience to be a part of.
Before Saro-Wiwa’s death in 1995, members of the Ogoni movement fasted with him once a week. After his execution the gathering became more popular and community women incorporated prayers to a greater degree. Today, around 25 women continue to gather once a week and it has become almost indistinguishable from a Christian church service. The attendees take turns touching the grave, the language used is derived heavily from the bible, and women refer to Saro-Wiwa as a martyred living Christ. Their purpose in coming together is to pray for another “messiah” (their term) to bring them out of their conditions of poverty. They also spend all day Sunday at church as well, meaning that two whole days per week are spent in worship for some of them. They bring all Ogoni flags designed by Wiwa, all wear matching t-shirts depicting Ogoni pride logos, and some also have matching wrapper tied around their waists. Because of the high level of Ogoni identity inherent in the prayers, I was happily surprised at how open the worshipers were to an outsider like I am. I gave a speech about my interest in Niger Deltan history, answered their questions, and they welcomed me warmly.
The two days per year when the tomb is visited most are November 10, the anniversary of Saro-Wiwa’s death, and Ogoni Day on January 4, which attracted a reported quarter million people on its first celebration in 1993. The grave site is kept locked and sometimes guarded on days other than Thursdays and these two holidays, so my arrival couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
Ken Saro-Wiwa's grave.
Here is a video of the weekly prayers and fasting that take place around the grave of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Bane, Rivers State. After the ceremony, I asked a passerby how the body came to be interred there, since Saro-Wiwa was executed hurriedly and the military regime certainly would not have turned over the body. The man told me this, almost verbatim:
After he was executed on November 10, 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was buried in a mass grave in Port Harcourt cemetery, unmarked. The Ogoni people then used their mysterious powers to exhume the body of Wiwa specifically and take him home. His body was brought back only a few days after his execution and burial. The day they brought his body back, there was very serious rain and nobody could come out, yet some were still able to bring his body back to Bane. He was given this tomb near farmland so that it could be a pilgrimage site for visitation, but also to respect Ogoni beliefs about death. In the Ogoni tradition, anybody who dies under mysterious causes, like drowning in the sea or because of some accident, the family will bury the body away from home, especially by water. This is because the nature of the death was dangerous, so bringing the body to the family compound for burial, as is usual in a natural death, might affect those who are still living in that house.