The Africa Speaks conference looks to the future of “Africa in the ‘Z’ Age”

On Feb. 21, the McGill African Students’ Society (MASS), in collaboration with the African Studies Students’ Association of McGill (ASSA), opened their annual two-day Africa Speaks conference with a panel called “Wathint’Abafazi, Wathint’Imbokodo,” focusing on the feminist movement across the African continent. 

Sukoluhle Bhebhe, ASSA co-president, introduced the panel by explaining the meaning behind its name. 

“Wathint’Abafazi, Wathint’Imbokodo is a Zulu phrase that means, ‘When you strike a woman, you strike a rock,’” Bhebhe explained. “It symbolizes the power and agency that South African women [resisting apartheid] had [….] The involvement of women within [anti-apartheid] struggle is often overlooked, so I felt that it was necessary to title this panel with this phrase.” 

The panel featured speakers Chloe Kemeni, U4 Arts, Ommu-Kulsoom J. Abdul-Rahman, BA’19 and President of My Voice Matters, and Djamilla Toure, founder of SAYASPORA

The panel began with all three panelists defining what feminism meant to them. In Kemeni’s view, feminism is still a very white movement. 

“Feminism, as a whole, is very white, and there are caveats, like Black feminism, where we inject other people’s experiences but, […] as a whole, it has harmed more people than it benefited,” Kemeni said. “Feminism still centres itself [on] white experiences [….] The way to combat [white feminism] is to embody teachings that are more [inclusive] to my experiences and those of the women I’m surrounded by.” 

Each panelist brought up the ways in which African feminism differed from white feminism. Toure cited white feminism’s main failure as the attempt to funnel feminism through a one-dimensional lens. 

“I don’t think that we will ever all be on the same page,” Toure said. “We’re all different as women, we all have different versions of what success, wellbeing, and wellness means to us, as well as what we want to stand for and against. We will not always be on the same page.” 

Abdul-Rahman referenced her Muslim identity to highlight how one’s experiences can influence their focuses as activists. 

“The issue that comes with feminism is when we all try to be on the same page,” Abdul-Rahman said. “Your lived experiences and the things that inform your feminism differ based on who you are. Difference should make us stronger.”

MASS and ASSA continued the conference with a panel on the next day to discuss present political and economic shifts in Africa. 

The panelists encouraged Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010, to embrace the history of the continent while striving for a more united future. 

Dr. Khalid Medani, Chair of the African Studies Program at McGill, began the conversation contextualizing the recent challenges faced by the continent. Medani urged Generation Z to seek further unity between African states.

“It is crucial to defend against a new form of imperialism and limiting economic sovereignty,” Medani said. “[This] requires unity. [This] requires cooperation.” 

In 2013, the African Union adopted Agenda 2063, which outlined a set of specific goals to help grow Africa’s influence and solidarity. Panelists were asked for their thoughts on how Agenda 2063 can be most effectively implemented. Dr. Nii Addy, Assistant Professor at the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), responded by referring to the crucial relationship between youth and elders. 

“The elders have experiences, and there are certain things they have gone through,” Addy said. “If [Generation Z] does not know [these experiences], they will make the same mistakes again.” 

For Dr. Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey, Assistant Professor of Post-Reconstruction US History, Africa’s aspirations for global recognition and equality have remained the same for over a century. Adjetey cautions against blind optimism, but places hope in Generation Z moving forward. 

“Agenda 2063 won’t mean anything if the most important thing doesn’t happen, which is an incredible, revolutionary paradigm shift,” Adjetey said. “And the great thing about [Generation Z] is that [they are] amenable to change. [They are] optimistic and hopeful.” 

Adjetey finished his thoughts by reflecting on the urgency of mass societal change. 

“[There are] little boys or little girls on the streets of Nairobi […] who are [selling] bubble gum when they should be in school learning,” Adjetey said. “Do you know how much talent we have on this continent that is never realized?”

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