Y'all know how I go on and on and on about the patriarchy. Believe it or not, I actually appreciate some elements of patriarchy when they are done right. Just because I am a feminist doesn't mean I am immune from my own cultural conditioning, hey, and besides one should always be aware of the distances between the ideals we hold and the realities we inhabit.
This week's article is dedicated to the the very many Africanist pretenders towards the title of "Father"- be that Father of the Nation or any other non-familial paternalistic ambition. An elderly client of mine once invited me to call him "Baba" as opposed to Mzee, or Sir or any number of alternative titles that I always have on hand. I had to politely decline the honor for a simple reason: there is only one man in this lifetime whom I called that and the title died with him. That word has...weight.*
So, you can imagine how unamused I am whenever people inappropriately baptize our leaders 'Father'- especially when the posts they occupy are electoral ones (not even hereditary, jamani!). Eti I voted you in and then I call you Daddy? Not likely, mate. It is a cultural conflation I despise. As republics, we must guard against this mother-father business and refuse to infantilize ourselves in relationships of power.
That said: I met a total patriarch about a week ago...and it wasn't the worst. Coming to The East African sometime next week, a musing about Bemba royalty:
"I leave you with this little note on patriarchy: Senior Chief Nkula's pronouncement upon his ascension to Chiefdom- and I paraphrase, like, massively- was something along the lines of: “I shall expose my breasts so that my children may feed from them, abundantly.” That our strongest men, our wisest leaders and our most peaceful countries are the ones that admire and adopt qualities of motherhood is a source of pride to me not only as a feminist, but as an Africanist. May our mother continent feed us abundantly. May we thrive."
HRH** Nkula confirmed my long-held belief that the best Fathers know enough to be in touch with their feminine side and appreciate what it does to enhance their leadership. Strength-through nurture, people, strength through nurture. If you want to be called a Daddy, be worthy of the title. #clears throat.#
*Turns out the only other guy I naturally call Baba is my nephew, but there isn't enough space in this blogpost to weave in a discussion about names, inter-generational practices and African terms of affection.
**Dodged a bullet here, folks, the proper form of address is "Your Royal Highness." No need for Baba or Tata or any other controversial-to-me titles.