Monday, August 7, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fwd: Dismounting LonerTude

From: "Akwasi Aidoo" <>
To: "Akwasi Aidoo" <>
Subject: Dismounting LonerTude

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

I recently received a pertinent poem from an old Comrade in the struggle for freedom, Prof. Issa Shivji, which I'm sharing with you.

Prof. Issa Shivji is one of the most prominent academics, scholars, public intellectuals and thought leaders in Africa. I first met him when we both taught at the University of Dar es Salaam in the 1980s, and he had a huge positive influence on a whole generation of African scholars. He was among the leaders of what was then called the Dar es Salaam School of progressive scholarship.  He's now head of the Nyerere Resource Center.  I had no idea he was also a poet until a few years ago. How delighted I am!

The poem is pertinent because it portends one possible outcome of these politically depressing times for those of us who might want to give up on collective action/response. And it somehow also reminds me a bit of the American sociological classic, The Lonely Crowd, which came out in 1950 and is still considered by some as "the most influential book of the 20th Century."

Now, the poem (followed by a few comments):

Lament of a Loner

by Issa G. Shivji


Never the morning starts

Never a dew on grass

Never the chirping of birds

Never the song of Sangeeta

Never sayings of savant.


Never a smile on the face

Never the warmth of the weird

Never the laughter of the looney

Never the soliloquy of the learned

Never a wisp of the wasp


Alienated from hope

Alienated from thought

Life lonesome

Life of silent lament

Clearly, even though a "loner" is technically defined as "a person who prefers not to associate with others," it's also a state of being that comes at a deep and high cost. And it may sometimes be even resorted to against our real will. In times like this when the going gets tough, the tough doesn't always get going, and the progressive refrain, "organize, don't agonize", may not be an easy choice. We instinctively turn off the television and radio to avoid more depressing news, we block contacts on our WhatsApp to reduce the stress of increasing negative social media items, we ignore even friends' emails & text messages, we personalize too many wrongs and decide to never forgive friends and loved ones who've erred against us, on and on and on... Perfectly understandable and even justified!

But then what? Pain and more pain. Imprisonment against the gifts and refreshments of nature (the morning starts, dew on grass, chirping of birds, wisp of the wasp).  Dormancy of humanity's inner assets (smile, laughter, soliloquy of the learned, song of Sangeeta, sayings of savant). Disconnect with the redeeming or harmless qualities of social abnormality (warmth of the weird, laughter of the looney). No future and agency (alienated from hope, alienated from thought). Even the lament is silent... with no one to listen or hear.

One image that all of this brings to mind is an old photo that a dear friend & colleague gave me a decade and half ago. It's a photo of the sleeping place of the person who was once considered "the greatest poet of the 20th Century in any language", Pablo Neruda. Like most creative people he cherished the quiet moments when he wrote, but the photo (attached) shows he was open even in those times to embrace nature and all.

And here are two danceable song to cap it all ~ a call to defy creepy LonerTude and to embrace humanity in all of its souls, senses and sensibilities (LOL). The first is by the Tanzanian musician,   and titled Kidela (a name that stands for compassion, generosity and creativity) ~ the song also has a Ghanaian dance form called Azonto, which is the title of the 2nd song.


With Peace & Love!

Akwasi (getting back into my cave.. Just kidding!)

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