Elly Omondi Odhiambo is from the Kanyamwa clan of the Luo tradition,a people of Western Kenya.
He has studied,worked and lived in Northern Ireland for nearly twenty years.He has researched and co-written several migrant-themed commissioned reports including Africans West of the Bann and Voices from the global South. He worked on the social and health care needs of migrants in northwest Ireland.
In Kenya, Elly worked did research work and capacity building promoting corporate responsibility and philanthropy.
He wrote a play Did You Come By Boat(2010), which toured the Northwest including the Playhouse theatre in Derry and received good reviews. He has written hundreds of articles in local and international media.He previously contributed opinion articles to the Sentinel in Derry under the tag Out of Africa. Elly has co-founded and chaired migrant community organisations in the North of Ireland.
He currently works in mental health and contributes weekly articles in Belfast Media Group.
THERE is a huge emotional support for Palestine and Israel, depending on who you talk to about the regional conflict there. Here in Belfast, there are some people who articulate their desire for peace no matter what are the consequences. Is it because of their experience of pre- and post-conflict Northern Ireland?
EVERY year, Africa Day is celebrated worldwide on May 25. There are many reasons for such a day. Originally, it was a day to remember Africa’s wonderful stories that are often omitted, the remarkable cultural folklore of the continent and of course the tide of independence from colonialism.
The fashion industry in the UK and Ireland does not have many black models, agents, managers and companies in the world of the catwalk. Fashion icon Naomi Campbell said this. So in metropolitan areas, there is a tendency for ambitious young black men and women to do start-ups in the business. Most of them make it obvious that they are targeting young ethnic minorities, especially black women and girls, to walk down the catwalk because in their world they have not been recognised in the same way that black athletes, musicians, actors and other genres of life have succeeded. So, in the big cities, there are fashion enthusiasts, investors and fans who have the African or black couture on their to-do list, every year. They just can’t wait to get things up and running again after the long lockdown is finally over. It will be new energy for Anne Njeri, a very beautiful, brainy and smart working woman from Kenya who entered her name in the Miss/Mrs Africa UK 2020/2021 pageant. Anne has a background in the energy industry but fashion is her passion. She says it is not a beauty contest only, in fact it is mostly about how one impacts society and their drive to change things. Anne has a lot of confidence that she is making a name for her family, village, country and above all telling the human race that they must put philanthropy into practice, helping where they can the poverty stricken around the world. She is too polite to say whether she will emerge the winner in the July 2021 competition. Anne lives in Armagh and loves everything about the city and its people. She is married to an Irishman and they have a beautiful young daughter. At 38, she believes that life is just beginning and no one disputes that of course given her stunning young looks and positive outlook on life. In her own words, Anne says that the people of Armagh are warm and good craic. Wait until she comes to Belfast! The craic’s is even better – Barack Obama himself said it. In 2019 when Anne landed in the North for the first time via Heathrow, she had many culture shocks that in this interview she feels that she must share. Everything was so confusing to her and their little baby. The daughter stayed on her laps for the entire journey from Kenya. Being a very sociable person, she thought that at the airport shaking hands with a total stranger was just a given. On the dining table everywhere she went, the foods were a whole new world; Anne didn’t know what she had got herself into. Mentally, she wasn’t unhappy – that little feeling that she had of a fish out of water. “After staying here in Armagh for a short time I was learning the local lingua, it was surprising to me that someone says they are calling and I thought that’s fine, yes, you’re phoning me. I found out later what that meant that they would be visiting me,” she tells me. “Also, unlike in Kenya, when someone visits you here you are not obliged to give them a meal, I found that very strange. I also had to get used to carrying the baby around in a pram and then a stroller, never ending. In Africa we carry our babies on our backs, I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so many strollers. “I miss the madness of the music and jive in our public transport in Kenya, the matatu taxi, I miss those buses but I like the way the buses keep time here.” This is the place where Anne has met up with a thing called soda bread yet it is nothing to do with the soda drink. Don’t even mention wheaten bread because for her, the African loaf may have been bland but she misses it.Let us welcome Anne.
WE are celebrating Africa Week in between lockdown protocols. In 2020 the anniversary was eventually cancelled in many parts of the world because of the Covid-19 lockdown.Is there anything to celebrate this year?
MERCY Muroki, a young Oxford research graduate. was on TV discussing the unpopular recent race report by Dr Tony Sewell CBE for the British Government. She has been vilified for her controversial stance as a commissioner on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Kenyan-born Muroki, at 25 years old probably the youngest of the 11 commissioners, has been speaking on behalf of the Commission at every given media opportunity to stress that Britain is not at all as institutionally racist as it used to be. Muroki believes it and says she can prove it through the statistics of the research report released in March 2021, and that some of the indices even indicate black African people do better than their Afro-Caribbean colleagues in education because of social reasons and the latter are not left behind because of official prejudice. It will be ageist to doubt the 25-year-old, but if we ignore inexperience,then we are in danger of agreeing with Muroki simply through the qualitative and quantitative survey the Commission gathered. Did the researchers gather enough people from ethnic minority and white majority in order to make a conclusive report?
THESE days of video telephony have changed the world completely. Some users prefer modesty, others will not mind showing up in their pyjamas. I have heard of Zoom meetings that would have gone Full Monty if not for the watchful eye of the of the video conferencing host. Well, modern video conferencing has met both positive reviews and disapproval. The main problem with it is the unnatural way in which people get together, total strangers, and make decisions that can massively affect others within a short time – and of course there are pros and cons to this. That Zoom meeting I attended the other day was dead boring; I wonder if it would have been fun if it was an interactive face-to-face workshop. I used to attend many of these. Participants used to wait for some official, the mayor of a town most probably, to say a few words from his prepared speech or some small talk that made you feel appreciated. Then lots of tea or coffee (and, oh, I drink these for East Africa). I miss these normal days, I am sure you do as well. You think the Covid protocols here are very strict until you read stories of what is happening in the other parts of the world. The Covid curfew starts at 8pm in Kenya and every living thing is expected to stay off the streets after that. Last week traffic police officers in Kenya blocked movement on both directions of the Thika highway which was brimming with motorists trying to get home. Any government directive gazetted by law in Kenya is final and so ambulances and other emergency services had to tolerate the delays brought by police in the name of saving the country from the pandemic. Covid is a cash cow there; some people are making serious amounts of money by presenting phoney tender bids in the name of procurement for government. The number of fatalities in Kenya is around 2,400 now since the disease locked the world in March 2020.
SO much has been said over the past 20 years about Diversity and Integration in Northern Ireland. This subject has been running concurrently with the hopes to trigger a long-term post-conflict environment in the North. So multiculturalism has been in competition with the peace dividend in the country. Nowadays there are more people in Northern Ireland willing to emancipate themselves from the old school ‘get out of my country if you don't like it here’ approach. Then we have the second group that are either consciously or subconsciously in opposition of cultural diversity and a bit of integration. Many voted to Leave the EU, after all they did not want a supranational entity taking their sovereignty. It is often assumed that it was mostly Protestants or Unionists who voted for Brexit. It is wrong to make these assumptions because I know Catholic immigrants and local nationalists who bade bye bye to the EU. Some described it as a humongous bureaucracy and for the migrants, especially Africans from the so-called Commonwealth, they felt that they were placed down the rungs of the UK job market when EU expansion-integration became a reality over 20 years ago.
ALL over the media, analysts are in a contest about who has the most documented gaffes made by Prince Philip. He was known for that. Philip’s grandson Harry has added to this catalogue of tributes. The other day Harry joined the chorus by remembering Philip as the legend of banter. Africans have their share of memory of Phillip-speak. Queen Elizabeth II sent Prince Philip to represent her at the Independence Day celebrations in Kenya, he did make a fool of himself with one very unfortunate remark at the event. On that warm evening of 12 December 1963, the colourful red, green and black Kenyan flag was waiting to replace the Union Jack which had been reigning over the country for over forty years. It was an evening packed with dancers, singers, bands, speeches, the lot. Prince Phillip was sitting next to Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan nationalist leader who had just been released from the colonial prison two years earlier. So, Kenyatta and Philip are exchanging niceties and histories of the past. The two knew each other very well... we will come to that.
LAST week, Downing Street was shooting from the hip in support of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report. This report has been dismissed in many quarters, including by experts on race relations, as a complete whitewash. It’s called the “Downing Street” report, because that’s what it is, a Conservative Party public relations exercise. It has not had the best of reviews. It makes an assertion that researchers relied on data of success stories and therefore not only denied the existence of racism but also represented the positive stories. In a way, I think we should be grateful that this report was even released in the first place. It has given us a small break from the niceties of appearing unoffended when you very well know that many raw nerves have been touched.
THEY go by the slogan ‘Raising the volume on the whispered conversations in our communities.’ These four women are all gatekeepers in their own right on a professional, faith, social and historical magnitude. Yes, this is the first group of Black women making a foursome collaboration to bring stories to your home from right here in Northern Ireland. They really want the positive energy vibe and similarly want to talk about society and its difficult moments. So they are not faking it, the habit of enjoying these podcasted conversations. The podcast is ‘Unmute Now’ and its main aim is to bring important and sometimes difficult conversations from families or communities to the table for frank yet thoughtful discussions.
POETRY is one of those artistic talents that make the person look like an angel. Even when they write and speak their stanzas, as troubling and intense they may be, the one thing we know about poets, no punter will jeer them. Poets live a saintly life but that’s my biased opinion because I have never seen a poet limping away from the stage, have you? So I interviewed Raquel McKee, a Jamaican-born poet who has lived in Northern Ireland for nearly two decades and is loving it. Raquel is married with four children so she has a very busy life which she wouldn’t change for anything.
SOME people like to keep their plans quiet. El Daddy likes to share a story or two; he is very poetic and calculates his every word before saying what he really wants to say. It is called the art of persuasion, he keeps everything to his chest and before you know it there’s an avalanche of musings coming your way.
THIS week I walked straight into a guava inside a Belfast shop. Yes, I am telling you – the shock on my face. A real guava! Briefly, it is a fruit containing cellulose which we ate as youngsters. When the earth refused to move away from you, that is, if you were constipated, for us of the Luo culture the guava was the remedy. We went to the fields, brought back the ripe guavas and never ate them immediately and not on an empty stomach.
IN October 2020, Belfast City Council adopted a proactive policy called the Racism Free Zone. This idea is easily applicable: it all depends on how the city’s residents take it up without being coerced. If it was my responsibility to enforce, I would have it entrenched by law. The Racism Free Zone concept has been applied in many cities around the world. Eugene, a city in the US Pacific northwest, was arguably the first place to adopt the Racism Free Zone model of thinking and action. There had been numerous racial incidents in the town and people decided to engage with the local authorities and schools. Schools started this movement. In the 1980s, Bahati Myhelatu Ansari, a community activist from Chicago, was the campaigner behind the racism free anthem. She spread this agenda to youth in many schools across Oregon. It grew and inspired the education sector. Students and teachers were urged, not coerced, to take responsibility for their actions, any that racially offended others. While wearing a rainbow ribbon at a school assembly, a student at a middle school in Eugene made a speech that echoed the calls of many others that they wanted to live in an anti-racist society. As simple as that! This is not some utopian dream. It is good that we are even talking about a Racism Free Zone. People have to be ready to accept such as a bylaw or if organisations can supervise themselves in order to differentiate racial intent and so-called banter, then so be it. I have heard people calling out political correctness, PC-gone-mad situations. Freedom of speech is not an island in itself; it is surrounded by the fundamental freedoms of those who will be affected by misuse of freedom of speech.
SOME very good news to immigrants and a pat on the back for common sense is the ruling by a British appeal court last week, that the expensive citizenship fee for children was preposterous (my word) and illegal (that’s what the court ruled). The Court of Appeal has ruled against the Home Office, arguing that it is illogical that the whole citizenship process for a child should be around £372 and therefore why the additional £700-plus? Currently the Home Office charges £1,012 for a child’s registration to become a UK citizen. This fee has mainly affected children of migrants and ethnic minorities. The court has declared this fee unlawful; consequently the Home Office will probably appeal the decision. All I see here is common sense by the judges. This fee has been quite dehumanising and very costly for the parents of young non-British people within the UK boundaries. It is well known that such children have suffered mentally because of being detained, isolated, left as destitute people and suffered the insecurities of not knowing about their future place in society. So, this column says kudos to the judges for reversing a situation where children were being priced out of their rights. In many cases they endured this uncertainty all the way into adulthood if the payment wasn’t made. It is important to state that one day, the entire world will take seriously the arguments for open borders. NEARLY a half of the countries on the UK Department of Transport travel ban list are African. There are 16 African countries out of 33 countries on the Covid-19 Red List. So from February 11, 2021, if you have been through any of the countries listed by the department, you literally have no business travelling to the UK. You will be refused entry to all UK ports. The most recent reports from reliable sources like the World Health Organisation have recorded 101,330 deaths in the whole continent of Africa. That is less than half of the known UK fatalities of the disease. So the pandemic is quite disturbing in the UK and parts of Europe. Most of the African and Caribbean countries listed on this travel ban notice have cumulative Covid deaths of fewer than 300. Burundi, also on the travel restriction to the UK, has recorded three deaths. As you can tell, there is no consistency in why certain decisions are made, but the question to the people in the corridors of power in the UK government is: are you making any sense?