Daughter of Africa Launch
On 27th January 2023, Gina Din launched her book Daughter of Africa at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Nande Sulelo, an Oppenheimer-AfOx Scholar at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, shares her reflection on the event.
When thinking of African women, what image comes to mind first? Have you ever considered how these permutations shape women's lived experiences on the continent?
January’s AfOx insaka was a book launch carefully curated to pick at these questions and problematise whose voices are amplified and whose are stifled. Kenyan public relations maven Gina Din- Kariuki partnered with the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx) and Africa Practice to launch her autobiography, Daughter of Africa, celebrating African women and girls. Unlike the usual research focus of the AfOx insaka, this one was an opportunity for the audience, both at the Blavatnik School of Governance and those online, to hear from Gina Din herself about centering women’s narratives at the core of Africa’s development.
Gina was accompanied by an all-women panel led by Natalie Maule - the director of Africa Practice, with Nigerian economist and Executive in Residence at the Saïd Business School Arunma Oteh, and AfOx alumna and human rights lawyer Sabrina Maonde.
Amongst the numerous notable figures in attendance was the Kenyan High Commissioner, H.E. Manoah Esipisu, who delivered an opening address. He lauded Daughter of Africa, noting that the book “is a timely addition to the valuable contributions (Gina) continues to make in advancing the welfare and image of (Africa).” Furthermore, he added that the book “speaks to the need for a larger repository of experiences of those who dared to dream”, emphasising the significance of an individual’s story.
Together with the panellists, they unpacked a range of nuances about the power of narratives in shaping African women’s destiny. Key themes that framed the discussion are summarised below.
Significance of storytelling
Refreshingly, the discussion was not the usual setup where the story centres on how high powers victimise Africa. It was a discussion of the power of an individual’s story, a celebration of African women’s agency to own their truth and share their triumphs, big or small, for others to learn. The idea of a story as a culvert between the storyteller and the audience was emphasised throughout the discussion, where stories were seen to foster a common understanding and pass on values and wisdom gained along one’s journey. For Arunma Oteh, storytelling does more than educate and entertain; it also empowers the audience, making African women’s stories all the more necessary. The panel also highlighted the pivotal role of storytelling in mediating misinformation and disinformation about the continent.
Listening to the voices on the ground
In her opening address, Gina highlighted that she wrote the book to champion the cause for the unsung heroes and to represent the women whose stories have not been afforded the attention they deserve, “the ones who won’t get to come to Oxford to tell their stories.” The panellists, Maonde in particular, stressed that there is no shortage of agency from African women to tell their stories but that there are systemic gatekeepers who tactfully interfere with whose stories are heard. Consequently, African women enjoy no favour in developmental contexts where their stories would be most influential.
Ownership of means of production
In her opening address, Gina Din paid homage to notable women from the continent. She underlined that their stories have a place in history but lamented that a select few only enjoy this opportunity. Africa needs more platforms to tell the stories of everyday women whose knowledge and expertise of their immediate contexts are crucial for targeted social interventions.
Equally important is the role of women in media. The panellists underscored that higher positions enjoyed by women in media organisations must translate into practical capital for women’s benefit.
Validity of lived experiences
Another essential idea of narratives that the panellists debunked was the vetting and validating of individual stories. Whose stories matter, and according to whom? The discussion interrogated the metric of epistemic validity of anecdotes against evidence-based arguments, questioning what is evidence, who is interpreting, and for which audience.
It was concluded that storytelling should be under no obligation to provide evidence as it occupies a different, but equally important, lane in social development.
As the adage goes, until lions learn to speak, stories will always glorify the hunter. Gina Din responded with a book that gives a platform to the different faces of African women and epitomises that stories build a community of shared experiences.