Today we present an interview with Joanna Allan, author of the book Silenced Resistance, a compelling addition to our series Women in Africa and the Diaspora.
Who and what is being silenced in Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea?
In short, I argue in the book that the dictatorial regime in Equatorial Guinea and the Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara (Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa) are committing—and covering up—serious, widespread and gendered human rights abuses with the support of foreign corporations and states, including companies from the USA and UK. Hypocritically, the responsible parties conceal their crimes with the help of public relations and social responsibility campaigns that claim the regimes and their foreign partners are working to promote so-called gender equality. This is, I argue, “genderwashing.”
Saharawi activist Hamadi Zaybour links his son’s disabilities to Moroccan police beating his wife while she was pregnant. He also emphasizes that foreign markets, which pay Morocco to access Western Sahara’s natural resources, have played a role in his family’s suffering.
Why Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea?
My curiosity in the two countries was provoked, in a large part, by the lack of information about either of them. My undergraduate studies were in the field of Hispanic Studies, and yet my university was, as far as I know, the only one in the UK to include Western Sahara on the syllabus. Equatorial Guinea did not feature on the course at all. Equatorial Guinea and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic are the only Spanish-speaking African states. I therefore wondered why these countries received next to no academic attention in my discipline (or in most other disciplines for that matter). Actually, referring back to the title of my book, missing whole countries from our syllabi is one way we collectively silence Equatoguinean and Saharawi women.
I remember the first time I heard of the conflict in Western Sahara. It was around the time of nonviolent activist Aminatou Haidar’s second imprisonment. I was astonished that Saharawi women seemed to lead the pro-independence movement in occupied Western Sahara. This contrasted with the Equatoguinean case, where the opposition to the ruling regime seemed, according to information available at the time, male-dominated. I was therefore compelled to explore the reasons behind this divergence in the gendered make-up of resistance movements. Actually, Equatoguinean women are very much involved in resisting the dictatorship, but their contributions—for a range of gendered reasons that I explore in the book—have attracted less attention.
In the book, you also explore resistance to Spanish colonialism in the two countries.
Yes. Historical resistance movements have shaped the gendered dynamics of today’s resistance efforts, I argue. For example, in the Saharawi case, black Saharawi women’s historical internal struggles against racism and sexism have resulted in the egalitarian principles of today’s pro-independence movement.
Also, with regards to who is silenced and whose stories are told, I wanted to ensure that women’s contributions to Equatoguinean independence were recognized in the book. During my fieldwork, woman after woman in Equatorial Guinea recounted memories of women’s activism against the Spanish colonisers, but lamented that these women had not been taken into account. Women will remain silenced until we make the effort to listen to them.
is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Northumbria University.