Groundbreaking organisation Ligali resonates Pan African Human Rights at its core. Central to the organisation is the eloquent and charismatic Toyin Agbetu. It was founded out of the need for the rebuttal of the persistent derogatory media representations of Africans in the media. Through the championing and activism of Agbetu, Ligali came to bear the mantle of other challenges within African Caribbean communities. Ligali celebrates a 10th Anniversary and The British Blacklist catches up with its founder as celebration preparations gather pace.
Agbetu famously rebuked The Queen and former Prime Minister Tony Blair in Westminster Abbey (2007) as they ‘celebrated’ the achievements of William Wilberforce as an abolitionist of the slave trade. Often told in a singular narrative, this ‘celebration’ omitted to tell the significant contribution and resistance of Africans against their incarceration and their own fight to reclaim their right to live as free humans.
What motivated Agbetu in his very public challenge as he sat in the audience back then?
Although many people refer to my actions as a protest, I didn’t see it as a challenge; more a refusal. I was in a space that was conducting a ritual disrespecting of our Ancestors and community and I chose to leave instead of staying seated allowing us to be disrespected.
What was the initial response to your protest?
Amazing, within days I had received hundreds, if not thousands of phone calls, emails and messages from well-wishers all over the world thanking me for what I did. Our system couldn’t cope with the demand. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people felt the same way I did when watching the ‘Wilberfest’ on television screens. Of course, there were also those who threatened to kill me and racists who told me to ‘go back to my own country’, but thankfully they were in the minority. I think many of them were scared I was a crazy madman and would come for them.
Was your protest effective in any way?
Yes. My actions were effective in that they gave others the strength and confidence to stand up and say, ‘no, not in our name.’ It stopped the Wilberforce myth dead in its tracks and ensured that whenever a school, university, museum, TV program or film-maker documents this part of history, they (will) always refer to our agency as freedom fighters, resistors; as conscious, sentient human beings fighting for revolution.
Why have you decided to hold an event for Ligali’s 10th anniversary?
Last year, there was another celebration for Wilberforce at Westminster Abbey attended by the government, church and British Royals. This time they kept it on the down-low. I think they were frightened if they invited us to attend in our ‘woke’ state things would have kicked off. Think about that. If a small coalition of Pan Africanists (Truth 2007) could derail their £20million propaganda agenda, what could we achieve when united? I’m hoping this anniversary encourages more of us to stay ‘woke’. Our young people have tried fighting back with movements like Black Lives Matter, but they need all of us, from every generation fully conscious, doing whatever they can to secure a better future for us all. I hope reflecting on this history will help remind us that everyone of us can make a positive contribution to our shared struggle, no matter how small.
Director of the influential Beauty Is… Agebtu aligns himself as a Pan Africanist and a filmmaker. How do these two worlds collide?
Beautifully. Perhaps as a fan of Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembène (Black Girl, Xala, Moolaade) it is not surprising I feel this way. I’m also a musician, an author, a nerd, a father, and a scholar-activist engaged in post-doctoral research. None of these activities are incompatible with each other. I was recently fortunate to attend a Q&A with Raoul Peck after the screening of his excellent film, I Am Not Your Negro. When he was asked about what more he was doing as an activist, he explained that his films provided the catalyst for action. There was a duty for those who were moved after watching them to do something beyond send tweets and Facebook likes, I agree. Film allows me to talk to the world in a language that my academic writing cannot. It gives me a wider audience from which I can help inspire and hopefully create into more lifelong activists.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Pan Africanists and Pan Africanism?
That Pan Africanists, in refusing to let go of a desire for justice, continue to cling to an old fashioned romantic image of African co-operation. Apparently it’s an impossible utopia our detractors claim that can never be as strong as the United States, the European Union or even the United Kingdom. Thankfully despite the hard work and slow pace of progress, history continues to prove those misconceptions wrong.
Tell us a bit about your background and influences?
Well I’m a Yoruba man from Ijebu-Ode in Nigeria. I was born in Britain and raised by a lone parent, my father, Ligali Agbetu. I’m a shy and private individual, and I like my family life separate from my community life. I’m a full on nerd. I love sci-fi, graphic novels, films, books, music, art and poetry. I used to be a terrible record producer in the 80’s… err, this is starting to sound like an ad for a dating agency! Fela (Kuti), Oprah, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, James T Kirk (Star Trek) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) all had a major influence on shaping my persona as a young man. Since then I have been influenced by numerous writers, activist, freedom fighters and whilst not a western styled ‘feminist’, I am a full supporter of what some African women label ‘womanism’. Oh… and although I can be a bit boring and really intense, I still delude myself into believing that I have a GSOH!
As mentioned, you make films, do you have any new film projects on the go?
I’m currently working on a film about love, relationships and loneliness as a follow up to my last feature, Beauty Is…We’ve got a brilliant cast and crew, it’s looking really good.
From a Pan African perspective how does Brexit, potential Scottish independence and a US President Trump affect us? What steps can we take to ensure our protection?
These external political forces increase nationalist thinking, which in turn emboldens Afriphobia and racism. African people worldwide, especially those in the Diaspora living amongst hostile ethnic majority populations need to organise, to fund and provide independent education (including arts and culture), health, wealth and security services that can empower the vulnerable amongst us without government assistance. We need to be politically literate, and active within our communities, we need to be ‘woke’.
What can we expect from your upcoming 10th Anniversary event?
Good vibes, time for Ancestral remembrance, a healing space for personal reflection and a passionate dose of reality from people sharing odes to resistance.
Ligali 10th Anniversary Event Being Woke: Remembrance, Reflection, Resistance takes place Monday 27th March at Westminster Abbey. Book your free tickets here.