Joanna Lipper interviewed in The Atlantic, "The Feminist Who Could Change Nigeria"


Link: The Feminist Who Could Change Nigeria [The Atlantic, 8 October 2014]

In a discussion about her documentary The Supreme Price, director Joanna Lipper talks to Chris Heller about her relationship with Hafsat Abiola, daughter of late Nigerian president MKO Abiola, and the reasons for making her award-winning film.


When I set out to make the film, I had a very broad audience in mind. I wanted, first and foremost, to make a film that honored Nigerian history for Nigerians who knew the characters and knew their political history well. I also had in mind younger generations of Nigerians, who maybe had heard this story from their parents or grandparents, but did not know all the details. And then, a huge target was an international audience that did not know a lot about Nigeria. They needed some context to understand how a leader like M.K.O. Abiola emerged, what made him unique, what his objectives were, and what the opposition to his leadership was. How did a female leader like Kudirat Abiola emerge after her husband was incarcerated? How did she transition from being a wife and a mother to a leader?

Read the full interview in the Atlantic or read my review of The Supreme Price.

Film Review: The Supreme Price (2014)

Hafsat Abiola-Lagos-Nigeria 01

The mourners are bewildered, suspicious and angry

It is a uniquely African situation: mourners gather at a funeral to commemorate yet another suspicious, unexpected and fathomless loss. The quote above describes the situation at the funeral of Chief Moshood Abiola, the democratically elected yet uninaugurated president of Nigeria who died in suspicious circumstances in 1998. Two decades later, the killings continue and it is estimated that there have been at least 160 political assassinations in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1998.

Directed by Joanna Lipper, The Supreme Price is a film about the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria and the struggle to end military rule. It focuses primarily on Hafsat Abiola, the daughter of Chief Abiola (known as MKO Abiola) and his second wife Kudirat Abiola.


Expertly combining historical footage and present-day interviews, the film follows the rise of MKO Abiola to power and his bid for the 1993 presidency of election. Though elected in a democratic election, the presidency was stolen from Abiola when the election was annulled. Following a successful campaign overseas, Abiola returned to Nigeria to fight for his mandate but was subsequently charged with treason and put into solitary detention. He later died in suspicious circumstances days after meeting with UN officials.

Kudirat for Web

During his detention, his wife Kudirat Abiola began to fight for his freedom and became a tireless campaigner for the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria. Once she realised that the West was not willing to sanction or boycott Nigerian oil, she convinced Nigerian oil workers to go on strike for 12 weeks. Kudirat was assassinated in 1996 and her killers were later acquitted of all charges.

Hafsat Abiola - Lagos - Nigeria 02

Any society that is silencing its women has no future

Hafsat Abiola was a student at Harvard when her mother was assassinated. In fact, Kudirat had been scheduled to fly to the US for Hafsat’s graduation on the day that she was killed. Hafsat realised that when confronted with a society that was silencing its women, there was no other option than for her to continue her mother’s work. And so from the exile, corruption and poverty in Nigeria, Hafsat works to unite women and give them a voice. Through her organisation KIND, she connects women across the numerous regional, religious and language barriers in Nigeria and teaches them the power of collaboration.

The Supreme Price is superb and Joanna Lipper has done an incredible job in weaving together a film that tells the modern history of Nigeria in 75 minutes. This is no dry documentary, the film has an almost feature film-like quality in its use of haunting music, dramatic editing and heart-rending reveals.

I would highly recommend The Supreme Price to anybody who would like to gain an understanding of the recent history in Nigeria and the effects of years of military rule and corruption. This is an important film and especially relevant today. It provides a vital backdrop to the recent Nigerian election and an understanding of the relief of a nation in finally voting out Goodluck Jonathan. It describes the poverty and injustice of a society that produced Boko Haram and how that society will struggle to overcome these extremists unless real social change is brought about.

The film was featured in several film festivals in 2014 including the Human Rights Watch film festival and the 2014 Raindance festival. The Supreme Price directed by Joanna Lipper is screening internationally and in cinemas from Friday 22 May 2015.


The Supreme Price - Extended Trailer from Joanna Lipper on Vimeo.


About the Director

Filmmaker_Joanna_Lipper_colorJoanna Lipper is an award-winning filmmaker and Lecturer at Harvard University where she teaches Using Film for Social Change in the Department of African and African-American Studies. Her work as a documentary filmmaker has been supported by the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, ITVS, Britdoc Foundation, the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, Women Make Movies and Chicken & Egg Pictures. Her latest documentary, The Supreme Price, received the Gucci Tribeca Spotlighting Women Documentary Award and won Best Documentary at Africa International Film Festival.   An extended trailer from the film was commissioned to launch Gucci’s Chime for Change Women’s Empowerment Campaign at TED 2013. Previous films Lipper has produced and directed include Inside Out: Portraits of Children (1996), Growing Up Fast (1999) and Little Fugitive (2006). Lipper is the author of the nationally acclaimed book Growing Up Fast. Her photography has been published and exhibited in the US and overseas.

Guantanamo and Genocide: Upcoming Events in London


It’s a new year and now that the close down of our financial year end is in sight, it is time to start thinking about where I’m going with this blog and what work I intend to do this year. Without putting too fine a point on it, the answer to that is simply to do much more than I did last year.

There are a couple of events coming up in London which look very interesting. I’m going to these two events:

Banned Books of Guantánamo –  The Mosaic Rooms, London SW5 0SW- 19/02/2015, 7pm

Featuring a host of guest speakers including Andy Worthington, Ian Cobain, Cori Crider and Jo Glanville, this event will focus on the list of banned books in Guantánamo as well as wider issues such as censorship and indefinite detention.

The event is free to attend but you do need to register. Link.

Carl Wilkens “I’m Not Leaving” screening and Q&A – Centre for Holocaust Education, Central London – 04/03/2015, 6pm

Four years ago, I was fortunate enough to see Carl Wilkens and Jean-Francois Gisimba speak about their experiences during the Rwandan genocide at the Aegis Trust event Rwanda – Strengthening Society Through Genocide Education. I picked up a copy of Carl’s incredible book I’m Not Leaving and am beyond pleased that a documentary has been filmed based on the book. The documentary will be screened at this event following which there will be a short Q&A with Carl.

Once again, the event is free but you do need to register. Link.

The Wiener Library – ongoing

The Wiener Library also has a full calendar of free talks and events but I’m not sure if I will be able to fit any in over the next month. Most notably, they are also beginning a ten week course on “Understanding the Holocaust” with Professor Philip Spencer that will run every week from Tuesday 24 Feb 2015 to Tuesday 12 May 2015 and will cost £160. Link.

My determination to continue researching and writing in this blog is as strong as ever and to this end, I’ve rolled out a new blog design this weekend. Time will tell whether that was another unforgiveable act of procrastination or whether I will in fact be inspired to write more now that I have a pretty blog. Whatever the case, I am comforted by the knowledge that I am almost half way through my ACCA qualification and that my dream of working as an accountant in post-conflict or emerging economies will one day come to fruition. In the meantime, if Business Taxation doesn’t defeat me next semester, I’ll be blogging about events, books and films as well as occasionally posting more thoroughly researched articles.

Image credit: The entrance to Camp 1 in Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta by Kathleen T. Rhem (Public Domain)

Racist Policies and the Situation in Ferguson

Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, it feels second nature to see the direct link between policies and practices of the past and the enduring poverty and inequality in the country. Twenty years after our first democratic elections there are still massive discrepancies in education, housing, healthcare and social care.

Somehow we were lead to believe that matters were different in the United States, that anyone can make it if they try, but that all changed in August.

Link: How a century of racist policies made Ferguson into a pocket of concentrated despair [Raw Story, 28 October 2014]

In an interview with Richard Rothstein, author of a study "The Making of Ferguson", the article discusses how policies of the past created the situation in Ferguson and how unequal treatment of blacks and whites created an enduring cycle of despair that will take generations to overcome. The article mentions the myth of upward mobility in America and how this simply doesn't apply in the face of unscrupulous real estate practices, discriminatory housing policies and the creation of ghettos and slums.

"The federal government subsidized the construction of many, many subdivisions by requiring that bank loans for the builders be made on the condition that no homes be sold to blacks"

"So after a century of policies which denied African-Americans access to jobs that pay decent wages, the likelihood is that their children and their children’s children will still be paying the price for those policies that held their parents and grandparents behind for so long".

Photo credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Caption: Demonstrator Keisha Gray cries while protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014.

ISIS: An Unholy Terror


At some point in nearly every opinion piece on the Islamic State (often referred to in the press as ISIS or ISIL), it seems inevitable that commentators will mention how little the international community seems to be alarmed by the crisis, especially in light of the situations unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine. I'm alarmed by the situation, but speaking as a human being I just find it difficult to comprehend the sheer scale, organisation and maleficence of the Caliphate.

Since 29 June 2014 when they declared their Caliphate, the Islamic State have captured a quarter of the land in Iraq. They have become a major player in the conflict in Syria and have captured a third of the land in that country. Perhaps most alarming in terms of sustaining their activity is that they are now in control of the majority of Syria’s oil and gas fields.

But what does that mean?

Link: ISIS Consolidates [London Review of Books]

In his article "ISIS Consolidates", Patrick Cockburn notes that ISIS controls an area greater in size than Great Britain. With a population of more than 6 million people, he notes that it is more people than live in Ireland, Norway or Denmark.

"The birth of the new state is the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War" (ISIS Consolidates)

Perhaps the message that is not reaching consumers of mass media is that ISIS is particularly malevolent. Cockburn continues to say that the West chronically underestimates the Islamic State and they are also at fault in their estimation that the state will simply crash and burn. He notes that those in Baghdad are in an acute state of denial with one individual questioning whether ISIS even exists (as opposed, we presume, to being used to attain a certain political outcome providing political power-sharing to Sunni Muslims).

At the time of writing his article, Cockburn predicted, "Isis may well advance on Aleppo in preference to Baghdad: it’s a softer target and one less likely to provoke international intervention". It has been reported today that Islamic State fighters have seized Aleppo towns.

The expansion of the territory of the Islamic State is not purely political. There are very real concerns that specific groups of people are being targeted and destroyed.

Link: Genocide watch: the Iraqi communities most endangered by the rise of ISIL [Quartz, 6 August 2014]

In his article on the communities most endangered by ISIS, Bobby Ghosh notes that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, self-appointed Caliph of ISIS "hates pretty much everyone who doesn’t agree with his particular, perverted interpretation of Islam" and that this includes Sunni Muslims who do not agree with him as well as Shi’ites, whom ISIS regard as apostates.

Ghosh notes that of particular concern are certain vulnerable groups who appear to have been marked for special persecution by ISIS:

  • the Yazidis whose faith features a fallen angel narrative and who have thus long been referred to as 'devil worshipers' by Iraqi Muslims.
  • the Shabak whose faith covers aspects of Christianity, Islam and Yazidi but who often identify as Shi'ite thus making them even more at risk from ISIS.
  • the Shi’ite Turkmen, an ethically Turkish group who have fallen foul of ISIS.

As early as 19 July 2014, Human Right Watch reported that ISIS were kidnapping, killing, expelling and extorting minorities. The Guardian reported on Monday about Yazidi women being sold as sex slaves:

“Some Yazidi men say they had phoned their daughter or wife's phone number only to be told tersely by strange male voices not to call again” [Guardian, 11 August 2014]

Numerous sources have reported executions, beheadings, rapes and sex slavery in the streets of Mosul and across the region with Christian websites posting particularly graphic videos and photographs which I am not going to link to here.