At the Moto Books and Arts Festival

The Sex lives of African women

The cover of Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah's book The Sex lives of African women.

Photo credit: Pool

After only a few years of writing Going Places, a group of Kenyan journalists invited me to give them a talk. I began by asking them why they had invited me. They were professional and trained writers and I was a part-timer and amateur. “We want to know how you get your stories,” one of them said. “I mean, when I go to a sports bar I have a drink, chat with friends and watch a match. The other day you went to a sports bar and came away with a story.”

I tried to explain my belief that in anything you see or in everything you do, there is potential for a story.

However, late last Sunday morning, I thought the place I had gone to had no potential for today’s story. It was the fourth of the four days of the Moto Books and Arts Festival at the Village Market. I hope the first three days lived up to the promise that the festival would ‘fire up African Literature.’ 

There was little fire that Sunday morning. No guest speakers. No book signings. A number of stations were empty. The show was running down. Those still there seemed ready to go home. I had missed out.

Then my wife handed me one of the displayed books to look at. It was The Sex Lives of African Women.

Brief blurbs

 “This looks like something for you,” she said. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that. But I looked at it, read the author’s short prologue, noted the brief blurbs on the back cover, and I bought it.

The author is Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, who describes herself as a bisexual Ghanaian woman. Her book is based on the in-depth interviews she conducted with women from 31 counties across Africa and also in the diaspora. It contains the stories of 32 women – the last story being her own.

It is nothing like soft porn. It is a serious book, and it is well-written. It is forthright and it is honest. In her prologue, Nana says she has encouraged other women to share their experiences of sex in order to build a collective consciousness around the politics of pleasure. She argues that this is critical in a world where women too often lack access to truly comprehensive sexuality education.

“Black, African and Afro-descendant women are often told that sex should only be within particular constraints and within certain parameters,” she says. “In some countries those parameters are marriage. In other countries the law prohibits some types of sexual acts, or tries to control the choices girls and women have.”

True sexual selves

Nana says that the women whose stories she is sharing have been on a quest that many women need in order to discover their true sexual selves. I think one interesting factor is that this quest sometimes means actually moving to another country. This is the case in the first of the stories. Nura from Kenya marries a man from Senegal and goes to live with him there.

There are a number of stories from African women in the diaspora. Their lives have been shaped by travel; their views are the result of an inter-cultural engagement – in the fullest sense of that term.

“In many ways, we’re all on a journey”, Nana says, “and are on different parts of the road towards our true selves and sexual freedom”.

I would add that this is not a journey being undertaken only by women of Africa. It is one being experienced by women from all over the world. In some places, the going might be somewhat less challenging.

I learnt, too late, that Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah had been the keynote speaker on previous days of the Moto Festival. I really did miss out.

John Fox is the Chairman of iDC