Interview Transcript: Maame Marfo

WHOSE KNOWLEDGE? PODCAST SERIES – EPISODE # 1

“FOR AN INTERNET WHERE WE CAN TELL OUR OWN STORIES”

 

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KIRA: So would you like to just introduce yourself and what your affiliations are and why you’re here?

MAAME: So my name is Maame Akua Kyerewaa Marfo. I work with the African Women’s Development Fund in communications, actually, and I’m here because we are interested in a feminist internet. So as a part of one of our strategies to changing the world and empowering African women, we understand that the internet and technology is a driving force behind a lot of change. And so to give African women access to spaces where they get to have agency over their tech is really important. So this concept of decolonizing the internet means creating an internet, well for me it has meant creating an internet where people will have control, concepts of autonomy, of people getting to tell their own story, of choosing not to tell their own story, and it’s all super exciting, and there’s lots of ways in which AWDF can plug in and all of the other various things like the African Feminist Forum all have real interest in sort of pushing forward these notions of feminist internet and feminist futures.

KIRA: So AWDF – ‘development’ is obviously in the name – so can you talk a little bit about where development fits in this conversation about decolonizing the internet. Like, do we need to decolonize development as well?

MAAME: That’s an interesting concept because of how development has traditionally worked. So AWDF was funded by, well, was started by three African women who were just like ‘no one on this continent, no African people, African women are actually funding African women. Why can’t we do that? And that was essentially the question that started the organization. So the concept of an organization for African women by African women in itself was a way of decolonizing or restructuring that process to favor people who are really working in interesting wa- in interesting spaces. African women tend to make some of the most radical change in very particular corners of the world. They aren’t always as connected up. And so to fund these women who are making this change is a way of restructuring the process so we aren’t being dictated to but rather we’re saying ‘we know how to fix our communities. Empower us.’ And that’s what, kind of, the organization does.

KIRA: So where does the internet fit into that? Why is the internet important in that conversation?

MAAME: So as part of our new strategic direction, we had focused on African futures. And the internet and technology is a driving force for the future as we have understood it in the past 20 years. Right now on the continent more people have access to the internet than have ever had before, and having the internet in the hand of African women opens up so many possibilities for the various things they can do. Both in ways of economic empowerment, in ways of being able to change the way SRHR works, in terms of advocacy and being able to advocate for your beliefs from wherever you are on the continent. So we believe that it’s important to fund technology or use technology as an approach to achieve our primary goals because it is one of the most powerful and game-changing tools that are available to women now.

KIRA: What would decolonizing the internet look like to you, from where you stand?

MAAME: From where I stand, it would look like an internet where oral histories are a part of our understanding of historical knowledge, and not just from a niche or historian’s point of view. But that acknowledgement has to come from everywhere, from Wikipedia, from the general world, so that people understand that these knowledge systems have existed and they don’t necessarily sit in particular spaces of knowledge but they reside in so many different communities. It would look like a space where a woman in rural Nigeria can conduct her business and have access to the markets and information and the power that someone sitting in New York could. It would look like everyone having the same access and everyone being able to make change in their corner of the world and stay connected up to everyone. So – a community that is both autonomous but also exists within context and community.

KIRA: What did you expect when you came to these two days, and did it meet your expectations…?

MAAME: I think it surpassed my expectations. ‘Cause I was trying to be as open-minded as I could be. The original futures process that we’ve been through at the office had been really exploratory and it took about several weeks, it was a very in-depth process. And so I tried to be as open-minded as possible and, like, think, you know, kind of in all the ways in which I’d had to step back from what I understood of the world to attempt to imagine different futures. I have to think – OK. Let me attempt to imagine this internet. Right? Because we had had various pockets of conversations. So I had a little bit of like – ahhh, not sure how this is gonna go. I can understand how difficult it is to get out of our sort of linear thinking. But being in the room with all of these women was amazing – all of these women and men who are actively working to change the way the internet works was amazing because they had really interesting expertise and ideas of where the future could go, and it was great to connect up to various people doing cool things.

KIRA: Do you have any personal stories or experiences with the ‘colonized’ internet as we kind of understand it that have come up for you, maybe, over the past couple days?

MAAME: I think when we get into conversations about sexual assault and those conversations online, that comes up a lot because even in a space like Twitter, which is quite, you know, again radical in its conceptualization, you see a lot of the same problematic ideologies and hierarchies making themselves known. And so, I remember having a lot of pushback for activism about sexual assault on the internet, actually, and I remember, kind of, when we got into these conversations about safety and about protecting yourself after constant engagement those are things that really struck a chord with me because I think a lot of young women who are on the internet in Ghana and Africa in general are really suffering from burnout from having conversations with people who can sometimes attack them, it can sometimes be quite violent for them. And so how we manage to take care of ourselves and sitting in a room with people who are also sharing experiences of – this is how I took care of myself when I was trying to engage and do this work – was really important for me. I think self-care becomes this thing that we look at as very singular or just very based on yourself, but there’s something about communal self-care also that’s really important, and so getting to have all those conversations was really nice.

KIRA: What do you feel like you’re going to take away from here?

MAAME: Oh god. Um. Everything? I mean it’s a really – I’ve made some really interesting connections, lots of interesting organizations that I’m gonna take back home and be like ‘oh these are groups we should take a look at’, lots of really interesting ways to impact things like Wikipedia, which is super radical but also has its problematic points, and thinking of ways entering those conversations and also making those spaces spaces where African women’s voices are heard and minority voices are heard. And so there’s lots of, like, different off-shoots – yeah, lots of really interesting things – but I’m really excited to kind of get into the work of it because the conversation is work in itself, but there’s lots of, kind of, after-steps, and I’m also really excited to do that bit.

KIRA: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to say about these two days, or just about what you were thinking about coming into them, maybe?

MAAME: I think it’s just – it was a beautiful experience to be in a room with people who are open-minded and questioning, and questioning how we do things and the systems and structures that have governed the way we do things, and it’s important to always be thinking, as you do work – like any kind of activist work, or any kind of work that involves decolonizing something or infiltrating infrastructure – and so it was wonderful to sit in a room with people who are thinking this way and lovely to tap into that energy, and it’ll be great to take it home and take it back to AWDF, take it back to the young feminist collective, and everyone working in these same spheres and give them that energy and be like, ‘Look, there are so many people who care.’ And we know it, but it’s a beautiful thing to reaffirm. So yeah, it’s been wonderful here. I’m super grateful.