The fight for black liberation in South Africa may seem a world away from the lives of many residing in Acacia Ridge and surrounding suburbs. But on Saturday, Ghanaian-born Australian, Akua Afriyie Ahenkorah brought those worlds nose-to-nose at the Acacia Ridge Community Centre.
Akua Afriyie was one of several speakers who shared their personal story of involvement in Australian democracy and why it matters to them.
Others included Graham Perrett MP (Federal Member for Moreton); Queensland Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business, Leeanne Enoch MP; Mr Peter Russo MP (Queensland Member for Sunnybank); and Alyas Taqawi, an Acacia Ridge Community Centre employee who migrated to Australia seeking safety as a member of the persecuted Hazara minority in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
All provided inspiring accounts. But Afriyie’s may have just stolen the show.
You may have noticed the removal of ‘Akua’ to refer to her only as ‘Afriyie’ (A-free-yay)…..
Afriyie’s story begins with the cultural tradition for naming newborns in Ghana. The first name simply denotes the day of the week a child is born. The second is the newborn’s given name as per the common Australian convention for assigning first names. ‘Akua’ denotes a girl born on a Wednesday. In the case of Mr Kofi Atta Annan, the former UN Secretary General, ‘Atta’ is what his mates would call him. ‘Kofi’ refers to a boy born on a Friday. But the day of the week on which one’s birthday lands retains lifelong significance in Ghanaian culture, shared through birthday societies that hold great importance to members of the in-circle.
Speaking as an old friend, Afriyie regularly shares such examples of her own culture with generosity, humility, pride, and the hope of generating real interaction. Parenting, childhood, weddings, births, schooling, old age, death, work, love, hate, family dynamics, tax, the intricacies of state policy, you name it, she’s an open book!
Her speech soon transported us to the memoirs of a 10th birthday party hijacked by the emotional outpouring of grown men. Born on the 11th February, the girl born on a Wednesday shared her big One-Oh with the release of Nelson Mandela following 27 years of political imprisonment. Typically stoic, the various men attending her 10th birthday party celebrations ‘cried like babies’, she says, planting the seed that his release meant something out of the ordinary.
Afriyie’s migration to Australia followed not long after. She commenced senior schooling in Brisbane as a teen while her father travelled between Australia, Africa and other places for work. But Mandela’s release had left its mark. The girl born on a Wednesday was a political being in the making.
Politics matters and democracy matters to Akua Afriyie. She even jokes about her attitude towards romantic prospects: ‘If you don’t vote, no hope!’ The girl born on a Wednesday will talk to you about migration policy with the same ease she talks about how the trains run on time or fifteen minutes late. Politics runs through her veins. Afriyie takes great pride in the culture, symbols and history of her native Ghana, along with her community’s narrative in Brisbane and Australia. These are things she shares generously and without expectation.
Ghana holds a unique place in the story of modern Africa. It was the first nation to expel its European colonizers, Ethiopia being the only to resist colonization altogether. Its flag bears all the markings of an emerging Pan-African identity that has since shaped the African continent and influenced the globe. Hers is a nation not wrecked by foreign, political or tribal civil warfare.
Though not part of Saturday’s speech, Afriyie has often shared with me Ghana’s model of national service for young people on completion of their schooling. Rather than being forced to take up arms and engage in compulsory military service, young people are sent away from their homes to far flung regions of the country where they immerse themselves in different cultures and languages. Here they work and study. The experience raises intercultural awareness and harmony among the many tribes that comprise Mother Ghana, helping keep the nation singing from the same song sheet.
Afriyie signposts her story with political events marking some of her life’s most important crossroads.
One of these involves her own father’s final days. Ill and nearing death, he left Australia several years ago to be laid to rest in Mother Ghana. Afriyie jokes that one of his parting gifts to the family was making the return journey alive, sparing the significant surcharges that go with transporting remains of the deceased.
But her real story was to share with us one of his final acts in Brisbane before departing to Ghana for the final time.
The 2012 Queensland elections were looming and he wanted to ensure he had his say. Together, they visited the electoral office to register his change of details so that he could vote from abroad.
And he did.
The release of Mandela remains to this day a symbol of black liberation across the African continent and globally. The father of Afriyie – the man who once wept with a global community of men over the release of the symbol of black liberation across the African continent and worldwide – took measures to ensure his voice was heard at the 20102 Queensland elections not long before his own passing in Ghana.
If that doesn’t embody the spirit on Australian democracy, then I don’t know what does?
Afriyie knows from her father, her family, her Ghana, her Africa, her Australia that democratic participation matters. Where the right is not afforded, it must be fought for. Where it is afforded, it must be cherished and exercised to its full advantage. Where some have the right and others do not, it is upon those that do to support the fight of those who do not.
Leeanne Enoch’s father was a proud Quandamooka (North Stradbroke Island) man denied this right for much of his life. His daughter is now a Minister in the Queensland Government. This is worth pondering. Alyas who presented to us on Saturday does not share the same political entitlements as his two year-old son. Again worth pondering.
Importantly, we hope we can encourage more people not already amongst it to get amongst it!
Saturday’s event supported a small number of people to register or update their details with the AEC, but we view this as just the beginning of an ongoing program of events that promote Active Citizenship in Acacia Ridge and surrounding areas.
Acacia Ridge Community Centre is deeply grateful for the support received so far on this project. We are especially grateful to Mr Peter Russo MP for his variety of contributions along with Graham Perrett MP, Leeanne Enoch MP, and a number of community leaders who have participated on a steering committee in recent months.
We are also grateful to Akua Afriyie Ahenkorah and Alyas Taqawi for sharing their stories on the weekend.
We look forward to announcing our next event after the date for the Queensland elections is announced – namely a workshop program that will support members in our community to ensure their vote is valid and counted.
Damian West (belong Communications)
Akua Afriyie Ahenkorah is a corporate communications professional, having worked across the Qld government, not-for-profit and private sectors. She has served as President of the Qld Ghanaian Community Assocation, and has supported the delivery of numerous major cultural events in Brisbane including annual Africa Day celebrations, MDA’s ‘Luminous’ and ‘World Refugee Day’ festivals, and the recent ‘Discover Ghana’ event in Brisbane City marking Ghana’s 60th anniversary of independence from colonial rule. In the media, Afriyie works with ABC Brisbane reporting on Queensland’s African communities as part of the ABC’s Community Correspondent program. She also writes a blog dedicated to showcasing the talents and achievements of African Queenslanders.