A Refreshing Weekend Brunch Chat With Nigerian Movie Star RMD. The Diaspora and its endless possibilities…

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Brunch:  I met him at his hotel in Baltimore, Maryland and for curious fans — yes, RMD is just as RMD as you would like and adore.

Adedayo Fashanu with Richard Mofe Damijo during the interview.

He is tall, very fashionable, but yet simple, and adorned with some charm bracelets, He later commented about liking craft accessories.

He might even have a webstore built into his upcoming personal website for his many beloved fans and followers, His personality is very fatherly, I must say.  

You could just tell he takes no bs and loves to watch out for his people, having the best for you in mind when he speaks. I met him in the hotel lobby and it felt like I had met him before or known him all my life.

This is the thing about icons— you see them in countless movies or on stages over the years and they become so familiar to you, meeting them feels like you already know them.

I go for a hug ignoring the handshake stretch and was warmly received. We start chatting informally and learning about each other’s’ backgrounds.

He is not only a movie star, but an intellectual property lawyer amongst other labels he has acquired for himself. I told him I couldn’t ask him how long he has been in the movie scene because obviously he’s been at that craft for years; he smiled and said 32 Years! I was blown away to hear that number.  

Thirty-two years in an industry and still on top of the game certainly registers as iconic.

We sit comfortably still chatting and I had not even pressed record yet on my phone; that’s how engaging he was, but we must begin because of time. He mentions he had his children in his hotel room.  It was his daughter’s birthday weekend.

On Being An African Parent

Since I had also stalked his Instagram page the night before to get the online perspective of him, I had noticed the father to daughter beautiful love letters on his page. I bring that up to him;  I tell him I read some of the comments fans had posted— most of them asking how his daughter is supposed to read the letter since she is not allowed to be on Instagram even though she just turned fourteen.

They forget that I have already shared this with her one on one, I just publish it on Instagram to share and to also inspire others as well, “ he said. His sort of letters to his daughters reminds me greatly of poet Maya Angelou who wrote a book Letter to My Daughters,  which she dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her. I suggest to RMD, “I think you should make a book of a collection of your letters to your daughter.  They are beautiful, poetic, heartwarming and loving,” I said. The look on his face gave it all away; he was already thinking of something along these lines, he mentioned, but didn’t disclose further. I felt satisfied hearing that.  Not many African parents, especially fathers, have this sort of bond with their daughters and it’s obvious that RMD should embrace this inspirational identity—  to keep sharing his relationship with his daughter; certainly he will serve as an inspiration to many since he is an upstanding figure.

As we continue, he reveals more of his truth on the struggles and bliss of parenthood especially with the African values.

He mentions the struggle of having to raise his children between the United States and Nigeria. “When you bring your kids here, I make sure they come home for the entire summer. It is never enough. Not the same as when you live with your kids,” he said.

Those words of “it is never enough” stood out, very sentimental, a real battle for parents who send their children abroad to give them the best they feel they can.

For us Africans, we all know that our immigrant stories are very opposite of what the western world imagines.

Majority of Africans that are abroad do not relocate abroad out of poverty or flee out of crisis, especially for the youngsters. We come because our parents imagine we can get a shot at a better standard of education and can reach the peak of our aspirations. RMD explained further on his contemplation of how to provide the best for his children and making these decisions between allowing his kids to study here in the States versus at home and the challenges of getting them acquainted with the African values and sensibilities.

He said, “There are things that you frown upon as an African parent such as their dressing and how innocent it all is.

Don’t be so surprised because their values are not African but American.  That a girl is wearing something skimpy and it’s summer doesn’t mean that she is loose or having sex already.  You have to undo your entire mindset when you are dealing with kids here as an African parent.

All this is just the process of giving my child a better head start like bringing her here which is what I didn’t have. I question myself sometimes— if this is the best choice or decision. What about me who grew up in Africa, how did I turn out? I didn’t turn out bad; I am very proud of my African heritage.

I synthesize both worlds and every time I am grateful I didn’t grow up here. I would love for a lot more opportunities so that in my progress up the ladder in life I don’t have to have a political connect to be at  a certain place.”

He continues, “I wish that merit would be enthroned so you don’t have to know somebody to get far in  life; I wish there was a lot more order to society in Africa as it is here, so that leaders can be held more accountable.”

He highlights the real challenges that Africans battle with— our hope that things work just as well in our diaspora. “One of the things mitigating against development,” he said,  “is that our leaders are not held accountable for their actions  and no sanctions for people who don’t walk the line.

Leaders’ value are worked in favor of the rich. They don’t go to jail or get as scrutinized as they should,” he said.

He mentions his desire for a more level playing field, “We all have that desire.” RMD is a Christian and not afraid to showcase his Faith to the world; the struggle he speaks about also lies in raising his children with some values his spirituality respects and those values he said he must bring to his daughter and son’s awareness, to where they can see his values and understand their heritage, “So they won’t forget their identity and individuality,” he mentions. “I would rather my son or daughter is not exposed to the level of perversion that is here because my African sensibilities are offended by some of it .

I  like the whole idea of free society, the land of the brave and the free, I am also a Christian and my brand of Christianity does not allow for the perversion of lives .

I am not an advocate of gay rights. I would not condemn anyone, but I would not advocate for it in my own country,” he says.

RMD, as a passionate father, husband, Christian and an African man rooted in his African sensibilities and values, was just scratching the surface of what we revere in him— An iconic figure that has made an imprint on many historic layers in the fabric of Nigeria.

RMD In Politics

Beyond being a movie star, he served for eight years as the Commissioner of Culture and Tourism in his home state of Delta Nigeria. “What is the landscape of culture and tourism in Nigeria?

“In governance, it is an orphan child,” he responded. What he went on to say next is the most profound and eye opening thing that Africans have to wake up to: “The creative industry is the last frontier for the redemption of Africa,” he said, “because governance at every level— local, state, federal has failed or is a failed state everywhere. Culture and Tourism (The creatives) is looked upon as something that is still not to be planned and provided for, which ironically should be the other way round. They don’t see it because everyone is blinded for the need and provision of basic amenities, which is ironic and sad. We should not be talking about building roads and shelter, or providing medical services or electricity— those things should be given, they should be granted as like the air we breathe.”

He went on explaining that historically, traditional African societies were run by monarchs— those things were recognized; whereas culture and creatives were planned for, that when the people needed to do that, they created festivals around ages, boys, girls, elders, community so that there is always need to come together to review, celebrate,  identify, compare, see growth to measure. The kingship and palace was the main custodian of it. The king steps out saying bring me all the good singers and dancers and bring them so that the best of them gets patronage from the palace. We need to show who we are and the palace pays for those people who are, for instance, carvers etc.; the palace pays to sustain them and when they are done, they use it to decorate the town palace and the entire village,” he explained.

“Today, the modern palace is the government house,” he said. So if you take care of the festivals— the creative industry, then they must be planned for, they must sustain it because it is an art form that does not require day to day labor for the people who are doing it. It is a life dedication to those who do it and we’ve got to provide for them to be able to be there to work.

“How would Michelangelo have been be today if in between painting the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome he had to go and fish for his survival? He rhetorically asked. That is their life work so they must have some kind of cushion where they are not trying to survive,” he added.

At the end of the day, that is what defines us as a people— our culture, the language we speak, the clothes we wear, the furniture we have.  If all that is dying because government is so busy stealing and forgetting to provide basic necessities and we keep shouting about light, water, and roads, what will keep the creatives alive?

RMD obviously knows the creative industry very well, saying that there should be grants for artists and museums and the different creative entities. Promotion of arts and culture declared as national monuments are sustained by donations and grants, but Africa does not have a system in place for these things.  “Who sits down to paint?” he asks.  “Who sits down to maintain the tradition of moulding pots and all those? Who sits down to teach? Nobody is interested! All the teachers go to the stores to buy stuff from ABA (the popular Nigerian location known for sales of unoriginal items) bring it to the class to teach …they are more preoccupied about surviving,  putting bacon on their table, understandably!”

On the Economy of Africa

The economic growth for most nations is boosted by tourism, so how is it that Africa is missing out on a great deal from this margin?

“You plan for it,” he said. “You develop it, it becomes a thriving industry like every other civilized place. What is Italy without its tourism, what is America or Paris? You cannot get tickets to The African American Museum today because it is booked till next year. Where do you go to in Africa that is booked for one week? Just imagine the wilds of Kenya without the interference of white people who will say to you that the elephants will go extinct in so and so if poaching is not stopped. The Africans can’t care about poaching because they are still grappling with survival so animals can’t have rights of living or extinction when I haven’t eaten. And what is the cost? The minute we embraced the larger community  part of society and became part of this one world and our leaders failed to see the examples that these foreign countries are doing in terms of how governance is structured to ensure sustenance, we became endangered so we cannot go back to African tradition and societies and how we were which was, by the way, very organized and successful before we embraced civilization from either Europe or from the Americans. You can’t tell me the Indians wouldn’t have survived if the Anglo-Saxons did not enter America or Canada. Their origins were hardened within their structures so African’s problems must be looked at— the younger people who have had the benefit of coming out here like us or like our children must begin to look at holding the reigns of power. Since everything in Africa comes from people who hold reigns in power, we must begin to reassess our entry points and all that of how to build society because we cannot do it from the fringe. When you find yourself within that area, you must find a way to make sure you affect or influence policies that will affect the culture. Young people with patriotic zeal must by all means go into politics.

“Look at Ebola,” RMD said, “it has become such a small world that the less crisis you have in any corner part of the world the better.  Globalization is real. Look at how many people die on the Mediterranean  everyday; look at how many Syrians are dispersed all over the world. You may think it may not get into your backyard, but it will. It can be happening in the far east but it still can. What happens, God forbid, if China gets into a crisis and they begin to move? We are talking about Syrians and we are grumbling; what happens if stuff happens in China? Sometimes developing countries shouldn’t wait for their people to be affected directly before they begin to act from a more global perspective.

The Future of Africa’s Youth

The world’s youth is now condensed in the continent; Africa has the highest number of young people. As we discussed the terrains of politics, the economic situation in lieu of tourism and culture, I was curious to hear his thought on how he sees the African young person affected economically, so I asked— What is the hope of young people and the employment situation?  

Given all the problems associated with development policies for the creative industry, because of the drive and how technology also in certain areas  eliminates the overbearing problems of government to be able to thrive, the creative industry thrives in such areas. That is why for instance Nollywood was created out of the most oppressive systems in Africa that Nigeria had ever gone through which was Abacha years. The industry was left on its own and it thrived. Me taking a camera and telling my story doesn’t have to depend on what the government says so long as they don’t stop me from holding my camera. I might have problems finding enough money to buy the camera, but once I can get a camera, no matter how bad it is, I still get an opportunity to tell my story. Creative industry is constantly looking for ways to find its level or a comfy point where it can work in spite of how bad development policies may be. Thank God for that because globalization has created opportunities to be ruthless with penetration to do anything. What will the world be like without a YouTube account? Europe and America have had the dot com years; it is only beginning in Africa. It might not look like a big deal for the rest of the world, but our people who get as much as 2000 dollars every month from technology, embrace soft technology and they don’t need more than a laptop. They are contributing to the debate right now.

Is Africa Booming? Is There Hope?

I tell RMD about my most recent discovery of Lisa Folawiyo, a Nigerian fashion brand recently mentioned in Vogue as the fashion label all the IT girls in Nigeria and Africa as a whole are wearing. Nigerian, Lagos Fashion week was held most recently and Vogue and other top international brands couldn’t stop raving about the brands coming out from this creative industry. What does all this positivity mean for Africa, booming and hopeful?

The creative streams from fashion, music, art, comedy, film, TV… are all alive and well he mentioned, the Caribbean’s play our music , our films. I was in a bank and I met a girl from St. Lucia- she didn’t need a Nigerian to tell her who I was. I was at 7/11 buying coffee and a UPS guy came in and when he saw me  threw everything down and he is from Liberia so for me it’s one little world. If Africa gets 20% penetration into the world wide web  or if Nigeria gets 20% increase of penetration into the internet, we will do stuff.

If I am in Nigeria trying to get online, it takes time because my phone will have to reboot and it will cut off; I would wait for some time and will wait, it will play and stop. Glo mobile just launched 4G; it has not been deployed in the entire country, but we are getting there. Imagine that every time we have to go online in Nigeria, we don’t wait, we would dominate the world because people are looking for data plans that allow them to go online. Every knowledge you seek is at the touch of a button, especially if you know how to navigate it.

Internet access will go a long way in Nigeria because, even without the kind of access we need, we are creating jobs. How do you explain the rise of computer villages all over in Nigeria when computer education is like next to non existent? How do you explain a Nigerian boy who has never gone to any training takes a phone, dismantles it , studies it and begins to fix phones when they go bad for other people? How do you explain that? There are people who would have been a lot more self-taught to do all kinds of things, then they don’t have to travel abroad. Imagine if  the ease with which you order something online is the same ease one can order something on ebay in Nigeria, then why do I have to come here?

There a few local Amazon-type online ventures in Nigeria, but you are dealing with a society that does not have credit checks etc. UBER for instance came to Nigeria; for the first time they are accepting cash. It is a very peculiar situation. Dealing with trust that is occasioned by the fact that the society is not well-structured or ordered. There is no law and order and sanctions; if X goes wrong, how do I find B if he is owing me …?  Imagine if the world has been linked to the point where even if you are online in Nigeria and doing wrong , there are cyber police that can shut it down?

In Nigeria, if you can solve the problem of electricity, then everything else will fall in place. In Nigeria you are your own power supply, Nepa supply, water supply, own security, generator, security guard, water treatment plants,  you have to buy your gas cylinder and so on. Technically, your own government system. If I need to buy a car, there is no mortgage system- you have to pay full 20k . Even young people getting to be entrepreneurs lack capital. The used car sales business boomed, young people could only afford to get a car in system of payment where your salary every month can pay your car bill, but with no job security, so what happens when the guy loses his job after 2 months? It is overwhelming to think about the odds that are against the development of an African child.

RMD’s Take On Media In Africa

RMD sounded so passionate airing his frustrations about the system in the diaspora and the odds facing our young people. I asked him his thoughts about how Africa is portrayed in Western and international media.

Yes, Africa has her challenges but at the same time we all know there sweet spots in the continent, the beauty of the cities and so much more that is not reported about in media except for images of diseased and poor people or safaris that are shown to the outside world. Why is this the case and how can we change this?  It is a question of perspective and who pays the piper.

You don’t even need to go too far, look within America, Fox TV and any other anti or pro- democrat station does this. When I watch Fox TV, I I just see the demonization of Hillary or Obama or of democrats and everything else they talk about is how good the republicans are, no matter what Donald Trump is or represents as the ordinary man can perceive that is not what Fox wants you to perceive. It is the same thing as the western world has an image of Africa , they would rather keep it that way and not one of where there are galant heroes, no, everyone there is a thief or something. Have you seen Ava Duvernay’s documentary called 13th? He asked. Unfortunately I had not watched it by the time of the interview. He was frantic and said, “You have to watch it! Clinton even apologized for some of the policies they made,” he said. “When they said in truth that they were going to go hard on criminals they were actually talking about black people . It is mind boggling but that is the truth. Because you stop slavery and suddenly everyone is equal under the law but if you are a criminal, you are not equal so you don’t have rights. What happens to the black man then? So we have to pay for him to work?  How do you reduce him to nothing? You make him a victim of that law that you put in there so that when he is a criminal he doesn’t have rights. In the process of him telling you that now there is a law saying he is equal to you, they have to come together to make sure that law is obeyed. The coming together of the black man angry, trying to make sure that law comes into power is what begins to make them criminalize him so the MLK we idol worship today, the FBI director then says, he is the most dangerous man on earth, a serial liar. That is what in that period of history, is painted about one of the ones that advocates non violence.

Malcolm X says we didn’t come here of our free will to be made citizens, but you brought us here.  Now that we are here and you have finished using us and we have nowhere to go, don’t turn around make it look like you are doing us a favor. Deal with it. Everyone that rose up to protest for their rights was branded a criminal. Those that protest, they come round them up and on TV what you see is they put them in jail. Once you become an activist, then you are a criminal and once a criminal you lose rights.  The soul called country of the free and brave has the most prisoners than anywhere in the world. America has more people in jail than the rest of the world. How do you explain that? So in asking on media in Africa- the answer is the perspective. The person who pays the piper. How dare you write about Triumphs to the point of you idolizing every black person on earth? You can’t do that.

He continues: Have you seen Birth of a Nation? You should see stuff like that so you can get the education on history he said. There has been a careful orchestration of making sure that when the White person sees the black person, all he sees is a criminal, a bad person who is dangerous. A joke I would never forget by a British comedian – a man who comes to America and was told he should be careful in Central Park when it gets dark. So he is there and he realizes that oh it’s dark let me hurry up and leave. He sees a group of white people ahead and he says let him walk with them, so as he increases his pace to meet them, they increase their pace as well and soon they are all running because they think he is chasing them, meanwhile he is just looking for company. Funny! The media from the west, their main work is to demonize and completely dehumanize anything that comes out of Africa so that their lofty positions can be obtained as the ones that will always go and rescue.

I have been schooled on black history by RMD. Indeed the history is so important, learning by conversations or dialogue, or by watching documentaries or reading books goes a long way in our ability to understand some of the things happening in our world today. RMD continued on his points about Western media portrayal of Africa.  “It is the Tarzan mentality,” he said. Tarzan must go to Africa and rescue the ape-like people and teach them how to do this or that. There is a subtle approach they take to it but for every problem to be solved in Africa, it is some white girl or boy who will come and set a camp there, fight against the corrupt natives and leaders. Very subtle. I am a filmmaker- that is the whole point. That is the image that has been sold to the whole world. It might sound like I am too much of a crusader, but that is what it is. Watch 13th, when equality rights were done and slavery stopped, part of how they needed to keep the black man in check was they started employing only their wives and daughters, those who would not work under the same old conditions of slavery, but were now demanding pay and all that were kept at home, no work , nothing but their wives and daughters were working as chamber maids and all. So when their wives were working in chamber quarters, what were the men doing? They did not own land or anything, so they were at home. They look for things to play like checkers, wasting time or drinking. So by the time the wives are back from work with a little food, the man is angry or upset , and they beat up the women. Over time the black woman became the provider in her home and the man was reduced to nothing. It has been a generation thing and it is going to take time. For the black man not to be seen as the one who just procreates and sits at home bumming from morning till evening, is … it has been orchestrated from time. it is deliberate, every means to institutionalize slavery is real.

Hope for the Future

RMD has narrated very strong, respectable point of view and I imagine he had more to say if we had more time, but it’s a weekend with his kids and we had to conclude our conversation. Africa has endless possibilities and there is a wave of change happening because of the human capital and potential rising, so what does RMD think in terms of hope for the continent?

Education, changing the mindset and making sure that things that we say jokingly like the blacks have conquered enough or there are enough writers, or black number of basketball players or footballers or NFL stars- We need more black people like in America here to go into government  and making policies; that is what we need in Nigeria and the continent as a whole. We need younger people with brighter ideas to go beyond.

My advice to young people is to be open minded and to be ready to lead and to be an influencer anywhere you find yourself. For me, RMD said- I just want to influence as many young people as possible.

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