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Twenty Years On, Ken Saro-Wiwa's Legacy Echoes from the Grassroots to the United Nations

Twenty Years On, Ken Saro-Wiwa's Legacy Echoes from the Grassroots to the United Nations

Godwin Ojo

LAGOS, Nigeria – Ken Saro-Wiwa belonged to that rare but wonderful category of poet-writer turned non-violent resistance leader. And like too many non-violent resistance leaders, he was executed by the people whose interests he challenged. November 10th is the twentieth anniversary of his execution in his motherland, Nigeria.

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Thanks for this homage to Ken Saro-Wiwa. His legacy is strong even after his execution by the corrupt Nigerian government under pressure from Royal Dutch Shell. This courageous and brilliant person deserves the respect and remembrance his life merits.


I have not used Shell products since learning about Ken’s murder by Shell who were accomplices to the crime. I hope his name and story will never be forgotten. I was honored to once meet his brother Owens. He had to struggle with the Nigerian government for many years just to retrieve the remains of his brother from an unmarked grave so that Ken could have a proper burial. Ken Saro-Wiwa Presente!


For centuries the racist and fundamentally dehumanized practices of robber barons have worked to maintain and massage a continually expanding fog of a come-hither mirror world. Their scale, relative to the dimensions of the planet itself and the violent religion of elitism could trigger systemic violence and make people believe that it was the only and best, and one to which, if you had an ‘intrinsic’ value as ‘an individual’ would cleave to, die and kill for. The barbarism, wherever it clawed and claws, constructs glittering prisons of uniform impoverishment in the model of PT Barnum. Its shelf life, always limited, is utterly dependent on corruption, violence and blood sacrifice human or otherwise it tacitly claims to be irrelevant.

What Ken Sao Wewa fought was the consequence of European barbarity that had already seen a generation of decimation in the west of elegant public systems of transportation for the greed of isolation for capital enslavement of the western soul in identifying ‘success’ by identity with the privately owned automobile. It is virtually heretical to even mention this. The soul of the west was magically transmuted into the 20th century iteration of the millions of deaths in the mines of Potosi. The powers grew fat and royal courts were packed with sycophants managing the development of social mores to be utterly blind to the consumption of millions of lives enslaved to mine the metals, the oil, the orgy of maniacal perversion sold by equally perverse marketing - and the hypnosis continues, but billions are shaking free of the invisibilized delusions. The chickens are not just coming home to roost, they are falling diseased and unable to reproduce. The planetary limits, a commensurate invisible wall to this self-congratulatory delusion has all the exponential powers of a boomerang.

I am once again reminded of Steve Biko and the prophetic words with which he opened a chapter called Black Consciousness and the quest for a true humanity - applicable to all humanity:

“It is perhaps fitting to start by examining why it is necessary for us to think collectively about a problem we never created”

Out of respect for his words and the life of Ken Saro Wewa:


The first demonstration I attended with other Greenpeace activists when I began canvassing with GP (GP canvassing ended up working for me much better than my attempts to canvass for PeaceAction, whose lack of charismatic whales and boats to inspire donors seemed to make my job impossible) was in Oakland, CA, a sparsely but seriously attended memorial for Saro-Wiwa. That night gave me a clear lesson on what it means to be a truly transformative environmental activist, which Saro-Wiwa was. He acted nonviolently but with the same visionary courage as Gandhi, who said of nonviolence, from Norman Finklestein’s What Gandhi Says: “My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harboured violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice.” This was the same kind of nonviolence that Saro-Wiwa practiced, a force for transformation that understood he might be martyred, but that there was no other way to move forward. Saro-Wiwa was right, and he paid the ultimate price. I can only imagine he is a Bodhisattva now (and then), opening up light in darkness.

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Shell, Chevron, Texaco, every one of these and the other oil totalitarians have killed, raped, and pillaged to the top. Since blessedly giving up owning a car 3 years ago, I’ve noticed that when I’m no longer paying those guys to burn the blood of future generations, I feel freer to see their game as equal to that of chemical companies or weapons dealers or any other corporate entity that the vast majority of Progressive or even many “Liberal” and “Conservative” US people would love to cut ties with and see dwindle away. To me, it is this lifting of guilt or a defeated sense of complicity with evil that is as significant as the actual impact on the atmosphere of a marginal uptick in more US people no longer driving. I wonder if a certain uptick of US people who could actually give up driving actually did give it up (this might mostly mean yuppies who drive but who, with only a small change in lifestyle, could give it up), if that would unleash in those folks and others who know them a clearer awareness of the utter unacceptability of burning today’s and tomorrow’s children to maintain a car-based way of life, and greater courage and energy to enact the transformation.