Dr. Sionne Neely’s recent statement confirming the “violence, terror, intimidation and coercion” she has endured for a decade from Mantse Aryeequaye, her former romantic and business partner, has, to say the very least, polarised the art scene in Ghana. But this scission is merely artificial since what it has successfully done is to expose the cracks in the liberal consensus upon which much of political activism in Ghana is based. Our human rights activists are dogmatic about the rhetoric of ‘choice as freedom’ without recognizing that true freedom is much more of a ‘commitment to struggle’, and as such fail to be relevant when a decisive moment of political action presents itself. Naturally there are those in support of Aryeequaye on the one hand and those who are critical of him, on the other. There are also those who generally claim to be friends of both Dr. Neely and Aryeequaye who are therefore unable to take a position on the matter. Some of these ‘friends’ have advocated a third-way with the possibility to dialogue things out between them.
The liberal caucus seem to be debating which way forward even in the face of such explicit accusations made against a man who is purported to have taken the woman he was with for granted and violated her in many ways. Others have stated that they cannot commit to opposing one or the other simply because nobody else was present to witness the abuse and that there is no way of verifying Dr. Neely’s allegations. Without wanting to admit it these same people, by uttering such empty words, do not see that they have already chosen a side on the matter. If the victim is my friend and I claim that I cannot intervene in a matter that she herself has publicly proclaimed then what I am silently saying is that she is possibly being dishonest. There is no way of taking a neutral position in a situation of this kind. And to take a position does not necessarily mean one blindly begins to lay blame on the accused but to diligently pursue the matter through appropriate channels. One can have every form of love in this world for Aryeequaye and/or Dr. Neely and still do this.
Even though this is not an explicit case of sexual assault I would like to make analogy to some things that can be learned from the #MeToo movement. In essence #MeToo (and other related movements since 2017 which have addressed matters of the kind under discussion) stands to undermine such non-committal spirit with an ethical imperative of seeking justice. For me the true revolutionary potential of #MeToo lies in the deeper issues of reflexively implicating one’s self while addressing general human tendencies. There are three ways I can summarize the power of a claim to #MeToo: 1. #MeToo in the emancipatory sense we have come to know: invoked as an urgent announcement by a survivor declaring their victimhood themselves (meaning they are unspoken for) and by that rallying a universal call for justice on the basis of objective truth not only for its subject but for all potential others. 2. #MeToo in the sense of literally implicating ourselves (i.e. every single human being) as possessing tendencies towards such abusive and exploitative behaviour at any given moment if self-discipline is not exercised (here is a famous example) and 3. #MeToo in another literal sense meaning any of us can potentially be victimized at any given moment through this patriarchal engine of oppression already set in motion. In a word, #MeToo offers us a complex inclusive and self-critical framework through which to create egalitarian spaces in the direction of justice1. But a dynamic chain of events could also create slippages and cause these same principles— particularly point 3— to fail in themselves while being re-routed as new weapons of subjugation. The point would be to void them of any uniformity in expression. In this light we can then say that the condition of victimhood, however emancipatory, can also produce its opposite.
Evidently Mantse Aryeequaye’s own vainglorious response is an example of such excesses. After being silent for more than a year on the issue Aryeequaye has also appeared with a statement of his own claiming to be a victim of a “false accusation campaign”. He has drawn the lines of antagonism and has proceeded to contradict those people asking him to speak ‘his truth’ all this while. He has side-stepped their expectations to claim that his version cannot sit side-by-side Dr. Neely’s but effectively overrides hers. Is there not cause for concern when Dr. Neely claims in her article titled “Speaking My Truth” that “for more than 3 hours I was held hostage in our shared flat, physically and emotionally tortured and coerced into audio-recording false statements while my life was being threatened with two weapons” and Aryeequaye gives his counter-claim by also stating that “[t]he apartment units we shared had other occupants; it also has 24-hour security. About 100 meters west of where we lived is a Police Station. Sionne also worked for a women’s rights organisation for a significant part of our relationship and it is absolutely preposterous to think that she endured this kind of torture while organising against it with her ‘sisters in arms’”? The perverse nature of all this is that Aryeequaye and Dr. Neely are both appealing to our sense of justice by claiming to be victims of something the other has done. One could take either Dr. Neely’s side or Aryeequaye’s, but never both in the name of friendship (although one could also take neither side amounting to a critical position with healthy skepticism of both in order to deal with the contradiction). In short, they both cannot be telling the truth on the question of abuse if they give us opposite answers to the same question. Given such parameters the only other possible scenario is that they are both lying to us.
The question I have already heard from many people and continue to encounter is “why are external parties so interested in this matter?” “Is it any of your concern?” The answer is simple. It is of course not directly my concern because it did not happen to me. But the consequences of this moment go beyond these two individuals for the following reasons: if they are both manipulating the public by scandalizing each other in this way then it is dirty and deeply unfortunate. If one of them is lying against the other it bears consequences on the institution they have both created as well as the interns and many others they have and are continuing to mentor. If one of them is speaking the truth, and was indeed “terrorized” or is being defamed maliciously, then that goes beyond just the private space of two people into the realms of legality. And the cultural ramifications would be that if everything Dr. Neely has told us in her statement of this megaloman is true then he is not fit to be at the helm of running an institution they created together which still acts as a source of ideological nourishment for advancing a politics proclaiming to be creating safe spaces for women especially. So we see that it is not a simple matter for just two people to deal with now that it has taken this dimension. One could argue that the general public is at this point being drawn into the matter even as both of them have resorted to using social networks to defend themselves. And so even though it is true that “it is not your [my] concern” (as my Ghanaian people say) it has become all of ours in an indirect way. Truth, as acknowledged by of them, is what is at stake here.
If there is any evidence against Aryeequaye it needs to be brought out now. If not, then we need to leave the man alone regardless of whatever feelings any of us may have towards him. Because if indeed Aryeequaye did do these things and his accusers have evidence against him, then the fact that he is able to boldly taunt them in this way is, at the very least, laughable.
Now to briefly clarify some non-truths in Aryeequaye’s statement. It is a horrible travesty that Aryeequaye is able to downplay Dr. Neely’s role in establishing ACCRA[Dot]ALT and ‘Chale Wote’ altogether. To seek to reduce her to a mere “domestic partner” (this is how a statement released by ACCRA[Dot]Alt on 9th September, 2019— which has since been deleted from the Internet— referred to her) and eliding her from the story. The bullish tone in his statement will not alter the fact that ‘Chale Wote’ is not his personal property as he would like us to believe. And to undermine the many silent workforces who have laboured out of love for the festival to be able to construct a hopeful response to the desperate political-economic circumstances at the time makes Aryeequaye’s intentions and insecurities self-evident. Let us not forget that ‘Chale Wote’ was conceived and created not too long after the global economic crises of 2007/8. It could not have been done by a single person. Siting this arts festival outdoors in Jamestown was a political gesture in itself to, among other things, respond to the phenomenon of ‘poverty industries’ around the globe where poor people are the only ones who do not benefit materially from their condition. And it is sad that one can get so preoccupied with their self-importance that they cannot see when they are shooting themselves in the foot. Aryeequaye has gone on record to express what he thinks to be anti-capitalist views; the ironic twist is that he has failed to understand the radically subversive nature of capital. One only needs to pay attention to the things highlighted about the festival to know where both his and ACCRA[Dot]Alt’s priorities now rest. And it has shifted from its original focus: no longer aligned nor concerned with the primary actors, consumers, spectators and producers of the festival— i.e. the residents of Jamestown.
1. Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement has already made this point that “[t]his is a movement about the one in four girls and the one in six boys who are sexually assaulted every year and carry those wounds into adulthood. It’s about the 84 percent of trans women who will be sexually assaulted this year and the indigenous women who are three-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other group. Or people with disabilities, who are seven times more likely to be sexually abused. It’s about the 60 percent of black girls like me who will be experiencing sexual violence before they turn 18, and the thousands and thousands of low-wage workers who are being sexually harassed right now on jobs that they can’t afford to quit”. See Tarana Burke’s TedWomen presentation in 2018 titled “Me Too is a movement, not a moment” here https://www.ted.com/talks/tarana_burke_me_too_is_a_movement_not_a_moment.