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Africa, France: Who is Nafissatou Diallo? Victim or Conspirator?

In the debate over the alleged sexual assault by former International Monetary Fund managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) of a hotel chambermaid in New York on May 14, 2011, attention is now shifting from his guilt or innocence, to the identity of the alleged victim.

Nafissatou Diallo [fr] is a Guinean woman who received political asylum [fr] in the United States, and worked at the hotel for three years. According to some, she is the perfect victim, but what does the story of Nafisatou Diallo really represent, if anything at all?

Picture of Nafissatou Diallo as shown by her brother in Guinea from BFMTV.com screenshot.

Picture of Nafissatou Diallo as shown by her brother in Guinea from BFMTV.com screenshot.

Nafissatou Diallo, a victim of sexism?

In France, a feminist protest was organised on Sunday May 22 in reaction to a statement by well-known French journalist, Jean-François Kahn (JFK) who suggested that DSK may only have “tumbled the chambermaid.” His words were interpreted as a mark of contempt against women, but also of disdain towards Ms. Diallo's social class, since he is connected to high society. JFK's wife was a witness in the wedding of Anne Sinclair to DSK.

A video of the recording is circulating on YouTube.

In a post entitled “The DSK Affair cristalises class struggle” (L'affaire DSK cristallise la guerre des classes) [fr] on the blog Monolecte, Agnès Maillard writes:

la petite sortie de JFK, qui doit se considérer lui-même de la gauche modérée, est des plus éclairantes quand il choisit de défendre l'indéfendable, (…) mais en déqualifiant le viol en simple « troussage domestique », (…)

The little outburst by JFK, who probably considers himself a moderate socialist, is very enlightening when he chooses to defend the indefensible, (…) by disqualifying the rape into a simple “tumbling of a chambermaid” (…)

Nafissatou Diallo, a victim of racism?

Alongside the French feminist debate, voices of women considered African intellectuals rose to give Nafissatou Diallo yet another possible dimension, from victim of a racist crime, to the master of a conspiracy.

French-Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala wrote an open letter [fr] that has been republished on several websites, entitled: “Rape the Black Woman, and Marry the White One”.

Calixthe Beyala. Screenshot from video on Calixthebeyala.com.

Calixthe Beyala. Screenshot from video on Calixthebeyala.com.

Beyala writes:

Il est traumatisant de se rendre compte que certains noirs ont des chaînes dans la tête et ne se posent pas la question de l'appétence des puissants de ce monde vis-à-vis des femmes Noires, une attirance morbide où les relations n'ont guère changé depuis l'esclavage

It is traumatising to realise that some Black people still have chains in their minds, and do not question the appetite of powerful men for Black women, a morbid attraction, in which relations haven't changed since slavery.

But this interpretation does not seem to find support from a large audience online. Maybach Carter, a popular blogger among youngsters of the African Diaspora, published a post in response entitled “Open Letter to Calixthe Beyala: Please Shut up!” (Lettre ouverte à Calixthe Beyala : de grâce taisez-vous).

After questioning the designated status of Beyala as an “African female Intellectual” she offers her total opposition to introducing a racial argument to the DSK affair:

Quand les origines de la victime présumée ont été révélées, j’ai su qu’à un moment donné, quelqu’un prendrait le chemin du débat racial. J’attendais cela de quelques groupes extrémistes, mais pas de la part de quelqu’un comme vous. Le méchant et tout-puissant juif contre la pauvre petite immigrée musulmane africaine : la tentation était TROP GRANDE pour vous n’est-ce pas ?

When the origins of the alleged victim were revealed, I knew that at some point, someone would take the debate the racial way. I expected this from extremist groups, but not from someone like you. The mean and powerful Jew vs the poor little Muslim African immigrant: temptation was TOO BIG for you, wasn't it?

The post has so far been “liked” by 1300 people on Facebook.

On Twitter, Beyala's position on the affair triggered endless sarcasm.

@gregbuttay: Calixthe Beyala est un stéréotype à elle toute seule, une fausse persécutée trouvant du racisme dans chaque fais divers

Calixthe Beyala is a stereotype of herself, a fake victim of persecution who finds racism in each news brief.

@Babapetruchka: RT @MrMaith ARRÊTEZ TOUT. On a trouvé l'analyse la plus stupide de l'affaire #DSK. La palme revient à Calixthe Beyala.

STOP EVERYTHING. We have found the most stupid analysis on the DSK Affair. The prize goes to Calixthe Beyala.

Nafissatou Diallo, a conspiratorial Fula?

Meanwhile the official spokesperson of the presidential party “Rassemblement du Peuple Guinéen” (RPG), Mrs. Sano Dossou Condé says she doesn't believe Nafissatou Diallo at all and offers her support to Anne Sinclair, wife of DSK. Dossou Condé commented on the matter in an interview with Ivoir TV, Ivorian web television, posted on YouTube:

After emphasizing that she is speaking solely on behalf of herself, she says:

(…) I am humiliated today that it is one of my fellow citizens who plays this game. Honestly I do not believe this. I am humiliated today that it is an African woman who adopts an American culture to state publicly that she is raped. (…) I sympathise with the humiliation of Anne Sinclair, she is the one who interests me a lot in this affair

On the blog Guinée Libre (Free Guinea), Thierno, the author, gives a possible explanation for such position by an official of the Presidential Guinean party. For him, Dossou Condé's words conceal ethnic hatred against Fula people in the Guinean context :

Les ethno-racistes malinkés très nombreux ont trouvé là une occasion d'étaler toute la misère la puanteur de leur haine à l'égard des peulhs

The numerous Malinke ethno-racists found here an occasion to spread the misery and stench of their hatred against Fula People

He continues:

Partant du faux axiome que “Une femme de culture peule, n'avouera jamais un viol – question d'honneur” Doussou Condé, sans empathie ou solidarité de personnes originaires du même pays ou de même sexe déverse sur sa compatriote un torrent de mensonges et d'infamies qui laisse pantois, coi, même les journalistes étrangers.

Interpreting a false axiom according to which “a Fula woman never reveals she is raped – question of honor” Doussou Condé, without empathy or solidarity with people from her country, or with people of her gender, pours out on her fellow citizen a flood of insults and infamies which leaves speechless, even foreign journalists.

Nafissatou Diallo, a dignified African woman ?

What if Mrs Diallo was finally simply an African woman, living in a Western country, struggling in life while trying not to lose her dignity?

This is what Patrice Nganang, a Cameroonian writer, suggests on his Facebook wall by linking to the first African full-length film from 1966, Black Girl, by Sembene Ousmane:

The film tells the story of a Senegalese maid, brought to France by her employers, a French couple, who begin to treat her harshly. She commits suicide over despair with her life in France. The movie is especially famous for the last scenes where the maid's employer visits her family after her death in order to offer payment for their loss. The family refuses the money, and the man is chased by a child who wears a mask:

In an interview with Courrier International [fr], the elder brother of Nafissatou Diallo, replied to the question “Would you accept money from DSK's lawyer if they asked that your sister withdrew her testimony?” he explains:

Nous n'avons pas besoin d'argent. Nous tenons juste à notre dignité, et voulons retrouver l'honneur et la dignité de notre soeur.

We don't need money. We just care about our dignity, and we want to retrieve the honor and dignity of our sister.

See our previous stories on the Dominic Strauss-Kahn affair:

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  • SK

    The perceptions that perpetuate injustice are absolutely astounding!! Many thanks to the author here for thoroughly convincing me I live in a cave. I give here high kudos for the creative genius of Nganang, along with my deepest heartfelt wishes for strength and justice to Diallo and her family. (Sacramento, CA, USA)

  • http://www.bantupolitics.blogspot.com/ Julie Owono

    Hello SK, and thank you for your comment, and encouragements. The aim of this article is really to replace Mrs Diallo in her Human dimension, and I’m happy this gave you another perspective.

  • DES

    It’s just a bit longer than one month after this article was published and the story seems to be completely different. It would be interesting to know if Julie Owono would say something different now, specially about Mrs Diallo’s Human dimension…

  • http://www.theprimeminister.com david thompson

    i di feel this has been a game! a ridiculous game , when no doubt DSK is no Angel and i would assume Money had exchanged hands etc but the rest is all part of a well planned embarrassment so there would be a new IMF chief- as much of what he was about to do , was not acceptable to various groups = also he had been asking questions about the US reserves and amounts re GOLD- and this topic he was warned to stay off repeatedly well now he is off

    so for woman groups to pretend etc and chase comments about One Rape etc. – they have missed the point as they have been used by a worse and more manipulative bunch of nasty types !

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