Driving around the Twin Cities today, you may see billboards with the words #Haikus4Gambia, accompanied by just that – a haiku.
This consciousness-raising poetry project is the brainchild of IBé, a.k.a. Ibrahim Kaba, a local spoken word artist and computer programmer. It celebrates the 49th anniversary of Gambia’s independence from British rule.
IBé organized 49 different poets, from high school students to established professionals, to write haiku about the small West African country. The results are posted both on billboards and on a website, where others can add their own poems.
He was inspired by the website Wooloo.org, where someone issued an open call encouraging artists to come up with ways to celebrate 59 days of independence for the 59 countries that are former British colonies.
“I thought it was such a cool idea to create true global citizenry,” said IBé, who grew up in Sierra Leone.
A resident of Minnesota for more than 20 years, IBé said he continues to be saddened by people’s ignorance of Africa.
“The little bit that people know about Africa is usually all the negative thing,” IBé said. “I feel like people meet us at our worst time. We Africans are very caring, gentle and beautiful inside and out if you meet us at the right time. And if you meet us through the news, you miss that.”
So he chose to celebrate the independence day of Gambia, a country which is not in turmoil.
“It’s a beautiful country!” exclaimed IBé, adding that he’s long been fascinated by how it is surrounded by the French-colonized Senegal.
“I think it’s very indicative of the problem with colonization, how Africa was just divided at random,” IBé said. “It was not in the interest of Africans, because obviously they’ve got the same people in both Gambia and Senegal and beyond.”
Some people have questioned why IBé is leading a project for a country he has never visited. But he said he doesn’t need to go to Gambia to be deeply connected with its people.
“I really believe my consciousness is African, so I feel ownership and belonging to Gambia just as much as I do to Sierra Leone and Guinea,” he said.
IBé hopes people who see the billboards and visit the website will be inspired to learn about Gambia, and then write their own poetry celebrating its culture.