LOUD WHISPERS: A Woman In Harmony With Her Spirit

                                               Professor Abena Busia@70

A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination to be herself and only herself’ Maya Angelou

She strode towards me with the regal twists and turns of her body I have always known her for, a smile that could light up a city on her lovely face that looked nothing like the seven decades I had come all the way to celebrate. We fell into each other’s arms and neither of us wanted to let go. We managed to pull apart and when we saw we both had tears in our eyes, we hugged again. I forgot how tired I was after waking up at 2.30 in the morning in London, in order to get to the airport for 4am. My flight was 6am from London to Lisbon, and every one who knows me will confirm that I am not the kind of traveler who huffs and puffs her way on to a flight, I always leave enough time to catch a flight. From Lisbon was a long nine hours to Brasilia, Brazil, where my friend of thirty years was waiting for me.

A lot of women are happy to declare that they do not have female friends. It is one of the most anti-feminist mindsets imaginable, birthed by the culture of misogyny which not only normalizes a hatred for women, but tries to drive home its point by making sure that women are perpetually afraid of or in competition with one another. Do friends let you down? Of course, they do. Do female friends betray trust and confidences? Sadly, they do. This does not add up to a decree that one should not have friends. Men do nasty things to one another, yet we do not hear men swearing never to have friends. It does take time to build the kind of trust that will keep a friendship going for years, and it is a really beautiful thing to have people like that in your life, those who are there regardless of the season and who never have a word of judgement for you. The kind you can call and say you have killed someone (hopefully not!) and who will not ask for details but will instead ask if you are okay. Everyone deserves someone like that in their lives. I am so fortunate that one of them is Abena Busia.

Abena Pokua Adompin Busia, Feminist, Researcher, Writer, Poet, Teacher, Diplomat, was born April 28th 1953. Her father was Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia who served as Prime Minister of Ghana (1969-1972), and her mother was Naa Morkor Busia, a Midwife. Abena moved around with her family as a young girl, and lived in The Netherlands, Mexico and Oxford where they settled. She attended St Anne’s College Oxford and St Anthony’s College where she earned her D. Phil in Social Anthropology in 1984. Most of her academic career was spent at Rutgers University, USA where she became Professor of English Studies and the Chair of the department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Abena was co-director of the Pan-African Women Writing Africa, together with Professor Tuzyline Jita Allan a project that spanned up to ten years and produced four volumes of African women’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry and oral tradition dating back to antiquity. She is the co-editor (with Stanlie James) of Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women (1993), Beyond Survival: African Literature and the Search for New Life (1999), Testimonies of Exile (1990) and Traces of Life (2008). In July 2017, the Ghanaian President Nana Akuffo-Ado, named Professor Abena Busia as Ghana’s Ambassador to Brazil with representation in twelve other Latin American countries.

I first met Abena in 1993 at one of the preparatory meetings for the UN Human Rights Conference which took place in Vienna, but we did not talk much then. We were introduced by Professor Charlotte Bunch, founder and Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University where Abena was teaching. In June 1994, I attended the annual women’s leadership program at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Every summer up to 30 women leaders from around the world would be selected to attend the program which covered a range of leadership development topics such as public policy analysis, feminist advocacy, using human rights instruments, non-profit leadership and many others. Abena came round to the program a number of times and we got to know one another better. I was in such awe of this accomplished role model. When it was time for me to leave, the staff at the center were about to book a taxi for me to the train station when Abena said she would drop me off. I was pregnant at the time and she felt responsible for making sure I was comfortable. We had so much fun on the way to the station that she ran a traffic light and got a ticket for it. She has never let me hear the end of that!

We became firm friends and anytime she passed through London, she would check on me. When I co-founded the African Women’s Development Fund with Joana Foster and Hilda Tadria, we asked Abena to join the board. On June 8th 2000, we were planning the global launch of the African Women’s Development Fund, taking advantage of the Beijing Plus 5 conference that had been organised by the United Nations in New York. On the day of the launch, we were running around putting things together. Abena already had her task for the event, her role was to serve as the Mistress of Ceremonies. She came to my hotel room at the UN Millennium Plaza, to go over details of the evening. She asked if there was anything else she could do to help, and I said no, that I had to go and get new buttons for my dinner jacket because somehow one of the buttons had come off, and it was such a rare design, I had to either change all four buttons on the jacket or find something else to wear. Abena offered to go and look for new buttons and she came back with them and sewed all of them on for me. I have never forgotten the sight of this woman, at least ten years older than me, a Professor of Literature, sitting on my bed and sewing on the buttons of my jacket so that I could be free to sort out other things.  Her act of sisterly love, simplicity and humility touched me more than she can ever know.

In March 2001 I moved from London to Accra to officially start work as the Executive Director of the African Women’s Development Fund. I was in good hands. While Joana Foster was the mother figure, settling me in and taking care of me, Abena was the friend I badly needed. My move to Ghana coincided with a one-year sabbatical leave she was on from Rutgers University in order to work on a slavery writing project. In spite of the age difference, we found that we had many things in common – ‘Daddy’s girls’, feminist activism, writing, poetry, story-telling, good wine, seafood, community service, faith, family values, there is never a dull moment when we are together.

Even in this day and age, we still hear arguments about how sons are needed to carry on legacies and daughters simply take on the names of other families. Abena Busia and her famous actress sister, Akosua Busia (star of The Colour Purple and Tears in the Sun) have worked hard for many years to keep the legacy of their late father alive. Through The Busia Foundation, they have done more to sustain the memory of their father than ten sons would have done. Let that be a lesson for those who still do not understand that empowered girls become formidable women.


Like other peers of mine, I have lost many friends over the years. Every time I hear a friend is feeling poorly, I panic, because I have experienced what it is like to have once vibrant eyes lose their sparkle, grow dim, then close forever. I am therefore overjoyed that I am writing a birthday tribute for my beloved friend and not a eulogy.

 Sister Abena, my friend, big sister, mentor, counsellor, teacher, cheer leader and more, here is me telling you that I love you.  I am proud of you, I am glad that our paths crossed and that we have shared so many adventures together. Here is me telling you while you can hear it, that your friendship has meant so much to me and I have learnt and grown immensely under your guidance. And here is me praying for you – may your waters never run dry. May your tears be ones of joy and not of sorrow. May the drums of the land always beat for you and may your dance steps never cease to bear witness to your ageless grace. May all that you have done with your heart, mind and soul always be valued. May you continue to reap the fruits of your significant labours. May you be honoured by your children always the way I have known you to honour your parents. Happy 70th birthday my dear big sister and friend. Keep shining like the bright star you have always been and may you forever be in harmony with your spirit.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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4 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: A Woman In Harmony With Her Spirit

  1. Adegbola Opeyemi May 1, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    Happy birthday Professor Abena Busia. We all celebrate you and your efforts ma’am. More power to your elbow

  2. Rachael May 3, 2023 at 2:59 am

    Happy birthday Madam Abena Busia

  3. Iyanuoluwa Isinkaye May 7, 2023 at 6:00 pm

    Happy birthday to you ma.

  4. Fisolami May 7, 2023 at 6:57 pm

    Happy birthday to you ma’am


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