Monday, June 25, 2012

Africa’s type of governance

 “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”
Genesis 11:6

Why do Africans not have a highly developed democratic system like the western states? Why is it always one coup or another? Why are elections so flawed?

These are questions that are prevalent around us. Simple answer, in my opinion, is the states were not created by us Africans, they were made by slave masters. Forcing us to live together in colonies they felt made sense to them. Or maybe was easy for them to deal with. The border lines of most, if not all of these countries were drawn on a centre table in a room in western capitals surrounded by politicians and western aristocrats without any input from the subjects.

Take for instance, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 by Lord Frederick Lugard. It was done for business! Nothing more. Port Harcourt was named after British politician Lewis Vernon Harcourt by the guy who was in charge of Nigeria as at then. Truth is Africa was an extension of their way of life. And the human ‘things’ in Africa were not important to them. We either lived the way they did or not live at all!

In this world, I don’t know of any country as diverse as Nigeria is. The Fulanis up north and the Yorubas down south couldn’t be more different. They are so different, it’s unreal. How can the British then expect the Emirs of the Caliphate in the north to overnight form a long lasting relationship with the Awujales in the south? How can the Sardauna suddenly become friends with Jaja in the Delta region? A group that knows nothing but desert and sandstorms is supposed to, all of a sudden foster a long lasting friendship with a group that basically lives in water. All because the slave master said so?

How can the level of unity be the same in a country of over 250 indigenous languages as it is where they have only one language? In the bible, when God wanted to cause disharmony among men, He made them speak different languages. If God did it, would I be suggesting something out of scope to think the colonial masters encouraged the same? – Don’t quote me on that though. The UK has been a country since God knows when, they speak only one language, how can the differing groups of the nation not have a better understanding than a country like Nigeria? You only need to move around Africa to know what I mean.

When a person from a certain ethnic group is in a position in Africa, no matter how good he/she performs, other ethnicities want a shot. “Do they think they’re the only ones who can rule?” You’ll hear. And these are not even underground mutterings, I’m talking about what you see on national TV or in national dailies attributed to our ‘political minds’.

Ethnicity is a big part of our culture in Africa. Whether we like it or not, it exists. And it does not exist in the western states. Though there might have different races living in the community, they take a back seat when like ideas are on the table. Ideas are the lines along which cliques are formed in a true democracy and sadly, this is not so in Africa. How then does democracy work?

Please don’t get me wrong, I see nothing but strength and beauty in our diversity. But how long are we going to keep trying to achieve the same thing in the same way as a set of people who are so blatantly different from us? Do you know the feeling of being approached as Yoruba boy by, say an Italian asking you what the meaning of an Ibibio word is and you are as confused as he is? Especially as we both know if I were to ask him of the meaning of any Italian word, whether originating from the north or south, he will know it.

The US has been a mainly two party system for scores of years. The UK has only about three main political parties. But here in Africa, every aggrieved politician forms a party and we have political parties spring up every few weeks, who are we fooling?

In the midst of untold hardship on the citizenry in Nigeria, you have some clamouring for creation of new states. Seriously? New states? What type of democracy are we running?

When we will get it right, I don’t know. But I’m sure this generation of leaders and politicians have to somehow vacate the scene. I know we need the younger ones to step up to the plate. And I know we somehow need to break the mould and correct the error of our colonial masters by hopefully working together or at worst (and hopefully not) break up the countries in Africa into true components that reflect the identity of the citizens of every state on the continent. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Neocolonialism: Control behind the curtains.

For Nigeria, it was 1960. For Kenya, it was 1963. For Uganda, 1962. That time in every nation in the developing world when independence was granted from the colonial powers. The time in a nation’s history when the country thought it was now time to achieve to face the future and take a seat in the comity of nations. That point when the nation breathed a sigh of relief that it could now run its own affairs on its own. A premature sigh it turned out to be..

Independence is supposed to be independent. Sounds tautological but I’m just trying to show the seeming obviousness of what independence is meant to be. This however is far from the case. Things are simply not what they’re supposed to be.

It is no secret that the developed world sends aid to Africa. They do so almost religiously. Even at a time of turbulent economic outlook, they still do. The question is why? Are they that nice? Does anyone really mean to tell me, the reason they pump in so much money into African and Latin American coffers is because they love the continent? Could be, but if they loved the continent so much that they give so much aid, why not just cancel the overriding debt of these countries? If they care so much, why don’t they import health experts and give free healthcare services? Simple truth is, they give the said ‘aid’ to control the people.

Kwame Nkrumah, who coined the term ’neocolonialism’ put it this way:

“…The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world…”

Kwame Nkrumah: Coined the word 'Neocolonialism'

Foreign aid as it is being disseminated these days inevitably finds its way into the hands of economic powers who in turn reinvest it into the originating country in the first place. It’s a cycle people. It’s a cycle. And since the money has been given to these less disadvantaged countries in the first place, there exists a form of unwritten IOU between the giving and receiving countries. It’s like burning a candle at both ends for the receiving countries of these bond fees called aid.

Then there is the UN. The UN is a lameduck organization created to serve as a platform for international cooperation being controlled by the governments of the most powerful countries on earth. The security council of the United Nations has five permanent members. How can it then be said that all countries are uniquely independent. Five countries have permanent membership of the most powerful council on earth and the remaining countries share ten seats among themselves on a rota basis. You be the judge and tell me the will of the powerful nations will not be imposed on the less powerful ones.

 Only a fool will not admit there are internal problems in Africa. Leadership problems. But let me ask a simple question; is there any African leader scarier than Saddam Hussein? And didn’t ‘they’ get him out? And of course part of the excuses was that they were doing it for the good of the Iraqi’s. Muammar Kaddafi ditto. Here is my opinion, which could obviously be wrong; the leaders of the developing world do the bidding of the leaders of the developed countries. And the developed counties’ leaders in turn do the bidding of powerful economic and social forces behind the curtains. Like I said, I might be wrong; it’s just what I think. 

Africa might be free from the nomenclature of being called colonies of powerful countries, but are we really totally free from their control? And are our resources really ours to enjoy independently?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thomas Sankara: Our own Che.

Thomas Sankara: Our own Che.
December 21, 1949 – October 15, 1987 

It’s no secret to say the word ‘hero’ is very much over used in the society we live in today. A corrupt politician or a prima donna celebrity or sports person manages to visit an orphanage after a long night of drinking and smoking and he or she is hailed a hero.

Well, the good news is heroes do exist. And in many cases, they pay the ultimate price for their beliefs. Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral; these are heroes. And so is Thomas Sankara.

Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara was born on the 21st of December, 1949. He was born a half caste between the Mossi and Fulani people of French Upper Volta. Some of the most disadvantaged people of the region. Biblically, Gideon comes to mind. A powerful and revolutionary leader rising out of the midst of some of the least influential people in the country. Thomas watched his father fight in the French army during the second world war. And captured by the Nazi’s! I wasn’t there, but this event must have shaped his thinking. He must have thought, “are we really free from these people?” “Why can’t we just live our lives without their interference?”

Sankara: Our own Che Guevara

Thomas, while serving in Madagascar, saw uprisings against the government of Philibert Tsiranana. And read writings by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. He held a couple of government positions on his return to his country and his popularity grew. Sankara resigned his position as secretary of state for information in protest to the government’s shabby treatment of labour unions. A coup overcame that government and Thomas became Prime Minister. Again, he was place under house arrest along with some of his friends. This move, due to the popularity of Sankara, caused an uprising.

Thomas Sankara became the president of Upper Volta in 1983 through a coup at the age of 33. It was time for this young leader to put everything he had learnt to use. He had been influenced by Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Lenin, Kwame Nkurmah and so on. And in my opinion, he had learnt well!

Sankara had an anti-imperialist agenda. He wanted Africa to be African. If we had independence, then he wanted us to be truly independent. Wear African. Think African. Act African. Be African. He had seen his father arrested by the Nazis fighting for a foreign country, and it probably just didn’t sit well with him. Why should we be free, but still take commands from our colonial masters? 

And Thomas got to work!

And some job he did!

He was the one of the first world leaders to actively promote women’s rights. He was also the first African leader to appoint women to key positions in the cabinet. Thomas sold all the Mercedes cars that belonged to the government. All! And replaced them with the cheapest cars available in the country. He refused to take foreign aid. He was fully aware that this was the most effective way to be controlled. He gave land to the peasants rather than rich land owners. This made food production increase and the country achieved food sufficiency in a relatively short while. Sankara went around the country without the fanfare that seems to accompany most African leaders. He even changed the name of the country to Burkinafaso (a land of upright men).

And wait for this… it was even reported that he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his official possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a freezer!

He even composed the national anthem of the country.

Listen, Carlsberg don’t make presidents, but if they did, they’ll make Thomas Sankaras!

But by not ‘playing ball’ and keeping it business as usual, Thomas had stepped on toes. And like Lumumba, he had it coming.

Thomas Sankara had in the year 1976 met Blaise Compaore in Morocco. They had become best friends. Compaore had even master minded the coup that brought Sankara to power. Well, there is an African saying that says “If the internal death doesn’t kill, the external one can’t”. Compaore through the backing of the French and American powers was to later assassinate Sankara in a 1987 coup. He said it was a coup necessary to correct the faults of Sankara’s government. A fault only he saw big enough to necessitate the killing of one of the best leaders the continent has ever seen.

Sankara has always been compared to Che Guevara. They are both seen as associates of Fidel Castro. The berets are similar. And both are also keen motorcyclists. But more importantly, they were revolutionaries. People we need more of in Africa. Thomas even said “…we say that Che Guevara is also African and Burkinabe.” And above all, they both paid the ultimate price for what they believed in.

Comapore (left) betrayed his friend Sankara (right) with the backing western powers.

On the 15th of October 1987. A week after he had rendered the now famous words “…while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”, Sankara was murdered in a coup led by Blaise Compaore (who is still the country’s leader today!). Flimsy excuses were given, but the main reason is simply to silent another leading spark of light on the dark continent. To muzzle another voice that had dared to speak and act up against colonialism. To keep control of the continent by the imperial authorities.

And they succeeded! They have succeeded so far. And all we’re left to do is pray and hope that another comes. But will the other coming be allowed to be himself? Will he be allowed to live?

Sankara has come and gone. Played his part and left us. He will be remembered for standing tall for what he believed and being strong enough to fight when he had to.  His legacy will live on. The question is will his dream ever see the light of day?