BIAFRANS AND NIGERIANS, YOU AND I

African wars 1 

The Crack was so loud
We actually failed to hear
The piercing cry
We are dying even whilst they die

You struck me hard
You were hellbent on killing off
All the love in me
So that you could point at my corpse, my heart
And me the coffin housing it
And declare:
You see! He was dead all along!
And everybody will nod wisely
You cannot murder a dead man.

Africa vanished like smoke in the wind
And left Africa behind
Battling the barrenness you and I…
Strangers stood back
Watched us tear one another to pieces
And when we’re through
They’ll step in calmly and calmly pick up the pieces
And build anew an other Africa again
Their Gain
Empty of all Africans
Biafrans and Nigerians
Hutus and Tutsis, Zulus and Xhosas.
Holy Warriors,
Nationalists, Traditionalists, you
And I
And all that will remain
As a memory of a people that once was
Are the poems and songs we
Left behind…
Even the slogans will be forgotten.

– che chidi chukwumerije.

HOW CAN A NON-INVENTING NON-PRODUCER BE INDEPENDENT?

If everything you need for your survival and for your comfort and for your daily living is not made – talk less of imagined, conceptualised and invented – by you, are you truly independent? Or are you dependent on those who invent and manufacture those essentials you need?

If the maintenance of your standard, quality and basis of living is directly dependent upon the fact that there are others somewhere who think out the technology and the systems, and then produce the goods and processes which you then purchase through the exchange of raw materials that per chance exist within the boundaries of your sovereignty, then the very fact of your dependence eliminates all claim of independence.

Because independence cannot exist without self-dependence and self-reliance. Think about it.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

PATRIOTISM

A true Nigerian is someone who is constantly insulting his country – apart from when he is conversing with a Ghanaian, a Kenyan or a South African, or any other African for that matter.

In this case he insults their countries. After hours of reciprocal insults of each others’ countries, they go to a bar and have a drink together, and rejoice at having been born Africans. Then they part again, but not without first making an appointment for the next meeting in which to make fun of each others’ countries again.

Afterwards, the Nigerian goes back home to his fellow Nigerians and starts insulting Nigeria all over again; while doing so he praises the other African countries and laments that they are all making progress much faster than Nigeria.

This kind of behaviour, in Nigeria, is looked upon as intellectual patriotism.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

CHINUA ACHEBE: THE MAN WHO CHANGED THE CONTEXT OF THE CONVERSATION

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“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
– Chinua Achebe.

When you see a well-cleared road through the jungle, it is sometimes hard to imagine that once upon a time there was no road there, only trees and bush. To put it differently, when you see a jungle in front of you, it is sometimes hard to see a road whose past was a jungle. So stoic and self-justifying in its impenetrability that it would never have occurred to anybody that this jungle has no right to block our path; that anywhere we say “Let there be road”, there will be road; that it is not for the jungle to blind us to our possibilities, but for us to open the jungle up to our needs; that we have the right and the ability to choose and determine the range of our options by ourselves; that it is not the task of roadlessness to indoctrinate us from birth into the stupor of its own inevitability, but for us to be immune to the concept of “roadlessness”, and learn to see the obvious: it is man that defines himself.

But once in a while, a person comes alone, a special mind of deep intuition struck by an unaccountable thought. What if I am not who they say I am? What if I am something else? What if this jungle is not what we assume it is? What if it is a road dressed up with trees? What if that “mirror” they’ve placed in front of me is not a mirror, but a painting of what they want me to think I am? What if I now make my own mirror, with which my kind and I can see ourselves as we really are – what would I then see? What if the freedom they’ve given me is in truth a mental prison? What if the education they’ve brought to me is in truth a software of mind-control? What if?…

Once in a while, a person wakes up because the “What if?” moment has taken root in his consciousness. And, like a mustard seed, the “What if?” question will mature into a “Yes, indeed” answer in this person’s mind. And this person will become a leader. This person will part the red sea of somnambulism. This person will turn the mirror around. This person will change the context of the conversation. This man will open a road where others saw an impenetrable jungle. This person will rid the obvious of its garb of concealment, allowing it to arise in all its naturalness and normalcy, so intoxicatingly immediate, this simple truth: we are not who they say we are, we are who we know we are.

Pioneers and groundbreakers like this are very rare and far-between. But every once in a while, they step on the stage, to nudge the development of a people’s consciousness one step forward, creating new inner living spaces for the growth and flourishing of generations of consciousness.

Such a person is Chinua Achebe.

Many things fell apart when his first novel appeared; above all, the tight bind of redefinition wrapped around the thinking and perceiving faculty of the average colonised and educated African. It began to unravel, spearheading in its wake a generational surge for self-re-redefinition that did not stop with the generations that midwifed its birth, but has transplanted itself from generation to generation. Like every unravelling, it has been untidy. We know what we were. And we know what we aren’t. Armed with these pieces of the puzzle, we struggle to attain the living definition of the question: Who are we? A journey buffeted by the twin helpers of self-pride and self-criticism as we travel on along that road cleared through the jungle by vanguards such as the late and forever unforgotten Chinua Achebe.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

FROM INDEPENDENCE TO SELF-DEPENDENCE

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The news around town is that another Nigerian is claiming to have found a cure for AIDS. Again. Social media shakes its head and reminds us of Dr. Abalaka. Lone voices call for more funding, more testing. Experts take a strong look and immediately distance themselves from him. A few days later, he recants and apologises for making public something still in its early phases, according to him. Everybody breathes out; one almost wonders if we’re relieved that pseudo-normalcy has been restored:  Nigerians, indeed Africans, don’t discover or invent anything noteworthy. There is always something more to the story.

But what is actually the essential thing here? As unfortunate as it is that this fiasco played itself out around something as sensitive as this death-dealing virus, it inadvertently brings to light another matter at the core of our continental drift. Be it in medicine, in technology or in any other field necessary for the structural upbuilding of nations. Very simple: how long will we remain dependent on the solution-finding endeavours of others? I thought Independence had another meaning. But since it seems Independence, as a word and a concept, has over the last five decades of Africa’s ‘independence’ surrendered itself to another definition – one that includes inefficiency, beggarliness, corruption, division, non-productivity, squandermania, boastful pride and retrogression – and thereby lost its function as a star drawing our feet forward and a compass showing the way, it has maybe become necessary to temporarily park that word – Independence – in the purifying purgatory of history and replace it with a new-crafted word that more unceremoniously exposes the well-camouflaged wound and slams the nail on the head. A term devoid of poetry and romance, simply being stable and as unmistakably understandable as black-and-white.

A word that very clearly states, describes and defines what we did not get in 1960 when we became independent; nor in 1963 when we became a republic; nor in 1970 when we got the task done of keeping Nigeria one; nor in 1979 when we returned to democracy, new constitution in hand; nor through decades of near-uninterrupted military rule; nor have we found or got it since 1999 when we AGAIN returned to democracy, remixed military constitution again in hand; and even until today we still have not got it. Let us call this word: SELF-DEPENDENCE.

It is the perennial bane of Africa, a continent of people who claim to be the birthpoint of humanity, of civilization and of technology that every modern contraption of essential value which is required for its growth in a modern world, is invented and made on other continents and then freighted into the cradle of civilization at high prices or – even worse – as donations. How many times have we heard the lectures about the great people who built pyramids on the banks of the Nile and then migrated to the banks of the Niger, by which time they had apparently forgotten how to build pyramids because here they started to build huts? Or of the great empire-builders of Mali and Zimbabwe whose descendants, perhaps patronized by the mental version of the tse-tse, steadily slumped into the generational amnesia that rendered them incapable of matching, talk less of outdoing, their forebears?

Truth be told, such tales bore the tears out of me. I’m more interested in other, more recent, exploits, uncelebrated and often greeted with perfunctory yawns of tired amusement at best; but even more often with suspicion, ridicule and denunciation. A tinkering family member of mine and his colleagues designed some new technical thing – don’t ask me what, all I know is that it has to do with computers – but they went ahead and patented it; now some firms want it – apparently it’s the solution they’ve long been looking for. My former secondary school classmate developed with his team a breakthrough procedure for extracting the cells that make up the blood-nerve barrier (if you’re confused, don’t worry, so am I), but it permits an important step forward in understanding peripheral neuropathies, which affects millions of people worldwide.

Some months ago I read of some tenacious eccentric young man in Kaduna State, in northern Nigeria, who has been trying to build a rocket since he was a kid. His last effort did not fly very far, but it flew. The news gave me a thrill. My friend from the south did not know exactly what to make of that piece of news, cautiously asking me in which cardinal direction I thought Boko Haram would first direct that rocket if after the young man ever perfected it, BH stepped in and confiscated it. My answer: don’t worry about that – once one African builds a rocket, another will soon build a magnetic return-to-sender shield. The thirst to invent and build just has to be set free first of all, and encouraged and supported – morally, culturally and financially.

A few years ago I read the amused article of a journalist reporting on another young man, this time in Onitsha in eastern Nigeria, who had designed and built his own version of a helicopter. The writer wondered who would be the first daredevil to attempt a test-flight. And then it was on facebook not long ago that the link to an article was doing the rounds, a report on the scientific tinkering of some secondary school girls in Lagos, in western Nigeria, who had tinkered an electricity generator powered, not by the black curse called petroleum fuel, but by urine. (You read that right). Let’s not go into the jokes people cracked about that. The generator worked, by the way. If you understand anything about the mysterious fuel cabal in Nigeria, you’ll know why this news might cause some powerful people sleepless nights and blocked urethrae.

Tell me more of these stories – these are the ones I like to hear. Why? Simple. How long will we fill our lazy stomachs with the swelling garri of empty pride, back-dated? Must every good thing exist only in some distant dusty past painstakingly reconstructed by dogged historians? What of the future? Who designs it? We don’t need to re-invent the past; we simply have to invent the future. Now, the reason why we should do this, surprisingly enough to the unbelieving, is not even pride. It is more practical than that. It is economic. (The economy, stupid 🙂 ). Long-term sound economics. What is at the core of that which makes a 1st world country a 1st world country? Not the appellage, not the climate, not money, not weapons… but simply the power and the ability to INVENT. The urge as well as the consciousness of the necessity, constantly put into deed, to create new things, to find new self-made solutions, to imagine and anticipate future problems, to constantly improve anything that exists, be it a substance or a process.

If you cannot figure out anything by yourself, you will never be self-dependent and you will never be free, because you will always be dependent on those who do the figuring out and the making. If you cannot make anything by yourself – not just what you yourself need, which in itself would already be a giant step towards self-dependence, but also what others need – you will never be truly independent, because your so-called independence will lack the fortifying ramparts of self-dependence. Every shift in technology is a potential threat to your future stability. You remain constantly one step away from becoming a colony anew. Laugh not at those who warn about neo-colonialism. Political and military independence can be safeguarded long term only by economic self-dependence. And economic self-dependence exists truly only to the extent to which the basis of a people’s, a nation’s or a region’s wealth rests to a large degree on its own capacity for industrial and technological creation. Wealth that comes from the monetary equivalent of fossil fuels stored in the ground by nature’s forces is not real wealth. Real wealth is generated by the power to create or to make (out of something or even out of apparently nothing), to make a needed end-product. Some people call it the power of ideas. I think it’s more than that – we all have ideas. I think it’s the culture of industrial creation; making new things and making things new. Don’t buy everything, build some. Don’t take it, think it.

This is where we have so sorely lagged behind in Sub-Sahara Africa for much too many centuries now. There is no satisfactory excuse for this. We cannot blame others for not giving us the education on time, or in sufficient depth, or spreading it around generously enough without tempering it due to ulterior motives and all the rest of that dialectic, because well they pieced it together and systemized it by themselves, or at least preserved and built upon the documentation and further development of it. We could have also done the same for ourselves over the centuries. All kinds of ethnological theories abound as to why the different continents developed as they did. Well, let bygones be bygones, we are not time-travellers. The moment is now.

Now that we have the knowledge today, why are we still importing the application of it? What will we do when technology shifts away from fossil relics and we no longer have their monetary equivalent with which to pay for the import of new applied intelligence? Is that when we will start trying to learn how to use our own intelligence? Or will we go borrowing from IMF and World Bank? Maybe ‘Independence’ is a pun for a state of living “in dependence”. We need inventors, discoverers and makers, for whatever they imagine and create – or omit to imagine and create – today, is our future tomorrow. We need inventors. Or, to put it differently, we need to identify and, as a matter of public and private policy, indeed as a matter of culture, support our individual inventors specifically and the spirit of invention generally. Institutionalize it even. The cultivation of ideas, the inventing of models, the indigenisation of industry, the manufacture of hardware, the innovation of standards, all this should become a part of our culture.  Put on your time-telescope and peer far into the distance of development: you will see that there is no other road that leads from 3rd World to 1st World.

If there be any Nigerian, indeed any African, in whom the spark of invention, the light of discovery, the visionary eye that sees the future’s questions and answers, the power of innovation and the hunger for creation dwells, then the New African Consciousness must recognise in such a person a rung on the ladder that leads out of the dungeons of dependence. You can only be a part of those who dictate things in the new world if you were one of those who invented and designed that new world.  To set our policy-compass towards the attainment of self-dependence, but also to properly understand the source and anchor of concrete self-dependence in a world increasingly run by the power of ideas, constantly churned into an unending cycle of research and development, this is the nature of the new struggle. The spark of genius rests in the fertile soil of even the most simple mind. Parents, guardians and teachers: encourage your children and wards to join this struggle. Leaders, encourage your people to join this struggle. It is the struggle for self-dependence. Aluta continua.

Once we fought externally for independence. And, according to our definition of it, we got it. But we forgot to also fight internally for self-dependence. Simply put: we became independent, but we never became self-dependent. And it is just like freedom – if you don’t fight for it, you won’t get it. In other words, you cannot get what you have not fought for. You cannot defeat an enemy you have not properly identified. The journey did not end in 1960; it continued: the journey from independence to self-dependence. For what is independence without self-dependence? Nothing. Unsustainable.

And OK, I admit I lied; it’s not just about economics. It’s also a bit about pride. The kind of pride I sensed in a reporter of African descent who I saw on TV not long ago happily interviewing a group of Ugandan university students who had built a functional, beautiful, mobile, modern electric car. The best part was when he asked them why they chose to build an electric car instead of a petrol or diesel engine car. They said, because electric cars are the future. No point building the past.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

MANDELA, SOUTH-SUDAN, AND AFRICA (11)

At independence, South Sudan’s problems were and are daunting – but no more daunting and unique than the situation in the majority of African nations at their independence also, five decades earlier. Thus, everything happening in South Sudan today – South Sudan and the African Union (AU) should have seen this coming. That an organisation which has spent decades operating as a rebel group is going to have difficulty transforming itself overnight into a legitimate, democratic, parliamentary government is self-explanatory and has antecedents in Africa and the world. That a poverty-and-famine-stricken, largely peasant, oil-rich, infrastructurally poor, multi-ethnic nation, newly sovereign, without the familiar ancient common foe to unite against, is going to need the selfless Service of a revolutionary Leadership that makes the people understand that division, egocentricity and disintegration are the new common foes which they have to unitedly defeat now, is a lesson history has taught us. Not the familiar endless paper-rounds of ceasefire agreements will bring salvation to this new State now, and salvage and build upon whatever is left of the momentum of independence, but the self-sacrificial and deeply clear will of a Leadership that sounds the bell of reconciliation and genuine participatory upbuilding across the length and breadth of the land, in every South-Sudanese soul. Now more than ever, South Sudan needs leaders who think and act like Nelson Mandela.

No-one can tell if in the near or distant future, new African states will or will not break out of the existing, arbitrarily created, states of tension left behind by colonialism and in turn become “independent”, or whether a deeper calm will gradually set in within these countries of myriad states as they meld into functional united nation-states – but in the unpredictable nature of human history, who can tell? But one thing is for sure: no matter what happens, each state of tension will either bend to the gentle force of “Mandela-like” minds within its polity that push towards painful and tedious reconciliation, unity and harmony, or it will disintegrate sooner or later into internal chaos, like the majority of “independent” African nation-states all did, and like South Sudan is also now going through. There are those that will tell you that chaos is the necessary precursor to order; but six decades of African independence would also suggest that chaos, unchecked and unpacified, simply continues to beget even greater chaos.

The African continent is a kaleidoscope, a jigsaw puzzle, of hundreds of tribes and ethnic groups. If the continent does not intend to end up ridiculously splintered into innumerable mostly micro-mini single-tribe pseudo-nations, at odds with one another, weak, open to rape, exploitation and so-called “intervention”, then our countries and nations are bound perforce to remain multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ideological. There is nothing we can do about it – this is the state in which we crossed path with the modern world. Of all continents, Africa above all is damned to unite or perish. Africans have no choice but to learn how to live in unity if they do not want to self-destruct and be eventually gradually re-colonised, steps towards which are already being actively, if surreptitiously, undertaken – economically, militarily, politically. Re-colonised by all those loving donor nations, East and West, who like to break bread into crumbs and miraculously shower us with fish, but never really teach us how to fish. Because, I guess, why should someone else teach you how to fish? –

But, watch fisherfolk when they go out to sea: to be successful, they do it in unison, in unity.

Christian or Moslem or Animist or whatever other faiths we differently follow, whatever our different tribes, our different tongues or our different races, our orientations, our ideologies, or our classes… the song is simple:

Africa, unite.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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Part 10

MANDELA, SOUTH-SUDAN, AND AFRICA (10)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Some say that Mandela, by doing the right and revolutionary thing in South Africa, has placed upon that country’s shoulders the heaviest burden ever borne by an African nation, certainly the most historically unusual. The burden of responsibility. To preserve, protect and build upon… peace. Today’s South Africa has no antecedents in Africa, no African sister States to learn from. Instead, the others will study and learn from the curves, triumphs or failures and  vicissitudes of South Africa’s socio-political path, post-Mandela. Whatever challenges modern South Africans still have to master in the generations going forward – just like every country has challenges to master – they started out under the guidance of a visionary leadership that not only set the political framework, but also socially and morally set the tone for a continued sustainable upbuilding. In their new beginning was the pronounced will to forge a more just and perfect union, a reconciled nation-soul, one in which the blessings of liberty are secured. The value of such a beginning cannot be over-emphasized. Every and any diversion that may ever occur in the future has a corrective reference point, like a compass needle, to which it can return. Mandela gave to South Africa, and to Africa as a whole, a special gift. He took a chance on peace, reconciliation and absolute democracy. Of modern Africa’s foundational leaders, Nelson Mandela – whose country obtained freedom last – was the one who took the leap of faith. The last became the first.

True, it is not an easy example to follow, Mandela’s. Infact it has few precedents in known human history, not just in Africa. On such a large national scale, to checkmate a slide into civil strife and bring about the mutual pacification and unification of bitterly warring nation-subgroups, guiding them into a voluntary fusion of patriots, the large majority of whom want to make the nation project work – and he achieved this feat purely by the force of pragmatic forgiveness and well-defined reconciliation, aided by the iron power of persuasion, diplomacy and tact, full of farsightedness and a sense of history. TO crown it all, he secured it by serving one term in office and then stepping down. In the twenty-seven years he spent in prison, he had watched with frustration as one African nation-state after another squandered the momentum of independence and liberation, and failed to start the rotating engine of democracy, or build the institutions that lay the foundation for patriotic, enthusiastic, inter-united upbuilding. Instead they degenerated into national fratricide, due to the inability of even the most well-meaning and most intelligent leaders of politics, leaders of military and leaders of thought and of faith, to forsake vengeance for reconciliation; unilateralism for universal inclusion; suppression and oppression for liberty of rights and free will; arbitrariness for the rule of law; rigid ideology for a flexible approach to a real and changing world; personal power for nation-wide empowerment; personal wealth for national enrichment; past grouses for present peace and future progress; and selfish desires for national interests. Economic projects without political emancipation is the same as building on shaky ground. You need politics to protect the economy. As true as it is that economic troubles can destabilise a country, so is it also true and all the more important to have stable politics in place to safeguard country and economy. Whether the economy is flourishing or is fragile and floundering, you need stable sustainable politics to protect it. Stable sustainable politics, however, goes deeper then even a constitution. It is a moral contract that a society has with itself. Yes, ‘tis true indeed: peace is harder than war. And Mandela learned from history. Not only did he politically reconcile black and white in South Africa; but, even more impressively within the African context, he pacified native groups, convincing adversarial African tribes that there was more gain in cooperation than in conflict, and the path to peace does not always have to pass through the flaming gates of war. Why don’t others learn from that?

Today, in modern North Africa, five years after popular revolutions via which their peoples maneuvered their countries into position for a new beginning, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have been unable to manage the momentum that began with the so-called Jasmine revolution. In Egypt, the newly democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President, with the backing of his supporters, immediately set about repeating all the historical errors of the past, ostracising and repressing different parties, groups and ideologies, disempowering the judiciary and trying to strong-arm a new constitution into place, thus triggering furious and vicious waves of resistance. The nation, in the middle of a sensitive, tentative search for unity, was immediately and bitterly divided again, and then army General el-Sisi pushed aside Mursi, setting a new sequence of events into motion, the end-result of which no-one can yet say, and North Africa too is still troubled. All of this on the same continent that had recently produced a Nelson Mandela, a beacon of light, and a shinning example to all on how to turn years of persecution into the moral authority to reconcile a nation within, and with, its many selves.

Be it religion, be it ethnicity, be it race, be it class, be it ideology, be it orientation, or one thing or the other… there has always been something to divide Africans. And there have been pitifully few strong spirits with the courage, voice, moral and political authority to empower a reconciliation of the peoples.

… to be continued.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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MANDELA, SOUTH-SUDAN, AND AFRICA (9)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

History is the teacher of the wise. The irony of the squandered momentum of African independence is that many of our first generation independence leaders, like Nyerere, like Nasser, like Nkrumah, like Selasie, Senghor, Houphouët-Boigny, Kenyatta and the list gets longer, were unquestionably deep-thinking, patriotic, well-meaning, ideologically clear, passionately driven and courageous personalities and leaders, conscious of their calling and fired by a sense of mission. Their gravest mistake, however, was the one that Nelson Mandela was determined not to make. They disobeyed a law best expressed by a very simple African proverb: A tree does not make a forest. No matter how deep, great, and whatever other superlative you are, you alone cannot move your country forward. Everybody must be involved. Their deepest error was not economic, ideological or military – it was political. Politically they became, at best, one-sided; at worst, unilateral. But you cannot build upon a divided house. Especially when it is your calling to be the first in a new time. You must chaperone the building of the foundation for the future and lasting peace and unity of your country’s peoples. The most important first step for a newly dependent African country is unification, not divide-and-rule; reconciliation, not vindictiveness; healing of wounds, not continuation of ancient feuds. In such a tribal kaleidoscope as Africa is, the primary light filter is unity. Politics derives its strength from unity and solidarity. But the leadership style of practically each of the first and second generation nationalist leaders and regimes in power almost invariably was a one-man or one-group show, authoritarian or dictatorial, forcefully exclusive of all opposition and adversary. Most of them stayed on in power endlessly until either they died there, were killed, overthrown or forced by events to hastily stage-manage a belated exit. The few who were able to avoid serious civil unrest, did it largely by their own mercurial powers of diplomacy, or sometimes by economic policies that uneasily delayed the effects of political disenfranchisement. Economic progress without political integration is a game of Russian roulette. Every downward swing simply reminded the people that they are not united – and each time, they placed the blame on their long-winded leaders. Ultimately even the most devoted, apparently successful leaders also had to make way in order for the democracy experiment to take their place. Democracy’s joke on those who wish to bring progress is that it requires of them, above all, simply to get out of the way. And thereafter to join in and participate in the building and maintaining of a system that ensures that others too, in their own turn will get out of the way also. Politics is not kind to permanent guests.

Re-enter Nelson Mandela, in South Africa – ten years after Zimbabwe, thirty years after the euphoric year of African so-called independence – a sadder and a wiser man. And a more determined one too. If ever, in the wilderness of history, the right person was at the right place at the right time, it was Nelson Mandela. History’s quiet thoughtful student. He knew what needed to be done, and he had the heart, the intellect, the character and the experience to not just do it, but also to inspire his people to go down that road with him. The road of inclusion. The path of reconciliation. Peace, unity, democracy. The historical chance that Mugabe, despite the benefit of hindsight, had been unwilling or unable to grasp, Nelson Mandela hungrily and wisely did. Africa needs peace, not war. Upbuilding and liberty, not oppression and suppression. Unification, not fracturisation. Reconciliation, not vengeance. Because if we go down the path of vengeance, there will be no exit from its downward spiral – for everybody has wronged somebody else irreparably. But while Africans squabble with one another, the rest of the world is rushing ahead, not waiting for them to get their act together. And now they are encroaching back on Africa, economically, politically, militarily.

… continued in Part 10

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

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MANDELA, SOUTH-SUDAN, AND AFRICA (8)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Next to South Africa and Rhodesia, the Portuguese colonies remained for many years a rallying magnet of panafrican liberation passions and efforts. In the seventies, as a result of sustained armed resistance, coupled with a sharp socio-political mood swing in Portugal, they eventually got their independence. But even they did not fare much better in the management of the riddles of independence. In oil-rich Angola, for instance, three groups had engaged in the colonial war against Portugal. As independence approached, they each laid claim to the leadership of the country and proved unable to recognise the gravity of the situation. They failed to bring up the serious will to negotiate a difficult but necessary compromise on power sharing, of anchoring the principles of democracy as well as building the institutions that support it. Instead they turned their guns on each other and, with the same fervour with which they had fought a patriotic colonial war, plunged the country into a selfish and unpatriotic civil war. Shamelessly, each side called upon both sides of the Iron Curtain for arms and help, to help them kill their fellow Angolans. The U.S. sent arms and European mercenaries, the U.S.S.R sent arms and heavy artillery, China sent arms and logistics support, Cuba sent training instructors and special forces, apartheid South Africa – launching from its South West Africa base – sent whole columns of fighting troops, Zaire and Zambia sent advice and moral support. And the Angolans made war on each other. Angola, who had just obtained liberation from Portugal, made herself into a proxy battle theatre for the Cold War, with a mix of apartheid strategic interests. Angola thereafter became the reaping fields of decades of internal unrest.

These are just a few examples. The list goes on, of historical examples of what happens when independence or liberation are not followed by the constitutional upbuilding of a political system, rooted in conciliation, unification and equitable sharing of power, to which the leadership – terminal and law-abiding – submits itself; leadership by example. Guinea, Libya, Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi – … fill in the blanks – all also went a similar way. Or be it even capitalist Kenyatta in Kenya who ruled for fifteen years until he died in Office; or socialist Nyerere in Tanzania who ruled for twenty-four years before handing over to a hand-picked successor; or Senghor in Senegal who bowed out only after twenty years and five terms in office; or Kaunda in Zambia who relinquished power after twenty-seven long years as President – all strong personalities during whose tenures, like with Houphouët-Boigny, their countries avoided the violent descent into some of the extreme forms of chaos that manifested in some other countries – their reigns nevertheless all exhibit one common feature, homogeneous with the rest of the continent. The long, autocratic nature of these foundational presidential tenures or regimes in Africa undermined the nurturing of a democratic political tradition of broad parliamentary participation, separation of powers, the cycle of free elections, change of governments and regimes, rotation and sharing of responsibilities. For more than two decades after independence, the military held Algeria in the iron grip of a one-party dictatorship that controlled political, cultural, social, religious and intellectual life, but offered no solution to the pertinent Algerian riddles. The french-algerian question, the Algerian-Berber question, the military-democracy question, the religion-state question. All these conflicts tormented the soul of the nation. Every side is convinced of its own superiority, even to this day. The concept of a solution that contains – voluntarily – a bit of everything, remains, for many, a challenge in contradiction.

“You have inherited a jewel. Keep it that way.” These were the words of advice that Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere is reported to have given to Robert Mugabe as he became the first democratically elected leader of the new free state of Zimbabwe. And yet… even Zimbabwe, which, dropping the oppression-name Rhodesia, became free and independent a full twenty years after the African year of independence, did not learn anything from the events of those two previous decades. As though Africa had no recent history from which she could learn, Zimbabwe promptly repeated the mistakes of other African nations before her. Robert Mugabe had been in power for ten long years by the time Mandela was released from prison in 1990; for fourteen years by the time Mandela became president of South Africa; for nineteen years by the time Mandela stepped down; and is still the leader of Zimbabwe even today, after Mandela’s death. In the year 2014 Robert Mugabe celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and yet, despite internal and external pressures on him to let go of power, in the face of decades-long manifold accusations of bigotry, nepotism, oppression and bias, he continues to insist on the perpetuation of himself in office. In quiet moments what must he think when he reflects upon how his friend and mate – Mandela – handled his own country’s transition? Mugabe himself was also once a freedom fighter who endured eleven years of imprisonment at the hands of his people’s oppressors before independence. Yet, when he became president of a liberated Zimbabwe, he also ended up squandering the momentum of independence, doing everything other than create a broad-based conciliatory democratic upbuilding that could have harnessed all the strengths and potential of this great country’s diverse peoples. Today he presides over an impoverished, divided, isolated, tense Nation.

… continued in Part 9

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

MANDELA, SOUTH-SUDAN, AND AFRICA (7)

(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Often, all independence did was reveal that the only force that united the self-acclaimed nationalists was their drive to get rid of the oppressors or colonial usurpers. Once that was done, ancient grouses along ethnic, tribal, class, racial and religious lines – and sometimes even more modern ideological ones, like the capitalism-socialism conflict, or the democracy-unilateralism question – bobbed up to the surface and threatened to tear each country apart from within. But largely the cracks were caused by ethnicity, ideology and class, powered by fear and greed, lubricated by corruption, blinded by feelings of messianic grandeur, fortified by an absurd sense of entitlement, in the spirit of vengeance. The foolish belief – of each person, each clan and each group – of being better than the others, and the insistence that one side <em>must</em> rule over the others or there shall be no peace and no progress. One-party states and governments emerged or strove to emerge, ruthlessly crushing opposition endeavours – and since most parties were built around ethnic, class or religious blocs in the first place, this only served to further exacerbate tribal tensions, ethnic hatreds, religious rivalries, group suspicions and ancient racial animosities. Class and wealth exhibited ethnic features. Before long, coups began to occur and dictatorships became the order of the day. And, before Africa knew it, the sixties and seventies had given way to the eighties and the nineties and, all over the continent, Africans were still trying to figure out to whom they owe their political allegiance: to tribe, religion or country? And they still remained and remain unable to move forward unitedly.

Uganda undertook initial tentative steps to reconcile and accommodate the different northern and southern tribes of the nation, amidst flourishing exports and per capita growth, in the spirit of confidence and optimism in the wake of independence. A few years into post-independence, everything broke down when President Obote suspended the National Assembly and introduced a new constitution in which he accorded himself wide and sweeping powers. Here again the cynical African quandary showed its face. Ostensibly in a bid to prevent the tribalisation and factionalisation of national politics, the president centralised power under his command and insisted on a one-party state, thereby unleashing the very destructive and centrifugal forces of inter-sectional chaos and confrontation he had claimed he wanted to prevent. Uganda’s fate was sealed when, in order to secure himself against all internal opposition, Obote relied more and more on the army, under the command of Idi-Amin, the megalomanic self-proclaimed “Conqueror of the British Empire and true heir to the throne of Scotland”, who eventually overthrew his boss. Idi-Amin’s regime ravaged, raped and wrecked Uganda. After Idi-Amin fled in 1979, Obote regained power and Uganda descended into civil war. Here too the mismanagement of the explosive momentum of independence brought decades of death, impoverishment and socio-political disjoint to Uganda.

… continued in Part 8

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6