Wednesday, November 12, 2014
GOD DON’T LOVE AFRICA AND AFRICANS!
I hate to break it to you, my fellow Africans—continental and diasporic—the world over. I am now convinced beyond all doubt that God has no place in His\Her\Its heart for that segment of humanity called black and, especially, its sub-segment that is resident in the continent of Africa. I make the case for this claim in what follows.
But, first, a clarification. When I speak of God in this discussion, I refer solely to the supreme being of the two alien religious traditions that now dominate Africa and have so contorted Africans and warped our sensibilities that the two religions now constitute the origin and limits of what most Africans consider their world, its processes, their morality, their understanding of their world and how they think they ought to be in it. This is the God to whom they sacrifice themselves and all that pertain to them, their spaces, their ways through life, and what happens to them after their death.
It is in their unceasing devotion to this God in expectation of significant improvements in their lives here and now that we find the best evidence that, if God exists, God must be playing the cruelest joke on pious, devout, God-intoxicated Africans.
I chose my words carefully. Yes, Africans are God-intoxicated. Want evidence? Where do I even begin?
Let’s take Africa’s rulers, for one instance. For, as it is said, the fish rots from the head. I once listened on the radio to the late Ghanaian president, an eminent professor of law no less before he acceded to the presidency, proudly affirm, in response to complaints by some of his citizens that he had turned the presidential palace into a prayer camp something along the following lines: Yes, it is true. If I had my way, I would turn all of Ghana into a prayer camp. Why is it important that he was an academic before he became president? Either he did not understand the significance of the secular nature of Ghanaian state, constitutionally speaking, or he did not take it seriously. For had he taken it seriously, some respect for his nonbelieving citizens would have inclined him not to share with the world such private desires.
Ultimately, he joined the lineage of African heads of state who have made themselves disciples, yes, disciples, of a Nigerian evangelist. Their discipleship was demonstrated, in part, by their going to spend nights at his church. The list includes Frederick Chiluba, Bingu wa Mutharika, and the latter’s successor, Joyce Banda, late last year.
To show his godliness and piety, the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, went to debase his office—he is at perfect liberty to abase himself, in his person—by kneeling in full view of the world before another Nigerian man of God, again with absolutely no thought for what that would mean for his nonbelieving citizens in the context of a country whose constitution proclaims its secularism. In this case, too, the president is an ex-academic, a fishery biologist, no less.
When the government of Jaafar el-Nimeiri in the old Sudan felt its grip on power waning as a result of popular protest, it quickly discovered how lucrative state-sponsored Muslim piety was and proceeded to impose Sharia law on the people of the country. And Omer el-Beshir could not find it in him to let up a bit on his religious intoxication to make the separation of South Sudan more onerous.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, since 1977 when the northern segment of the ruling class decided to force Sharia into the Nigerian Constitution, that part of the country has not known peace for any length of time. It got worse when a state governor from the region, who stands accused of marrying underage girls into his harem, thought he needed to impress God; he made the Sharia the law of his state, in clear contravention of elements of the Nigerian constitution. He quickly set about burnishing his credentials for paradise by having a few limbs hacked off a handful of unfortunate citizens trapped in his state. Others in the region quickly followed suit. As is usually the case in such situations, new guardians of the faith have emerged who insist that the state-inflected piety is not deep or genuine enough. They have been busy killing, maiming, and rendering hundreds of thousands of innocent Nigerians refugees in their own country.
Ordinary people, too, are not left out of this intoxication spree. If the constraints of office do not allow our inebriated leaders to go the whole hog, the rot that they embody festers in the extreme in their constituents. So God-intoxicated are some African parents that they are willing to starve their own children to death on account of ridding them of their witchery powers. There was the case of Nigerian parents who drove a nail into their own child’s skull because their church had picked out the poor child as a witch. So widespread is the scourge of visiting unspeakable violence on children that there are now non-governmental outfits in Nigeria and Ghana dedicated to the cause of taking children in that would otherwise have been eliminated or severely abused by their parents and guardians because the Holy Spirit had outed them as witches or some other malevolent spirits. Our intellectuals, among other duties that they perform, go on interminably about the intrinsic religiosity of the African, how religion pervades the very air that we breathe in every nook and cranny of the continent. I doubt that any continent comes anywhere close to Africa in the multitudes of spirits that inhabit it and the preponderance of them are evil! God must have released all of the legion of the fallen spirits from heaven on condition that they all relocate to Africa and other places mostly populated by black folk.
This intoxication extends to Islamic ruling parties in countries that have recently overthrown dictatorships. Such parties mistake electoral victories, however slim, for mandates to impose what they are convinced is God’s word on their long-suffering peoples, whether the latter were open to this course or not. Imposing God’s word meant rolling back, in God’s name, the gains that had been made by women in such countries where women’s right to equality with men is concerned. This has meant widespread sexual harassment for women in the countries concerned, suppression of heterodox views and, on occasion, violence against those who are held to have crossed God’s lines in their behaviour or their thought.
In other countries, God-intoxicated rulers enact laws criminalizing homosexuality. They thereby ensure an open season on the most vulnerable sections of their citizenry and make it impossible for their homosexual compatriots to have any reasonable expectations of equal citizenship in the lands of their births. In those situations, the law-makers and the religious leaders drink the same strong stuff for shared chalice that makes them absolutely incapable of common consideration for the sheer humanity of those they are so quick to demonize, regardless of what they think of the behaviour of their fellow citizens.
No cause will be served by my multiplying instances of God intoxication all across Africa. I hope that the preceding sections show the reach of the scourge.
God is not supposed to be moved by good works. At least, so say the protestant Christian denominations. The Catholic Church and Islam may appear to suggest that good works might augment one’s eligibility for entry into paradise. But not even they say that our piety and demonstrations of our commitment to God while we are on earth alone will do. In all, to think of all our activities in God’s name as capable of impressing and enhancing our standing with God is, if I am not mistaken, adjudged blasphemous. To think that they do is to hint at God taking bribes to bestow rewards on us mortals.
Even I know enough of God-talk not to assume that Africans stand to gain any favours because of our God intoxication. Yet, even granting this, one must be astonished at the distance between Africans’ prostrate position in the world and Africans’ much-vaunted love of God. In other words, however one looks at it, the showers of blessing that are supposed to attend the lives of those who worship God are nowhere in evidence in Africa. Worse still, the sheer beneficence that is supposed to attend the earthly being of God’s children is not a feature of the African world. Not even the sheer having of life and sustaining it show any hint of divine munificence: Africans routinely have the shortest life expectancies on planet earth! I am suggesting that it is not even given to Africans to hang around long on God’s earth. Our babies die in their infancy. Our adolescents die in large numbers before full adulthood. Our adults move on in what would be middle age in better-circumstanced societies. Few Africans ever enjoy the privileges of old age spent in relative comfort. Certainly, some might see all this as instances of God showing love by calling us early to heavenly bliss. I beg to differ.
I cannot hold God responsible for our predicament. I have no interest in turning this into a discussion of the perennial issues of theodicy. All I am saying is that one cannot look at Africa and say with honesty and candor that human life there manifests anything that resembles love for the creatures that inhabit that space. This is why I came to the conclusion, sadly but firmly, that God cannot be said to love Africans. This judgment is without prejudice to God’s relationship with other segments of humanity. I speak only from my exploration of and familiarity with the African situation.
Here are a few other dimensions to support my case. It is now common place to talk about the global dimensions of slavery. Slavery is widely distributed across the globe and we can only talk about different adaptations of the practice. This is increasingly becoming the accepted wisdom on the phenomenon. I beg to differ. The European Slave Trade, otherwise known as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the slavery that it spawned in the New World, specifically in the United States, has no peer in human history: it was racialised and its victims were turned into chattel, things, with no more quality attached to them than the farm implements and animals that they were lumped with in the accounts of their owners.
I start with slavery and the Euro-American slave trade because it inaugurated the place of Africa and Africans in the global imaginary that continues to structure the world’s view of Africa, Africans, and African phenomena. At the heart of it is the fundamental denial of the humanity of the African. Given the global distribution of slavery and slave trade, how did Africans become the victims of a sui generis one the impact of which continues to burden Africans with a need always to push back against the denial of our common membership of the human community along with everyone else? What kind of love, God’s or any other, selected us for this unprecedented type of slavery? Everyone else suffered the ravages of some kind of slavery or the other; only we got saddled with the burden of chattel slavery. This demands attention, if not explanation.
When Christianity came back to Africa in the nineteenth century, especially in West Africa, it was with a promise to help Africans become whole again after the ravages of the European slave trade. Helping Africans to become whole was seen as a way to expiate Christianity’s guilt in having helped to construct the slavery house of horror. This period did not last long and the Africans who had thought that Christianity would be their vehicle to ensuring a better future for their continent spent the rest of that fateful century battling new colonial and Christian overlords who were determined to hold Africa down and back. The progress that could have been made through freewheeling theological discourse—after all, God’s mind is not simple to know—was stymied. Is it any accident that our contemporary Christianity does not evince the robust theological debates, discourses, and controversies that enable Christianity to remain dynamic and, most important of all, acutely aware of the insufficiency of the tools with which we mortals, perforce, seek to know and disseminate God’s word?
Unfortunately, in today’s Africa, our high priests have turned blasphemy into liturgy and they now lay claim to powers that are beyond the ken of ordinary humanity: the gift of infallibility. And infallible they must be when they insist that they know what God wants and who will or will not be saved on the Day of Judgment. It does not much matter whether they are Christians or Muslims. A Nigerian Cardinal is so sure that God speaks through him, but not his Pope, when he commends the Nigerian government for criminalizing homosexuality. It does not occur to His Eminence to share the humility of the Pope, the only member of the Catholic Church vested with the gift of infallibility and then only with respect to certain matters of doctrine, not on who deserves to be called ‘sinner’ and therefore unworthy of God’s grace. Intoxication will do that to you.
The case of the African branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion is much worse. It would have been funny were it not so tragic. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that the prelates of the Anglican Communion in Africa do not know the history of their doctrine or that of the faith tradition and its institutional form—the Church—of which theirs is a mere denomination. That they routinely ignore this history and its doctrinal vortex is bad enough. That they would turn their office into infallible commissions and invest their pronouncements with what often sounds like God’s own must make us wonder how they could continue to claim fidelity to their calling or their faith or even to the author of their faith: the Christ.
To begin with, there is only one historical reason that we have more than one church today in the world: controversy and divergence over the meaning of God’s word and who ought to have magisterial control over its meaning and its dissemination. There was this monk named Martin Luther who insisted that the orthodoxy into which he had been socialized and the rightness of which he was sworn to in his ministry was untenable. The Reformation ended the unicity of the Church in the Western section of Christendom. I refrain from commenting on the ever fractious history of Christianity from its very inception. There is a reason why non-Catholics belong to a huge pool of denominations called ‘Protestants’. What bears emphasis is that the cleavages in the Church have always turned on contestations over the meaning of the word of God.
The case of non-Anglican churches in Africa—Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.—within the protestant fold is a bit more tragic. Their origins lie in specific reactions to orthodoxies. As usual, their African editions either do not know this or cannot be bothered to take their genealogies seriously. We know that if the Roman pope would just have allowed the English monarch to do as he wished with his women, there would not have been a Church of England to start with. But even as the closest to the Roman Catholics among protestant denominations, the Anglican Church has not lacked fundamental contestations over the meaning of the word of God. These contestations are particularly poignant for their impact on our experience as black or African peoples in the last half a millennium since we have been imbricated in the web of post-Reformation Christianity.
For almost 400 years, the Church—Catholic and Protestant—provided theological justification for the traffic in Africans that later wisdom has called a crime against humanity. Their parsons not only blessed the slave ships; they served as unrepentant chaplains on the ships and on the plantations. They worked assiduously to steel the slaves in quietism and obedience to evil concocted and practiced by their owners to the eternal shame of those priests and their lineages. Just as it was hypocritical then for those vicars to preach the equality of all humans before God as God’s children while, simultaneously, actively cooperating in the subversion of the humanity of some of God’s children, so it is now for our cardinals and primates who are actively conniving at the subjugation and brutalization of another group of God’s children in our own day. And just as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, in our day, have had to distance themselves from and apologise for the theological expostulations of their forebears now exposed for what they are—special pleading on behalf of power—so do I envisage future descendants of our present-day vicars-to-power disowning the wisdom of their parents that seems so obvious today.
I do not expect God-intoxicated prelates, alfas, and imams, to realize how arrogant their pronouncements are and how their inebriation makes them unaware of how ungodlike their behavior is. Worse still, African protestants are too God-intoxicated to recall that the phenomenon of African-instituted churches was precisely the result of Africans refusing to concede that there is only one way to be ‘Church’ and that when all is said and done, each one of us, as believers, is struggling to make sense of the word of God and that any human being arrogating to him or herself the ultimate capacity to decipher God’s word in the flesh is the chief of fools and blasphemers.
Again, there is no surprise there: inebriation makes a fool of the wisest among us while it lasts. The Anglican Communion in Nigeria may wish to reacquaint itself with the wisdom of Henry Venn, Ajayi Crowther, and James Johnson. As things stand at the moment, they seem to be more in the cast of those who drummed Crowther out of office for his reluctance to play God when it came to the sinner status of his African converts.
May I remind our Churchmen that the lack of the gift of humility led the Church to sanctify slavery and, later, Apartheid in South Africa. I have no doubt that when the intoxication shall have passed—remember, the Church back then, too, was high on God, claiming to be doing God’s bidding in blessing slave ships and concocting theological justifications for slavery and oppression—future inheritors of the faith would be busy apologizing for the moral bankruptcy of their forebears. In the same way, the Church in Africa today will, in future, be held in the same contempt that we now bestow on the previous Churches that connived at the subjugation of common humanity in their respective domains. History is yet to provide us with an example of the exaltation of those who helped in the cause of the degradation of our humanity.
In sum, I am arguing that it is an index of the absence of love that I am talking about that none, repeat none, of the progressive life-affirming tendencies of Islam and Christianity of the last century found its way to Africa. All the while that Latin America was inventing Liberation Theology and turning the Church into the scourge of oppressive regimes in much of South and Central America, the African Church—Catholic and Protestant—remained firmly ensconced in the corridors of secular power. Our Imams are no different. Pseudo-orthodoxies reigned and still do. Caliphate Islam allied to Palace Christianity ensure that in the post-independence period, the two world religions have educated Africans to abjection, ministered to the powers that be, and abetted unspeakable evils all across the continent.
How could a people who are beneficiaries of God’s love be cast in theological deserts with no oasis of liberation in the vicinity? What they got instead are snake-oil salesmen and women who are peddling salvation bottled in mindless drivel, stacked on bookshelves, and oozing from their pulpits and minarets. How badly have we transgressed to deserve this earthly damnation?
Our continent is now hostage to intellectuals for whom the life of the mind is a sin. Talk of God-intoxication! They have surrendered all to God. Unfortunately, only people who are God-intoxicated would think that submission to God means vacation of that which theists of all stripes insist is God’s peculiar gift to us among all of God’s creation: the gift of Reason. Our scientists seem to have given up on discovering the underlying principles of all that exists in ways parallel to how our religious leaders have abandoned theology, the science of deciphering the Reason of God! We are training generations of Africans who will not merely stagnate in comparison with the rest of humankind but are actually regressing by leaps and bounds.
Where’s the love that our belonging to God promises? Where shall we get a break? When shall we get a break? Who shall give us a break? Maybe if we would break free from our addiction to God, we might begin to mimic the lives of those marked by God’s love: good lives led in decent environments, with great hope for the future, love for all of God’s creation, and respect for their being in their singularity and complexity. That, I submit, will be the best demonstration of love, God’s or whoever else’s.
Published in http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/90438
AFRICA’S MENDICANT RULERS AND THEIR INTELLECTUAL ENABLERS
There is no nice way of stating an ugly truth. As at this writing, the entire continent of Africa, from Cape to Cairo and all points in-between, is under the rule of mendicants enabled by a coterie of intellectuals who are either in profound denial or otherwise think there is something inevitable about Africa’s begging ways in world affairs.
When the idea of this piece first occurred to me about four years ago, I thought that being beggars was a recent development brought about by the devastating consequences of military and one- party misrule combined with ill-timed, not well thought-out, and poorly implemented Structural Adjustment Programmes of the eighties of the last century. Then, to my utter shock and chagrin, I found that since independence, Africa has, for the most part, been a continent of beggars led by mendicant rulers and intellectual enablers who have already reconciled themselves to the fact of Africa’s permanent position at the bottom rung of the human ladder. Maybe if we studied more the writings of our philosophers and other thinkers, we would have a better sense of the continuities, especially the unfortunate ones, in our history.
Here is an example. In an address delivered to the 4th Summit meeting of the Organisation of African Unity held in Kinshasa on 12th September, 1967, Obafemi Awolowo, one of Africa’s foremost uncelebrated philosophers, told his colleagues: “Today, Africa is a Continent of COMPETING BEGGAR NATIONS. We vie with one another for favours from our former colonial masters; and we deliberately fall over one another to invite neocolonialists to come to our different territories to preside over our economic fortunes.” [Voice of Courage: Selected Speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, vol. 1 (Akure: Fagbamigbe Publishers, 1981), p. 29]
Awolowo was quite alert to the danger that habituation to begging posed to the realization of the “unexceptionable and admirable aims” of the Organisation then to harness “‘the natural and human resources of our Continent, for the total advancement of our peoples in all spheres of human endeavour’, and of uniting all the African States to the end that the welfare and well-being of all our peoples can be assured.” He added that the “freedom, equality, justice and dignity for our people impel us to [a] course of action” designed to secure the stated aims.
It is obvious that, as at the time he spoke, Awolowo did not think that what he observed was going to become a way of life almost half a century after his address. He probably was convinced that his fellow leaders knew better than to turn what, a scant seven years after the greatest number of African countries got independence, must have been a pragmatic necessity into a way of life. He also was convinced that Africa had the wherewithal to turn around, over time, the ugly situation that he had described with such pith. One principal resource he knew was essential if the lofty aims of the OAU were to be attained were intellectuals who would beat the path out of the thicket of ignorance, disease, and hunger that threatened Africa’s populations.
Lending credence to our interpretation is his warning: “We may continue and indeed we will be right to continue to use the power and influence which sovereignty confers, as well as the tactics and manoeuvres which international diplomacy legitimatises, to extract more and more alms from our benefactors. But the inherent evil remains—and it remains with us and with no one else: unless a beggar shakes off and irrevocably turns his back on, his begging habit, he will forever remain a beggar. For, the more he begs the more he develops the beggar characteristics of lack of initiative, courage, drive and self-reliance” (p. 30).
Awolowo was not alone in thinking that Africa had the requisite mix of visionary leaders and intellectual cadres who would quickly work to exorcise the “inherent evil” of begging and proceed to exploit Africa’s resources to restore the dignity of Africans both at home in the continent and in its global Diaspora. How wrong we were!
Unfortunately, few post-independence rulers were visionary and even fewer were those with any appreciable intellectual heft. And even those with any intellectual heft happened to have ruled countries with limited or no human and material resources. Rare were those who matched their intellectual heft with visionary prowess. For the rest, we had leaders with mediocre intellectual endowments which, by itself, would be bad enough. When this is combined with the fact that rather than being visionaries, many of them were blinder than bats, or could barely envision heights higher than what they had accepted as their divinely-ordained prostrate position, it is easy to see how inexplicable it was that we ever expected great deeds from them.
Begging became a way of life. African leaders did exactly what Awolowo warned against: they reconciled themselves to being the self-appointed beggars to the world using “the power and influence sovereignty confers, as well as the tactics and manoeuvres of international diplomacy” to extract more alms from benefactors whom they played against one another. While they thought they were securing advantages, they were busy driving the continent into the ground and themselves into permanent abjection among the world’s peoples. It did not matter whether they sat atop one-party states or were military rulers. They, one and all, never thought that Africa could create self-sustaining economies that could, in turn, make the continent a choice place for humanity to want to come to and lead full lives.
The intellectuals? The dominant ranks of African intellectuals in the post-independence period could not, or were not willing to, wean themselves from their intellectual fathers in the erstwhile metropolitan centres where and in the ways of which they were schooled. They never thought to dismantle the structure they inherited from colonialism and, in symbiosis with Africa’s mendicant rulers, quickly settled into their beggar status vis-à-vis their former colonial masters. They were content to depend on handouts to run their research and their institutions. They never thought they were good enough until they were recognized in the metropole. They did not see anything wrong with making the rounds of the Foundations and other quasi-governmental sponsors in their colonizers’ countries to fund their research, support their journals, and generally provide them with a reason for living and working. Fundamentally, they did not talk amongst themselves, or with one another, either within their own countries or within the continent. Like their political counterparts, they were all too happy to extract more alms by playing one side of the donor community against the other.
The continent is littered with wreckages of theories, blueprints, and other intellectual artifacts donated by competing alms givers without any regard for the continent’s needs or what would allow its peoples to recover their dignity. Whoever bought us lunch got to tweak our minds. For some time in the eighties of the last century, African intellectuals were busy globetrotting thanks to sponsorship of the Unification Church.
Forty-five years after his routine speech, Awolowo’s worst fears have become reality. We have been begging so long that we now have leaders and intellectuals who are convinced that Africa cannot exploit her own resources for her own ends: it has to farm it out to others; those others, at the present time, being the Chinese. And African intellectuals are proud to have the Chinese as a counterweight to the meddlesome ways of that other category of alms-givers: so-called Westerners. We have no trouble accepting aid from countries that used to be our co-residents of the misery avenue of the global village, including South Korea and India. We now have the apotheosis of this regrettable trend in the opening, at the 2012 Summit of the African Union—the successor outfit to the OAU where Awolowo issued his dire warning—in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of a brand new headquarters for the organisation built for it, from conception to the interior furnishings, by our Chinese benefactors.
What more fitting monument to the shamelessness of our rulers and intellectuals who run the AU Commission than the fact that the meeting place where our current crop of leaders would meet for a long time to come to plot Africa’s future is the physical embodiment of alms!
I am sure that my fellow intellectuals who run the AU bureaucracy and the rulers who continually meet in Addis Ababa in their spanking new headquarters are busy congratulating themselves and thanking their stars for their new cozy digs. I hate to rain on their parade. But beggars in new alms-inflected digs are still beggars. And therein lies Africa’s shame in fulfilling Awolowo’s dire prophecy. We can do better.
THE AFRICAN UNION AND MORAL ABDICATION
African leaders want respect from the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council to take them seriously. The lack of both is why the recent extraordinary summit of the heads of state of the African Union gave for asking that the Hague-based International Criminal Court spare President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya the indignity of being tried for crimes against humanity by it. They went on to accuse the International Criminal Court of being a tool of Western imperialism and of carrying out a witch-hunt against African heads of state, and so on. Their demands are that the Kenyatta trial be stopped and delayed till he is out of office, five years down the road; and no African president should be tried by the court as long as he or she is in office.
Some Africans might see reason with the African leaders but there are many Africans like me who disagree vehemently with their position. What just transpired at their meeting in Addis Ababa is a moral abdication.
The charge that the ICC is the centerpiece of a Western plot is laughable. Did Western countries coerce or trick 34 African countries into ratifying the protocols that established the Court? Where were they when Kenya repeatedly, till as late as this year, asked the ICC to take over the prosecution of those accused of masterminding the post-election mayhem in 2008? Kenya insisted that she did not have the means to prosecute those suspected of sponsoring the carnage. Meanwhile, having been indicted before the elections, both the president and his deputy, William Ruto, promised to cooperate fully with the court, even if they won the election. They did not hint then that they would use their elective to subvert the course of justice.
The last point is important and it is why I consider the latest demands from Africa’s leaders dangerous and embarrassing. The summit did not question the validity or legitimacy of the charges brought against all the leaders indicted by the court. Neither Kenyatta nor Ruto has said that the charges against him were bogus or political in nature. Côte d’Ivoire’s ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo, had to be forced out of office by French forces after a dithering African Union would not insist that the results of legitimate elections be respected by one of its members.
Given that the legality of the charges is not questioned, it means that what irks Africa’s leaders is that being in the dock does not bode well for their image and their sense of their own importance. In short, they don’t look good in the dock! They think that it is disrespectful to make them answer to grievous charges of doing horrific injury to humanity in their citizens.
The Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, takes the cake with his demand that African leaders enjoy immunity from prosecution as long as they are in office. This should not surprise anyone in the know since the immunity clause in the Nigerian constitution has been used to shield rapacious office holders from being held accountable for their misdeeds. And, of course, should the world concur, it would enable more African crooks to run for office for no other reason than to escape prosecution for criminal acts as used to happen not too long ago in Russia.
The irony is lost on our rulers that they are demanding the world’s respect while they disrespect their citizens. What respect do African leaders have for the more than 1,000 Kenyans who perished in the post-election violence? Or for the tens of thousands that have fallen victim to Omer el-Beshir’s goons and killer squads in Darfur? Or the 3,000 or more Ivoirian citizens that perished when Gbagbo elected to defy the expressed will of the plurality of Ivoirian voters?
African leaders and their intellectual enablers in the cozy confines of their Chinese-donated palatial headquarters in Addis Ababa think nothing of justice, forget respect, for the lowliest Africans killed, maimed, or displaced by the acts charged under the indictments the prosecution of which they are shameless enough to ask the world to delay. A people who worked so hard to force the world to recognize the crime against humanity perpetrated against their forebears should not deign to be seen making light of any similar allegations against its own ranks. When it does, it is an act of moral abdication.
That African leaders were more agitated by a concern with respect the same week that saw 350 or more Africans lose their lives at sea fleeing their homeland, in this instance, Eritrea, with no public thought given to that tragedy, is the best evidence that we have that African leaders deserve no respect. They should get none. Uhuru Kenyatta, a scion of patriots some of whom have recently forced the perpetrators of unspeakable violence against them to own up, must pay it forward. This is the only path to true respect. African leaders should earn it.
Published in http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/89685
Thursday, July 18, 2013
The Kenyan elections have come and gone. Although the losing presidential candidate challenged the outcome of the elections in the Supreme Court of Kenya, prayed the court to order a re-rerun, and failed. He decided to abide by the outcome while promising to pursue his protest in alternative ways that would not threaten the peace of the country. Ordinarily this should not call for comment. Challenging election results is not uncommon in jurisdictions that found the legitimacy of government on the consent of the governed expressed through the instrumentality of the vote. That this mode of choosing governors is not yet routine in Kenya and many other African countries is one reason that the recently concluded elections attract notice.
Of greater significance is the sharp contrast between what happened this time and the aftermath of the last time Kenyans went to the polls. More than 1,000 deaths, hundreds of thousands maimed and displaced and widespread destruction of property, were what greeted the outcome of the last Kenyan elections in late 2007 and early 2008. Then, as now, the same candidate, Raila Oginga Odinga, lost out in the presidential polls. The last time, mayhem broke out and this time, it has not. That it has not is part of what calls for comment.
The absence of a resort to violence is a signal feature of the slow but steady progress that African countries have been making in the last twenty plus years when it comes to the installation of liberal democratic regimes in the continent. It is necessary that we acknowledge, if not celebrate, this progress or, at least, chart it so that we have a benchmark for when there occur any regress.
In the specific Kenyan case, back in 2008, the opposition was convinced that the legal system was a farce; the Supreme Court was packed with cronies of the immediate past dictator of the country; and the part that the instrument of his misrule was the same part that had had victory awarded to it in the disputed elections. In case anyone thought that this perception was limited to the opposition, it is noteworthy that the parliament that was elected in that same election eventually invited the international community to intervene to try those suspected of master-minding the post-election violence at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Their reasoning: Kenya did not have the political and judicial wherewithal to investigate and bring to book those who had sponsored the violence.
Since the 2007 election, a number of Kenyan politicians, including both the president-elect and his running mate, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court and their trial is pending. Regardless of the sham accusation being leveled against the ICC for interference in Kenyan internal affairs, the effort to call to account those who caused mayhem makes the reign of impunity less attractive for African leaders in their conduct of public affairs in their countries. Simultaneously, it kindles in ordinary people the expectation that offenders against human dignity and rights would no longer go free.
Next, the Supreme Court of Kenya was reconstituted as were the rest of the higher courts. They were all subject to significant reforms towards ensuring that the judiciary stopped being an arm of the executive in all but name only. Finally, a new constitution was written and adopted in a referendum that made the phrase, ‘We the people’, ring true for most of the adult population of Kenya for the very first time in her post-independence history.
Does anyone want to suggest that the Kenyan people were not taking any notice of these seminal, salubrious developments? There is no more eloquent testimony of the heed that ordinary Kenyans pay to the altered political and legal landscapes than their willingness to, at least, allow their newly-minted impartial arbiters to do their work.
To grow the trust of African citizens in the institutions that govern their lives is the ultimate challenge that African countries have faced since colonialism ended and they received what was, at best, flag independence, and lack of practice at developing the requisite temperament for the practice of representative government. It is only now that, having lived and suffered under and held back by myriad forms of misrule—one-party autocracies, military dictatorships, misbegotten radical regimes—that cared nothing for the consent of the governed, Africans are more committed than ever before to ensuring that they only live under governments that they themselves have chartered with their votes, freely cast.
This is why I believe that the Kenyan elections merit comment. More important, still, Kenya is an exemplar of a trend that is discernible across the African continent. In 2008, the winner of the presidential election in Ghana won by a whisker. The losing candidate decided that four years was not too long to wait to unseat the winning party. Before new elections were held last December, the incumbent president died in office. He was routinely succeeded by his vice president who went on to win the presidential election for the ruling part. The losing candidate had issues with the outcome: he headed to court. There was no hint of any resort to self-help. In Zambia, in 2011, the incumbent president lost in his re-election bid. He routinely conceded defeat, lamenting: “we just did not reach the electorate this time around.” Might I add that his running mate, the current vice president of Zambia, is a white Zambian? Lastly, the people of Senegal in 2012 demonstrated the power of the ballot by throwing out of office an incumbent who manipulated the constitution and his handpicked Constitutional Court to declare himself eligible for an unconstitutional third term. The Senegalese people thought differently. In all the above cases, the usual expectation in the American media of descent into chaos was denied. Africa is finally on the move, democratically, that is.
There is no more evidence of the unacceptability of extra-constitutional rule in the continent than in the refusal of the African Union and the regional grouping, Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], to accept military coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau, respectively. I conclude that we need to acknowledge the progress towards the entrenchment of liberal democratic tradition of organizing political life in the continent. I cannot wait for that day when elections in Kenya and other countries would have become so ordinary that analysis like this one would become superfluous.
Monday, May 20, 2013
TIME TO RETIRE THE AFRICA PROGRESS PANEL
The latest, 2013, edition of the Africa Progress Report has just been released by the Africa Progress Panel whose membership includes Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, and is headed by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. Intense media attention has focused on the report’s lament that Africa has been receiving raw deals in negotiations with foreign investors doing business in the continent, especially in the mining sector.
Annan and the other members of the panel contend that “Africa can better manage its vast natural resource wealth to improve the lives of the region’s people by setting out bold national agendas for strengthening transparency and accountability.” Here is the question that anyone who is keen to see Africa free from the trinity of ignorance, hunger, and disease should ask is: if Africa can, why is Africa not doing so?
This is a question that the press release [http://www.africaprogresspanel.org/index.php?cID=959] does not bring up, much less address. What it contains, instead, are platitudinous calls on “African governments” to “improve their governance and strengthen national capacity to manage extractive industries as part of a broader economic and developmental strategy.” Additionally, the panel urged that “African governments should put transparency and accountability at the heart of natural resource policies, secure a fair share of natural resource revenue for their citizens, and spread the benefits of this revenue via equitable public spending.”
No doubt, this would not be the first time that these exhortations have been offered to African leaders. They are mere platitudes.
Why do Africans and their leaders need a panel of eminent persons to know that they should be doing what any people and their leaders should do, as a matter of course, in the administration of their countries’ affairs: own their resources, exploit them for their collective welfare and the common good while ensuring an equitable distribution for all their citizens? This is what happens in other continents. I do not see the disparate countries of Asia evince a common desire of a similar nature. Nor do we have similar exhortations directed at South American countries.
The very existence of the Africa Progress Panel [http://www.africaprogresspanel.org/en/] and its operation represent such a curious anomaly. From the preceding platitudes, the release segued into another familiar refrain of African life and thought: begging. There are appeals to outsiders to please have mercy on good Africans and not rob blind them when they can. Okay, they did not quite put it that way. They only asked that the international community put in place mechanisms to help Africa stem the tide of tax evasion and avoidance by foreign operators in Africa and for international business to please “follow best practices on transparency, help build national capacity, procure more products and services locally, and raise standards in all areas of corporate accountability and responsibility.”
In this appeal to, this begging of, the international community to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves is to be found the ultimate cause of Africa’s failure to march in tandem with the rest of the world in more than half a century of independence in most of the continent’s countries.
What was the panel thinking? As we say in Yorùbá, if you don’t take advantage of a fool when one is available, when do you think a wise person would let you? Corporations are not the Salvation Army. They are capitalist contraptions and profit-making is their primary reason for existence.
I hate to be personal but neither Bono nor Sir Bob Geldof, a member of the Africa Progress Panel, would retain their respective money managers were the latter to consistently report diminishing returns on the investments of our dear advocates of aid to Africa. That is, one does not have to go the whole distance with Milton Friedman but I don’t think that South Korea, with only three natural resources—iron ore, tungsten, and seafood—became a global economic power by begging General Motors to play nice. Nor have I found any record of South Korea sharing her agency with Euro-American celebrities or taking her cue from panels like the Commission for Africa struck by Tony Blair while he was the British Prime Minister.
It is almost as if we Africans are afraid of agency, of owning our resources, our continent, and being responsible for their fate. We must be the only people who are happy to invite others to exploit our resources on our behalf and pay us a fraction—however big it may look—of the earnings.
To go back to my initial question: if Africa can better manage its vast natural resource wealth to improve the lives of its people, why is it not doing so? Why does it, with such distinguished leaders as constitute the African component of the APP, not come up with a more solid diagnosis for these repeated failures?
I respectfully disagree with the claim that Africa can. For if it can, there is no evidence of it in any part of the continent. We need a period of isolation from our “friends” in the international community, especially the aid industry, the perpetual commissions, panels, and the like, who all now cannot think of Africa except as a place of need where donors and other do-gooders are perpetually relevant.
Africa deserves the rotten deals it gets. I can only hope that the deals get more rotten in the years ahead. Agency is a very dangerous thing to exercise. We have not taken our agency seriously since colonialism short-circuited its expression when it aborted the transition to modernity that Africans, under their own
steam, were executing in the early part of the 19th century once slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade ended.
The re-assumption of agency at the present time requires us to exhibit a different attitude to our history that is nowhere evident in our current situation.
One of the most egregious instances of Africa cooperating in its own abasement reported by the APP involves “five deals between 2010 and 2012, which cost the Democratic Republic of the Congo over US$1.3 billion in revenues through the undervaluation of assets and sale to foreign investors.”
Who is to blame? The people who got the juicy deals? I think not. Unless, of course, we believe that the Congolese negotiators were victims of armed robbery or minors who were unconscionably dispossessed of their resources, we must conclude that they were fools who, as is usual, have been parted from their money. As bad as this sounds, what is worse is the possibility that the Congolese negotiators knew what they were doing and were convinced that what they got was the best they could get or was pretty much what they think their resources were worth. And that exactly is what the Congolese government has said in its push-back against the panel’s charge.
I ask: what is new? The rain of unequal exchanges, [apologies to Samir Amin], did not start beating Africans only yesterday. We did not only recently start making bad deals. That Nigerians are eager to spend their patrimony on Dubai kitsch is only the most recent equivalent of age-old lack of self-respect that has been a part of our history beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Back then we traded whole human beings in their prime or on the cusp of it for half-drunk bottles of whiskey, beads, and similar kitsch.
A genuine recovery of our agency and the self-respect that goes with it can only come from our asking and answering the following questions:
· why are we so cheap?
· Why are we so eager to sell ourselves for nothing?
· Why does it come so easily to us to invite others to tell our story on our behalf and then complain that they tell it so poorly?
· Why are we content to have others exploit our resources and give us chump change at the end?
· Why does it come so easily to us to barter our resources for other people’s kitsch, be those colour televisions, smartphones, or automobiles?
When we shall have answered these questions, we shall have made outfits like the Africa Progress Panel irrelevant. A big bonus: Africans would never have to endure another visit from Bono, Geldof, Jeffrey Sachs, or Paul Collier. The last time I looked, no Argentinian children were lining up to thank any of these men. Africa, end your shame! Only you can do it.
Published in https://blogs.premiumtimesng.com/?p=165556
Published in https://blogs.premiumtimesng.com/?p=165556
Saturday, May 4, 2013
I have always been a contrarian. From as far back as I can remember in my conscious life, the opposite standpoint has always been my default stance. It did not matter whether the context was a family discussion or a meeting or just ordinary conversations with friends and associates. In my younger days, I often was the ‘abenugan’ in many contexts and, in fairness, given my basic impatient nature, too many times, I knew what was wrong with a position and voiced it before I permitted myself to appreciate what was right about it. It requires no deep imagination to see that it was not a position that endeared me to many nor was it one that enabled me to make positive impressions on people at first meetings. Those with whom I have been priviledged to have relations that survived my often brusque introductions to them have, over the years, found me worthy of their friendship which means living with my contrarian proclivities.
Have I always known that I was a contrarian? Absolutely no! Had I known that, I surely would have had a less unhappy pubescence and early adulthood. Only with the approach of middle age and the never-ceasing self-doubt that is one of the hallmarks of a contrarian have I been able to come to an awareness of, and be at peace with, being a denizen of the contrarian community.
Needless to say, I cannot say that I became a contrarian because I knew what being a contrarian is or how to become one. This is one situation where lived experience led back to a concern with definitions; where the deed was enacted before it was formulated in words.
Being at peace with always or most often being opposite, fully aware of being in error on not a few occasions while being cognizant that today’s wisdom might turn out to be next year’s folly, I propose to write a column in which, my editors permitting, I share with my readers my opposite takes on events, ideas, processes, practices, institutions, and personalities. As should be obvious by now, this column does not proceed from a need to be provocative. If what it offers is ever provocative, it is not so by design. I call it as I see it and, given the preceding rendering of who I am, it is to be expected that it would often end up dancing to the beat of a different drummer.
I am fully aware that ours is not a society that is very kind to heterodoxy or one that celebrates difference. If you often and unwaveringly oppose accepted wisdom in our society, your associates—family, friends, coworkers, students—never fail to remind you that the one whose head is used to crack the coconut never gets to partake of it; that no one is an island; that the occasional opposition is okay, and so on. Yet, we all know that there is no instance in history where a society, culture, or civilization has moved forward with widespread conformity. Humanity has progressed thanks largely to its meager supply of never-say-die oppositionists.
No, I do not seek to don the mantle of a world-changer. But if what I write in these pages forces even a handful of readers to become aware that more than one road leads to the town square and be desirous of exploring those alternate routes, my purpose shall have been served. If in the process I lead my readers to some cul de sacs, I offer my apologies in advance; but that will be par for the course. I can only hope that that does not happen too often and when it does, dear readers, you can be sure that it is not part of the plan.
For the rest, I look forward to a feast of ideas to which my readers are expected to contribute even as they partake of what is on offer.