Africa's story cannot be told in shorthand.
ON INTERNET FORUMS, ONE OFten comes across a desperate cry from Africans, wondering whether there is something "wrong" with Africa. This is because, they claim, they never read of anything "positive" that is happening on the continent.
It reminds me of a Ghanaian woman I came across once in London who told me in all seriousness that "Ghana will never, succeed because there is a black star in its flag, whereas if you look at the sky at night, you can never see a black star there!".
Quick as a flash, I asked her: "Ei, Madam, you don't seem to like football?" She answered: "Oh, I love football. Kotoko is my team!" I said: "Ah, but you don't watch the Black Stars?" She did not notice the trap, and replied: "Oh I love the Black Stars--especially when they beat Nigeria!" I said: "And how can they do that, since there is no black star in the sky?" She left the room on the excuse that she had something on the fire to attend to!
People criticise Africa, first of all, as if it was one country. Yet it is the second largest continent in the world, with 54 different nations. There can be snow in Ethiopia (I have seen that happen myself) whilst it is 40 degrees Celsius in Niger or Mali.
Second, Africa is not in control of its own image. The modern age is dominated by television and the print media, and the best of both are owned largely by Western conglomerates.
The problem with that, as far as Africa is concerned, is that it is the same West that also seized Africa by force of arms in the 19th century, after 400 years of sneaking into Africa to cart off millions of Africans as slaves to till the soil for them, both in their own countries and in their "possessions" abroad.
You cannot practise slavery for 400 years and suddenly change your attitude towards your slaves, even if you sign thousands of documents ostensibly setting them free, and you write constitutions containing lofty verbiage like "All men are born free".
Practice is what counts, and when one looks into the history of the West's practical relations with Africa, it is replete with different forms of slavery. There are, of course, the formal versions like imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. But beneath those are even more insidious forms of slavery, such as subtle racial discrimination, even in societies that have passed legislation against racism, and discrimination by impoverishment.
Poor people do not get the best education for themselves and their children. 'Therefore their children cannot pass what might be termed "the quality test" when it comes to trying to enter the field of media practice in the West.
A man who was at Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or Princeton or La Sorbonne is conducting interviews for editorial staff. He has hundreds of applicants from institutions similar to those he attended himself. If he asks his secretary--or computer, for that matter--to shortlist the applicants, is Legon or Ibadan going to feature in the crop that survives the pruning? Or even Howard University?
So, elitist editors inevitably employ elitist writers, who go drinking with elitist subeditors who sub stuff from elitist reporters and foreign correspondents. All in the name--quite legitimately--of "quality".
Unfortunately, however, "quality" is not objectively quantifiable, and what passes for it in elitist circles, can be seen down under the elitist stratum to be nothing but irrelevant nonsense.
In the same way, what seems like a "niche" happening in Africa may not necessarily catch the eye of the commissioning editor of a Western publication--even a "quality" one.
That is why Africa gets coverage mainly in terms of war, famine, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and other horrors of which the reader will be only too aware. Unfortunately, these horrors do exist and must be expunged from Africa. However, the notion that they are the only "story" in Africa is simply not true. And it is an even greater horror that the Western media, which pride themselves on seeking and publishing the truth in and about their own countries, should, when it comes to Africa, put on blinkers that blind them to anything but the cliched notions that, as Shakespeare would put it, "increase" the appetite" that "feeds" on it.
Part of the trouble is that Africa's story cannot be told in shorthand. Yet its framework, if it were to form part of the narrative, would occupy at least 50% of the space available to tell the story in!
Now, that is clearly impractical, and that is why it is essential that occasionally, it should be spelt out, so that those who sincerely worry about Africa, can see its current problems in the correct perspective, and not be unnecessarily disheartened by the aberrations that do regularly occur on the continent.
I am not saying that anyone should put on tinted glasses to watch Africa with. No, what I am suggesting is that a knowledgeable person cannot see an atom in a microscope without realising that the atom is encased in a molecule and that inside the atom itself--again--are neutrons, electrons and protons which also contain even smaller versions of matter called quarks!
Our lady in London does not see black stars in the heavens, yes. With her naked eye! But that does not mean that dark matter does not exist; or that there are no black holes up there constantly wreaking havoc on constellations, which themselves are infinitesimal fractions of the galactic system that constitutes the universe. The universe? Do we even know whether there is one universe, or parallel universes?
So then, facile "Afro-pessimism" must be banned from our thoughts. We certainly experience the effects of a great deal of bad leadership on the continent. But that is all it is--a failure of leadership that can be corrected with political change. It has got nothing to do with the colour of our skin or the natural constituents of the continent itself. President Kwame Nkrumah introduced fee-free education in Ghana in the early 1950s; Idi Amin Dada butchered thousands of Ugandans in the early 1970s. They were both black, and they were both products of the same process--decolonisation! In other words, some took independence well, and others did not. It is shallow-minded to tar everyone with the same brush. Nor, of course, must we ignore the bad while extolling the virtues of the good. Africa must be seen in the round.
If Africans in particular refuse to be wise and allow images--or more accurately, caricatures--of themselves created by others to penetrate their psyches, they will lose their self-confidence and thereby prolong the mental slavery, which is far worse than the chattel slavery that was the bane of people of our colour for nearly 500 years. Haifa millennium! Think of that when you despair of Africa.
Leadership, I repeat, is what we need in Africa, and it is possible for it to evolve.
I have just spent a fortnight in a small state in Nigeria called Ekiti. It does not produce oil, and the resources it gets from the Nigerian "federal" budget are relatively negligible. But the leadership in the state is so enlightened that it decided not to wait despondently for resources that would never come from the centre, in order to meet the pressing needs of its people. These are--good-running water, motorable and safe roads, a steady supply of electricity, quality education, and so on.
So the Ekiti leadership went to the capital market, not outside Nigeria, but inside Nigeria, to float bonds. Because the market saw that the Ekiti leadership was focused on projects that would produce returns, that would enable the state to service its debts, the bonds were over-subscribed.
Hence today, Ekiti has embarked on an ambitious eight-point development programme that will transform the lives of its people, as a first step to further development that will propel Ekiti into economic takeoff.
The capital of Ekiti State, Ado-Ekiti, is about four hours drive from Lagos. You go through Ibadan, then branch off close to Akure, in Osun State, to get to Ado-Ekiti. The state is probably the smallest in the federation, barring the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
A first sight of Ado-Ekiti shows that unlike some other Nigerian cities, it has traffic lights that actually work. The roads are largely smooth and well planned, so that the raucous traffic chaos that is normally associated with Nigeria, is remarkable by its absence.
Yes, I was accosted by one beggar, and a windscreen cleaner made an unsolicited attempt to "clean" a windscreen that needed no cleaning. But by and large, the town goes about its daily business in an orderly fashion, with citizens who seem to know where their state is going, and who are therefore confident that whatever problems they encounter today, are doomed, before long, to be consigned into oblivion.
In Ekiti, one gets to understand the true import of the federal system of government. The troubles that the Federal Government in Abuja is striving to deal with--Boko Haram, insecurity and resentment caused by the huge sums expended on fraudulent fuel subsidies and the "welfare" of administrators--look as if they exist on a different planet.
I cannot get over the fact that on one day alone, Ekiti's governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, commissioned 10 new projects, each of which will make a palpable difference to the lives of his people: pumping stations that will convey treated water, sometimes uphill, into the homes of villagers; new and tarred roads that are devoid of the dangerous curves that were a feature of road-building in the state in the past, and newly-renovated schools.
At each commissioning, the villagers turned up to cheer and dance with real joy, for Fayemi does not believe in projects that are handed down from the Governor's Lodge to the rural dwellers because they will attract the eye and capture votes. Rather, he goes to communities and discusses with them the list of priorities they have drawn up themselves for the development of their area. He then ascertains the financial contribution each community will be able to make, and then, with his executive council, decides who should get what.
The communities are so overjoyed when their wishes are met that in one or two places, the people braved a heavy downpour of rain to greet Fayemi and express their appreciation, when he ignored pleas from his officials to postpone a commissioning, and turned up, under an umbrella, to touch flesh with the people. "Yeeeeeh!" they yelled in delight. A brass band played a discordant tune.
Schoolchildren sang the national and Ekiti anthems and waved flags. Fayemi pronounced the project inaugurated, "in the name of the Ekiti people and of humanity". The addition of "humanity" to the words Fayemi used to dedicate the project is no accident.
He is a genuine humanitarian--he is the first ruler in West Africa to select the most vulnerable people in his community, those aged 65 and above, and pay them a stipend of N5,000 per month (US$40). "It would be sadistic to observe their poverty and do nothing about it," Fayemi told me. My eyes brimmed with tears.
Now, in Ekiti, old women can take comfort in the fact that they can look forward to a tidy sum of money which will make them less dependent on ungrateful offspring or relatives who no longer fulfil the social obligations formerly accepted by all people in respect of their "extended families".
Was it Ghana or Nigeria that used to make noise about "African socialism" in the early 1960s? Who would believe that in Ghana, where local and district councils were first introduced in 1951, district chief executives are, in 2012, appointed from The Castle (the seat of government in the national capital, Accra), whereas in Nigeria, local assembly chairmen are directly elected and thus are in closer touch with the people than political fortune-hunters imposed from the centre of administration in the country? Mind you, Dr Kayode Fayemi is no wide-eyed idealist. He says he has not ruled out the possibility of installing consumption meters in the areas provided with water, so that the people will not waste water. This would enable a small charge to be made for the water used.
"What I say to them is this: people currently buy bottled water for 50 kobo a bottle. Suppose they paid one-fiftieth of that for a litre of treated water that is pumped straight into their homes?" Fayemi adds that if a charge is decided upon, "means-testing" would be employed to assess and exempt those whose incomes are too low to pay for water, no matter how cheap it is.
I express to Fayemi my distrust of water meters. First, they are enormously expensive, in relation to the income they are supposed to generate, especially in relation to low-income families. I am also sceptical about means-testing.
In a corrupt society, those who can pay bribes might succeed in qualifying For cheaper rates, whilst those in genuine need of assistance are excluded, because officialdom is not impressed with their statistics.
But I am certain, from what I have seen of the Fayemi administration, that any proposal dealing with water rates will be debated in detail before a decision is taken whether or not to go ahead with it.
There is little doubt that the vigour and enthusiasm with which Fayemi is going about the business of developing Ekiti, owes a lot to the three-year struggle he had to endure before he could legally claim his seat as governor of the state.
He won an election but was rigged out of it, and the issue became a protracted tussle between election tribunals and the courts of the country. At one stage, so disgusted were the women supporters of Fayemi that they used an old Yoruba trick to draw attention to the struggle they were waging to install their own "son of the soil" as governor: they marched through the streets of Ado Ekiti with dresses that showed no tops! In traditional Yoruba lore, any person or persons whose actions incite such a demonstration will pay a high social price for his malevolence.
Now, courts are not supposed to be affected by such demonstrations, however, and it was purely the legal merits of his case that eventually secured Fayemi the seat of Governor of Ekiti State. But the justice he got was no longer politically-tainted justice--something the populace had clearly shown they would not tolerate!
Who is this Dr Fayemi then? "JKF" (John Kayode Fayemi), as his friends call him, was born in Ibadan in 1965. He was educated at Christ's School, Ado-Ekiti, and then at two of Nigeria's best universities--University of Lagos (where he graduated in History) and the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, (where he studied International Relations). He then did his doctorate in War Studies at King's College, University of London, UK.
It was Clausewitz who wrote that "war is the pursuit of politics by other means", and for Fayemi, "war studies" inevitably led into politics. He was in London during the heady days of 1993, when one of the fairest elections Nigeria ever held saw Chief M.K.0 Abiola emerge as the elected president of Nigeria.
Abiola was, however, denied the opportunity of assuming his mandate to rule, as the military ruler of the time, General Ibrahim Babangida, inexplicably annulled the election. In the hiatus that followed, Babangida resigned, was succeeded for a short while by an interim government led by Chief Ernest Shonikan, who was himself removed in November 1993 by the ruthless dictator, General Sani Abacha.
It was during Abacha's rule, and especially after the arrest and detention of Chief Abiola, that Fayemi came into his own.
He was active in the campaign that was mounted against Abacha's dictatorship, editing publications, helping to organise conferences and linking up generally with progressive forces within Nigeria that sought to bring an end to military brutalisation of Nigeria.
Abacha died in June 1998, and democracy was restored to the country in May 1999, with the election of a former Abacha prisoner, General Olusegun Obasanjo, as president. The way was now open for all patriotic Nigerians to take part in their country's politics.
Eventually, Fayemi was spotted by the leadership of the Action Congress of Nigeria, as someone who had the intellectual depth and political pragmatism to stand on its ticket as a governorship candidate for Ekiti State. The rest, as they say, is history.
Having served only one year of his four-year term, Fayemi was already being recognised as "Governor of the Year 2011". His eight-point plan for developing Ekiti, which if fully implemented will propel him to the rank of one of the best ever rulers Nigeria has ever had, at whatever level of government one wishes to consider.
Does that mean that "JKF" will try to do what "JFK" did in America and bring a "new frontier" to Nigeria? Only time will tell, but there is no price to put on aspiration, is there? You heard it here first!
Certainly, the schoolchildren of Ekiti will remember him when they come of age and are able to vote. For he has supplied 30,000 computers to schools throughout the state, with too,000 more to come.
Fayemi's objective is to ensure that every schoolchild should have a computer. Children, he says, are the building blocks of the future. And, of course, they can shout "JKF! JKF!" very loudly indeed, if they are inclined to do so.
Fayemi, and his commissioner for education, Dr Eniola Ajayi, have been in office for just two years. A bemused Nigerian, drawing my attention to this fact, said simply: "Wonderful!"
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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