NEWS DIGEST – Being Text Of A Paper Delivered By Dr Philip Afaha During The 2019 Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture at Samuel Ogbemudia Library, University Of Abuja On 18th July 2019.
After listening to the previous presentations, I want to assume the story of Nelson Mandela is already known. The summary of it is that he was born and raised from the wrong side of inequality. He led a fight for freedom of his people and at a time he was branded a terrorist and incarcerated. He regained freedom and rose to become the president of a free country. 6 years ago Mandela died a universal hero and indeed one of the greatest and most revered homo-sapien that ever trot the earth.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to specially thank the South African acting High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr. Bobby Moroe, for extending this invitation for me to speak for the 2nd time in the Mandela Memorial Lecture. This second invitation is indeed an affirmation of Ralph Emerson`s popular dictum on friendship, that “if we are related, we shall meet again”. Thanks, Your Excellency, for the honour. During the 2018 lecture, I historicised Nelson Mandela`s struggles and his resilience as an anti-apartheid activist. Today, my task is different. I understand Distinguished Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is charged to do justice to that aspect, so I will limit myself to the lessons Africa can learn from the sage. For every African in this gathering, I would suggest you replace every “Africa” mentioned in this paper with your country`s name. This will help in your reflections and deeper understanding of the issues.
There are so many lessons to be learnt from the Mandela and his struggles, but because of the limited time allocated for me to speak in today’s event; I will concentrate on just three, namely; altruism, vision, and historical consciousness. These three, ladies and gentlemen, were some of the major attributes that stood Mandela out as an icon. They are the very attributes African leaders should emulate if the continent must make sense of the 21st century. Before I touch on the lessons of Mandela`s struggles it is important to start with this teaser; how is Africa faring today? If I were to invoke Mandela today I will request him to appear to every African president in a dream, and beg them to stop collecting loans. How have we allowed this to go on? This loans madness must stop if Africa must escape the impending decolonisation. Without sounding too ecclesiastical, I dare to remind that none of our major religions approves of reckless loans and borrowing. The creator`s command is for man to deploy deep thinking and to create solutions. You can confirm that from the Bible and the Koran.
It is a sad commentary that governance in Africa is no longer driven by ideas but by foreign loans. Just as our ancestors were tricked with mirrors, whiskeys, flowery hats and gun powders to sell out the continents to slave merchants and colonialists, Our current leaders are not altruistic as Mandela but are mortgaging away the continent`s strategic assets and resources through spurious loans. Just as in the olden days, African leaders are appending signatures on complicated military, loans and trade deals they don’t understand.
The current debt status of African continent, like obscenity, is difficult to define. Any angle you chose to look at it you still land with the same ugly adjectives. I think Sordid is the nearest synonym. As at today about 25 African countries have not only surpassed the 55% debt-to-GDP ratio recommended by the IMF, they are still borrowing to fund chaos!. Indeed, Bishop Kukah captured it most poignantly when he declared that a first time visitor to his country (and indeed the entire continent)…. “would think they have crashed into a party organised by drunken criminals who, in their bouts of raucous inebriation have resorted to a brawl with self injuries while overturning tables and food, destroying both glasses and plates.” Sadly, African leaders act like deranged arsonists; they burn down the house again and again, and each time they do so, they call it a learning experience.
I know Mandela would be turning in his grave on seeing the level of crass opportunism and callousy among African leaders. Instead of ideas and creativity, governance in Africa has become an art of begging for loans, and squandering it, and then begging again and leaving the burden of repayment to generation yet unborn. The climax of leadership ineptitude was the acceptance of the gift of AU secretariat complex from China. Nothing could be more demeaning than for post-Mandela African leaders to gather in Addis Ababa and beg China to build the AU Secretariat. It is shameful that an edifice that ordinarily should symbolise the pride and aspirations of the continent is a donation by China. Mandela wouldn’t have accepted that.
Mandela was a brave man but he left behind (not his doing) a very timid and visionless black race with unforgivably dishevelled leadership. The post-Mandela Africa is bedevilled by insecurity and poverty. On the surface, these twin incubus appear to be separate, but on a closer look, their relationship is conjoined Siamese – they feed on and facilitate each other. While it is common knowledge that insecurity stifles development, it is acutely certain that poverty, unemployment and poor infrastructure can as well through-up insecurity as is the case in Nigeria and most of the other African countries currently facing insurrections and crime. African leaders must wake up from the illusion that they could be helped by external support to overcome these challenges. I dare to submit; no foreign loan is designed to cure Africa`s backwardness. They are actually instruments by the world powers to maintain the economic disparity among nations.
No military alliance or supplies is meant to make Africa as strong as the donors; they are actually meant to moderate our weakness and maintain the power imbalance in favour of the world powers. African leaders must realise that those who pretend to sympathise with the insecurity in the continent are the same ones who have deliberately refused to regulate their weapons industry. They pretend to support your wars against insurgents in the day, and open their weapons vaults to flood the continent with guns at nightfall. They can track their dollars, pounds, francs and technologies in every corner of the world but would not track their AK47 and pump-action riffles flooding the continent? They regulate how much oil OPEC should pump but cannot regulate their ammunitions industry?. Make no mistake about it, for every conflict going on in Africa, those world powers you consider your benefactors namely are making serious revenue through sales of their guns and ammunitions through the black market. Whatever appear as intervention by world powers in these conflicts are but tricks to positioning themselves exploit Africa`s strategic resources. Africa must start to challenge their hypocrisy if she must get out of the woods.
Any student of the Mandela legacies will observe that the sage`s strength of character and vision were driven by his sense of history. In his allucotus during his Rivonia trial, Mandela displayed his strong attachment to history and its essence as a parameter for the struggle. Mandela was able to rally his people behind the struggle because he would always remind of their history, and he leveraged on the histories of struggle and warfare from other climes to be able to put up that epic resistance we are here to celebrate. Even when he was offered an option of personal freedom, he objected and rather insisted to remain in incarceration until the freedom of his people was granted. His stoic stance was because history was staring him at his face. In my advocacies I have always warned of the danger of people ignoring their history. Nigeria is a classical victim of neglect of history; almost six decades after independence, we are still grabbling with how to cobble a nation from the mosaic of ethnicities and how to manage our identities. No thanks to the obnoxious ban on the teaching of history in Nigerian schools which was recently upturned by the Buhari administration. Someone once questioned the main rationale for the removal of history from the Nigerian school curriculum; another responded that it was because the people in those history books are still our leaders, and that they wouldn’t like to be studied. This is where history becomes a burden. African leaders are scared of scrutiny that history portends. A modest recommendation is that national history should be taught as an orientation course to every public office holder in Nigeria at all arms and levels of government. They must be exposed to the instructive and bonding power of history before they sink this ship.
Africa`s relationship with the world powers is still driven by imperialistic mindset. Just like the era of colonialism, world powers are scrambling for pieces of the continent. From cobalt and uranium in the Sahel, oil in the gulf of guinea, strategic maritime window in the east and around the horn of Africa, large subservient human market across the continent, world powers are positioning for a spoil again. But this time around it is not only European powers, the USA, China, Russia, Brazil, and even our once colonial in-mate India are all involved. There`s a high-pitch of positioning and subtle but consistent military manoeuvring across Africa within the past two decades as if they are preparing African countries to aid them in a fight against an imaginary enemy, while at the same time ignoring the real challenges of the continent, namely – poverty, corruption and insecurity.
According to Akpru-Aja, “the USA, Russia, China, Turkey, India, Germany and Brazil are struggling for investment spaces in Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone African States alike”. The indices of subtle military occupation of Africa are visible; although there is no NATO member state in Africa, we saw NATO planes pound Gaddafi`s Libya during the Arab spring in 2011, we are also aware that china not only has a military base in Djibouti but has been using Chinese Navy to escort ships along the gulf of Guinea and the Somali waters; we are aware that India has upped her military presence with arms sales and defence pacts with Seychelles, Mozambique and Madagascar. In 2018 we saw Russia sent 500 mercenaries to train and support francophone Central African Republic. The almighty USA is not left out in the 21st century scramble and occupation of Africa. In fact, it not only create AFRICOM bases or chase militants in the Sahel, Pentagon is becoming exasperated by equal manoeuvrings from other world powers who have recently join the party. The US AFRICOM Commander Gen. Wauhauser recently observed that the growing Russian and Chinese military manoeuvrings in Africa is a ”toxic mix” of threat to the US influence in the continent. It is important to note that just like the early colonisers and slave merchants disguised as benefactors before they cart away our people and resources, the antics of their grandchildren in the 21st century should call for concern.
Presently, Africa is surrounded militarily, our leaders must be careful of the loans bait and the treaties they sign. African leaders should learn from Sri-lanka and Zambian whose main port and airport have been seized in 2018 for defaulting in repaying a Chinese loan, and recently Kenya, whose main port of Mombasa may be given the Sri-lankan treatment for similar reasons by China.
Invariably, the rivalry is of grave threat to Africa`s progress and security. The ugly implication of these military cum economic skirmishes by the world powers is the gradual re-colonisation of Africa. For instance we know that some of the most prized minerals along the Sahel such as cobalt and uranium, and even the gold in Zamfara, as we recently discovered, is largely mined by, and for foreigners.
Mandela`s life showed that a black man can also rise to greatness that made others gods in other civilisations. It cannot be disputed that his anti-apartheid struggle united the continent and provoked afro-consciousness more than anything else in the 20th century. It was this uncommon unity that dismantled apartheid and changed the conversation in global race relations. Mandela`s altruistic nature, his mien, his vision and intellect, his resilience and sense of history all combine to make him an avatar. Mandela was large-hearted. He forgave his tormentors, and even ordered the dismantling of Africa`s only nuclear facility. That action deservedly elevated Mandela as global symbol of peace, however, with every sense of respect, I’m still struggling to agree with the sage on the nuclear issue. By that singular action, altruistic as it appeared, Africa lost an opportunity of having the boldness in diplomatic circles and a capacity to punch especially as it is now recognised, beyond peradventure, that the real power in “super power,” is nuclear power. Nevertheless, all things considered, Nelson Mandela was the greatest and the most influential African that ever lived, even greater than Mansa Musa.
Vice Chancellor, Your Excellencies, my concluding message is directed to South Africa itself, and I want Ambassador Moroe to relay it home; xenophobia is an evil spirit. If Pretoria does not exorcise xenophobia now it will transform into self-slaughter in the future when the foreign targets are no more or are difficult to hit. Mandela wouldn’t have consented to killings of Nigerians and other Africans on the streets of South Africa. South Africans must remember their history and rise above this barbarism. More than anyone else South Africa must reflect the Mandela nature in their national psyche. Indeed, the sage himself instructed; “And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
Dr Philip Afaha Is The Head, Department Of History And Diplomatic Studies, University Of Abuja.