Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Apala of Oga Tunji

So the Nigeria or the Nigerian project will be officially or formally 45 years old this week wow! Many did not give it 5 years without the hands of its colonial parents. Here we are 45 years after still acting like a teenager all noise but no tremors, all trousers no rhythm. Nevertheless this piece is a significant love letter using pieces of my essence. First my brother the real Oga Tunji ' Okunrin meta ' we have a standing joke which cannot fully translate but he is the original vagabwoys. In this little exploration of our direction he is the strawman, even though for me he represents the dignity of the divine and the ultimate cool. Then there is the Apala, the kind of blues that wakes up my soul in the ultimate memory of my Nigerianess, played on early Sunday morning on my fathers 78s the mournful and soulful voice of Yusuf Olatunji, the late Baba Legba crooning to the goje vibe. My father in his 'Gbariye' floating to the soft groove, it has the same effect as 'abula' in the morning, the picture of earthy energy grounded in the poetry of human travails. So two 'Tunjis' but like the proverbial tripod that keeps the stew from keeling over there is a third one. The final Tunji is the renaissance of reawakening because the name or the word is literarily reawakening like the Hamlet of Oyotunji in the United States. Now before lunching into my Apala lets define Oga for those who have never engaged the Nigerian power holder in the fullness of their indignation or on the other hand who have experienced it but assumed it to be personal arrogance in pursuit of fifteen minutes of fame. Oga is Nigerian authority personified, it is a child of the illicit affair of the racial superiority of the Colonial administrator with the traditional reverence of the native nobility. Simply it is a bastard child come to rule with all the attendant insecurity of a chip on the shoulder accompanied by ravaging effect of an unbridled male libido my view it is now a luxury that Nigeria at the age of 45 can ill afford.

Apala Stanza 1 ' The Insight'

Nigerian recorded history and contemporary dialogue has been strictly speaking the story of the Ogas, their many distractions and conflicts. The British in understanding the symbolic power that Ogas represented took out a cadre of true patriots like Jaja of Opobo, Esugbayi Eleko, Ovaranmin of Benin amongst many who could challenge their hegemony. As a starter for ten these guys (they were and in most part continue to be exclusively male) were not simply romantic heroes but largely benevolent dictators. The British followed them with their own form of unaccountable domination because the noble rule that proceeded had checks and balance, whilst colonial rule was an occupation rule. Anyways there is no place in the world where you can get a better training as an authoritarian than amongst the middle and ruling classes of Nigeria. The addition of the military to this stew was an inspirational choice of casting. The final results discernible in Nigerian successful males is a triumph of Ego over reason, harnessed by qualifications, spiced up by titles and baked in testosterone. Believe me as I am one of them a Nigerian male authority figure has only one rival for his throne that is a Silver back Gorilla in full duty. This is not necessarily bad but in a country of 140 million est with about 20 million aspirant Ogas the delays in progress are often underestimated. In this context and with this lens observe the current dispute between the President and his Vice or the strutting comments of Governor Kalu vis the president or the rantings of Dokubo Asari. The not so obvious thing is that this same authoritarian exercise of power is fully embedded in the private sector. In fact a Nigerian entrepreneur was quoted as saying that there only two types of Nigerian employees, thieves or animals. What!?! In my president I find the benign use of Oga with a paternalistic streak, a true Nigerian committed to the project and blinded by his own instincts. We have been so lucky that in general these impulses have been relevant and benign however we are back to 1979 where there will be others who rule with the same model but which more ambivalent impulses. Here is the problem of the Oga that at best he deskills those around him at worst he destroys their drive and reduces them to servile ineptitude. The consequence is profound for productivity but more importantly leads the very Ogas to an early Grave.

Apala Stanza 2 The Times

We now live in a time where the complex, self organising and interdependent context that we all live in demands a ore sophisticated response. Like the old Yoruba proverb when you plan madness for a hundred years, how many years will it take to execute it? It is extremely depressing to countenance a Nigerian census that for legitimate fears of conflict refuses to collect data about ethnicity or religion. It means that even if we know the number of people we have little qualitative data about their identity or cultural disposition consequently we are blinded to some of the key determinants of motivation, values and social capital. In a world where socio-cultural identity is being used for economic excellence as in the case of International Chinese and for destabilising nation state as in Kosovo or the Delta it seems extremely blind. We live in a world where the industrial model of problem solving which depends on expertise, planning, centralising and roll out of implementation is largely ineffective. The classic is the current Iraq war but also reflected in the increased failure of other planned interventions like the remodernisation of the NHS here in the UK. This is a time for developing the flexibility to adapt and evolve solutions that correspond to the regular and qualitatively connected feedback. It requires decision making at regular and critical interval rather than the big set piece strategic plans. With that in mind the NEEDS plan of the Nigerian government is doomed to failure in its outcomes but will be successful is some outputs. This has nothing to do with the content which is quite good but it has a lot to do with the phenomenal rate of change and complexity of the context. The sae applies to the idea of a super company Transcorp. They are both too high a scale and to broad a church to be nimble enough to respond effectively to the dynamics of their context. The altenative is to recognise the limitation of engineered solutions to complex social dynamics. To follow this up with limited but grand oversight agenda for core values and issues at the centre. To facilitate direct ownership of that agenda at local level demanding a resulting agendaof action. They then maintain flexibility, diversity and ccountability from the centre. This should within the context of a culture of continuous improvement and underpinned by exceptional socio-economic intelligence.

Stanza 3 Penkelemese

2007 election will be a Penkelemese (peculiar mess) affair if we do not embrace the insight and contextual understanding that will enable us to think outside the box. As Nigerians we delight in complaining about what is wrong but ask us to do something aside from conventional wisdom then we tell you why that is not the way things are done here. To paraphrase Einstein we cannot resolve the problems of today with the same level of thinking or mindset with which it was created. One example is the debate whether the President is going for a third term or not. The Yoruba saying that pours scorn on people who ignore leprosy sores and focus on ringworms comes to mind. Surely one mans choices cannot be what determines the future of 120 illion people. There is no doubt that the choice of who is President is important but perharps ore critical is that over 40% of Nigerians are under the age of 20 moats of who are not gainfully employed. The economy has to create 10 of millions of jobs immediately for those people and at best government can help but these will only come from a competitive, organised and socially responsive private sector. We most urgently need a meritrocratic labour market where talent not certificate is celebrated. We need a vocational skills revolution that creates parity of esteem between skilled and graduate employment. We need to harness the entrepreneurial passion that nigerians have in oodles by creating supplier link with National and ultinational cooperation that leads to growth in the SME sector. We need new business model that encourages staff productivity through shared ownership schemes. Yes we need a good government but far more importantly we need a productive populace committed to their prosperity in spite of government.

So lets reawaken the Oga so hubris does not become his destiny. Lets awaken Nigeria so its evolving solutions for posterity. Lets awaken our steps so that the Apala of these times carries the ripple of the Gbariye as it twirls around to baba legba in celebration. Lets awaken to true demands and obligation of our existence.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blast from the past

Hurricane Katrina dusted up a lot of things including some old writtings on the issues of Race. To hear it said by the talking heads on TV Race is just skin colour. Here are some of my ruminations on this ancient debate. Whether it was class or Race it seems that the face of misfortune and misadventure in this pitiful situation is largely African American, it therefore stands to reason that their perception takes precedence. To the people of the Big Easy and those who have passed on let this be a turning point. 16/09/05

Race and oversimplification

The concept of Race represents a classic example how we oversimplify issues of human differences with negative and often comical consequences. In Race we deal with one of the most emotive subjects possible, on which everyone walks on eggshells. Nothing in this article is meant to justify racism or any form of discrimination.

Race as a concept is one of those that has endured for centuries out of an intellectual laziness and social dishonesty. It is now fundamentally established by the Human genome project that there is only one Race i.e. the Human Race. This biological fact is further magnified by discovery that confirms a common homo sapien ancestry traced to the African continent. In any other area of human enquiry that would have put paid to the belief that we are made up of different constituent races but we seem to be stuck on this haphazardly constructed model, we often signify this with skin colour which is a biologically insignificant marker and is environmentally adaptable. This enduring quality is based on something more powerful but far more complicated or complex, which is the power of culture that is reflected in ethnicity. Race is shorthand for ethnicity and in the Victorian world where African origin was associated with blackness and the relation of that colour to negativity and evil you can find the murky foundations of Racism. However in the 21st Century with its phenomenal access to information this cannot be sustained.

The way we use this redundant Race model is often misguided especially as a way to respond to the agenda of those who use it to hate, discriminate or manipulate. Let’s take the census categories used in the 2001 census in the United Kingdom. The official ethnic group classification or categories range from White, Mixed, Asian or Asian British; Black or Black British; Chinese or other Ethnic groups. The sub categories under these headings often deal with geography or nationality e.g. African or Indian. None of these categories are ethnic groups not even Caribbean or Indian. For example Africa is one of the most ethnically diverse continents in the world, the term black African covers people as fundamentally different as an Ashanti from Ghana and Fulani from Nigeria. Let’s take white even if accompanied by English or Welsh or other categories it still lumps a Romany traveller in with a Cockney. These choices of categories are largely reactive choices to the association of Race with pigmentation and nothing to do with collecting information that truly deals with requirements of the different peoples. For example a large number of asylum seekers were recently from Eastern Europe and like travellers end up in a white category even though the significant issue for travellers is lifestyle needs borne out of their culture.

Also these are not superficial simplifications, for example it is this thinking that has meant that the success of Gujarat Asian African migrants, who are mostly middle class or merchant class, has been extended to all Asian groups. This has meant that the needs of descendants of Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants’, who are largely working class and rural, had been overlooked. The economic shift from manufacturing to services amongst many others has radicalised these young men and led to serious confrontation on the streets of some Northern UK cities.

It is the same simplification that leads to stereotypes of disadvantage that in turn drives government policy. A glaring example is the much proclaimed underachievement of black boys in Secondary education; for the more sophisticated the focus is Black Caribbean boys. However the biggest gap is actually between children of parents of professional class and those whose parents are working class parents.

The solutions to addressing Racism as a peculiar and conscious perversion of reality cannot be found by adopting the very simplistic lenses of those of thrive on exclusion. The effect of this simplistic approach is to create a stereotype of perpetual Black victim hood which becomes internalised and institutionalised by both officialdom and those of us who are so labelled and it leads to lowering of standards and expectation by all concerned. There are those who want us to wait for discrimination to end before we exhale. This means that those who use Race to divide set the agenda and we all respond.

However there are real differences in culture, they are many, varied and complex, and they do not fit the simplification of skin pigmentation nor historical pseudo science. Culture is the basis of our differences in making meaning, the backbone of ethnicity and a major driver of our choices, it can be a source of conflict or when effectively utilised the bedrock of a new civilisation.

Part Two

Race and oversimplification ‘Culture instead of Race’

So what different insight would the world see if we exchange the concept of culture for Race? Imagine what the world looks like to me in terms of its operating culture. The default global operating software is European culture or more specifically Anglo American protestant culture. All the institutions that determine the nature and quality of human existence are largely built to operate this default cultural model.

Let’s illustrate this with a few choice examples from the subtle to the sledgehammer. Imagine what happens when the United Nations has a dinner for all members Head of States, what crockery do you think is used to eat the food, chop sticks? You bet they are served with a bewildering array of finest silver forks, knives and spoon. My point is if you are from Ibadan like me where dinner etiquette is allowing your elder to choose a big piece of meat from the communal bowl with their hand why should it be assumed in an international body that the polite or civilised way to eat is to position metallic contraptions in your mouth.
Maybe this example does not exemplify the power and omnipresence or pre-eminence of Anglo American cultural assumptions. Another example is the definition of ‘professionalism’ this is culturally loaded term because it assumes effectiveness is shaped by a dispassionate and objective approach that is able to detach the personal and exercise the rational. This is more in line with cultures that view emotion with suspicion and delineates human transactions and roles into water tight compartments. It is not only debatable whether this is ever truly achieved but it contradicts the cultural framework of many other civilisations that make up the world. Lets consider whose cultural frame work is used to develop something as important as the United Nations Human development Index which classifies national progress, what assumption are the indicators based on.

The unit called the Nation state emerged from European cultural history, the assumption of the marketplace being determined by the mechanism of demand, supply and price is also culturally shaped. We decide on countries who are justifiable to apply sanctions upon whether they a democratic or not even though democracy is only one tradition of representation and accountability from the European experience. Other civilisations have viable and alternative solutions but they are not allowed to evolve as every multilateral institution pushes this method as a prerequisite for support and now it’s a justification for invasions and other extra legal intervention. Lets not talk about the costume of choice the morbid suit, shirt and tie. It is also scary that education has now been narrowed to the certification approach that evolved from the European experience only.

The purpose of this excursion is not to say that these cultural devices are not beneficial to the world, in fact they are significant contributions to the interaction and progress of humans. However it creates a cultural superiority where it is assumed that European or Anglo American culture is the normal aspiration and achievement of civilised and developed societies. It often means that those who are not brought up in that tradition are at a disadvantage and since most of these devices are indoctrinated or coerced rather than a matter of choice it leads to dislocation for outsiders. It often means that their indigenous culture is rejected, relegated or subverted and they do not develop solutions that are consistent with their meaning system or their own circumstances. The effect of these on communities in Africa, Asia, Middle East and South America is profound as their choice is to become European caricatures or rebellious outsiders.

We all lose by this failure to respect and develop the different cultural frameworks from other civilisations and have a healthy dialogue about best solutions to some of the critical problems of the world. The assumption of European cultural supremacy often means that we have only one perspective and tradition to draw on for accepted ways forward. We are not using diversity where it counts the most and it has it greatest efficacy. Is it as surprise that we continue to use sanction and force with those whose cultures are at odds with ours, we dehumanise them and characterise them as underdeveloped. On individual levels it destroys human potential but on a society level it facilitates dependent cultures that depend on outsiders for solution. It is these that are the real challenges not a manufactured difference called Race.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rhythm of Life

They say we dance out of style
Their coventions are nothing but lies
How much bile do they rile
Creating wounds by the mile

The simple choices of conclusion
The hidebound prisons of tradition
Their position is always classic
Yours barbaric
Asking me to stop being theatric

They shout integration
Purpose subjugation
They preach tolerance
Disdain your relevance
Shout for justice in protestation
Continue life in discretional deportation

I sweat out the ice
Eating my Okra with chilies and spice

Sunday, July 10, 2005


It is unique that when it comes to the fate of the African continent its future lies in the hands of 8 people. In the case of Nigeria it is not often that the nation accepts so readily that destiny is metaphorically or perversely out of the control of any other than a celestial being. The G8 (“great eight?”) nations and their leaders are fixed with the curious task of self declared fixers of a problem that they have in small measure colluded to create. Even the optimist [as opposed to the cynical] will concede that when millennium goals were set to “cut extreme poverty in 2025”, there were instant problems. Why only “extreme poverty”? And what was going to happen before 2025, the goals reek of insincerity. Alas poverty will never be history on earth unless and until there is a systematic re orientation of the way key drivers of global affairs approach fellow citizens of the world, basic concepts such as trust and mutuality are firmly rooted in economic policies the world over. A Commission for Africa was certainly an affront; its approach being that Africa’s peculiar problem as a problem mainly of its own making but dependent on others to fix.

Judging from the press reports and commentary offered by the many pundits at this time (of live8 G8 etc) there can only be so many fronts that the eight should have addressed. The Debt; agricultural and export subsidies in the area of trade; Aid programmes and Governance (a euphemism for corruption).

There is much euphoria over the partial cancellation of Africa’s debt. It is painful that we so readily let things be presented to us in the pre ordered fashion that continues to allow select interests dictate to an overwhelming majority. The concessions have taken over a decade of campaigning from different coroners of the world to achieve. In this time these already devastated countries have had to plough more money to service the debts that were questionable in the first instance, these countries Nigeria included could have reserved much needed resources for other projects if an earlier cancellation had been achieved. A situation where two thirds of its resources are deployed to debt servicing leaves nothing to productivity let alone heath and education. In any event what the country desperately needs is a final resolution of the crisis that debt is not partial cancellations.

There is quite clearly no genuine intention on the part of Europe and US to roll back the agricultural subsidies that together they spend $300 billion a year on farm subsidies which enables them to land produce to purchasing countries that ensures African farmers remain poor. There Oxfam accusations confirm that “creative accounting” is employed to disguise this practice by the developed world. The death of the EU constitution following the NO vote in countries such as Holland and France is suggestive of the fact that these countries wish to remain autonomous in their approach and maintain protectionism.

Interestingly UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has boldly spoken about a vision of a Marshall Plan for Africa, it is recalled that under the original Marshall plan the US paid more that 1% of its national income to the success of the plan. There is no mention of similar initiative after series of crisis comparable proportion if not more severe. Surely if there was real commitment to such a plan there is ample evidence to motivate such contribution from infant mortality to crimes against humanity.

Corruption in any society (and it pervades in many) is inexcusable. In a continent that is laboured with $230 Billion debt it is unforgivable to still endure leaders who further plunder the future of generations with profligate stealing. Indeed it allows for an easy cop out to so-called donor countries their thesis is that Aid should be withheld or conditional in view of the corruption in its borders. At the last G8 Davros summit the deal offered to the Nigerian government was debt relief for action against corruption. Ironically there as in most economic crimes it certainly takes two. The same donor countries have shown extreme reluctance to reform tax and secret bank account havens and in some cases have out rightly refused to return money stolen from debtor countries. For these reasons and many more it is not true that the fate of Africa lies in the hands of the G8 or any other earthly forces. History has shown us that the rich world needs to reposition many of its policies, a development that does not appear to be taking root. Countries in Africa, Nigeria especially need to make certain life and nation transforming choices.

We first need to stop viewing ourselves as poor people, in spite of the view of others. If you ever have the misfortune of going to the Favelas, in Rio or to the underbelly of the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S or even the back streets of Mumbai and the unplanned shacks in Shanghai you will know that poverty is not African alone. Most countries in the world do not embrace this brand of failure and destitution because they recognise the debilitating effect on the psyche and the damaging effect on productivity. We however have turned poverty into what the world associate with us, from leaders down we ‘confess’ this to be our reality because we look for short term rewards but fail to see the longer term destruction that the stereotypes will reap. There are more poor people in the whole of China than there are Nigerian citizens, more people die from armed crime in Rio in one day than in one year in Lagos. Strangely more tourists go to Rio in one month than visit Lagos in a year.

The second is that we need to start creating a ‘high trust’ economy. No other part of the world imposes the practice of insisting on payment of two years or more in rent in order to relocate a house or office? The transaction cost of the distrust and insecurity is that only those who have amassed wealth by whatever means prosper. It makes it difficult if not downright impossible for an honest monthly wage earner, a start up entrepreneur, a small growing business, consequently affects, productivity and growth in the economy, increases the price of operation and finally inflates the mark up on every single product and service. In fact in a more disturbing way it corrupts the limited existing social capital because, it convinces everyone that money is all that matters and the way you get it no one cares. So when we point fingers of corruption, do we ever ask how corrupting the unrealistic, 100% mark up we put on cheap imported fashion items we sell to the everyday victims of ‘west is best’. In all successful economies ‘trust’ is a critical factor to creating value and transaction efficiency, the failure of trust in Nigeria is closely linked to how we view ourselves. If we distrust ourselves then why should we not be treated badly by all and sundry, when we try to get visas, or seek Foreign Direct Investment?

Next is our time horizon. As Africans, we are too short term in our thinking; a month ago there was a clamour in Nigeria to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo now his being celebrated in some quarters, as an achiever. React first and reflect afterwards is a constant part of everyday behaviour. How many people know that approximately 60% of the Nigerian population is below the age of 20? This means the core of our population is yet to actively be involved in daily life as citizens. They are yet to vote, hold down a job and sometimes complete school. We blight their opportunities by thinking in a yearly horizon or in fact just thinking from transaction, to transaction wearing our egos on our sleeves and trying to prove we have arrived. The true judge of arrival is what happens to generations after us. Is it not possible to build slowly and deliberately so that our children and grandchildren do not have to deal with the same problems? Is it not possible for us to sacrifice and suffer now so that our future is on firm ground? In every part of the world where there is success there is a pioneering generation. Should this generation not step up and become those who persevere so that prosperity becomes our stereotype?

The final element is our diversity. What we do with our ethnic plurality is going to define whether we transform or stagnate. In USA the world is fully represented in its complexity and diversity, even though it substantially fails those of African and Native American descent it is part of its aspiration to translate this into strength. This is often in effect in places, like Silicon Valley, NASA, and Hollywood. In Nigeria over 250 different ethnic groups does not mean excitement about the variety of cuisine, dress or festivals, it has often meant us against them. The Hollywood production “Hotel Rwanda” for its factual presentation of a ghastly affair should be shown across Nigeria and much of West Africa, so people can see what, brigades such as Odua Peoples Congress, Egbesu, Arewa, Bakassi and other ethno-fascist groups can lead too. Let’s take the prospect of poverty out of the future horizons of Nigeria and Africa as a whole. We should hand over the legacy and principle that the spirit in our land is one where our differences are not the basis of our insecurity but a promise of our strength.

As the G8 and other stakeholders continue their deliberations and subsequent policy formulations we should remember that our transformation lies neither in the policies of governments nor in the deliberation of the rich and powerful; it lies in our everyday choices. Let’s make them so that future generations will prosper.

By Olasupo Shasore and Adewale Ajadi

Bus 30 from Hackney

It was the numbness that spoke
The silence that rode
Not even my heartbeat disturbed the peace
Rude of death to end my lease

A morning of rush and haste
My heart quickens in pursuit of a parking place
Drenched in sweat and worries to catch the 7.30 Euston Train

We are squeezed together like tuna in brine
I could feel a soft curve against my spine
I turn on my cellphone and put on my office gaze
As we entered London I entered a new phase

I pimp walked my way onto the red bus lane
Laughing at the English queue in the rain
Here comes 30 I dash and catch a ride
Making the bus and losing my pride

I sit down to the stop start drive
Sweeping around breathing with my eyes
The entwined couple ready to explode
Dread relaxed nodding to his Ipod

I missed death come on in secrecy
Maybe the handsome boy with brooding eyes
The sassy girl with sighing thighs
The annoucement was in thunder and smoke
All I had left was those who had felt my love

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The times of a new Oba

OK, OK, no response at all to the last posting, maybe it did not resonate or touch a nerve. In fact I have spent a lot of my blogging time blowing grammar that I myself forget how we communicate in Ibadan. For those who might wonder what Onibudo stands for, it is short for Kiniun Onibudo. The name is the alias of one of ancestors, a great warrior, leader and entrepreneur Balogun Ibikunle. Some day when we get to know each other well enough, I will share stories and his oriki, but for now back to the renaissance.

Sure you watched 'Live Hate' and you are amazed that one man can generate such enthusiasm and commitment, cheers St Genduff. So what do we now do with the stereotype of destitution that was used to market this soiree? Do you ever wonder what permission or authority is sought from the parents of dying african children used to market this and other 'kind aid' for africa adverts. It reminds me of an eternal story.

In times never ending, there was an Oba of the hills of yesterday, in town of 'Honour is as costly as the eyes'. He had ascended the throne on the demise of his father a much celebrated pioneer who rescued his people from servitude and penury by the full authority of his role and the power of his charisma. His people so respected and feared him that plans were afoot to add him to the Pantheon of Saints. He was both fearless and fearsome, to the extent that his whisper was Law and is his sigh sanction. He took unto himself many wives as the fattening huts could take but even in moments of full intimacy it is said none of his many wives dared look at his eyes or even contemplate his vunerability. The town prospered under his tutelage and all decision emanated from his wisdom. As his people had never experienced anything other than servitude they were extremely grateful and loyal even when they were punished for any form of intransigence no matter how little. As the bata drums heralded the going of the old Oba into the attic of life, so did faint sound of the celebratory dudun and gagan drums start to call out his the name of the Son. Like the Banana plant who dies to be replaced by its young .The people and their old Oba looked to maintain , the certainty and the predictable times of the old regime so enshrined many of his decisions and to go against them was 'ewo' the worst kind of taboo.

The new Oba was selected and crowned by the traditions that had been handed down before the hills had names and the elders had titles. Everyone rejoiced but the new Oba who stood up to question the complacency of his people in his first pronouncement. Yes he said you are no longer servants in chains but lazy in ideas, I watched how you let your late Oba, my father denigrate your initiative and direct your every way. What happens he said in more difficult times would you look for me to solve all problems? The chief rushed forward casting out such remarks and endearing the good wishes of Kabeyesi. In simplicity they affirmed that this is the role of their Oba. In that case you have made the wrong choice and he starts to disrobe, everyone including the elders and the chief ran for their dear lives because, to watch an Oba disrobe in this manner is to be cursed. For many days no one returned to the palace, each one seeking out their own saint in prayer. Then the Oba sent for his Chiefs and addressed them towards questions which they should address the council of the people. He raised the three questions which if they could get a satisfactory response from the people he would rule according to customs until then he would operate at his discretion. He stood before them to ask them the following:

. Which of our gods and saints is the greatest?

. What is the most powerful blessing it can bestow?

. What role are the people to play in getting this blessing?

The people received the question with shaking of heads under the large Iroko tree in the market square they gathered daily to ponder and chose a response, in between sharing Kola and games of Ayo washed down with Emu Ajabale, the virgin wine from the deep bush they contemplated. In the meantime the Oba decided to break the first custom and take a wife from the streets, a nobody who had not been to a fattening hut. Many were troubled by his choice as they could see the fingerprints of hunger on her waist and shocked that her bottom did not expand to fill the Iro of her Aso Oke. No good could come out of this, they rushed around to find answers naming different gods , the Oba rejected their answers. The new Olori was viewed by everyone but her husband, she was mean and demanded attention and by her husbands decree she got it. It now emerged that young girls in the town started to eat very little to match the look of the Olori. Parents concerns were brought to the Oba who encouraged them to provide answers to his query before he could answer their request. They have now sent forth emissaries to land far and wide looking for answers to the Obas question. We open the calabash of the matter and plead to you who visit this blog to help us before all is lost.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Warriors of Light for an African Renaissance

And the feedback keeps rolling in by text, email, phone and even ocassionally on this blog. In the main they qualify, they confirm and often disagree but all question, so what is your solution? As if that is not enough there is St Geldof and Prophet Bono promoting their Live8 revival for african survival and the BBC limbering up to confirm this largely unknown fact 'Africa Lives'. For me it is like watching Porn, something as natural as sex is turned into a commodity to titilate but eventually becomes ugly and predictable leading finally to a corrupting stereotype. So I want to move on from analysis but before I do so there is an extremely important point to make. The poverty of resources that we are being asked to make history, is eventually insignificant compared to a poverty of ideas especially that of the self. Poverty of resources kills people but poverty of idea destroys a people. In fact it is the old Mao saying if you give a man a fish (poverty of resources) you feed him for a day but if he learns to fish (poverty of Ideas) you feed him for a life time.

So lets address the poverty of Ideas, its rationale and solutions. 24 years ago I was a freshman in University of Ife (great Ife!) and we had a lecture by a very special visitor Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Now for those who may remember Fela for his big joint and womanising please look away, he was one of the most insightful speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. He is intelligent, articulate, funny and teasing always with passion and care for his audience and their ideas. One of his ideas stands out, that the 21st Century will be the dawning of the age of Aquarius and therefore an African century. A time when the wisdom of our ancestors and peculair dynamics we have evolved will bring the cyclical mantle of preeminence once again back to Africa. Have you ever heard about this ? I know many think that Fela is out there with UFO spotters and Tupac conspiracy theorists but maybe you have seen something on the President Mbeki promoted African Renaissance. Well it is the mother of NEPAD and the mentor for most progressive policies from the Continent. I believe we are in that kind of time, a period of new possibilities when civilisation and preeminence will not be determined by your hardware (Manufacturing et al) but by your software (culture, ideas et al). In fact most so called developed Nations have moved from manufacturing economies to service or knowledge ones. In a world of Information revolution and convergence , what matters are the intangibles such as brands, values, knowledge and network. There are rampant examples especially Iraq, where the worlds most powerful and tooled up army is cancelled out by low tech ragtag of insurgents, inspired by ideas of religion and mutating regularly through networks becoming the most effective enemy and the poster child for the Adaptive Century. Most of the 19th and 20th Century were a period of the greatest fallacy in human development, the belief that the industrial revolution and its manufacturing systems are the ultimate progress and the final chapter of human truimph over the universe. Driven by Newtonian physics and blinded by 'scientific discovery' we forgot that what we know is insignificant compared to what we are yet to be aware of. The consequences are global warming, nuclear hegemony and cultural imperialism amongst many others. The universe however has always worked on complexity embodied in quantum physics, recognising the importance of chaos, paradox and randomness the very opposite of organised and ordered principles of a manufactured world. There is nowhere where this is more in unadulterated form other than the African continent, because we have failed to embed our societies into the 'development' of the last two centuries and the crafting of socially manufactured and industrially efficient nation states. Africa is primed for the adaptive century.

I know we started with why Africa is not a failure, lets go there again. Africa is a perfect context for human beings operating as 'complex adaptive system' because we are constantly at the edge of chaos, so we are perpetually recreating and evolving using available feedback to survive. It is a state of heightened humanity and primed problem solving underpinned by exceptional creativity. For example no one in Lagos, Nigeria in at least the past ten years has taken a driving test before being granted a license to legitimately drive a car, these includes public bus drivers. You will expect complete anarchy and mayhem on the road, however whilst that happens from time to time , it is often resolved and in fact the rate of accidents in not as high as Johannesbourg with a fully regulated system. The same is also true of the now christened 'Nollywood' arguably the second most prolific and peharps most efficient film making industry in the world which emerged from the collapse of Nigerian Television (NTA ) system. It is still largely not regulated and an adaptive process, constantly recreating about to fully emerge. Africa is the only continent where the language of the universe is not buried deeply in self congratulation of manufactured excess. The logic of the universe, its randomness and even its brutality in teaching new lessons, in its effort to renew itself is the very thing that makes us think of Africa as a ' scar on the worlds conscience'. It is not , nowhere could the South African 'Truth and Reconciliation Comission ' have worked or the 'keep Nigeria one' after the mayhem that was the Biafra war. In Africa the complete and absolute darkness of nightfall and the glory of the rising sun is unrivalled anywhere else in the world both live side by side in apparent paradox. We in Africa already live in the adaptive world and arguably function more effectively in it than the rest of the world. We truly exemplify 'waves and particles' in operation. Watch USA plan itself into a contortion about 9/11 (4,000 dead) and compare it with Rwanda's response to nearly 1 million dead. I watch what happens when we have blackouts in the US or the UK , it leads to crime and anarchy, compared to the daily NEPA outage that generates at best exclamation of disappointment. The future is going to be filled with random, unplanned and cataclysmic events, Africa will thrive and the West will panic. The world needs Africa to turn its adaptive culture into a habit of excellence that will give the rest of the world an alternative to the increasingly failing prepackage world. The cry in the West is for organic , unprocessed food , for a medical care that is not the management of symptoms but holistic care, for grateful consumption than a voracious gratification, for a spiritual existence rather than organised religious propaganda. The future is adaptive, it is Africa and it is here.

We in Africa as usual are busy buying the stereotype of the poor African because the more we imbibe this diet, then others can claim pole position and confrim their assumptions. It is the good old Mohammed Ali 'Rope a dope' mind game, tell your enemy they are a failure, name the nature of their defeat, sell it so well that they turn it into a reality irrespective of their capacity. Have you ever wondered why Africans bought European version of Christianity when some of the oldest churches in the world are African, for example how many know of the Pope in Cairo compared to the one in Rome, or the Ethiopian Orthodox church which is centuries older than than the Anglican communion set up so an English King could engage in polygamy. I have to say this , not long ago I set up company named Ase which is a very powerful word in Yoruba and used in many religious rituals including Christian worship. It has its origin in Yoruba rituals and Christian friends were not only critical but downright scared of possible occult implications for the word. I asked one of them whether they used the word thursday and booked appointment on that day and they were in the affirmative. Well Thurday comes from Thor's day i.e the Nordic god of thunder who will be Shango in Yoruba, this person will perharps have a coronary if it was called Shangoday. Poverty of ideas again.

The fact of our adaptive context is not enough to generate preeminence becuase without leadership what we will at best achieve is mediocrity. We need a unique breed of leaders to facilitate our commitment, inspire our creativity and motivate our efforts. We need warriors of light, captains of intangibles, the generals for a renaissance and rebirth. You can only identify warriors of light from their attitude and behaviours.

They are shaped by the quality of insight into our condition. They know the history of who we are without being in awe of it. They are grounded in the successes and failure of our ancestors, educated in the capacity that still exists to apply these wisdom in the 21st century. In exceptional circumstances they are skilled in the science, art and magic competencies of civilisations gone past. They also know how we have failed under the industrial epoch and why we were so abysmal in our productivity , competitiveness or our growth. They understand the buttons to press to get the masses of Africans engage in creative problem solving. They have insight into the signs, omens and language of the universe seeing patterns as they emerge and avoiding over -specialisation and compartmentalisation which are hallmarks of formal education but not a symptoms of wisdom. They have insight into both the power of love in themselves as well as the capacity for destruction that reside in all of us. Consider the late Chiekh Anka Diop, Thabo Mbeki, Prof Obaro Ikime, Toyin Falola, Funmilayo Kuti.

They are also carved out by the distance of their foresight. They are able to time travel and dream, dreams. The vision of what we as a people can be , projecting the power of their ideas like beacons not just for Africa but for all of humanity.Defining what is to come and shaping our response through their capacity to shake complacency and to renew curiosity. They understand the Audacity of Hope. I claim Senator Barack Obama, Obafemi Awolowo, Kwame Nkrumah, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Thomas Shankara, Emperor Twedoros.

They are set aside by the discipline of their decision making. They execute after much deliberation with the focus and impact of a laser. Their choices are grounded in principle and shaped by moral courage. Everything they do is directed by the power of love, not just the sweetness of affection. They recognise the awesome nature of the Love in action and take responsibility for their exercise of its capacity to affect and effect change. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jerry Rawlings, Queen Nefertiti.

We need a cadre of warroirs of light to lead Afrian Renaissance in all areas of human life, to facilitate ideas that bridges the wisdom of our ancestors, what is available in the world around us and what will faciltate competitiveness of future generations. They will enable the alternative African worldview,that brings our ideas of self and the world we live in as well as how it should operate into the broader marketplace from which all civilisations purchase values and culture. They will enable us connect with the best in ourselves and help us rebrand our world from the current stereotype towards the complexity of our reality. To generate new institutions ready for the challenges of the 21st Century and sustainable within the context of Africa without losing the wisdom and foundation that emerges from our ancestral experiences.

The truth is that there is nothing stopping you from being that warrior of light for your children and generations to come other than the desire for comfort and consumption of that which you will eventually waste. Everything becomes compost and returns to basic but the word. In the beginning there was the word and it will be their in the end . Let your light shine, it is the only legacy we will give our children that will endure.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The World according to Afro- pessimism

I have had many responses to this blog from my middle class professional elite cohort of Nigerians . It would be great to hear from others outside this narrow category which insists on its position but largely refuses to post it on the blog for debate. What is perhaps most challenging about their position is they narrow the debate into the following;

  • Africa is a failing place in deep dooh dooh
  • The government and governance is to blame
  • If we change the character and policy of government then we stand a chance
  • Until then we are depressingly underdeveloped, underperforming and fit the stereotype of Africa that the west portrays.

I think these are all low hanging fruits that require very little intellectual effort and oversimplifies complex situations but has great currency in those of my background and identity. In my view it is also misguided as it provides the excuse for those who utter this position to at best pursue individual gratification without guilt or wallow in blissful mediocrity with impunity because surely they cannot change an entire society. If their characterization about Africa was entirely accurate one could start to move to solution such as proposed by the 'Great Bliarite' Africa commission. They seek refuge in Afro Pessimism the most virulent of which emerges out of the Nigerian cognoscenti or elite class as they pursue their western MBA and salute their Harvard case studies. They find justification for their position in much published statistics which are usually of dubious credibility and are made to say what pleases the those who set the standards.

Lets explore Nigeria and challenge how this most maligned of nations is stereotyped by all and sundry without any real effort at meaningful understanding of context. It reminds me of my recent trip to Cape Town which was delightful for many reasons however I had two meals that stand out one was at Theo's Grill at Seapoint and the other was barbecue Mfozi in the township of Gugulethu, there was over 100% price difference and although both were excellent meals one stood out as an exquisite culinary experience, more on this later.

Lets look at the statistics on Nigeria, few know that in 1975 there were more people in the United Kingdom i.e. 55.4 million than the 54.9 million Nigerians at that time. Today there are over 120 million Nigerians compared to just about 60 million in the UK. In 30 years the population of Nigeria has more than doubled in spite of that over 60% of the population is literate which in absolute numbers is more than the population of the entireUK. Most educated post independence in Nigerian schools through universal primary education and largely free primary schools. Whilst the Millenuim goals is based on statistical comparison it does not compare like for like imagine comparing Nigeria with Ghana whereas there are more people in Lagos State than the whole of that country.

It is also a well established that there is a substantial GDP under reporting because of the large informal Nigerian economy. With that in mind reconcile the fall in per capita GDP from close to $1000 at its high point in 1979 to currently less than $400 in 2004 with a recorded slump in Oil earnings (about 90% of export earnings) from $22.4bn in 1980 to $9.6bn in 1983. Nigerians consistently manufacture as less than 10% of there GDP per sector, it is arguable that whilst Nigerians were in the 10 importers of processed goods especially Lace material champagne et al, they did not export up to a recordeable percentage of processed or produced goods other than petroleum. In the period of doubling population and reducing income government was expanding the state into all sectors to compensate and develop society to meet the over growing ambition and expectation of the Nigerian elite. The government deficit and borrowing grew from 8% of GDP in 1988 to 40% in 1992 alone. Yes there was a lot of pilfering however remember this

' You are living witnesses to the grave economic predicament ... Which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation ... Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar mation. There is an inadequacy of food at reasonable prices... Health services are in a shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs , water and equipments. Our education system is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the graduates have reached an embarrassing and unacceptable proportion.'

Many Afro-pessimists will concur and celebrate such candor they in fact did jubilate, this was said by then Brigadier Sanni Abacha during the overthrow of the much maligned Shagari government without really educating his audience that their profilgate procreation could not be fully accommodated in a centrally planned economy. That their obsession with branded western products was not matched by their virtually non-existent productivity. No nation develops with domestic investment at 16% or so of GDP as it has stood in Nigeria. The Nigerian elite of my generation is a spoilt brat the male version is the master who expects respect without ever serving anyone, he is profligate and wicked in his use of power and his sexism bothers misogyny with his everyday celebration of his Madonna/whore dichotomy towards his unmarried middle age compatriots. Yet he laments leadership from others that he neither exercises in his work nor does he exemplify in his home. His female counterpart is only marginally better, ground to a caricature of the generation preceding, mouthing pretensions to equality in the pursuit of middle class respectability and acceptance. She emerges in power more terrifying than her male partner brutal, obsessive, petty and unforgiving. Like spoilt children they are demanding of 'arrival' and acknowledgement without the recognition they need to sacrifice for posterity. My point is that we get the government we deserve, no elite Nigerian especially the Lagos gliteratti has never given a bribe, nor abused power over subordinate, or even not cut corners on due process yet they stand in judgment as if scale of abuse is enough to mask hypocrisy. I ask why don't they become the leaders they seek in others.

The working Nigerian outside the elite is beginning to aspire for the same crass entitlement. Even though they have never made the best employees , their entrepreneurial zeal is world class. Many are still examples that the elites can learn from but deride because they lack the Queens English, diction or grammar erquired to be celebrated, the market women, Okada riders, Nollywood producers, mechanics and skilled artisans whose energies are not part of official statistics nor are they part of the financial system. They are the real engine room for transformation not the government or the rent seeking elites. In fact to become a value generating part of the transformation agenda the elites would have to make a fundamental shift in mind models from looking for others to blame towards accepting responsibility for their own contribution. With all the investment that has been made by Nigerian society in our indoctrination into western ways we are a poor return or very limited value for money. Contrast that with China and you can take one view of an authoritarian non-western society in which the driver is the productive energy and the use of Guanxi network that has delivered the growth and economic expansion of the past two decades. The government has acted by getting out of the way of economic expansion but maintaining a grip on socio-political development. It is most certainly not a liberal democracy but it is consistent with thousands of years of Chinese civilization and the role the Imperial courts and each dynasty ruled. One cannot underestimate the role of the cultural revolution and the brutal treatment of counter revolutionary elements in the confidence with which China ploughs its own unique path towards prosperity and eminence.

In Nigeria our history has shown consistently that the workaday Nigerian has been the genius in all our civilizations rather than the roaming elite who migrated from place to place in pursuit Obaship, Emirate et al. There is ample evidence that prior manufacturing capacity in areas such as Iron, bronze technologies (e.g NOK) Ivory works, glass and beads; pottery/terra cotta; salt , soap and leatherwork, weaving, boat making and wood carving came out of the genius of the everyday Nigerian. The elite in pursuit of quick wealth and in concert with their western allies exported them in large numbers as slaves in the triangular trade. In less than 20 years after abolition of slavery the same people had become the main source of palm oil for the British industrial revolution and leaders like Jaja of Opobo who did not come from the elite but rose from hard work out of slavery emerged but were taken out because they posed a threat to the elite and their European partners. In fact most of the crops that sustained colonial administration and pre crude oil Nigeria especially Cocoa, even cassava, were not indigenous to Nigeria and even where they were like rubber and Palm oil they were not plantation farmed as was the case in other parts of the world. . There was little or no help for the Nigerian subsistence farmer neither was his or her technique changed but for a long time they produced and was number one in the world on most if not all of these products. In fact the supply of these products played significant role in the British efforts and eventual success in the Ist and 2nd World wars.

Back to my meal in Gugulethu I ate on a tray with 5 others, sweet sausage with chicken barbecued to perfection. It was less than 50 Rand and my lobster et al at Theo's was over 1000 Rand. The meal in 'Gugs' was more to my palate, the atmosphere much more in tune with my africaness but I will never find it in any guide book. In fact I would be warned of the danger to my life and consequences of going to a township, with crime statistics and data, news stereotypes and testimony. So I will continue to buy the brand packaged for me and in my ignorance and blind westernisation feed myself with that which even though nice is not spicy nor funky enough to put a spring in my step.

Africa is not in dooh dooh, it underdelivers in relation to some indicators but excels in others. The suicide rate of the West is phenomenally higher than those of Africans, so is depression and other mental ailments, divorce rates, per capita crime and even though people are skeptical happiness and optimism is higher in Africa than in the west. Statistics depends on what defines success and whose standards are applied. At least the Afro pessimist should stop looking for simplistic criticism and identify what works and build on those whilst being unrelenting about failings. I fear that this will never be the case since like their European partners they see things in only simple black and white. Like China, Africa has seen great days and similarly through a realization of her own intrinsic worth will develop and renew its many civilizations based on a love for itself and a commitment to continuously improving. I however fear it will not be in time for its current callous elites but at least there is hope for posterity.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ideas of Africa

Typical of my peoples response is that there is no point complaining about the Africa Commission and Live 8 . What are you going to do differently? A just, smart Alec question if there ever was one. The truth is Africa is a construct not an objective reality, a creation that morphs to the perception and dictates of the observer. On the map it does not appear in its central position or its true size neither does it logically or historically exclude what we now call the middle east. Even then it is cut further down into 'sub saharan' description to fully define the desired state of underdevelopment. So the first challenge will be to construct an Africa that emerges from our aspirations, grounded in our traditions and projected in the boldness of our efforts. An Africa based on what we know works in our context and driven by the grundnorm of our many different peoples. If you have ever seen President Mbeki's speech which now forms the basis of the tourism advert to South Africa you know, that is a rousing call if ever there was one, it should paint everything in coat of pride like harmattan over Abuja. Somewhere in that speech is the recognition that transformation starts with the Africa each one of us imagines.

To see this Africa we must first unlearn what passes for education, which is in fact indoctrination. As Fela said we need to get African eyes to see the real African things and lose the 'yeye eye wey we borrow'. It means even when we choose to borrow content we fit it into context. In large part most of the so called developments we introduce are part of the elite desire to mirror and represent westernization as progress. We forget that transformation occurs in the agreement of the multitude not the obsession of the few. We forget that in other epochs in which our people have exhibited their inherent genius from the Pyramids, to ancient Zimbabwe, from Nok to Timbuktu, from Axum to Ife bronze, Meroe, Kush, Shongey, Ghana, it was not the story of the elite. This was the genius of the workaday African, the Benin Artisan, Chaka's impis, Akhenatens priests, many faceless but inspired individuals who produced for idea and ideals challenging the stereotype of inferiority that we now wear without restraint. So now the dialogue is not for governments but in the informal and unrecorded transactions of market women and traders across the continent in the dusk to dawn sweat of their brows. We must inspire, encourage and encapsulate their productive efforts into the core of our transactions and economic data.

We must develop a pan African curriculum that is discussed at the AU parliament and ratified in every country based on our histories but also grounding the humanity and dignity of all our ethnic groups into the education of our children.

We must tell our own stories in all medium including a pan African radio band that has segments in all key languages and dialects so that people can discuss and deliberate across borders

Yes this are all intangibles and cultural. Our battle is not really in material, it is ideas. It is a battle between their idea of Africa and ours. It is from that inspirational idea of our Africa that what Senator Barack Obama calls the 'Audacity of Hope ' emerges without which we might as well lay down to be the story that scares children in the west to eat their greens.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The new Orishas

The nightly excursions to save the African continent and turn its poverty into history conceived by caring white men and extended through their grace, exalted by the world media and desired on bended needs by aid addicts is enough to make any child of Africa sick. But these new gods are not to blame neither can we ritually sacrifice our rulers in a fit of pique.

Why I wonder is Africa 'poor', the truth is that we are only as poor as we chose to believe never mind that it serves the purpose of the new gods we worship to have us think thus. Poverty is defined in this case largely in material terms and more crudely by the values and standards that has been passed down through the institutions from which we must worship. The United Nations, WTO, World Bank, UNDP et al, they define our sins and provide reports of our paths to righteousness. In all ways we have become a caricature caught between the cruel and whimsical experimentation of our new deities from Structural adjustment, democracy, transparency et al and the crumbling of the ways of our ancestors. It is a poor sight indeed watching the clowns in the AU Head of state picture, dressed in jackets at 90 degrees in the shade and wrap ropes around their necks confirming their roles as aspiring priests to the demi gods of the west.

At the core of where we as Africans find ourselves is a true belief in the superiority and reverence for the ideas of the new orishas. We are convinced we are poor and we act poorly. In my village in moniya everyone earns less than a dollar a day but they eat fresh organic food. They have no cars and there roads are largely untarred but the breath fresh air. Life is not particularly long but for every need and pain there are scores of people waiting to help. Of course there is backbiting but whether you call it 'umbumtu' or ' eniyan ni aso mi' we exist as an extention and continuum between our ancestors, ourselves and posterity. We live the fullness of our passions and express the depth of our pains. We now live for the approval of the new gods, we buy things made by them purely to show progress. Put in direct terms we hate who we are and there are consequences. Nothing wrong with others hating us but with self hatred we started acting poorly. We trade more with Europe especially for colonials than we do the rest of the continent. Intra Africa trade is less than 10 %, we take money out of our countries and put in the economies of the west with more money leaving to Europe that what we remit back. We must go to their schools, dress in their garbs, imitate their laws and start to eat their food. The transaction cost of self hatred is profound.

The are now going to Live8 us, how pleasant. We can watch their musician serenade our pitiful view self. They are also going to write off our debts (at least for some of the well behaved) . They will not stand for corruption either never mind that they knowingly sit on millions of stolen money. They will do all these in full knowledge that so long as we believe in the power they have to fix our problems we will be back. Yes back to buying things we do not need to compensate for the feeling of inadequacy they foster. Back to trying out for respectability and influence maybe even getting a seat before the altar of the security council. Back to fighting each other for space and status, mortgaging our children future to gods who will never be satisfied because the day we stop they will have to confront their insecurity. It might just be possible that outside their illusions the new orishas are fake gods selling cheap protection rackets and promises of a false heaven.