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.