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.