Thursday, March 29, 2007

We. The People.

Twenty years ago, Dele Olojede was in Nigeria, a reporter for the independent national Concord newspaper, whose editor spent two weeks in detention without explanation from the government. He became one of the founding writers at Newswatch magazine, whose editor, Dele Giwa, was killed by a pipe bomb in 1986—"by military intelligence".

In April 2005, Olojede, by this time a former editor of Newsday, was named
co-winner of the Pulitzer prize for international reporting, becoming the first African to win journalism's highest honour.

In October 2005, he spoke at the NLNG Grand Award Night, in Lagos...

"A debilitating lack of self-confidence, I think, characterizes today’s Nigerian, having seen his country go down the tubes whilst in the custody of rapacious rulers, and with his own active connivance or apathy. This condition sometimes manifests itself in a prickly defensiveness. I often have friends of mine lapse into such grand statements as, “that’s because you don’t live here,” as an all-purpose dismissal of an argument whose uncomfortable truths they cannot logically avoid. It is manifested in the irrational xenophobia exhibited by many against, for example, South Africans doing business successfully in Nigeria.

But this defensiveness cannot conceal the facts of Nigeria’s condition today. By all objective measures, the country is far poorer-- $350 billion in oil revenues later—than it was 40 years ago. Its moral foundations have cracked wide open, a society whose core values matter far less today than they did four decades ago. Its schools and hospitals 40 years ago were far superior to its schools and hospitals today. Its bureaucracy was more meritorious and far more efficient than it is today. Its elite was far more self-sacrificing, certainly, than today’s elite, whose behavioral patterns bear striking resemblance, if I may be direct, to a swarm of locusts. Nigeria in 1960, as we all know by now, was ahead on the development curve than Singapore or Malaysia or the Philippines or South Korea. Nigeria’s life expectancy has fallen—FALLEN!!— a full decade since the early 1970s, to just 43 years, according to the latest edition of the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures these things. What this means is that I have already lived longer at my age than the average citizen of this nation can fairly be expected to live. The average Nigerian now lives only half as long as the average Chinese or Japanese. We have become a poster child worldwide for fraud and corruption. We are clearly traveling down an escalator that is going up...

.... The necessity of creating a true Commonwealth in our country cannot be overstated. And its legitimacy is conditional on the citizens having come together to devise the rules of engagement. We can already see one of the most appalling consequences of an imposed constitution, one that places a class of politicians above the law of the land and basically grants them blanket immunity, even when they brazenly steal the family silver. To place anyone above the law is to debase the law itself, and invite the creation of a locust culture, where the swarm of the political elite is engaged only in plundering as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and for as long as possible...

... The good society [which we seek] will be built, as it has been built elsewhere, by men and women who act, who take it upon themselves to sacrifice a little bit of their individual pursuits for the common good. The new society will be built by teachers who teach, doctors who actually treat, lawyers who fight for justice and the rule of law, bureaucrats who manage efficiently the commonwealth all the while resisting the lure of the easy money, leaders who actually lead, and do not expect that a criminal is worthy of being protected from the law by some perverted notion of executive immunity. And yes, this good society will in large part be built by citizens who understand and accept the responsibilities of citizenship...

... After years of corrosive military dictatorships and their attendant caprice, as well as the general dissolution and greed of a thieving political class, the Nigerian today feels so battered and bruised that he appears to have lost all sense of how to be a citizen. I have been following with some interest a simple but important exercise by the Ministry of Finance, which uncharacteristically for a Nigerian government agency actually is promoting transparency. The ministry periodically publishes in the newspapers a complete list of revenues allotted from the federation account to every single state and local government throughout the country. So if you live in, say, Isukwato-Okigwe local government area of Abia State, you can tell from the newspapers that your local government received 500 million naira last month for the administration of its affairs. The question that faces us is, how many residents actually take the trouble to demand that their councilors account for how the money was spent? Did it go toward fixing the broken windows in local schools? Or paving the rutted neighborhood roads? Or reactivating a long dormant waterworks? Or purchasing supplies for the local health dispensary? My guess is that many citizens do not bother, thus signaling their leaders that they do not have to be accountable at all.

The same is true in virtually every important respect. Most parents do not get involved in their children’s schools or hold teachers and school administrators accountable for the proper education of their children. They ask not why our highways are death traps. They witness fellow citizens illegally expropriating public property for private use and they consider it normal, or at least acceptable. They appear to believe, in fact, that rulers have an entirely free hand to do anything whatever, including commit grievous crimes and recognize no difference between public funds and their private spending. The rulers—we must of necessity avoid the term leader, which connotes purpose and service—have naturally taken as much liberty as the citizens are willing to give them, and then some.

The citizen has become praise singer and court jester, obsequious, slavish, bowing only to wealth and position. We have become Fela’s parody of the “government chicken boy.” Our praise singing culture has reached new depths of perversion, with music extolling the supremacy of anyone with money no matter how accumulated, with newspapers and magazines dedicated only to the chronicling of the comings and goings of the elite, with our so-called kings and paramount chiefs bestowing chieftaincy titles on anyone ready to pay-- with such feverish abandon, in fact, that one of our big men apparently has more than 600 of them! The age of Simply Mr., which The Guardian newspaper so valiantly sought to champion more than 20 years ago, has passed into oblivion. We forget that the number of chieftaincy titles we acquire does not in any way equate living the good and useful life. To quote Aristotle, “honor seems to depend on those who confer it rather than on him who receives it, whereas our guess is that the good is a man’s own possession
which cannot easily be taken away from him.”

We are ruled no longer by poorly educated men with guns, but the Nigerian remains wary of his freedom. To paraphrase Rousseau, freedom is like a lovely meal of pounded yam and edikai-ekong, but very difficult to digest. That the citizen in Nigeria today lives in relative freedom does not mean he knows what to do with it. In fact, one often gets the impression that many Nigerians would rather not be free, scared as they are of freedom’s responsibilities. They grumble and complain about the flagrant inequities and outright robbery that unfold daily in full view, and they shrug and hope for some divine intervention, and fail to act to shape their own destiny.

I have been looking out of the window in hopes of catching sight of this divine intervention, but perhaps my sight is poor. There is no cavalry out there riding to our rescue, ladies and gentlemen. We must face the cold hard fact that the world owes us nothing, and those who are not prepared to function in it will fall farther behind and become slaves to other races of men. It is neither fair nor unfair; it is just the way it is. As the line goes in the Merchant of Venice, “I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano…”

The task before us, then, is not only simply to reform our political system, but fundamentally to learn how to be citizens all over again...

...The Americans have this wonderful preamble to their constitution, a statement of their ambitions as a nation. Its phrasing is elegant and soaring. It rallies the citizens around a common purpose. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” That’s right, a more perfect union, a recognition that the task of improvement is never concluded, that a society must constantly strive towards the goal of insuring the common good.

Are we the people here gathered, pledged to end the culture of greed and avarice that we have allowed to grow, like cancer, on our nation’s soul?

Are we the people here assembled ready to take charge of our own destiny, set our shoulders against that boulder, and start the hard tasking of rolling it uphill?

We the people, are we pledged to forsake purely personal advantage and hedonism, and seek ye first the common good?

We the people, are we prepared to work tirelessly for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Are we, the people, willing to set ourselves high standards, rather than constantly seeking the lowest common denominator? Are we willing to create the republic of ambition?"


The full article is attached below. It touches on everything - the loss of our ancient society premised on honour, the absence of trust, the impact of an illegitimate government, the misuse of religious faith, the erasure of the past and all its lessons, poverty and its destructive characteristics. If you're unable to download the attachment, you can click here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Black Rock

Monday, Dec. 05, 1960 - Time Magazine Cover Story

At five minutes before nine the warning bell clanged, and the chattering parliamentarians in the lobby began to file into the House to take their seats. Precisely on the hour, a voice raised the traditional cry "Mistah Speakah," and the legislators froze as a bemedaled attendant solemnly descended the nine red-carpeted steps into the well of the House and laid a golden mace on the table separating the government front benches from those of the opposition. After a prayer calling down God's protection on the nation and Queen Elizabeth II, the Speaker, in his English-accented English, called "Odah, odah," and the debate began. Scarcely had it got into full swing when a proud, ascetic figure strolled slowly toward the government bench and all eyes converged on the ebony face of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, O.B.E., K.B.E., C.B.E., LL.D., Prime Minister of Nigeria.

Along with its echoes of Britain's Westminster, the legislature over which Sir Abubakar presided last week had some of the flavor of a Pan-African Congress. On its benches tall, haughty Hausas, splendidly robed in green and scarlet, sat amongst volatile Ibos draped in white and azure gowns. Across the aisle were Yoruba tribesmen wrapped in gold, yellow and orange with little porkpie beanies on their heads. Between them, they constituted one of the world's noisiest

Parliaments. Each speaker was greeted with cries of "Heah, heah" from his friends and derisory shouts of "Sit down, you wretched fool" from his foes; from the rostrum came the perennial plea for "Odah, odah!" But somehow, through the din, the nation's problems got discussed and decided.

In the hurly-burly of 1960's African avalanche of freedom, Nigeria's impressive demonstration of democracy's workability in Africa is too often overlooked. Next-to-newest of the 18 nations to win independence this year, Nigeria entered the world community without noisy birthpangs or ominous warnings of its determination to avenge ancient wrongs. Since moderation and common sense are not the stuff that headlines are made of, the world's eyes

slid past Nigeria to focus worriedly on the imperialistic elbowings of Ghana's Nkrumah, on the heedless plunge into Marxism taken by Guinea's Sékou Touré and above all, on the bloody chaos in the Congo.

In the long run, the most important and enduring face of Africa might well prove to be that presented by Nigeria. Where so many of its neighbors have shaken off colonialism only to sink into strongman rule. Nigeria not only preaches but practices the dignity of the individual. And where such other islands of order in Africa as Liberia. Togo and the former French Congo lack the size and power to overbalance thrusting Ghana and Guinea (combined population:

8,665,000), the Federation of Nigeria stands a giant among Lilliputians; last October, when Nigeria's 40 million people got their independence, the free population of Black Africa jumped 50%. Backed by such numbers, Nigeria's sober voice urging the steady, cautious way to prosperity and national greatness seems destined to exert ever-rising influence in emergent Africa.


The article goes on to discuss the backgrounds of some of the key players at the time – Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe etc. The rest of it can be found here. It is worth reading in full as it provides brilliant insight into the context of our independence and the attitudes and aspirations of the ‘60s.

Do we still have the potential to get to "prosperity and national greatness"? Or is it much too late now? What do we think?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Suffering and Smiling

The music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti is rarely heard on the radio in Nigeria. Everyone is in a possession of a CD or two of his, but to listen to his music, you've got to go out of your way to look for it.

Suffering and Smiling is a documentary about the movement started by Fela, and continued by Femi. Its about the passion of a gifted family for the betterment of a country that refuses to give them access to its radio waves, and is literally falling to pieces around them. On stage, they are alive, fearless and awe-inspiring. Off stage, they are persecuted, at times taken for granted, but nonetheless fiercely dedicated.

In Suffering and Smiling, we see with alarming clarity, how dire the situation in Nigeria is, and just how consuming the depression that stems from the hopelessness of it all, can be. Desperation was the common thread uniting our country’s people. In churches they cried out, screamed and begged God for change. In the Shrine, they got high, drunk and violent, clutching like animals at the fleeting opportunity for an escape from their despair. In the Niger Delta, they spoke with the bitterness of decades of lost livelihoods and unbearable impoverishment.

We knew Fela had a message (many messages in fact). We knew the powers that be had refused to listen to that message, and had ultimately regarded it as contrary to national security. We knew his mother was thrown out of a window, and that he was arrested and tortured repeatedly. What we didn’t know, was the instrumental role played by our current (and hopefully outgoing) President in the relentless vendetta against him. Neither did we know how unreceptive the Nigerians many of us interact with were to the message he intended for their benefit.

When Misan and I started The Afro Beat, Jeremy was very quick to send us an email of encouragement. In his mini eulogy on the greatness of Fela, he touched on something that we had honestly never noticed. For many Nigerians, Fela was, and still is, an embarrassment, a no-go area. It doesn’t matter to them that his music touched and gave hope to the man on the street. And it certainly doesn’t matter to them that his passion for his beliefs was greater than his concerns for his life and his safety. These are the very people that the commentators we've featured on The Afro Beat blog so far, have spoken out against - the passive observers who see Nigeria as a disgrace, a failed experiment not worth salvaging. These are the people who don’t challenge wrongdoing when they see it, but instead focus all their energy on simply getting from A to B. These are the people who are so worn out and despondent, that they turn a blind eye to the extreme poverty and inhumane conditions in which so many of their countrymen are condemned to fester and rot.

The Afro Beat admittedly hasn’t gone very far towards achieving much at the moment. Like everyone else, Misan and I have so much going on in our lives that sometimes it can be incredibly easy to forget to log on to The Afro Beat. Trying to cater to the interests of such a diverse audience, and at the same time stay true to the core of The Afro Beat, has indeed been very difficult. Trying to do this, especially when it has become clear that interest in the project is waning, has been even more difficult.

Motivated by Suffering and Smiling, and its depiction of true dedication in the face of extreme oppression and opposition, we’ve decided to open up The Afro Beat. It is no longer a movement that will require membership of any sort, simply because such a requirement is a barrier to progress. At the same time, obviously we’ve got to be careful about unpatriotic or separatist input over which we would have no control, and which could potentially get us into a lot of trouble. But it’s a risk worth taking if only to spark a few fires in the minds of others like ourselves who want to work out a role for The Afro Beat, its members and this generation in the alleviation of Nigeria’s unending crisis.


Suffering and Smiling is showing next on Wednesday 28th March at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, London, as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Click here for more information. The footage shown at the start of this post is an independent video from YouTube and is not part of the Suffering and Smiling film.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"A Rumour that shook the nation" by Reuben Abati

Ok, so with April only a few weeks away, this (extracted) article is ever-so-relevant and raises a couple of issues: Why is Yar'Adua (and more importantly, OBJ) so desperately trying to downplay his health problems? Should the health of a (THE) presidential candidate be a deciding factor on whether he should win the presidency? Why has OBJ made his campaign a "do or die affair"? Reading this article made me wonder why our politicians are allowed to utter such silly (for lack of a better polite word) statements/ it that they think we're stupid, or because they know we don't have the guts to call them out on their ignorance? I really wonder...


NIGERIA is surely an interesting country. Wednesday, March 7 would go down in history as a very important moment in Nigeria's preparations for the April 2007 elections and for a rather curious reason. It was the day when a rumour, taken off the wings of what seemed like a truthful report in the news media assumed a life of its own, and was soon stretched most imaginatively by the Nigerian public, into something dramatic, nationalistic, and for the moment, demonstrating the power of the spoken word, and also, the people's anxieties about the character of Nigerian politics.

The health of the PDP Presidential candidate, Umar Yar'Adua, the outgoing Governor of Katsina State, Obasanjo's anointed successor, was the issue of the day. The newspapers had reported, on page one, that the gentleman whose health had been a subject of much speculation and analysis had slumped suddenly on Tuesday and had to be rushed into an air ambulance to Germany. There was a kind of death-wish in nearly all the reports, both spoken and written. The Nation newspaper went a step further by asking the question: "If...who steps in?" You can fill in the gaps.

One of the major ironies of the 2007 electoral process has been the decision of the PDP to choose as its Presidential flagbearer, a man with a record of ill-health, problematic kidneys and what Alhaji Muhammad Balarabe is quoted as having described as "some ailments". The PDP leadership, President Obasanjo and Yar'Adua himself have been in a state of denial about Yar'Adua's health but what transpired on Wednesday clearly indicated that his medical state is bound to affect the fortunes of the PDP in the coming elections and if he emerges as President, in spite of the people's fears, Nigeria may end up in a long or short season of doubt and anxiety.

It is important to underline the reactions of Nigerian to the news of Yar'Adua's sudden collapse. Before noon, the country had been littered with all kinds of experts on the nature of the human kidney, instant medical doctors who offered free opinion about how delicate the kidneys are. There were different versions of how the man slumped and how he was rushed out of the country. He sneezed. He inhaled dust. He could not breathe properly. Only Ojo Maduekwe, the Secretary of the PDP insisted that the man had only travelled for a "routine medical check up". But how routine?

By noon, the word started going round: "Yar'Adua is dead".

"You see what Obasanjo has done to Nigeria", a friend declared.

"What has Obasanjo got to do with this? I had said defensively, out of mischief of course.

"Everything", the other fellow said. "He knows that Yar'Adua is not medically fit and yet he wants to impose him as President. This is the third term agenda through the back door."


"Can't you see? There is a clause in the Electoral Act which allows government to postpone the elections indefinitely in the event of the death of any of the Presidential candidates."

"But that is not as straightforward as it seems. The 1999 Constitution is superior to the Electoral Act. Under the Constitution, President Obasanjo and other elected representatives have a four-year tenure. That tenure expires on May 29."

"The Constitution can be amended"

"And who will do that?"

"The National Assembly"

"They wouldn't dare. We, the people will resist such a move."

The Yar'Adua incident brought out a part of the Nigerian character: our love of rumour, our imaginativeness, and the malicious character of Nigerian politics. Any attempt to preach that people should be cautious and not kill a man before he really dies was met with the retort that "in this country there is no smoke without fire". When the evening papers hit the streets, they added more fuel to the speculations. Breaking News, published by the Daily Independent, announced that Adamu Muazu and Babangida were already being considered as replacement for Yar'Adua.

Why is Yar'Adua's health so important to Nigerians? I think there was first a feeling of disappointment, a sudden realisation that both the President and Yar'Adua himself might have been lying to Nigerians. When questions were first raised about Yar'Adua's health, the President had played the role of a medical doctor by certifying him fit for the job. "I know all about Umar's ailment" he said "and it has disappeared since 2001. It was a miracle. So those calling him a sick man are the ones who are sick. After all, only God can tell who is sick or not. I wonder how somebody can open his mouth and say that a human being created by God is a sick man." In the light of current revelations, the President has to come up with new explanations. At least we now know that medical doctors can tell when a man is sick and that a sick man is simply a sick man. This is not a matter for politicking.

The second leg of the politics of Yar'Adua's illness is the Obasanjo factor; no one seems to understand why President Obasanjo is so passionate about a man who is widely regarded as medically unfit for the job. Questions: what does Obasanjo want? Why would he insist on giving Nigerians a President with health problems? It is not the people that are playing God, it is the President. He has been the chief campaigner for Yar'Adua's candidacy. He allows him to use the Presidential jet, and he says making Yar'Adua President is a "do or die affair" But when will the President draw the line between friendship/loyalty and the nation's interest? The only saving grace is that the people have a choice in this matter. In the April elections, the Nigerian people have a duty to look at every candidate dispassionately and make an informed choice. Do they want a President who can stand stress or a President whose kidney is a subject of close monitoring by German doctors?

President Obasanjo had tried to save the situation by Wednesday evening. He was at a political rally and he put a call through to Umar Yar'Adua in Germany.

"Umar, how are you? What is your message for Nigerians?"

"I am alive and well. It is a false alarm", Yar'Adua declared.

It was a farcical show. The President may have allayed our fears about the life of the Presidential aspirant, but he again confirmed the people's worst fears: that the PDP Presidential candidate is not the best of health. Is he now campaigning from Germany? The PDP must bring its season of denial about the health of its flagbearer to an end. The obsession with Yar'Adua's ill-health is becoming an irritable distraction. We should be discussing Yar'Adua's ideas about national development. We are not doing that, we are talking about his kidney and skin. We want to know what he and the PDP are planning to do about power supply, education, the health sector and so on, but what are we discussing (?): whether Yar Adua can breathe properly or not. This is not fair.

It is however sad and a comment on the status of healthcare in Nigeria, that the Presidential candidate of the ruling party had to be rushed to Germany before he could be sure of quality medical attention. If our hospitals were better equipped, if all the money voted for the health sector in the past eight years had been well spent, there would be no need for Nigerian leaders to seek help in other countries.

Reuben Abati is Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper. Since 1999 he has written two weekly columns in The Guardian and is now one of the most prolific and respected newspaper columnists in Nigeria today.

The full article can be found at The Nigerian Village Square

Monday, March 5, 2007

"What is an Afropolitan?" by Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu

The writer charts the rise of the "Afropolitan" - internationally mobile, young people of African descent, making their mark on the world. In her mind, we are not citizens, but rather "Africans of the world". Having just returned from a spectacular international conference in the Middle East where I met people from countries I barely knew existed, I am refreshingly aware of how crossed and blurred boundaries between geographies and cultures have become today. Where does the young African fit in all this? What is our new Legacy? Are we too busy "defining our identify" that we forget the motherland (i know tonnes of pp hate this term but i think it's appropriate in this context) and the problems that need solving?

An excellent read on what it means to be a new-generation transnational/ transatlantic African, which I'm sure most of us can relate to....ENJOY!!


It’s moments to midnight on Thursday night at Medicine Bar in London. Zak, boy-genius DJ, is spinning a Fela Kuti remix. The little downstairs dancefloor swells with smiling, sweating men and women fusing hip-hop dance moves with a funky sort of djembe. The women show off enormous afros, tiny t-shirts, gaps in teeth; the men those incredible torsos unique to and common on African coastlines. The whole scene speaks of the Cultural Hybrid: kente cloth worn over low-waisted jeans; ‘African Lady’ over Ludacris bass lines; London meets Lagos meets Durban meets Dakar. Even the DJ is an ethnic fusion: Nigerian and Romanian; fair, fearless leader; bobbing his head as the crowd reacts to a sample of ‘Sweet Mother’.

Were you to ask any of these beautiful, brown-skinned people that basic question – ‘where are you from?’ – you’d get no single answer from a single smiling dancer. This one lives in London but was raised in Toronto and born in Accra; that one works in Lagos but grew up in Houston, Texas. ‘Home’ for this lot is many things: where their parents are from; where they go for vacation; where they went to school; where they see old friends; where they live (or live this year). Like so many African young people working and living in cities around the globe, they belong to no single geography, but feel at home in many.

They (read: we) are Afropolitans – the newest generation of African emigrants, coming soon or collected already at a law firm/chem lab/jazz lounge near you. You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

It isn’t hard to trace our genealogy. Starting in the 60’s, the young, gifted and broke left Africa in pursuit of higher education and happiness abroad. A study conducted in 1999 estimated that between 1960 and 1975 around 27,000 highly skilled Africans left the Continent for the West. Between 1975 and 1984, the number shot to 40,000 and then doubled again by 1987, representing about 30% of Africa’s highly skilled manpower. Unsurprisingly, the most popular destinations for these emigrants included Canada, Britain, and the United States; but Cold War politics produced unlikely scholarship opportunities in Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, as well.

Some three decades later this scattered tribe of pharmacists, physicists, physicians (and the odd polygamist) has set up camp around the globe. The caricatures are familiar. The Nigerian physics professor with faux-Coogi sweater; the Kenyan marathonist with long legs and rolled r’s; the heavyset Gambian braiding hair in a house that smells of burnt Kanekalon. Even those unacquainted with synthetic extensions can conjure an image of the African immigrant with only the slightest of pop culture promptings: Eddie Murphy’s ‘Hello, Barbar.’ But somewhere between the 1988 release of Coming to America and the 2001 crowning of a Nigerian Miss World, the general image of young Africans in the West transmorphed from goofy to gorgeous. Leaving off the painful question of cultural condescenscion in that beloved film, one wonders what happened in the years between Prince Akeem and Queen Agbani?

One answer is: adolescence. The Africans that left Africa between 1960 and 1975 had children, and most overseas. Some of us were bred on African shores then shipped to the West for higher education; others born in much colder climates and sent home for cultural re-indoctrination. Either way, we spent the 80’s chasing after accolades, eating fufu at family parties, and listening to adults argue politics. By the turn of the century (the recent one), we were matching our parents in number of degrees, and/or achieving things our ‘people’ in the grand sense only dreamed of. This new demographic – dispersed across Brixton, Bethesda, Boston, Berlin – has come of age in the 21st century, redefining what it means to be African. Where our parents sought safety in traditional professions like doctoring, lawyering, banking, engineering, we are branching into fields like media, politics, music, venture capital, design. Nor are we shy about expressing our African influences (such as they are) in our work. Artists such as Keziah Jones, novelist Chimamanda Achidie – all exemplify what Trace editor, Claude Gruzintsky, calls the ‘21st century African.’

What distinguishes this lot and its like (in the West and at home) is a willingness to complicate Africa – namely, to engage with, critique, and celebrate the parts of Africa that mean most to them. Perhaps what most typifies the Afropolitan consciousness is the refusal to oversimplify; the effort to understand what is ailing in Africa alongside the desire to honor what is wonderful, unique. Rather than essentialising the geographical entity, we seek to comprehend the cultural complexity; to honor the intellectual and spiritual legacy; and to sustain our parents’ cultures.

For us, being African must mean something. The media’s portrayals (war, hunger) won’t do. Neither will the New World trope of bumbling, blue-black doctor. Most of us grew up aware of ‘being from’ a blighted place, of having last names from countries which are linked to lack, corruption. Few of us escaped those nasty ‘booty-scratcher’ epithets, and fewer still that sense of shame when visting paternal villages. Whether we were ashamed of ourselves for not knowing more about our parents’ culture, or ashamed of that culture for not being more ‘advanced’ can be unclear. What is manifest is the extent to which the modern adolescent African is tasked to forge a sense of self from wildly disparate sources. You’d never know it looking at those dapper lawyers in global firms, but most were once supremely self-conscious of being so ‘in between’. Brown-skinned without a bedrock sense of ‘blackness,’ on the one hand; and often teased by African family members for ‘acting white’ on the other – the baby-Afropolitan can get what I call ‘lost in transnation’.

Ultimately, the Afropolitan must form an identity along at least three dimensions: national, racial, cultural – with subtle tensions in between. While our parents can claim one country as home, we must define our relationship to the places we live; how British or American we are (or act) is in part a matter of affect. Often unconsciously, and over time, we choose which bits of a national identity (from passport to pronunciation) we internalize as central to our personalities. So, too, the way we see our race – whether black or biracial or none of the above – is a question of politics, rather than pigment; not all of us claim to be black. Often this relates to the way we were raised, whether proximate to other brown people (e.g. black Americans) or removed.

Then there is that deep abyss of Culture, ill-defined at best. One must decide what comprises ‘African culture’ beyond pepper soup and filial piety. The project can be utterly baffling – whether one lives in an African country or not. But the process is enriching, in that it expands one’s basic perspective on nation and selfhood. If nothing else, the Afropolitan knows that nothing is neatly black or white; that to ‘be’ anything is a matter of being sure of who you are uniquely. To ‘be’ Nigerian is to belong to a passionate nation; to be Yoruba, to be heir to a spiritual depth; to be American, to ascribe to a cultural breadth; to be British, to pass customs quickly. That is, this is what it means for me – and that is the Afropolitan privilege. The acceptance of complexity common to most African cultures is not lost on her prodigals. Without that intrinsically multi-dimensional thinking, we could not make sense of ourselves.

And if it all sounds a little self-congratulatory, a little ‘aren’t-we-the-coolest-damn-people-on-earth?’ – I say: yes it is, necessarily. It is high time the African stood up. There is nothing perfect in this formulation; for all our Adjayes and Achidies, there is a brain drain back home. Most Afropolitans could serve Africa better in Africa than at Medicine Bar on Thursdays. To be fair, a fair number of African professionals are returning; and there is consciousness among the ones who remain, an acute awareness among this brood of too-cool-for-schools that there’s work to be done. There are those among us who wonder to the point of weeping: where next, Africa? When will the scattered tribes return? When will the talent repatriate? What lifestyles await young professionals at home? How to invest in Africa’s future? The prospects can seem grim at times. The answers aren’t forthcoming. But if there was ever a group who could figure it out, it is this one, unafraid of the questions.
This is Dr Alban by the way, remember "It's my Life!"


Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu is a Nigerian-Ghanaian writer based in New York City. This article was written in 2005 for The LIP magazine.

The full article can be found at The LIP website.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Scarecrows and Slave Traders: BIAFRA

From what I've gathered, this video clip is of a group of Biafran Nationalists (MASSOB it seems) staging a very noisy protest, at an event chaired by the Nigerian Information Minister - Frank Nweke, against the arrest of some of its members.

Biola sent us the clip on his very first day as a member of The Afro Beat people! Thank you B-Eazy!! Lol... Sorry if I messed up your stage name :-P

I'd assumed that Biafran-ism died along with the disastrous Civil War. The video clip and the excerpts below, from the Voice of Biafra International (VOBI), addressed to the Women of Biafra in October 2002, suggest that that assumption was rather naive.


Women of Biafra we salute you.

... We have been telling you that many of the so called Igbo, Ibibio, Ijaw, Ogoja, Ogoni, Annang, Ishan, Isoko, Tiv politicians, leaders, and traditional rulers are nothing but slave traders who are in the process of selling you and your children into slavery to Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba oligarchs. Some of you may have thought that it was a joke. But this document goes to show that our warning to you, the people of Biafra is not an exaggeration. Please take these warnings very seriously because we have been privileged to get information that you will never lay your hands on....

... We wish to restate once again that your salvation and the salvation of your children and your families are in your hands. Women of Biafra you have work to do. Your so-called leaders whether in Annang, Ibibio, Igbo, Tiv, Ijaw, Isoko, Ishan, Itsekiri, Ogoni or Ogoja are fake deceitful people. They don’t care about you. Once they collect their money, they will hand you over as slaves to the Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba feudalists. If you doubt it answer these questions. When Odi was sacked by Obasanjo and over 1000 people were killed how many of your leaders challenged Obasanjo? When more than 1000 people were roasted alive at Jesse and Abubakar insulted the memory of the dead by calling them criminals, what did your leaders say? When Umuechem was destroyed by Abacha, what did the leaders say? When Choba was attacked what did your leaders say? When Nigerian police and army killed several dozen members of MASSOB what did your leaders say? When Obasanjo ordered the killing of hundreds of people at Zaki Biam and other towns how many leaders opened their mouths? Now that Obasanjo is dismantling Bakassi, the security outfit that has made life livable in Abia and Anambra what have your leaders said? You see, they are really not leaders, they are slave traders....

.... The men must now formulate their own answer to the inhuman treatment we have been suffering at the hands of Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba oligarchs. The time to act is now not next year. May God bless you all and the Republic Of Biafra .


How big a threat are these Biafran Nationalists to the continuity of a unified Nigeria? Does anyone even know what their grievance is? Or why they are being arrested and tortured as they claim?