Tuesday, 8 April 2014


In light of the recent rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP figures, leading Nollywood Director, Obi Emelonye gave an interview to the BBC’s Will Ross. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: But you’d like to see the gap between the rich and the poor narrowing, because at the moment, many people will say its widening with more millionaires created here every year than anywhere else in the world, possibly. But poverty just as deep if not deeper

A: “...As the people that put the mirror in front of the country, we have to constantly remind ourselves, that the kind of unequal society that exists in Nigeria cannot be sustained. That it will lead to something that will be very drastic unless it’s corrected quickly.
A revolution has been touted as the next step, because people cannot continue to live in such squalor, such poverty, and in the midst of wealth that was created for everybody.
It is such unequitable distribution that would upset everybody with a conscience. But obviously, the people that are in power don’t really see that.
But the message needs to be taken to them that redistribution of Nigerian’s wealth is the only way forward, otherwise Nigeria will implode.”

Here’s an audio link to the full interview.
The section quoted here begins on the 3:00 minute mark

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Fela Kuti on Thomas Sankara

When Uwa Erabor, Fela's assistant, took news of Thomas Sankara's assassination to the great man, his response was: "why on my birthday?" 
Indeed, the armed thugs who murdered one of Africa's finest sons had done their dirty job on Fela's 49th birthday.

The two men had a fondness for each other on a personal level and also shared similar views on Africa.

Here are a few other thoughts that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had to share on Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara:

INTERVIEW with Basil Okafor - May 10, 1988

"Your friend Thomas Sankara has just been murdered. What did Sankara mean to you and how do you feel about his death?

(Long pause)… His departure is a terrible blow to the political life of Africans, because he was the only one talking about African unity, what Africans need, to progress. He was the only one talking. His loss is bad… (Long silence)… but my mind is cool because Sankara’s death must have a meaning for Africa. Now that Sankara has been killed, if the leader of Burkina Faso, today, is not doing well, you will see it clearly. This means that in future, bad leaders would be very careful in killing good leaders."

Later on, Fela would compose and record the song: "Underground System" as a tribute of sorts to the late great Sankara. Here's a review:

"Kuti originally conceived the piece as a tribute to Burkina Faso's revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. The two men knew and liked each other: Sankara admired Kuti's music as much as Kuti admired Sankara's espousal of African values and commitment to social change. But following Sankara's assassination in 1987, Kuti broadened the lyric, turning it into an attack on the "underground system" by which military and political elites throughout Africa conspired together to remove any emergent leader threatening the status quo (and the post-colonial hegemony's ability to keep its trotters in the trough)."

photo credit

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Thomas Sankara: "A Symbol Of Change Across The Continent”

Exactly 26 years ago today, Burkinabe President, Capt. Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara was murdered in the Presidential palace at Ouagadougou by assassins working directly or indirectly for his deputy and friend, Blaise Compaore, who still rules the country today.

Before Sankara was despatched to an early grave, aged just 37, he was a well loved and popular revolutionary leader across the African continent and beyond.

A BBC reporter’s account of Thomas Sankara’s visit to Abuja, Nigeria provides some evidence: (As heard on BBC Witness)

“He was the most important success with the less important people in Nigeria.
And when he left, he went to the airport at Abuja, and as he was leaving, he turned on the steps of the plane and raised both arms in a salute to the crowd.
And there was the most tremendous cheer!
Even the policemen and soldiers on duty at the airport were cheering. Now, that didn’t go down terribly well in Nigerian official circles.
What he really was trying to do was to appeal to ordinary people in the rest of West Africa, over the heads of their leaders.”

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Nigeria, South Africa and the Meaning of Heroes

In Nigeria, most, if not all official functions begin with a rendition of the National Anthem.
There's a line in that Anthem that goes thus: "...the labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain."
A few recent events conspired to make me ask if Nigerians and their leaders believe a word in that sentence.
In the last week, 2 of Africa's biggest economies revealed a clear contrast in their definition of heroes.
The 20th anniversary of  Nigeria's June 12, 1993 presidential election (June 12) came and went a few days ago. But all that remains are the usual platitudes by many of today's politicians, some of who were collaborators in the annulment of June 12, and many who benefited from the aftermath of June 12. Unfortunately, many of the real heroes of June 12 are barely remembered or even celebrated just 20 years after the event.

While many rightly remember Moshood Abiola and Kudirat Abiola who paid the ultimate price, few if any still remember and recognize the likes of Milton Dabibi and Frank Kokori to name just two. Both were Oil workers union leaders who went against the largely compromised mainstream labour movement (NLC) in calling strikes in support of June 12. For this, they were rewarded with jail terms after trumped up charges.

Both men hardly feature in public discourse these days and to the best of my knowledge haven't been honoured for their role in resisting military impunity. Likewise, the many young protesters who were gunned down by soldiers under the command of Generals Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida. Instead what we find are the dubious honours list put out annually by successive PDP led administrations to celebrate politicians and their associates who are reaping from where they didn't sow.

Contrast that with South Africa where today (June 16) marks the 37th anniversary of the Soweto Students Uprising which was met with unprecedented police brutality by the Apartheid regime, resulting in the massacre of many young South Africans. The leader of the Soweto Students was Tsietsi Mashinini.
He was later forced to flee South Africa and ended up an exile in Botswana, Nigeria and a few other places before dying in Guinea.

Yet, though Mashinini was opposed to the mainstream ANC that eventually came to power, he was posthumously honoured for his contributions to the struggle. Jacob Zuma, the current South African President, paid tribute to those young heroes of Soweto by paying a visit to the memorial honouring them.

Will we ever see this happen in Nigeria?

We should!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Goodbye Jonas, may your likes never come the way of Africa again

10 years ago this week, Angolan warlord, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was killed in an ambush by government forcesalong the banks of the Luvuei River in the eastern province of Moxico, Angola.
He was the archetypal bully, demagogue and despite his pretensions to the contrary, he was in the words of one of his Washington backers, "probably the most brilliant man I've ever met, but also dangerous, even psychotic".

However, his intransigence led to the use of his UNITA rebel group as a proxy for the machinations of Western powers and their African stooges in a brutal and often egoistic campaign against the majority of his people. His messy ideological leanings made him a deliberate puppet in the hands of reactionary forces ranging from the elected Republican, Ronald Reagan to the kleptomaniac Mobutu Sese Seko. Not forgetting the white supremacist PM of Apartheid South Africa, PW Botha, whose inauguaration Savimbi was said to have attended. By the early 90s they were all either out of office or dead and soon Savimbi was on his own. His own inevitable end was only a matter of time.

When he died, many a vitriolic obituary was written about him. This by Olusegun Adeniyi with some 'help' from John Githongo remains my favourite. Unfortunately, Africa in 2012 still has many hues and shades of Jonas Savimbi.

So Long, Jonas, Don't Come Back, You Hear?
by Olusegun Adeniyi

After more than three decades in the bush, fighting against his country,
Angolan opposition leader, Jonas Savimbi, died last Saturday and was buried
almost like a dog with bullet wounds and his blood soaked uniform. It was an
inglorious end to a most reprehensible life.

Ever since I can remember, I have always detested the politics of Jonas
Savimbi. A man who would allow himself to be used by foreign powers, causing
untold death and destruction to his own people, is to me not a man of
honour. Savimbi definitely was not.

A very brilliant but dubious man, Savimbi who arrogated to himself a Ph.D.
he never completed, started like most other African of his generation a
freedom fighter in the days of colonial subjugation under Portugal. But
after the country became independent in 1975, he could not realise his
ambition to be head of State and then trouble started. One must recall that
Nigeria, and specifically the then Head of State, the late General Murtala
Mohammed, played a key role in outsmarting the bearded rebel leader at the
Organisation of African Unity summit when Nigeria swayed the votes in
support of the ruling MPLA.

That was when Murtala told America to its face that "Africa Has Come of Age"
in what has been described as Nigeria's most glorious era in diplomacy.
Because of the ideological war raging between America and the then Soviet
Union, there was enormous pressure to make Savimbi, a pro-American freedom
fighter, the country's leader but all the moves failed. Rather than work
with the new government and allow for peace, Savimbi plunged the young
country into a fratricidal war. And in the last twenty seven years, the
people have known only war and destruction which has led to the death of at
least half a million people with a third of the population displaced.

Even when a temporary cease fire was achieved and election was conducted in
the early nineties, once Savimbi's party lost, he retreated back to the

Savimbi's motivation has always been power at any cost and almost
single-handedly, he turned what should have been Africa's richest country
into the poorest. Because there can be no prosperity without peace, the
people have been unable to annex the abundant mineral resources for the
betterment of their society. And the rebels he trained have helped to loot
the diamonds that should have been used to develop the country had he
allowed for peace to reign.

With the circumstances surrounding his death, however, Savimbi thus joined
the rank of Mobutu, Samuel Doe, Sani Abacha and others of their ilk who
helped to destroy their country and ended up with ignominy.

It is, however, instructive that Savimbi's former allies, the United States,
have since the end of the cold war been ambivalent towards him meaning he
has been used and dumped and only this week Angola President Eduardo dos
Santos was expected in the White House to discuss with President George
Bush. Ironically, Bush senior was Vice President when President Ronald
Reagan was eulogising Savimbi as one of the best to come out of Africa,
giving him royal treatment at the White House. Sadly too for the late rebel,
the tide has turned in South Africa which used to be a friend of his during
the apartheid days and those who should have mourned him are now out of
contention. Such a waste of a life!

We all have one lesson or two to learn from the life and times of the late
Savimbi the most poignant of which is that no matter our ambition in life,
we must always put the people first and should never behave in such a manner
to suggest treachery. That Angolans were rejoicing at the weekend when the
news broke only remind us of what happened on June 8 in Nigeria when
Lagosians got the information that our "dear Head of State", General Sani
Abacha was no more. It was like another freedom day. Indeed it was.

Perhaps there can be no better epitaph for Savimbi as the piece written by a
Kenyan, John Githongo, with the above title. It is so apt that I want to
quote extinsively from it so that we can all learn a good lesson from the
fall of Savimbi.

"On Saturday, Jonas Savimbi, long-time leader of the National Union for the
Total Independence of Angola (Unita), was killed during an engagement with
government troops. In poorer neighbourhoods of Luanda, the country's
capital, people celebrated by firing flares and honking car horns.

"The death of Savimbi has continental implications. The civil war in Angola
has been a blight on the continent for over three decades. It is unAfrican
to celebrate the demise of even the most odious of figures but I will admit
that the departure of individuals like Sani Abacha and Jonas Savimbi causes
relief in a manner that cannot be articulated.

"I'm sure there are African leaders who are calling up Eduardo dos Santos,
Angola's president, and spending the first few minutes chuckling without a
word being uttered. Ostensibly, Savimbi formed Unita in 1966 to resist
incompetent Portuguese colonialism, but even then his connections to
reactionary interests in the West led to suspicions among the freedom

"The transition from colonialism was messy, with civil war breaking out
almost immediately after independence in 1975. Savimbi charmed gullible
Westerners into believing that he was a bulwark of anti-Communism in
Southern Africa. He was embraced by US President Ronald Reagan as a "freedom
fighter" in the 1980s. Unita received some $250 million of US aid between
1975, when Henry Kissinger approved the first shipments to Unita, and 1991
when, the Cold War having ended, the US walked off.

"Cuba supported the MPLA regime against the US-backed grouping of South
Africa and Savimbi's Unita. It was against the Cubans that the South
Africans suffered their biggest military defeat, shattering the myth of
their regional supremacy and changing the history of Southern Africa.

"In a sense, Savimbi's demise started with that defeat and the withdrawal of
the South Africans from Angola. He survived, however, and with a combination
of foreign backing, an increasingly venal and illegitimate regime in Luanda
and a capacity to exploit Angola's vast resources, the man continued to
wreak havoc. Personally, he remained a figure of great charisma and wit,
capable of entrancing sophisticated foreign diplomats who later said they
had been totally foxed by the big rebel.

"Savimbi finally stood for elections in 1992 as part of the ostensible
post-Cold War peace effort in Angola. He was defeated and almost immediately
went back to the bush - this time retreating to Huambo - and continued his
"struggle." The ferocious fight that soon broke out in Luanda itself saw a
number of Savimbi's key deputies killed.

"Savimbi was the last of Africa's really Big Bad Men; as opposed to the
declining number of "Big Men" in assorted State Houses around the continent.
For even though he never made it to power, Savimbi managed to affect the way
power is won and exercised in many Southern African countries as a result of
the conflict he wrought and sustained and the friends he brought to the
table in his efforts.

"Angola's fate of being simultaneously Africa's richest and poorest country
mirrors that of many other African nations that received close attention and
"assistance" from the West during the Cold War. Many - Somalia, Congo,
Angola, Liberia and Sudan - have stumbled into the 21st century in the last
stages of collective psychosis, like victims of a quack psychiatrist. But
with Savimbi dead, the biggest excuse that the dos Santos regime had for not
performing has gone for good."

Goodbye Jonas, may your likes never come the way of Africa again.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Kagame and the International Media: Another Viewpoint

Wth the recent media spotlight on the Rwandan elections and Paul Kagame here, here and in many other places, it’s interesting that few if any outlets have picked up on the reporting by Charles Onyango-Obbo of his recent trip to Rwanda to interview Kagame. And just before you ask the most likely question: Charles who? He is the Ugandan-born Executive Editor of the Nation Media Group in Kenya. The third installment of his 3 part piece comes out in The East African magazine next week, but there’s already a good mouthful to chew over in the 2 articles published already. Nothing earth shaking yet, but Obbo makes a couple of revealing points. From the get go however, he tries to establish his objective observer credentials and maybe avoid accusations of doing a puff-piece..

“On the evening of June 18, I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the Serena
Hotel in Kigali. Looking astonished, he asked; “My God, what are you doing here;
aren’t they going to arrest you?” It all started with my column in The
EastAfrican, which an editor who can squeeze wine out of rock gave the title “
something rotten in the state of Rwanda
” (April 26-May 2, 2010). It got the
attention of the Rwanda government, and it responded with several rebuttals and
an interview by Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

My friend was surprised to see me there, because the common view is that President Paul Kagame eats critical journalists for breakfast. I had, so to speak, taken myself into
the lion’s den. Of course not. I have covered the ruling Rwanda Patriotic
Army/Front since late 1990 when they were in the bush fighting to return home.
And they have squabbled many times with me over my reporting of Rwanda while I
was still at The Monitor in Kampala. However, like the proverbial mangy dog, I
kept showing up at their doorstep with my notebook and tape recorder. It paid
off. It gave me valuable access during the war, and over the years offered me
glimpses into one of the most fascinating — as well as troubling — African
political stories. President Kagame’s take on reading my article was that I, of
all journalists, should know better.

So I was in Kigali, among other things, to check how much the landscape had changed since I was last there, and to hear his side of the story. I had been told in an advance of leaving Nairobi that President Kagame was not looking just to have an interview. He wanted a no-holds-barred debate on both my, and the international media’s view of Rwanda today.”

Still he doesn’t try to cover his subject in roses when introducing him like this:

“There are strong elements of former South African president Thabo Mbeki and
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (whose works the Rwanda president says he
admires) in Kagame. He has Mbeki’s distaste for platform politics and
campaigning, and loves policy wonking. And Zenawi’s no-drama approach,
sternness, and cocky self-assurance. And I think he is the president who has a
greater addiction to his Blackberry than US President Barack Obama. As the day
wears on, he can barely spend 10 minutes without laying his keyboard-happy
fingers on it and checking the flood of e-mails and alerts that come to it.”

But he does credit the Rwandan president for creating what he called – “a different world.” However, in doing that, he says “Kagame had broken too many eggs, and made himself many enemies. Kagame hating is a cottage industry. And in the very reasons of his success, lie the seeds of his downfall.”
He continues:

“Such things have made Kagame very assured of the rightness of his cause and his
ways. And a poor listener. When I put that to him, he agrees that he can be
hardheaded. That he will not listen to a different opinion just because it is
the right thing to do: “I hold my positions very strongly. And you must work
very hard to convince me that you are right. I cannot just let you win the
argument to make you feel good,” he says. Therefore if Kagame thinks you
are just a talker, a heckler in the market who has not done important things
that have made a difference to people’s lives, he is not likely to take you
seriously. And in press conferences, he will ooze contempt for such people from
every pore. Quite a few people find him insufferable when he digs in.”

The more critical comments came in
part 2, as seen here:

"Rwanda’s withdrawal from DRC, while improving Kagame’s international scorecard,
proved problematic domestically.
Because Kagame is overzealous in fighting
corruption — and is the kind of man who will chase down a chicken thief if need
be — the fortunes of war that crooked generals had got used to in DRC were not
available back in Rwanda. Foreign occupation is corrupting, and Kagame seems not
to have had a smart post-DRC-war settlement for his generals that took that
reality into account. This sowed the seeds that eventually led to the falling
out between Kagame and his close allies. Former army chief of staff Gen Kayumba
Nyamwasa, who escaped an assassination attempt in his South African exile last
month, represents one face of that post-Congo crisis.

Secondly, the
withdrawal from the DRC effectively ended the “Greater Rwanda” project, which
aimed to bring the Banyamulenge into an expanded Rwandan state where they would
be protected — and therefore envisaged an annexation of parts of the DRC. The
end of that dream proved very unpopular with RPF’s hardline nativists,
especially those Tutsi who were refugees in French-speaking Burundi and DRC.
They tend to form the raw edge of the RPF, and feel they are losing out in the
“de-Frenchification” of Rwanda, and its slow but sure conversion into an
Anglophone state by the Rwandans who lived their refugee life in Uganda, Kenya,
Tanzania and the West. They see this “de-Frenchification” in Rwanda’s joining of
the East African Community, an English-speaking trading bloc where
right-hand-drive cars are the norm (in Rwanda, they drive on the right), and the
Commonwealth, a relic of the British Empire.

This is a real
ideological divide, and even the self-assured President Kagame can only flip
flop when discussing the issue."

I eagerly await the final part of Mr Onyango-Obbo’s article before making my own comments. But I’m sure that won’t stop you guys from passing your verdict on the man and his politics right now. Please feel free, the comments section below is all yours!
Photo: Paul and Jeanette Kagame with their children (credit: The East African)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Mbeki, Kingibe and Africa Day

May 25 every year is celebrated in Africa and the diaspora as Africa Day to commemorate the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
On the 1994 anniversary of Africa Day, it so happened that the newly elected democratic and non racial government of South Africa appeared before the UN Security Council to "terminate the mandatory sanctions" imposed in 1977, 1984 and 1986. Heading the South African delegation on the day was Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki. In closing his speech on the occassion, Mbeki remarked that:
"We are especially pleased that today we meet under your (Mr. Kingibe of Nigeria) presidency"
The Mr Kingibe in question was none other than Babagana Kingibe his school mate from their student days at Sussex University who was now Nigeria's Foreign Minister. Kingibe had controversially joined the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha who took power in a palace coup in November 1993 following the military's cancellation of Presidential elections in June 1993. Kingibe was the running mate to Moshood Abiola who was later arrested by Abacha and subsequently died in detention, exactly a month after Abacha's own equally mysterious demise on June 8 1998.
In the late seventies, the paths of the Sussex alumni had crossed when Mbeki was appointed as the ANC's representative in Lagos. Kingibe was a ranking diplomatic staff in the Head of State's office in Dodan Barracks and both men (and their wives - Ireti Kingibe and Zanele Mbeki) were quite close...