Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
CONVERSATION WITH ERNESTO YEBOAH, PART 1
Despite being famous for the abundance of its natural resources, Africa has not lived up to its potential in the eyes of many. The continent has come to be synonymous with strife in contemporary times. The current situation of the continent is often blamed on the sensationalism and selectiveness of western media coverage of the region, which is underscored by a seemingly unending string of unflattering experiences—bloody coups, ethnic conflicts, electoral violence, political repression, poverty, famine, and pandemics. Other arguments seeking to explain Africa’s undesirable socio-economic condition have pointed to the great atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, which indubitably had—and continue to have—significant consequences for the region’s development but fail to exonerate Africa’s post-colonial leadership from its abysmal treatment of the continent’s most promising asset, its youth.
Around the world and throughout history, the youth have been the backbone of social changes. From ancient times, even when our ancestors scarcely lived beyond their forties, the continuance of human civilization rested on the vigour of youth; on the farm, on the battlefield, and even on the floor of industry, youth have proven an indispensable asset. During and after the colonial rule in Africa, the youth have played a crucial role in political development. The youth movements of the 1920s and 30s gave rise to the political parties that bolstered Africa’s readiness for self-government, and a bulk of Africa’s independence leaders were youths themselves, under thirty-five years old.
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In addition, the perpetrators of Africa’s first coups were young members of the army, some of whom held on to power for considerable periods. During the dark days of military rule, the African youth maintained activism for civil rights and democracy and fought against economic and social injustice through their various student union bodies. More recently, the Arab Spring movement in northern Africa, the RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, and the EndSARS movement in Nigeria have represented the continuation of an agelong youth struggle against social and economic injustice.
Whatever the scientific or historical reason for the systemic association of the youth with ignorance, incompetence, and irresponsibility characteristic of contemporary society, it is more a reflection of the “life history theory” than it is of any biological limitation. The “life-history theory,” built on the conclusion that teens behave differently depending on how hostile and unforgiving their environment feels to them, is a testament to youth’s malleability and not their incapacity. This theory, which is primarily based on the perception that the period up to the 1950s was much tougher and its youth was “allowed” to assume responsibilities that would socially be considered outside its purview today, applies conversely to the emasculation of today’s African youth in a period of unprecedented difficulty. Today, against the backdrop of rising unemployment and other socio-economic difficulties induced by climate change and bad leadership, the African youth is, in addition to several socio-economic deprivations, burdened with concocted and atavistic ageist perceptions.
With a little apprehension, one may argue that nowhere has the youth suffered more deprivation in the twenty-first century than in Africa. Home to the world’s second-largest youth—people under 25 years old—population after China, Africa’s leadership has done very little to harness the creative energy of this vast human resource in providing the ideal socio-political and economic conditions required for this great continent to prosper. The widespread instances of debilitating poverty, disease, famine, and near-constant political instability on the continent weigh heavily on this youthful demographic that numbers about a billion people (around sixty per cent of the entire population).
If not faced with intimidation, marginalization, or abuse, African youth have had to contend with unemployment and other challenges that come with being denied access to the kind of education and vocational training that would allow them to become productive members of society. As a result, except for the marginal percentage who have successfully risen above monumental odds to establish themselves through hard work and ingenuity, even on the global stage, many others remain trapped in a disabling environment, succumbing to social pressures and becoming tools in the hands of mischief makers and, in effect, a menace to their society.
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As all requests from the youth quarter for political inclusion and an address of the factors impeding youth development—human rights, women’s rights, quality education, proper healthcare facilities, gainful employment opportunities, and climate change—have either fallen on deaf ears or been attended to by lip-service, the African youth have concluded that the only way they can turn their plight around for good is to take matters into their own hands. Thus, the continent has seen an increase in the number of youth activists who have formed associations and organized awareness campaigns—sometimes through protest marches—to mobilize their contemporaries to the youth cause of equity, liberty, and inclusion. Certain names/faces have emerged as symbols of the youth struggle in Africa due to this endeavour, which the technological revolution of social media has greatly facilitated.
In 2018, twenty-five-year-old Alaa Salah (the “Nubian Queen”), an engineering student of the Sudan International University, gained global recognition for her role in the 2018/2019 Sudanese revolution that eventually led to Omar-al Bashar’s removal. As a Sudanese human rights activist and a member of MANSAM (Women of Sudanese Civic and Political Groups), Alaa and her fellow women activists decried the continued exclusion of women from leadership positions despite the significant role they have played in the struggle against social and economic injustices in the country. Alaa took the message of gender inequality in Sudan to the United Nations (UN) assembly in 2019. In her address to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Alaa called for an all-inclusive government encompassing ethnic and religious minorities, civil society, resistance groups, and a fifty-per cent parity for women in governance. In the same year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to bringing peace to her country.
Elizabeth Wathuti is a twenty-six-year-old Kenyan environment and climate activist. She is the founder of Kenya’s Green Generation Initiative, which encourages young people to care more about nature and be environmentally conscious. Her initiative has led to the planting of 30,000 tree seedlings in Kenya, a portion of which are food trees aimed at combating hunger in Kenya. At the 2021 COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Elizabeth delivered an impassioned speech, calling on delegates to consider the cost of their inaction on the African continent and its peoples. In her own words: “Please open your hearts…If you allow yourself to feel it the heartbreak and the injustice is hard to bear. Sub-Saharan Africans are responsible for just half a per cent of historical emissions, the children are responsible for none, but they are bearing the brunt.”
Kilifeu, Thiat, and Malal Tala
The trio of Malal Talla, Cheik Oumar Cyrille Toure, and Bessane Seck are a group of Senegalese musicians and journalists who started the protest group Y’en a Marre (Fed Up) in 2011 to protest against rampant power cuts in Dakar. From power cuts, the group came to identify a range of problems they were fed up with in Senegalese society. Beginning with their music, some of which evolved into rallying cries, the group and its members progressed to door-to-door campaigns to encourage youths to register to vote. Enduring arrests in 2012 for their role in organizing a sit-in protest at Dakar’s Obelisk Square, the group pressed on with their campaign for political reform and were alleged to have raised over 300,000 votes, which led to the ousting of then Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade. Since then, the group has remained active, organizing meetings and shows and calling on the government to implement reform agreements, including land ownership reforms, which remain a critical issue for Senegal’s rural poor.
Stacy Owino, a twenty-one-year-old Kenyan women’s rights campaigner, is passionate about ending the widespread female genital mutilation (FGM) practice in East Africa. At the age of eighteen, Stacy, a Computer Science and Mathematics student, co-created an app that works to save girls from FGM by linking them with authorities and life-saving services close to them. Stacy Owino also represents Africa on the Youth Sounding Board for the European Commission. Her efforts towards eradicating FGM earned her honour at the 2020 Youth Activist Summit held at the UN in Geneva.
The activists mentioned above by no means cover the breadth of youth engaged in activism in Africa. Several other young African activists scattered around the regions are actively engaged with one social, political, or economic injustice or the other. In many instances, such movements are faceless. They do not have an identified leader/leadership as a way of avoiding targeted government arrests and crackdowns that can easily break the spirit of the movement. Pitiably, this has been the common government response to such youth demands for change. Despite the brutal crackdowns that have met youth actions against social injustice—as witnessed with the EndSARS movement in Nigeria in 2020, youth action against anti-people government policies/practices is expected to persist as long as the proper measures are not taken to address these grievances.
Please join us for a conversation with Ernesto Yeboah, the renowned Radical Activist and Commander-in-Chief, Economic Fighters League.
Sunday, April 24, 2022
4:00 PM Ghana
5:00 PM Nigeria
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11:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Talks With Samia, Daughter Of Kwame Nkrumah
The Toyin Falola Interviews is set to hold a conversation with the renowned Pan-Africanist and former Convention People’s Party chairperson, Samia Yaba Nkrumah.
Sunday, June 25, 2023
4:00 PM Ghana
5:00 PM Nigeria
11:00 AM Austin CST
Register and Watch:
Samia Nkrumah was born on June 23, 1960, in Ghana to Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the Republic of Ghana and Africa’s most decorated Pan-Africanist, and Fathia Nkrumah, an Egyptian. The aftermath of the 1966 military coup that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah saw her immediate family divided between Guinea and Egypt, where she had her elementary education. At the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, she obtained a Bachelor of Arabic Studies in 1991 and a master’s degree in Comparative Politics of Contemporary Middle East at SOAS in 1993. In 2008, Samia Nkrumah entered Ghanaian politics and served as the Member of Parliament for the Jomoro Constituency of the Western Region of Ghana between 2009 and 2012. In her quest to revive her father’s political party, Samia Nkrumah became the National Chairperson of the Convention People’s Party between 2011 and 2015. Currently, Samia Nkrumah is the founder and president of the Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Centre, a non-profit organization committed to promoting the vision and ideas of Kwame Nkrumah.
Professor Paul Lovejoy At 80 – Part 2: Peculiar Substances!
By Toyin Falola
Paul Lovejoy has approached African history by studying commodities: kola nuts, salt, tobacco, and cowries, among others. My dialogue with him will reveal the crucial importance of these objects that interface with such issues as trade, trade routes, trading colonies, and short- and long-distance commerce. When you cumulate his studies on these objects—peculiar products—you can understand why no scholar compares with him in his enduring contributions to African Economic History. As objects connect with our desires and habits, Lovejoy becomes a pre-eminent social historian. He followed the trans-Saharan trade routes from one end to the other, diverted to the Sudan, to the Swahili city-states and crossed the Indian Ocean to Gujarat. Is a Zaki allowed to drink? If so, we must add the study of alcohol to the items of trade and habits.
Critical attention that Lovejoy accorded to the exploration, examination and interrogation of slavery would almost make one assume that outside of that intellectual discourse, he barely picks other interests. This is not so. His available contributions to other related but different tropes of knowledge signal that, like all other prolific scholars, he has made an incredible addition to numerous areas of knowledge. One may not have the idea that Lovejoy dedicated much of his intellectual energy to studying objects and commodities.
In the spirit of fairness, the common attitude to recognizing objects is harsh, taken for granted, based on the misleading assumption that we need not study them. Why natron, why bitter kola? Meanwhile, that orientation towards all these objects and commodities is ill-motivated and misinformed, given the magnitude of ideas that the works of Lovejoy have opened our minds to. The meeting point between people and objects is understanding the cultural ideologies of groups of people. In essence, all human activities are somewhat connected.
Professor Paul Lovejoy
Paul Lovejoy, alongside some other scholars, undertakes the responsibility to understand some aspects of human cultures that are considered good and bad, respectively, concerning how they use them to drive or advance their civilization forward, beyond the imagination of anyone. They look into drugs in human society, their consumption and cultural attitude to their proliferation. Drugs have different levels that they operate within the human body. That they have superficial effects in some cultures or people and have deeper psychological outcomes on others reveals how some groups have decided to immerse themselves in the habit for certain reasons. In Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology, the tripod of Lovejoy, Sherratt and Goodman perform anthropological operations on some cultures to bring to the fore the cultural reasons for the consumption of some hard drugs ranging from opium, cocaine, coffee, tobacco, kola, and betelnut among other substances. One thing they reveal is that these consuming habits help to characterize people and define how they understand drugs from time to time. Drugs are objects, but they are consumable ones with definite results on the human psychological domain and, in some cases, their socioeconomic conditions eventually.
The central message of their examination in Consuming Habits is that behind the success of countries in their endeavors is an untold story of their deepened involvement in the patronage of some substances as they employ them to perform engagements that dramatically affect the human world. Perhaps, the knowledge that the consumption of drugs has increased crimes and encouraged morally condemnable engagements, the world, through policies, has emphatically opposed the patronage of these substances. The irony of this moral quandary is that hard substances patronage is increasing daily in many countries. This raises important questions about the seriousness of combating consumers of hard substances and their very intentions about others they have successfully de-marketed. The endgame is that when they label some items “legal” or “illegal,” they have disallowed scholars from understanding the cultural context of their patronage and the reason for their continued appropriation. Lovejoy has helped us understand the overlapping beauty of culture and moral principles and how the desire to separate them has always generated unimaginable results with negative consequences. To that extent, they let us understand why humans keep using and abusing these substances.
In Salt of the Desert Sun: A History of Salt Production and Trade in Central Sudan, Lovejoy uses his scholarly work to understudy production and exchange systems. Before then and after, it has often become the subject that pre-capitalist African cultures were unaware of market forces, a point that Tony Hopkins also demolished in An Economic History of West Africa. Both Lovejoy and Hopkins did not tie the idea of a subsistence economy to the template of racial ideology that drove it. In that ideological template, Africans were unfit to talk about advancement in ways we have observed in Asia, Europe and the Americas. The foundation of that assumption was faulty, given that it was recorded that salt, as an object, was sufficiently distributed across different areas in the Sudan in an advanced economy. Lovejoy saw increased salt production as a testament to the ability to produce mass commodities that they used for various purposes.
Of course, the hallmark of the economic success of the period was the ability to sustain such a high level of performance to meet the demands of people in different places, especially in contiguous areas. Production quantity would be affected because the major means of conveyance and transportation were animals (camels and, in some cases, horses). However, the salt trade promoted interstate economic affairs of the time.
Lovejoy opened our minds to equally significant information usually masked in popular narratives. More than the distribution of salt in Western, Central and Eastern Sudan, there was an extensive exchange of cultural ideologies. The more economic engagement they had, the deeper they penetrated the culture of one another through intermarriages, migrations and resettlements. Therefore, these aspects of history reveal the complex nature of local and international politics, as it hinges on impressive economic transactions. The interlink of economy and culture is constantly strengthened by the fact that one would have to absorb the ideas and values of others, using whatever means, before taking advantage of economic strength and activities.
Commodities, as Lovejoy analyzed, aided the transfer of cultures. He mentioned, for instance, how the Wangara became initiators of economic ideas in the old Songhai empire during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Wangara became exceptional in their economic investments by adding commodities and new products such as kola nuts, and they became actively involved in the spread of the Songhai monetary system based on cowries and gold. Meanwhile, they also produced quality textiles spread across the vast areas of the Hausa territory and Borno. In other words, the vast involvement in the sale of these commodities became the reason for their continued economic growth and what brought them to the limelight in the period, thereby becoming strong reasons for the unity of cultures. Objects facilitated the empowerment of the Wangara, transforming cultural and political institutions. In essence, the onus of Lovejoy’s argument is that there were strong economic institutions in the period constructed on the forms of substances they produced and how they managed to sustain and establish an economic system.
Digging Deep: Ayisha Osori On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Presently, there is heightened tension in some parts of Nigeria. In some other parts, there is assurance and calm anticipation. The former is the case with Nigerians who believe — no matter how little — that the Election Tribunal will shake up the announced results of the presidential election. In the latter camp are Nigerians who have peace of mind and confidence that the Tribunal will — whether due to the legitimacy of the Tinubu-Shettima ticket’s win or the expectation that it will be business as usual with the Nigerian Judiciary — uphold the results of the election as announced by INEC.
On either end of this divide are Nigerians whose expectations from the Tribunal reflect their choices during the election, giving credence yet again to how personal choices influence our expectations, perceptions, and interpretation of results. “Let the law run its course.” Yet, those in the Atiku-Okowa camp expect that the law will reverse the election results and declare their candidate as the rightful winner. In the same vein, the Obi-Datti camp believes that justice would only have prevailed when their candidate and his running mate are declared as the rightful winner of the elections. This proves that in a democratic system, there will always be aggrieved people.
Recent elections in the country — starting from the Osun gubernatorial election that preceded the overall national elections in 2023 — have witnessed several vote cancellations. Ayisha Osori drew participants’ attention to this particular concern at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews. Results cancellation has successfully registered as an avenue for manipulating election results, buying time for anointed candidates, and making candidates not so sure of winning the election eventually emerge as winners. It played out in the Adamawa and Kebbi states — where 20 of the 21 local government areas in Kebbi State had cancelled votes, all totaling about 90,000 cancelled votes. There is, therefore, the need to understand what these cancelled votes are, what they mean exactly, and how they have continually served as machinery in the hands of election manipulators. We must also ask ourselves: Why does the election-organizing body cancel votes to the tune of hundreds and tens of thousands in each state? Why do we have so many cancelled votes?
Vote cancellation often leads to supplementary elections in the affected local government areas. What these supplementary elections mean is that they help aspirants strategize how to gain vote share in the affected areas. It is an avenue to go out and have a do-or-die fight-to-the-finish run. Therefore, it is always in favour of the candidate who was not leading — most likely the one in the second position — during the live counting of election results, as supplementary elections are an avenue to close up the gap and eventually win.
There is a need to explore the lacunae in the Electoral Act, which has supported widespread vote cancellation, especially the empowerment of electoral officers to cancel election results in a polling unit. Although this empowerment by the Electoral Act is to help mitigate rampant instances of over-voting, it is not worded in a way to help arrive at optimal outcomes, as it leaves vote cancellation at the discretion of each electoral officer — so much so that even an instance of over-voting caused by just one vote is an acceptable condition for vote cancellation.
The ability of just one vote to determine the outcomes of every other vote cast at a particular polling unit on a given election day makes the Electoral Act porous, as the subjectivity of the electoral officers can be leveraged by power-hungry political parties to spur vote cancellation in their opponents’ stronghold, thereby buying themselves more time to deploy more machinery for electoral malpractices — whether it be more thugs, complicit law-enforcement officers, more funding for vote-buying, or any other form of result-manipulating machinery.
Given the sheer amount of power the Electoral Act grants to the INEC body and its officers, it is pertinent that electoral officers, resident electoral commissioners, and returning officers are people of high moral standing that are largely insulated against corruption, bias, and bribery. However, this is rarely the case in Nigeria. The quality of the people who hold these positions — being the ones that control the fairness or otherwise of the electoral body — is what Ayisha Osori finds highly questionable and which we all, as concerned Nigerians, should also find questionable.
Electoral officers, resident commissioners, and returning officers must be independent and non-partisan. However, the reverse is the case in most instances in Nigeria. Over and over again, there have been filmed instances where electoral officers and returning officers showed bias and were partisan outright in discharging their duties. We have also witnessed cases where card-carrying members of political parties end up in these electoral positions. Ayisha Osori believes that Nigeria’s electoral problems will never be resolved if we do not arrive at that point where we thoroughly screen members of the electoral body to check their antecedents, affiliations, political leanings, friends, and associates and ensure that they are as non-partisan as expected. We should hold returning officers, electoral officers, and resident electoral commissioners to a similarly rigorous standard and routine by which we hold our judges.
However, the question remains: even if we were to successfully get enough Nigerians that fit the moral and non-partisan characteristics required for the positions of returning officers and resident electoral commissioners, can we get as many Nigerians to function as electoral officers and presiding officers across all polling units? Knowing the peculiarity of Nigeria as a corrupt country, it is difficult to ascertain the feasibility of a sustainable selection of high-quality and skilled people for the important roles of electoral officers, resident electoral commissioners, and returning officers.
This need stems from the fact that irregularities in the Nigerian electoral process have — from time immemorial — always been through the collaborative efforts of stakeholders in the elections (political parties, electoral officers, resident electoral commissioners, and law enforcement agencies, among others). Take the debacle and shenanigans of the Adamawa gubernatorial election, for instance. The announcements of fake election results were fully backed by the state’s police commissioner and the Department of State Security, and one of these announcements was made by the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Adamawa State. This said, the announcement was made without the breakdown of results or any proof — all the REC had to declare the APC candidate as the election winner. But for the intervention of the national body of INEC, the announcement would have held water, leaving the eventual true winner Ahmadu Finitri to challenge the election results through the rigorous and sometimes unrewarding path of election tribunals and courts of justice.
Therefore, it is insufficient to call for adjustments to the Electoral Act or increased funding for Nigerian elections. The more compelling questions need to be asked, there has to be a full mapping out of the root problems of the Nigerian electoral system and process, and there is also the need to combat these problems collaboratively, the same way stakeholders have been collaborating to cause irregularities or engage in electoral malpractices.
If anything, one of Nigeria’s biggest problems is that corruption and crime are enticing and promising in the country — enticing because Nigeria is a largely poor country where one’s engagement in crime or corruption could be their easy pass to a future of generational wealth, and promising because the consequences of corruption in Nigeria are ridiculously low, even if the perpetrators are accosted.
Since crime pays off and being a criminal is not dangerous, there is less motivation to desist from criminal or illegal acts in the country. To fully combat electoral malpractices, engaging in electoral crime has to be made unenticing, and the easiest way to make it unenticing to other Nigerians is to ensure that perpetrators of any form of electoral crime are severely and appropriately punished.
When some are made scapegoats, and there is an active and heightened search for electoral offenders, the people would understand that there is no more laxity or laissez-faire to electoral processes in the country. Anything short of this would mean that our elections would continue to be as they have always been — which would, in turn, give some people the audacity to claim that some others can never emerge as the winner because they do not have the structure to win, of which structure here is nothing but the structure of electoral manipulation.
Another point to ponder from Ayisha Osori’s commentaries on the 2023 elections is the possibility of us all burrowing down an endless rabbit hole if we solely banked on the results from the elections — especially the presidential election — as our point of reference for claiming that the 2023 elections were free, fair, and credible. According to her, the competitiveness in the presidential results does not automatically translate to a strengthened democracy. In her words, “…there is a thing like competitive authoritarianism. You can have competitive results without the country being more democratic.” Osori believes that solely focusing on the results as a way of proving the credibility of the 2023 elections is a distraction from the other pockets of issues aggregated by agitators in their claim that the elections were neither free, fair, nor credible.
If competitive authoritarianism or any of its variants was truly the case in the 2023 elections — that is, if the results are rather a subtle way of rigging to evade detection or make it difficult to prove irregularity — then the perpetrators would have successfully set Nigeria back by many years. This is because while we would have gone back to something akin to the crude years of massive and widespread electoral malpractice, the subtlety in the perpetrators’ actions would make it much more difficult to prove, and to be difficult to prove is equivalent to it being difficult to identify. Difficulty in identifying the problems and their characteristics means there will be a corresponding difficulty in battling the problem. And there, thus, the puzzle of the Nigerian 2023 elections lies.
In the coming years, Nigerians and their newly elected leaders will not only need to drag the country out of the mire of economic calamity and insecurity but will also need to answer fundamental questions that will shape the approach to elections and electoral processes and choices in the country — some of these questions are what Ayisha Osori asked and commented on during the discourse.
This is the final part of my reflections on the Panel Discussion on Nigeria’s 2023 elections by Ayisha Osori, Jibrin Ibrahim, Cynthia Mbamalu, and Chido Onumah. The session, which has received millions of views across different platforms, discussed the various aspects of the elections. My views are not necessarily those of the four panelists. For the transcripts, see:
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