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President Thabo Mbeki: On South Africa And The South African Youth



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon



By Toyin Falola
Sunday, June 19, 2022, brought to life a delightful edition of my series, The Toyin Falola Interviews, where we had former South African President, Dr. Thabo Mbeki, as a guest. If anyone had thought of my piece before the interview as overly lauding, that interview, with all its intensity, was a resounding and conclusive proof of the piece’s integrity.

Having President Mbeki on the show was a privilege, as he markedly represents a generation of South African nationals and politicians gradually becoming history while also belonging to the generation after it. He belongs to the generation that saw anti-apartheid campaigns and activism and also the generation of the embryonic wave of post-apartheid governance in the country. And he is still here with us today. Listening to Mbeki, one characteristic of the politics and activism of the anti-apartheid era that anyone would appreciate — especially as it is lacking in today’s generation of young African politicians — is a political ideology. The African National Congress that Mbeki grew up to know was guided by its political ideologies, which formed the foundation of the party, its campaigns and activism, its recruitment processes, its membership, and its structure. The likes of young Thabo grew up learning the ideologies of the party and thus forming a strong sense of identity for themselves.

READ ALSO: The African Union At Twenty: Advances, Challenges, And Future Opportunities

The party leadership and other intellectual parents like Mbeki’s knew that the battle being fought was not just against apartheid as a political infrastructure but also as a social system. In a South Africa where it was easy for the young and adults to lose their identity and sense of self, Mbeki grew up as a proud and vocal African, which is many thanks to the upbringing he was exposed to during his formative and youthful years.

Gratitude must be given to Mbeki’s parents, who provided him with an environment and upbringing that exposed him to the best and most-refining forms of engagement any young and growing African could crave. According to the President, he grew up in an environment where he had ample opportunity to engage with issues, ideas, and people. If not anything else, such an opportunity during his formative years must have largely contributed to the shaping of the vocal and unrelenting political and intellectual bulwark that President Mbeki is.

It cannot be said that such importance is placed on ideological values in today’s South Africa. Then, it was seemingly a do-or-die affair. The activists had to either groom children who had a firm and grounded sense of who they were as Africans or risked losing the battle to the socio-political and erosive apartheid system. Today, things have moved from a level of survival to the need to thrive, and can we confidently say that the political scene in South Africa thrives as a firmly ideological one?

The dearth of ideological politics is not a South African political epidemic. It does exist in other African countries, including the self-proclaimed giant of Africa, Nigeria. The level of severity, however, differs according to country. South Africa: having experienced ideological politics for a protracted period does not have as severe a case as Nigeria’s. That is to say that the present political lords in South Africa still purport their political engagements and activities under the guise of a mutually shared political ideology, especially since the African National Congress is still the country’s ruling party. The same cannot be said of Nigeria, where political activities are devoid of any iota or traces of political ideologies. Politicians defect across the country’s two major political parties as they wish. In Nigeria, your strategic alignment with the ruling party or predicted-to-rule party is all that matters, or whether or not you are chosen as your parry’s flag bearer for the political position you are eyeing.

READ ALSO: Thabo Mbeki: Celebrating 80 Years of Impactful Living

Although the realities of Mbeki’s upbringing and those of the current generation of South Africans are starkly different, there are underlying issues that show both have similar issues to address. President Mbeki’s generation was at the forefront of the fight to end the apartheid system. They were likewise the vanguards of a new and development-oriented democracy for the South African people. They were the first to do it without a manual or “a how-to guide” to follow. Embryonic post-apartheid South Africa needed more than physical development. The building of the South African state-required emotional and psychological inputs. The people needed to know themselves and their worth and recognize it.

President Mbeki recounted the processes that got his generation involved in politics. There was no official handover of power from his father’s generation to his own. The power exchanged hands because the then youth — Thabo Mbeki’s generation — recognized the need to actively participate in and contribute to political activities and engagements in their country. Mbeki has been an active member of the African National Congress since his teens. And the same can be said for some other notable anti-apartheid political activists of his generation. He recalled how through his active participation in the party’s engagements, party leaders identified him and purposely delegated some leadership roles to him — first, to test his knowledge of the ideological foundations of the party’s political engagements and activism, and second, to test how solid Mbeki was as a member and how prepared he was for leadership positions. This was how he found himself in the right circles, eventually emerging as the African National Congress National President and ultimately the 2nd President of post-apartheid South Africa.

South Africa’s youth of the present day are beset with a similar scenario. Instead of an apartheid government, the youth are wary of gerontocracy. The youth crave meaningful seats at the table of power in the country. However, circumstances make gerontocracy seems like a ceaseless form of government in the country. When will the youth be allowed to take over power in the country? When will power be handed over to the youth?

Just as the young Mbeki and his energized young fellows did not wait for an official handover of power from the older generation to their generation before taking on initiatives, participating in political discourses and undergoing political engagements, the youth of today should not wait for the old leaders to resign or hand over power to them or relinquish their seats of power. There is practically no one, once possessing power, who would be glad to let it go freely. Today’s youth must learn the art of political engagement. Furthermore, they must understand that political influence and the occupying of influential and important political offices come from active engagement and participation in politics. It is the youth who show themselves as capable of managing power that would eventually inherit it. The long-nosedive level of intellectual and mission-driven political engagement cannot be separated from the circumstances surrounding the upbringing of the two generations of South Africans.

Awarding a leadership scorecard to heads of state and government across African countries would reveal one thing: several political leaders across the continent cannot even measure up to the bare minimum of what is expected of them. The situation is terrible, and the carefree attitude of these leaders towards their ineptitude is more than terrible!

READ ALSO: Thabo Mbeki: South Africa And Its Challenges

African political leaders must know they are duty-bound to be accountable to and transparent with the people they govern. Leadership in a democratic state should not be anything short of representation. The people voted for their leaders, and in turn, these leaders are required to communicate with the people in real-time on issues affecting the state and the approaches the government is taking toward solving them. Understandably, some promises may meet with delay during execution. However, not considering the electorate as important enough to be given updates on the promises and projects being executed is the problem that several African political leaders have. Leaders must maintain regular contact with the people and communicate honestly with the electorate. This way, the people will be in a better position to gauge their expectations vis-à-vis the achievements and provisions made by the leaders.

The South African youth of today must know that power and leadership are not served on a free gold plate. There will be no official handover of power from President Mbeki’s generation to today’s youth. And no one would actively seek to prepare the young for takeover if they are not themselves prepared to take over power. The South African youth must learn how to participate, engage with issues and people, form alliances, belong, network, learn, groom themselves in the process, and strategically position themselves for leadership positions. Thankfully, political participation in South Africa — although not always encouraging — is not as financially consuming as in Nigeria. The lamentation must give way to activism.

This is the second interview report with President Mbeki on June 19, 2022. Viewership figures on television, radios and over a dozen platforms reached over 35 million by June 20, 2022. For the transcripts: YouTube: Facebook:

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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Interview With Beautiful Nubia



Beautiful Nubia

Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).

Sunday, March 19, 2023

5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 11:00 AM Austin CST

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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan



A  renowned Nigerian Actor, Producer, and Director, Kunle Afolayan will on Sunday, March 5, 2023 have an interview with the Toyin Falola Interviews at 5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 10:00 AM Austin CST.


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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections



Professor Ademola Dasylva At 70: A Labourer In The Vineyard
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.

The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?

This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.

Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.

In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.

In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.

READ ALSO: Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.

The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.

Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda

The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.

The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?

Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.

The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.

In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.

  1. *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.

For the transcript, see:




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