THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI, PART 3
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.
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.
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: https://youtube.com/watch?v=KoRTpv6lEfA Facebook: https://fb.watch/dL9miB2tHc
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 To Hold Panel Discussion On African Literature And The Digital World
The Toyin Falola Interviews is set to hold a Panel Discussion on African Literature and the Digital World in collaboration with Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA).
The event to be led by distinguished panelists for a panel discussion on African Literature and the Digital World is in commemoration of International African Writers Day.
The session is billed for November 12, 2023 at 5 PM Nigeria // 4 PM Ghana // 10 AM Austin.
Register and Watch:
Join via Zoom:
Benin Enterprise Park To Attract Major Investment, Boost Edo State Economy, Says Osayande
By Andy Okungbowa
Mr. Ikponmwonsa Edward Osayande (CPA, ACA, MBA), is the Managing Director of Benin Enterprise Park Limited (BEPL). He spoke on the mandate by Governor Godwin Obaseki, to build an industrial park designed to boost the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Edo State, provide opportunities for training and employment, and to enable efficient, effective, responsive and innovative utilisation of the natural and geographic endowments of the State.
What gave birth to Benin Enterprise Park Limited (BEPL)?
I have been with Mr. Governor since 2017. As a matter of fact, the Benin Enterprise Park Limited (BEPL), which was initially the Benin Industrial Park (BIP), was one of the first projects he assigned to me.
Mr. Governor had a vision which was thoroughly researched and ultimately converted to a strategic document, which gave birth to the Six Thematic Pillars that have guided the deliberate reform that is the MEGA (Make Edo Great Again) Agenda. I have the privilege to be involved in the economic reform and infrastructural development pillars by virtue of my mandate.
The Benin Enterprise Park project came up as a result of the need to create commerce, improve commerce, increase commerce, increase trading, increase businesses, create a system, and a situation where businesses come into Edo State and set up seamlessly.
Our first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was with Mahindra Engineering Group, they came in and spent about six months with us here, chose the location for the park, which most people do not realise is equidistant from all over the State, including Delta State, thus taking advantage of our geographical location for intra- and inter-state commerce.
We also chose the location because of the raw materials readily available in the State to support the 14 sectors identified in our Master Plan, which I must say is a dynamic document.
What informed the choice of these 14 sectors as starters for the park?
The criteria for choosing those 14 sectors have to do with the amount of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) potential for the State, the amount of jobs that they will create for the State, and also the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for that area of the State that will benefit the local communities.
Which part of the State is BEPL located?
The location for the Benin Enterprise Park is in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of the State, about a 10-minute drive from the by-pass. It is 997.71 hectares of land and we have decided to develop it modularly.
How was this enterprise park set up to function?
The initial thought process was to do a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. We explored that possibility, and then we had the interest rate issues. As a foreign direct investor, when you go into any economy, any country, or anywhere you want to invest your money, there must be an exit strategy.
Now, it is a problem if you don’t know how you are going to repatriate your investment and profits at the end, or you are not sure how that is going to happen. You now have a situation where you are reluctant to come in there.
The major issue we had with Nigeria at that time was that we did not have an exchange rate that you could rely on or use to hedge. There was the black market, there were so many different values until we came up with this single-digit exchange rate system now, which is in its infancy.
Secondly, COVID-19 came about, and then elections. Nobody goes into a new environment during elections because of the uncertainty.
Has that focus, in terms of leveraging PPP, changed now?
Yes. This is so as Mr. Governor has decided that we should go in a different direction.
We should take some part of that land and then we as government provide the horizontal infrastructure such that businesses will now come in there and set up. Therefore, once we start having those first mover advantages, the anchor tenants coming, it will be easier to now market to other people to come in.
Lagos is congested, and Onitsha is congested. The cost of doing business there is very high. If we can provide electricity, water, security, gas, over which we are already in talks with the different providers, then we can have a situation where we now bring in small to medium-scale businesses, low polluting because it’s a community, to come in and then take parcels of land, that part of the policy is being developed also, and then we start to do business.
To what extent have you gone with this new plan and what is the prospect of getting businesses to buy into it?
The idea is to get them in as quickly as possible. We have two major anchor tenants coming in already that we’re working with right now. So, we’re trying to get it from greenfield to brownfield as quickly as possible.
What is the level of the ease of doing business in Edo with reference to Benin Enterprise Park Limited remix?
The ease of doing business has an office already and it’s a committee. It’s actually the third, I believe, major committee in government after the EXCO and the Security Committee. It is a committee made up mostly of commissioners and a few of us and the Secretary is the Managing Director of ESIPO, the Edo State Investment Promotion Office.
So, there’s already a consistent effort to create a compendium of what we call tax incentives and other federal government initiatives that can be applicable to the State and even others, that the States will generate on their own, like when we give waivers to farmland owners not to pay land rent or moratorium for two or three years.
Those are things that will help bring them in quicker, because when they look at their costs to come in to do business here, as opposed to somewhere else, it is lower for them here. Therefore, they will come here naturally.
The Benin Enterprise Park project is in phases as we understand. What phase are you now and what are the elements contained therein?
What we are working on now is our phase One, which is probably about 250 hectares right now, it might change if we get more people interested, or when we get more people interested. It is where we want to now provide those infrastructure I was talking about, so that they can now come in.
You cannot go and sell an idea to somebody and when they get there, you are just looking at a fallow or bushy area. They have to see activity going on, they have to see bulldozers, payloaders, drainages, and offices being built, so that they will know that they are coming in here just to come and plug in and play.
Just like how you develop suburbs abroad – you go in there, you check, you have all the survey plans done, you have your C of O process because if you come in, you bring me a proposal, and I give you my due diligence checklist. You bring me all the documents that are on the checklist then we go through a process because I need to see your design layout to know exactly how much land you need.
The method by which we allocate the land has to be systemic and deliberate until we get there, because by the time we get to Phase Two, whoever came in Phase One would have come in, probably at a cheaper or lower rate. Now there is competition, we have to respond to the market. So, we have to manage all these things because the ultimate plan is for the Benin Enterprise Park Limited to be a sustaining company of government where the government at the end of the day, will have oversight over it continuously, and will also get revenue from it going to its Internally General Revenue (IGR) coffers.
Does that mean the level we are in now is creating the base work and laying the foundation for its eventual take off?
We have two anchor tenants coming in, we are preparing for them, and once they come in we would now be able to market more effectively.
You see, comparative advantage states that you must be efficient, effective, and responsive to your customers, which are all our tenants, and also be innovative. So, we are putting all those things in place, to say okay, what are we going to get from this process now, what is within our reach in the next two or three years? What do we need to capitalise on right now? And then remember, we also have certain components; like for example; the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), we have to get approval from the federal government too.
So, those things that are not under our purview, we have to use extra effort and means to get them done quickly so that we can get all these, because I want a situation where; when you apply to come into the park, I can tell you that in 30 or 45 days, you are either breaking ground or at least you have gotten everything you need from the Edo State Government.
Any targeted time then for the two anchor tenants to mobilise to site yet?
None yet but we are anxious and eager for them to come in and start as quickly as possible. Some might even take 18 months to financial closure. We are aware of all that, but as long as the process has started, we have got to a point where your diligence and ours are on point, are at par, then we would know that, okay, yes; this one: see where you are, we have demarcated, it’s just for you to come in.
Sustainability is key to this project, given that this present administration just have about one year to end its tenure, what are you closing with in terms of this innovative and gigantic project?
I was at the last government retreat in Lagos, and the theme was Obaseki Finishing Strong. It was clear to everybody there from Mr. Governor’s speech that, what we have achieved so far will not make any difference or any sense if we don’t finish strong. What we have that is left for us to do with the time that we have, we must do the best we can to get to a point where it’s irreversible.
Let me give you an example. This tag of MoU government, MoU government, is funny because a lot of people don’t realise or have started to realise that a Memorandum of Understanding is more or less a gentleman’s agreement between two people or entities that want to do business (it is usually time-bound).
The idea is for you and I to put our responsibilities, what we are responsible for on the table, such that we have a clear understanding of what is required from me, and what is required from you.
So, what that does is, irrespective of which government or whoever takes over, some of these projects domiciled in the private sector will continue to grow. They will not have that much interference from the government anymore. The government is not even supposed to be in business in the first place, but needs to focus on certain sectors that actually help the economy to grow, then at some point, they will even step back.
What are the benefits to the communities where this project is domiciled?
We would probably have a policy document that requires most of the tenants to have some sort of pledge or contribution to the CSR for the communities.
The communities are going to benefit from employment, they are going to benefit from training. We have always had the community people, the community representatives from the grassroots to the leaders of the communities involved in the process.
We are not going to the communities and telling them this is what we want to do for you. If I go to Iyanomo for example, I am not going to tell them that company A wants to come and build a hospital when I know their problem is water.
So that is the type of interaction that will continue to take place, and then the young people in the area too will be empowered. You can’t come and take and then exit, you are going to take what you need to take to exit, but you must leave a lot in the community.
Looking at where this government is coming from when it took over power in 2016, how would you assess its performance over time?
I have to commend Governor Godwin Obaseki for his steadfastness and doggedness. He is one man, but he is handling so much in doing all of these for the State.
You see, when you look at all the thematic pillars that we have, the six that we identified, I mentioned two that I was actually involved in, but you have to think about education, health, and how he prioritises all these things and gets most of these things done.
Our TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) programme is running very well, as well as EdoBEST, and EdoJobs. We have a lot of things going on. We have the new town development, which is another company, just like the Benin Enterprise Park, but that one is for residential, it is also ongoing.
So, we have a lot of initiatives that we have started, that have kicked off and have benefited a lot of people, but we are not telling our story as quickly as we should.
Going forward, some of these things need to be documented such that whoever comes later will realise that His Excellency, Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, will always stand on the right side of history.
Don’t Rule Out Possibility Of Military Coups In Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Others – Panelists Warn
Want Medicines, Food Blockage In Niger Lifted
African governments have been warned of the possibility of being upset by military coups similar to the ones that have taken place in some countries on the continent.
The warning came from some panelists at a session of the Toyin Falola Interviews entitled “Coups in Africa: Geo-Politics, Legitimacies, and Resource Management” which was held on Sunday.
At the virtual session which was organised by Prof. Toyin Falola, the panelists spoke on the problems of governance in Africa and how to stop military coups from occurring in African countries that are not already being ruled by military coupists.
The panelists included King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo.
They warned that it is an illusion to think that the recent military coups in Niger, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea will be the last ones in Africa.
The panelists raised the alarm that as long as the practices of democracy in Africa are plagued by Western influences and corruption that results in the impoverishment of the citizens, the military will always find excuses to make incursions into governance.
They also warned that countries where their leaders arbitrarily change their constitutions so that they can have third or fourth terms instead of two terms are prone to military takeovers.
The panelists also expressed the need to exercise caution in unleashing sanctions on Niger Republic because of the military coup.
They urged that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) , the African Union (AU) and political leaders in Africa should have a common template for defining coups.
According to them, there are military coups just as there are civilian coups. Thus, to them, if military coups are sanctioned, civilian coups which are fomented through the rigging of electoral processes should also be sanctioned.
They urged that ECOWAS, AU and political leaders in Africa should have a better way of sanctioning military coupists and their governments. They urged that the blockage of medicines and food in Niger Republic should be lifted since it is the masses and vulnerable people who are the worst hit by such a sanction.
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