President Thabo Mbeki On The Need For An African Reawakening
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI, PART 4
By Toyin Falola
Africa falls short of the benchmark for excellence in significant areas of human existence, such as governance, leadership, and citizen-centred development. Nevertheless, not all African countries are performing woefully. Some have people-focused leaders, world-class governance, and steady growth and development. But the countries in the latter category are so few that their number pales in comparison to the more popular class of thoughtless, development-depraved governance bedevilling the continent.
Africa was not always like this. A historical reminiscence on the African continent will show that there was a time when the continent showed the promise of astronomical growth and independence. From the 1950s to the 1980s, African countries gained independence from colonialists. Charged with the unifying need to break free from colonial shackles, the people fought for their independence and united to work towards growth and development. Within this timeframe, there was joy in the camp of many African countries that the future held something bright for them in the development space. However, several of these nations started to gradually decline in their development indices starting from the 1980s. During this period, the then outlawed African National Congress in South Africa was still actively advocating against the apartheid-influenced segregation and marginalisation of Black people that was prevalent in South Africa.
Following the end of apartheid rule in South Africa and the transition to a development-focused democracy that allowed the native people to be leaders of their own country and restored power to many rather than the apartheid few, there were early pointers to the fact that the newly-born democratic country would soon aim for a place among the big-league countries of the world. The earliest years of South Africa’s democratic rule were a period when the government was conscious and cautious. According to President Mbeki, the Mandela-led government made cautious moves as it was not oblivious of the circumstances that culminated in the eventual cessation of the apartheid government and the continual presence of white South Africans, some of whom were born in the country and were rightfully citizens. During this period, the ruling party nursed the notion of a seemingly looming counter-advocacy that would jeopardise all that the African National Congress had worked for. This fear of the out-of-governance minority spurred the Nelson Mandela administration to focus more on reconciling South Africans. Also, this government was tasked with dissolving grievances and building from the ground up.
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There is a great disparity between what was in the early years of South Africa’s post-apartheid period on the tenures of President Mbeki. During the former years, South Africa, and some other African countries, registered themselves as a force to be reckoned with in world politics. It was a period when economic and political affiliations between Africa and other continents were based solely on Africa’s requirements. Thus, it was a period where Africa, having freshly come out of the harrowing experience of apartheid and colonisation, had leaders who were cautious enough to define the rules of engagement with foreign countries. This allowed for collaborations that were truly beneficial to the African continent.
It cannot be said that Africa enjoys such relevance anymore. The cause of this decline in the perceived relevance of the countries on the continent has varying factors, from supposedly continent-based organisations that hardly advance causes, action plans and discourses related to developing the continent to a crop of unconcerned and self-centred leaders negotiating poor agreements for the country they govern. In today’s Africa, it is not unusual to see leaders playing to the gallery to seek the favour of non-African countries, with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and China enjoying the most attention, including visits and proposed collaborations from African leaders. Today’s crop of leaders in Africa has so much undermined their people for the benefit promised from foreign countries that many of them are nothing but puppets in the show of Western and Eastern supremacy wars.
There is a need for a reawakening in Africa and among Africans. This reawakening must be multi-faceted, cutting across the different aspects of the African continent, from the political to the social. Africa is in a self-induced, deep-seated slumber that is highly detrimental to the continent’s growth and eventual continued existence. The situation is so alarming that it is surprising that it receives little to no action-based reactions. This is perhaps because the progression towards doom and nonexistence is incredibly slow, so much so that it is difficult to map out. However, the people and their leaders have failed to pay attention to the steadiness in Africa’s progression towards retrogression and global oblivion. Africa is in such a lacklustre state — even the people who are the major players in the continent’s fate. We need an African renaissance to effectively wake our continent from its deep slumber and get it to a position of relevance.
A psychological strip-off of the people’s sense of identity is one of the strongest weapons, and perhaps the most effective, that colonialists and the apartheid government deployed to capture and control African countries for years. This strip-off, which was gradually deployed using location- and culture-specific strategies, served as a means of convincing the African people that their culture, norms, arts, religions, and civilisations were not worthy and did not meet up with the lopsided scale of the colonialists. It was a multi-faceted war on the African people — army captains waged physical, rifle-involving war on the people and subtly captured humans or bought them off others using perceived valuable goods as a payment medium. Some also took over African’s ways of worship and introduced new religions. There was a careful deployment of the indirect rule in Africa, with studies to gauge the system’s success. In Francophone Africa, a false sense of becoming and aspiration was created based on the psychological and innate need to aspire to better and higher things. Flashy promises, such as French citizenship, were created and allotted according to citizenship status. The acculturation and association systems in Francophone Africa, which are products of a condescending culture that perceived other cultures as below par, took their toll on the people.
After the colonialists and the apartheid government successfully stripped Africans of their sense of identity, it became easier to have the African people at their service and mercy for years. The system sought to create subservient and docile Africans who would be subject to the whims and caprices of the colonialists and minority apartheid system leaders. Once the target population had successfully lost their self-esteem, they were governed for many years with no level of accountability and little to no kickback actions. This was how tragic things were. An African awakening through an African renaissance will start from the ruptures made to the people’s self-esteem and sense of identity. This will further result in identifying and selecting personal and community-based values and principles. With these covered, the people will begin to see the possibilities of creating and being active in creating a better, more habitable, and growth-bound Africa.
Undeniably, there is a need for a continent-wide change to realise the Africa we desire. We must revisit the roots of the discourses on an African renaissance and how it birthed what can be likened to the Pan-African movement when President Mbeki was in office. We must bring back those times, reawaken the thoughts and discussions, and channel our energy into taking actionable steps to help us build the Africa we want. The African renaissance is not only for African leaders but also for the African people. We must sit ourselves down and be truthful in asking questions such as: What is the African vision? Have we truly not arrived at ideas and actionable plans that would help us build the Africa we want to see? Or are we rather stuck at the implementation juncture, no thanks to the leadership ecosystem on the continent? What are the stumbling blocks on our path towards an African renaissance?
Africa will be proud to claim that we are truly progressing towards a renaissance when we have outlined the difficult-to-address questions, addressed them, and taken actions to effectively curb their resurgence. An African renaissance is our hope and salvation. But when will we happen upon it?
This is the third 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:
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 Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
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.
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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.
- *** 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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