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Soyinka, Pyrates Confraternity And The God Factor



Soyinka, Pyrates Confraternity And The God Factor

By Tunji Olaopa
The invitation of Professor Wole Soyinka to the just-concluded Lagos Book and Art Festival was, as is usual with WS, an event all by itself. From poetry to activism, and from scholarship to Nigerian politics, Wole Soyinka’s intellectual pungency has not been diminished by age. At the occasion, he put paid to all speculations about his religious affiliation. When asked what specifically was his religion, WS responded that he had never felt there was an imperative for him to have one. While most already knew that he was not a Christian or Muslim, most are now shocked that he denied being an òrìsà worshipper. According to him,

I have never felt I needed one. I am a mythologist. I believe that people have a right and cannot help creating mythologies around themselves, around their experience about what they project from the inner recesses of their minds as answers to questions. And so, I find nothing wrong with utilizing mythologies as part and parcel of my creative warehouse. But religion? No, I don’t worship any deity. But I consider deities as creatively real and therefore my companions in my journey in both the real and imaginative worlds.

This definitive response of Prof. Soyinka has, expectedly, been stretched over whichever way by commentators, especially on social media. I feel compelled to use it as a springboard for outlining a different concern, one that WS is not a stranger to—the relationship between the Pyrates Confraternity (PC), moral degeneration among the youth and the God factor as a significant variable in the urgency of moral rebirth in Nigeria.

Any talk of the PC brings to mind the terrible loss of innocence of an idea that was well-intentioned, but that metamorphosed according to the ravages of social anomie. When Soyinka wrote the Season of Anomie in 1973, it was a literary depiction of the emerging corruption that would eventually incapacitate the Nigerian society. And forty-nine years later, that anomic situation has further raised the issue of moral rebirth as a critical component of Nigeria’s development unfolding.

READ ALSO: I’m Not Part Of Anti-Tinubu Confraternity – Soyinka


I recently came across the interview granted a former friend of WS and co-founder of the Pyrates Confraternity, the late Prof. Olumuyiwa Awe, who spoke about his participation in the group, his conversion and dissociation from the PC, and the degeneration of that group into a violent cult. Not surprisingly, when Prof. Awe got born-again and became a Christian, his ministerial responsibility revolved around cultism and the need to rehabilitate former fraternity and cult members into Christ, and hence into a new sense of responsibility to the Nigerian society.

What is intriguing for me is simple: two bosom friends who co-founded a confraternity not only diverged on relationship with it, but eventually resolved their spiritual journey in two different ways. Professor Wole Soyinka still retains a critical and patronal relationship with Pyrates Confraternity/National Association of Sea Dogs (NAS), the late Prof. Awe severed all ties with the confraternity and indeed went on to establish a ministry that was meant to provide spiritual succor and direction for former cultists. Of course, WS has explained, ad nauseum, that it is disingenuous to conflate (con)fraternity with cultism. The charitable and humanitarian endeavors that characterized NAS now are vastly different from what the late Prof. Awe would have wanted—the total disestablishment of NAS and all other (oc)cultic groups in the Nigerian society. Of course, both co-founders are committed to the project of moral rebirth within the Nigerian society. But that must come from different spiritual perspectives.

When the Pyrates Confraternity came into existence, it emerged within the context of an ideological framing. The Magnificent Seven—Wole Soyinka, Ikpehare Aig-Imoukhuede, Olumuyiwa Awe, Pius Oleghe, Nathaniel Oyelola, Sylvanus Egbuche and Ralph Opara—were motivated to challenge the congealing elitism of the upper-middle class in the Nigerian society of the 1950s. The confraternity was thus founded on the ideals of social justice and the protection of human rights from the high-handedness of elitism. The Confraternity was also particularly irked by the increasing tribalist sensibility that was rife on Nigerian university campuses. The increasing incidence of obscene wealth and tribalism fueled the humanistic and radical ideological orientation of the Confraternity. The idea of the brotherhood of all humankind, that is the central objective of Marxism as well as all human religious institutions, is at the heart of the Confraternity’s underlying philosophy. Martin Luther King, Jr. must have had the Confraternity in mind when he argued that “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” Wole Soyinka has been uncompromising not only in his belief that justice is the first condition of humanity, but also in the conviction that the societal transformation away from social anomie requires concerted efforts of individuals and groups.

READ ALSO: How Nigerian Govt Frustrated My Returning Home At Paris Airport – Soyinka


Let me unpack my thoughts. Nigeria faces a significant challenge is facilitating the moral rebirth that constitutes the most significant fundament in transforming her socioeconomic and sociopolitical frameworks. At the base of Nigeria’s postcolonial predicaments is the function of a moral deficit that frustrates a thorough commitment to the dynamics of good governance. In its basic form, political and bureaucratic corruption is a moral issue that speaks to the predilection of individuals—politicians, bureaucrats, public functionaries, etc.—to siphon the commonwealth for private considerations. Thus, moral corruption stands at the core of the disconnection between the government and the governed. Furthermore, this moral deficit is equally responsible for the loss of human dignity arising from the dysfunction of institutional dynamics. Administrative institutions have broken down and have lost their efficiency because those manning them have lost their moral compass. The healthcare system in Nigeria, for instance, has become moribund because people profit from sicknesses and deaths.

And this moral decadence becomes aggravated with the advent of a youth counterculture, from cybercrimes and frauds to a virulent sociocultural disregard for ennobling values. Even the very idea of a cult has been transposed out of its original ritualized essence into a violent counterpoint to all things meaningful. “Fraternity,” from the Latin fraternus, relates to brotherhood. Indeed, the idea of “confraternity” has its root in a Christian charity and pious organisation of laypeople. It was this idea of brotherhood that signalled its significance in colleges and universities from where Soyinka and friends picked it up as a nodal point for ideological advocacy. In fact, the idea of the Ogboni confraternity embed judicial, political and economic function that grounds the Yoruba worldview in the ordering of the society. That commitment to societal unity and functional relevance is still preserved in the metamorphosis of the Ogboni to its reformed essence in the Reformed Ogboni Confraternity. When the first internal crisis surfaced in the Pyrates Confraternity, it was the prelude to an unwholesome transformation that caricatured the original objective of upholding human dignity and agitating for a just society.

Nigeria is essentially out of moral articulation; we have lost our moral compass, and the values required to put decency and dignity at the core of our national reconstruction. Ana Navarro, the Nicaraguan-American commentator and strategist, noted insistently: “There is a minimum requirement of morality, of moral compass, of decency, of moral empathy. And if you are incapable of meeting that minimum requirement, you can’t even talk to me about policy.” She is right! At the very core of good governance is value reorientation that, at least at the minimum, directs the path of policymaking in ways that improve the quality of life of the citizens. What is not clear is where that value should derive.


This is not a discourse that Soyinka would want to be involved in, but the late Prof. Awe would insist that the spiritual experience of being born-again is a sufficient condition for a moral rebirth — “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The newness that comes from that spiritual rebirth refers to being reborn with a new set of values and virtues that practically make the person a new-born. Here, the God-factor is a potent moral force for moral rejuvenation. Of course, a lot of critics of the Christian faith will look at the larger picture in keying into the moral force of Christianity. The absolutist epistemology that grounds the Abrahamic faiths—Christianity, Judaism and Islam —undermines the basis for social and national relation. The three religions are founded on an exclusivist and exclusionary frame that differentiate humanity into the believers and the unbelievers. And this distinction is circumscribed by monotheist belief in one God and a set of conditionalities on how that God can be accessed. For Christianity, for example, salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Any other mean is counterfeit. And all sorts of religious violence have been perpetrated on this dichotomy.

The African traditional religion still remains one of the victims of religious discrimination. The fundamentalism that is the logical derivation of an exclusionary religiosity violently confronts any and all appearances of evil, including “heathen” and “idolatrous” practices. When the Colonial missionaries confronted the traditional Africans, they only saw souls who needed to be delivered from savage barbarism, rather than a set of humanity who had developed a cultural heritage that had sustained them for centuries. The Yoruba traditional religion is famous for its accommodationist dynamics. There is no exclusionary epistemology that demonizes the Other. And that is because traditional African religion does not insist that it has the whole of the natural and the supernatural realms all figured out. It considered itself just one framework out of many for understanding the cosmos and all its dimensions.

READ ALSO: An Encounter With Toyin Falola: Between Celebration And Canonization Of Intellectuals


By considering himself a mythologist, rather than a worshipper, Wole Soyinka calls on an eternal theme in his literary and nonfictional works—the role that myths and history can play in the renewal and regeneration of the human society. Myths, WS will agree, provides a storehouse of symbols that allows us to keep reimagining the possibilities that are embodied by the human spirit and human will. Mythology takes the idea of renewal and rebirth seriously, and Soyinka remains the arch-activist in his commitment to the transformation of the Nigerian society through mythological reassessment and reformulation. Indeed, it is in this sense that he prefers being regarded as a mythologist than a worshipper, even of the òrìsà religion. According to him, “But I consider deities as creatively real and therefore my companions in my journey in both the real world and the imaginative world.” It is in this sense that Soyinka can travel with Ogun, the Yoruba divinity of war and creativity, as a mythological re-enactor of change and rebirth. In Ogun, the human society is always in the acting of being reborn.

How does this Soyinka’s vision of the relationship between mythology and transformation pan out within the Nigerian state and her urgent need for a moral rebirth? Or more specifically, we can ask about the feasibility of upholding an exclusivist religious and moral framework for value orientation in a plural context like Nigeria. I am too enlightened to know what the consequences would be. Fanaticism. A fanatical sensibility has the propensity to recreate the society around an autocratic image or idea, rather than allowing for a collective and concerted recreational essence. If, as Soyinka argues, everyone has the right to create the myth around which experiences can be grasped and better understood, then we arrive at an ecumenical point that commits everyone to viable alternatives of individual and social change. This act of will, demands in Soyinka’s mythological framework, that the renewal of the inner self be translated into an active outer quest for societal change and communal transformation.

Mythology does not recreate the societal possibilities in the image of any gods or divinities; rather, it allows for a revolutionary recreative possibilities drawing from the entire spiritual energies a society can manufacture. I read this as a society’s capacity to draw on the spiritual belief of a Prof. Olumuyia Awe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ, a Muslim’s conviction in the peace-potential of Islam, and a traditionalist’s communitarian and relational capacity to draw everyone and every belief into a convivial framework of interaction. At a very deep level, the moral energies of all the religions represented within Nigeria’s religious landscape have the capacity to contribute to the search for moral rebirth. I mean to say that Nigeria requires a dynamic framework of mythological narration—through a national integrity and moral system—that speaks to all Nigerians equally within a broad moral prism they can all identify with; a prism that is not discriminatory or exclusivist—a framework that is undergirded by the objective of regenerating Nigeria’s decadent social fabric by appealing to the very best in the religious myths and symbols that humans have created themselves.

READ ALSO: Excellence In Education In The Context Of Pan-Africanism And Digitization


Religions are meant to alleviate humans’ existential anxieties and national disarticulation. And this is where they serve the purpose of assisting in Nigeria’s search for a moral reformation as a precondition for her sustainable good governance. In this sense, the late Prof. Olumuyiwa Awe and Professor Wole Soyinka want the same thing—a transformed country guided by the best in moral rearticulation. This was what led them to the vision of the Pyrates Confraternity in the first place. And when that idea became caricatured, this is what led to Awe’s dissociation and the embrace of what he considered a better alternative. And this, it seems to me, is what keeps reanimating Soyinka’s mythological reenactment of societal possibilities, either through the confraternal philosophy of brotherhood, or through the cosmic vision of any of the Yoruba deities and divinities.

To achieve a wholesome framework of moral armaments that would sustain her quest for a postcolonial democratic and developmental transformation, Nigeria needs a moral discourse—the type that swings around the possibilities typified by Awe and Soyinka, rather than a fundamentalist understanding of a value reorientation that demonizes others for what they believe and the myths they have chosen to recreate their own experiences. God is a factor that is a real force for transformation for some. And for others, God remains a creative myth that could facilitate transformative experiences at the individual and societal levels. Either way, the God-factor is potent.

.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and  Professor, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies 

(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .


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Use Your Penis: Hopes, Expectations And Realities Of African Migrants In Europe



The panelists at the event.

By Leo Igwe

The issue of migration to Europe has been in the news. There has been intense discussion on how to tackle the flow of migrants to, not from, Europe. There have been reports of boats carrying migrants capsizing or missing on the Mediterranean Sea. Many Africans have died trying to enter Europe via the Sahara desert. North African and European countries have taken measures to curb illegal migration and human trafficking. Still, the migration flow out of Africa continues and shows no signs of abating. Why has the migration of Africans or migration from Africa become such a huge problem? What are the hopes, experiences and realities of these migrants?

In August I was invited to speak at a seminar on migration. The focus was on the migration of Africans to Europe. The event took place in Bergen, Norway. As a doctoral student, I lived in Germany for six years. I was invited to speak at programs on migration. Governmental and nongovernmental agencies in Denmark and Germany organized the events. I did not find these events interesting because the focus was on human trafficking and the role of African juju and witchcraft. Do not get me wrong. Human trafficking is a huge problem and needs to be addressed. But we have to tackle the problem from the root. These events were by my estimate a complete waste of time and money because organizers and participants were not ready to tell themselves the truth, face the facts and address the real issue. They want to make themselves feel good and privileged while talking about these helpless Africans streaming to their shores. Organizers were more interested in marginal voodoo, and oath-taking issues. They made it seem as if there was something unusual about African migration. But there was not. Migration is as old as human beings. Humans from all races and regions have been migrating from one region to another, from one country or continent to another. Before this recent wave of migration out of Africa, people from Europe, America, and Asia have been migrating to Africa. They are still migrating for business, social, economic, religious, and political reasons.

Contemporary African migration is mainly economic. It is driven by poverty, miserable living conditions, and the devastation of African economies by European, Asian, and American companies. To tackle the problem of migration, African economies must be fixed. The continent must realize an economic leap. Now instead of focusing on the economic roots of the problem and how to address them, many Europeans and Americans expend energy discussing trivialities, such as the role of voodoo and so-called powerful witch doctors in Nigeria. Well, at these events, I told the organizers the bitter truth. I told them to forget this juju or voodoo talk and face the reality: the destruction and revival of African economies. I told the organizers what they did not want to hear. And they never invited me back.

But this time around it was different. The organizers were not Europeans or Americans. A Nigerian student at the University of Bergen staged the event. He contacted me some months ago, drawing my attention to the plight of African migrants in Norway. He explained how many who travel to Norway and other European countries had their hopes and expectations dashed. Many who migrate to this country or other European countries end up entrapped. They are compelled to go into things they did not plan to do. Many migrants end up in a new form of slavery, in a marriage to a European citizen. Left with the option of going back to Africa at the end of their study or marrying to get the documents to stay, many end up contracting a marriage, in many cases a paper or document marriage. These marriages entrap them, they turn these migrants into errand boys and girls. Many of them are mistreated. They suffer silently. If they misbehaved, their partners would threaten to report them to the authorities and get them deported. I was told that many in the African migrant communities were not helping matters. Someone told me that he approached some migrants seeking and wanting to know how he could navigate migration issues. But the person told him: “Use your penis”. I guess for a female it would have been a case of: Use your vagina. While studying in Germany, some African migrants told me how they were sexually exploited, and dehumanized before they could get legal documents to stay in the country. One woman told me that everyman who wanted to help her wanted to sleep with her.

So, the program was cathartic. It provided a space to let out these pains, sufferings, disappointments, and frustrations.

The event brought together ‘free-will’ migrants and Norwegians. The panelists were from Ghana, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Belarus. I was the only international guest on the panel. Other panelists discussed the hurdles that they have faced, and the challenges that they confronted trying to live and integrate in Norway. As one panelist noted, many who come to study were unable to find a job at the end of their program. In many cases, they graduated and found out that there was no job for them, or they were unable to speak the local language, which was a requirement for many jobs. Another panelist from Ghana, married to a Norwegian, discussed her challenges as a migrant parent in Norway. She recounted how her child had suffered racism in the school. She narrated an experience where the child did a group assignment with four other white Norwegian children. And the teacher gave her child four marks for the assignment and other group members five marks.

There was some discussion on illegal migration and the risks involved. Some Norwegians in the audience noted that many African migrants knew about the risks they could face migrating to Europe. And still, they decided to embark on the risky journey. There was a lot of focus on migrants and their experiences traveling from Africa. However, little or no attention was paid to the European connection with the problem, the fact that western foreign economic policies have devastating effects on African economies. Africa is a market for Western goods including Norwegian stockfish. Apparently Europe needs African markets not African migrants. Western multinationals are relentlessly plowing and plundering the resources of Africa in ways that have displaced the local populations. African professionals are leaving in droves. They are migrating to work in the West and the Middle East. So, Western economies profit from the migration flow and the cheap labor it provides. Western countries benefit from the economic status quo that has turned Africans into migrants and refugees in Europe and America. To contain the flow of migrants to Europe, the situation in Africa must change. African economies must begin to grow and improve. Western governments must end the economic exploitation of Africa.

Dr. Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Reading Professor Olu Obafemi’s Melodies Of Inclement Climes



Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

By Tony Afejuku

    “Happiness is a crime in Nigeria.” This is a line – a line of distinction – I am lifting from a message sent to me as a response to my last Friday’s column on ‘“Professor Mabel Evwierhoma on Rubiales and “Wetin women want.”’ The owner of the lifted line is a positively dangerous poet, radical scholar and critic Professor Owojecho Omoha of the University of Abuja. I will at a later date revisit the full message of this literary scholar who is one of the distinguished boosters of this column.

    Why is his quoted line meaningful or relevant to me today? For good reason, I have been trying to reinvigorate the idea or thought of happiness in Nigeria – your country my country our country – despite our common concerns concerning our dissatisfaction with our ungrateful leaders who significantly are our demonic consumers consuming this land, our land centuries and more than centuries ago. On my way to Warri last Friday I was thinking deeply about this when I was caught in the Benin-Ologbo obstacle on that cruel stretch of the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road of urbanized or almost urbanized jungle. I was clutching Professor Olu Obafemi’s very new book of poems, his fresh new volume of poetry which he quite properly entitles Melodies of Inclement Climes. I was looking at the moving poems in my desire to erase temporarily from my mind the vicious, tedious, muddy, degraded watery road which is evidently and steadily now the road of the unhappy people of the Niger Delta, and it was at this moment that Owojecho Omoha’s line found me. But I was already engrossed in the first offering, the first poem, in which the Niger Delta malaise stares at me – even though Professor Olu Obafemi is not from the Niger Delta, your Niger Delta my Niger Delta our Niger Delta. Ologbo where conservatively above three thousand trucks (trailers) and other uncountable vehicles – commercial and private – were practically at a stand-still, moving without moving because of the motorable-less motor-way, is one of the unfortunate or tragic by-products of urbanization that is no urbanization in the Niger Delta. Ologbo is a border town, a border community that links Edo State and Delta State. It is the most significant place that links Itsekiri, Urhobo and Edo (Benin) communities. It is the place where the work of cooperation and mutual help among the communities and travellers through the communities can find significantly honest expression that should capture our cultural and patriotic ethos that should give us good health and happiness. This is what Olu Obafemi seems to tell us, among other things, in “Those who gaze beyond today:”

    While others like us 

    Bleed our land to death 

    Greedily erecting mansions 

    In other people’s lands, 

    Laundering filthy coins 

    Stolen from the sweaty brows 

    Of the poor and the deprived 

    In our own un-honed beaches and sandy shores!

    Lay to ruin and waste and wreck 

    The black Gold!

As I read Professor Olu Obafemi’s Melodies at the shores of Ologbo two things emerged to me and rose to my dense imagination in a more than realistic way and manner. The first is that Olu Obafemi is a patriot and a national poet. His imagination extends beyond his Kiri-land (North Eastern Yoruba-land in Northern Nigeria) streams to dwell on national problems that depict our respective inclement climes – or, to put it differently, in his “Streams of Kiriland” (I am not alluding specifically to his poem that bears this title) we have a glimpse of our respective communal malaise that shows us our respective inclement land in our untamed beaches in Ologbo of the Niger Delta and elsewhere outside Ologbo or Kiriland. As beautiful and as nostalgic Kiriland is or may be it is strange that urbanization and civilization have not befriended it. It is this perspective that throws up to me the second vital aspect of Melodies of Inclement Climes. Olu Obafemi conservers what is best from his (and our) past in order for the merciless problems and inclementness of today can be properly addressed. So I am not reading Professor Olu Obafemi as an entire nostalgic poet after all! Our lives’ test is not and cannot be the past or the future. It is now. It is today. It is the present. It is the here and now. Are we happy today in our country – economically, commercially, politically, educationally, medically, technologically, hygiene-wise and otherwise? Without endorsing the present that is before us we cannot honestly face tomorrow. We live in an economy and in a political clime ruled and propelled by ingratitude, disaffection and dissatisfaction and exploitation and oppression. Let me quote our poet of melodies dwelling on our inglorious climes: “Let our earth be replenished again/As scavengers and scoundrels are rid of our land.” (39).This must be so if we must eliminate “Death [that] clings to our throats/As mortal Anopheles, King of Death –/Husband of malaria, swarm/And corpses hold parades on our shores” (44). What our country needs now is a renewed vision, a full insight into our shortcomings, limits and possibilities informed by our awareness and knowledge of our place in the comity of nations. This is an absolute necessity if we must live an adequately and properly human life. 

    Professor Olu Obafemi is a super ambidextrous writer and scholar of more than numerous parts. He is best known as a play-wright, dramatist and theatre personage, theorist and critic of a profoundly profound mind. But he is without question a poet of distinction as well – which the present volume superbly makes evident. Melodies of Inclement Climes appeals to me exceedingly from the perspectives of the rhetoric of poetic drama, phenomenology, biography, memory, wrap of childhood, autobiography, history, activism, politics, geography, social exploration, revolutionary revolution, psychology, public health, progressive variation in language and feeling. I am on purpose not dwelling on all these perspectives in this briefly appealing enterprise to engender every reader’s interest in Melodies. (I am thinking of something adventurous and enchantingly enchanting outside here). With respect to the last named subject, let me titillate my readers thus: I wish you to join me to think of Professor Olu Obafemi as a magnificent poet who concentrates everything feelingly into a sentence –“Melodies of Inclement Climes;” “And hardened villains of misrule;” “And love shall visit these shores again;” “This is the story of our nation now; Debtor-elephant.”

    The beauty of Professor Olu Obafemi’s new volume of poetry is the trick of its language. The emotions or feelings the poet generates are significant enough to ensure full daylight in our inclement climes. It is thus not for nothing that Professor Olu Obafemi has been a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) and wearer of other laurels. His rhetoric is not any adornment or inflation of words done for the reader’s unquestionable insight or for a particular effect but for a general creative power that has an intensity and concision of indubitably great poetry. 

    Melodies of Inclement Climes will leap in my arms, hands, and mind for a pretty long time of creative reading and critical happiness.  This is not an ostentatious praise, but the true judgment of a reader and critic – this reader and critic – of esthetic and moral sensibility. I duly bow and salute the poet for this fresh volume. Join me in my bow and salutation.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.


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The West And The Hypocrisy Of Democracy



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Western deception has been with Africa forever:

1493: Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull, “Inter Caetera,” proclaiming the right of Spain and Portugal to enslave Africans and own the land. They were subjects. They stole your people and your land.

1885: Africa was a Dark Continent. It required colonization to become civilized. Europe would bring change and civilize them. They stole your raw materials and truncated your self-development.

1940: When over a million Africans fought in Europe, North Africa and the Far East during the Second World War, the West convinced them they were dying for freedom and democracy. But where in Africa do they receive freedom and democracy? Indeed, Apartheid was inaugurated in 1948 in South Africa.

When will this deception come to an end? So, Gabon and Niger were democracies before the 2023 coups? You must be using the wrong dictionary to define democracy. Cameroon under the invalid Paul Biya is a democracy? You must be confusing the Mali Empire with the modern country of Cameroon. And the presidents who rule for as long as they want practising democracy?

You need a little education.

Recent developments in Africa’s political space, particularly the growing number of military takeovers, have informed fresh queries around the expressions of neo-colonialism in Africa and the commitment to liberal democracy as the ideal political model for the region. The point of reference for these queries is the ceremonial reactions from the acclaimed “champions of democracy” in the West, who waste no time issuing condemnations at every instance of “democratic failure” on the continent without any actual commitment to ensuring that power indeed lies with the people. Not only have these champions of African interests—the United States (US), Britain and France—touted democracy as the best system of political organization to achieve political stability and economic prosperity in Africa, but they have also prosecuted wars, allegedly in its defence, which cost millions of lives and destabilized entire regions. However, it is not enough to accuse our benevolent friends in the West of hypocrisy without providing compelling proof of double-dealing in delivering their duties as democratic crusaders. After all, in a democratic setting, all are innocent until proven guilty. 

As a philosophy of government, democracy has existed since the Greco-Roman times. However, its foray into Africa can be traced to the eve of independence when Britain and France introduced forms of local representation as concessions to indigenous demands for independence. Thus, from 1959, parliamentary elections and other democratic institutions started to become commonplace on the continent. But, as it would turn out, this democratic experiment, which formed part of the third (global) wave of democracy, was to be short-lived—derailed as it was by fluctuating Western interests on the continent. 

Guiding Western interest in Africa from the 1950s was the ideological war between the West (mainly the USA) and the Soviet Union. The “Cold War,” as it came to be known, was the first incident to unmask the real intentions of the West for post-colonial Africa. In their quest to emerge as the world’s sole superpower, the US and the Soviet Union, who actively strove to undermine each other’s influence by, among other things, advancing their political ideologies around the world, turned to Africa as another important frontier of conquest. While the Soviet Union armed African revolutionary movements against their Western colonial overlords and provided support to openly communist governments, Washington concluded that, to effectively check the spread of Soviet influence on the continent, it was more expedient to enthrone biddable leaders in African states than it was to woo them with any ideological arguments or economic incentives.

Anxious to ensure power was handed over to reliable politicians, Britain and France became eager participants in the US policy in Africa. Together, the US and its allies targeted venal local strongmen, preferably with military backgrounds and authoritarian tendencies, who, in collaboration with its intelligence agencies, ousted legitimate/democratic governments. Notable victims and beneficiaries of this plot included (in the former category) Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of Congo DRC, Sylvio Olympio of Togo and (in the latter category) Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo DRC and Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo, to mention a few. Consequently, thirty-three African countries that achieved independence between 1956-1970 became authoritarian immediately or not long after. 

Another demonstration of the complete disregard that the West has for democracy, peace/stability and human rights in Africa is its willingness to engulf the entire region in conflict so that it can achieve its “strategic interests.”  Once again, we begin from the Cold War era where, having recently come out of a highly destructive war in Europe (in 1945) and being cautious of engaging in another, the West and the Eastern Bloc turned Africa into the site of their proxy wars. In southern Africa, where the US considered both Angola and Mozambique as areas of “strategic interests,” Washington armed the 200,000 Portuguese conscripts, who went on to fight a protracted war against local nationalist revolutionaries, with imported weapons, which included defoliants and napalm. In Angola, the US, in cooperation with Apartheid South Africa, backed the National Union for Total Independence (UNITA) against the country’s (Soviet-backed) leading national liberation front, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). There were also similar cases in northern Africa where Sudan was funded and armed by the US against Egypt and Ethiopia, who had also pitched their tents with Moscow. These conflicts and the resultant proliferation of arms saw the loss of millions of African lives from war and famine and a general destabilization of the region. 

While the West cannot be said to have been directly involved in all the occasions of transition from democratic to authoritarian rule, in more than a few instances, the leaders of newly independent democratic/multi-party African states seized the opportunity of Western patronage to quickly switch to one-party/despotic rule. In other cases, it was the corruption, resource mismanagement, “tribalism,” patrimonialism, clientelism and imperialism perpetrated by a Western-backed ruling political class which formed the basis of military takeovers (coups). Nevertheless, in this atmosphere of quasi-democratic rule, full-fledged despotism, military rule and Apartheid—where national resources were siphoned by kleptocratic regimes and millions of Africans either became refugees or died as a result of civil wars, hunger, and human rights abuses—our western “friends” were content to look the other way if the government in place proved itself an ally of Washington.      

Perhaps the most glaring example of the West’s democratic hypocrisy in Africa was its age-long support for the highly racist and politically repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa. Like the French, who were able to cajole Washington into believing that they were fighting communist-backed insurgents in Algeria, the South African Apartheid regime, for forty years, posed as the last bastion against communists in Africa—an attitude that was able to secure a steady flow of western arms. This, alongside the West’s tacit approval, allowed for one of Africa’s most despicable shows of human debasement, carried out in the name of imperialism and racial superiority. After all, as President Ronald Regan remarked in 1981, South Africa was “essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have.”  

The end of the Cold War changed Western attitudes towards Africa. Without the Soviet threat, the West leaned more towards development diplomacy and foreign aid regimes as the main thrust of its foreign policy in Africa. Foreign aid to Africa, however, turned out to be a Trojan horse. Already saddled with the task of building vibrant economies whilst also harmonizing the aspirations of the different ethnic nationalities which characterized them, African countries, especially in Francophone Africa, also had to grapple with the undermining economic and political agreements they had been coerced into signing with their erstwhile colonial overlord as a condition for independence and continued patronage. To make matters worse, some African countries were, at the end of the Cold War, either fighting or had just come out of civil war. This, combined with the widespread corruption and mismanagement of national resources which characterized Africa’s tyrannical governments, put many Af5rican countries at the mercy of international monetary agencies (the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank) and their financiers whose aid they were now heavily dependent on. 

At first, these Bretton Woods institutions were content to grant loans/aid, at debilitating interest rates no less, to authoritarian leaders who used them to perpetuate themselves in power and, in return, provided the former with mineral and other economic concessions. However, without the Cold War pressures, more emphasis was placed on the liberalization and capitalist/free-market aspects of US foreign policy to guarantee return on investments. Soon enough, Structural Adjustments Programmes (SAPs) were introduced as a precondition for further loans/aid. Said adjustments, which demanded limited government intervention in the public sector, i.e., removing government subsidies in energy (fuel/gas), education and health care, brought untold hardships to already suffering populations. And as research has shown, poverty and non-tax revenue make for the ideal democratic environment. In other words, “when the government is not beholden to citizens for its funding, there is less accountability and less reason to democratize” (Tilly 1990). Instead, leaders simply use the “free” funding from natural resources (oil) and foreign loans/aid to buy enough support to remain in power. 

Judging from the various expressions of Western interests in Africa over decades, it goes without saying that the West simply pays lip service to ideologies when convenient. Although many Africans might not object to the cynical pragmatism that has always guided Western foreign policy in Africa, I dare say they will not stand for the continued lies and hypocrisy that have characterized Western reactions to African developments. Even if the above-described instances of Western hypocrisy in Africa were to be argued to be in the past, it is a living past for Africa.  

Africa, today, still has authoritarian governments in place whose political repression and human rights abuses go on unchecked by our democracy and rule of law-loving friends in the West. After being siphoned by kleptocratic governments, our commonwealth still finds its way to Western banks, where it sits and improves the local economy. Western interests continue to impoverish Africans and destabilize their regions. So, Africans are today saying to the West, its diplomats, presidents, and the other agents of its propaganda: “Your gambit in Africa is up. Our people are awakened!”   

The West has sold you a fake product called democracy. Africans, your vote is not a sign of democracy. It is no more than a deception. There is no democracy without accountability. You are just voting thieves to power. There is no democracy without transparency. You are just using your votes in support of crooks and thugs. There is no democracy without good governance. Your vote is facilitating theft. Maybe you are waiting for your turn to steal. There is no democracy without development. Your vote is moving you back to the Stone Age. Even early humans knew when to replace stones with iron during the Stone Age. Africa, you don’t have a democracy. Anyone you have not appointed cannot disappoint you! Citizens are being deceived, and they are deceiving themselves. Organize yourselves at various levels and think of alternatives to democracy or, at the minimum, how accountability and transparency will form the core of your democratic practices. Your lifetime president is not a Democrat. He is an authoritarian kleptocrat far worse than the combination of Doris Payne, Stephane Breitwieser, Simon Leviev, Veerappan, Derek Smalls, Vincenzo Peruggia, Bonnie and Clyde, Natwarlal, Carl Gugasian, Frank Abagnale, Anna Sorokin, Albert Spaggiari, Jesse James, Anthony Strangis, and Bill Mason. Do you know these names?



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