Foluke’s African Skies: 2016’s gone now

Summary of 2016

2016 has been a good year for Foluke’s African Skies. In January I migrated my blog Speaker in a Blouse from Blogspot to WordPress.  Foluke’s African Skies has had views in the thousands, from nearly 80 countries around the world, from every continent except Antarctica (Eri mi wu o!). When I started blogging, my main intention was to find a place to save my ideas and engage in free-writing. I really did not expect many people to read what I wrote. The responses have greatly surpassed my expectations. I have been and continue to be overwhelmed by the response(s) I have received. So everyone, thank you, thank you, thank you!

In 2016, I have written close to 100 new blog posts on subjects close to my heart – Africa, athletics, law, Africa, film, Africa, law, pseudo-poetry, music, Africa. My ranting has been indulged, my discussions engaged with, my reminiscences responded to, and my poetry read and commented upon! In many ways 2016 as a year has been quite messed up, but remember, we are the ones who make life better. We really cannot afford to personify a unit of time and abdicate responsibility for the deeds of humanity. We get out of life what we put into it. In this world, we reap what we sow. I know that even though 2016 the year has disappointed us, as long as we do not disappoint ourselves, 2017 can be better. It is people that make the years what they are, not the mere passage of time.

A message to all bloggers – current and aspiring, of Africa and not of Africa

(A message for me as well!)

All through the year I have read and heard people talk about how bad 2016 has been. I have been called an optimist (in a positive and a negative way), because I have hope in change, because I have dreams of possibility. But my hope is not blind optimism. I believe in the power of one person, the power of one dream, the power of one light in the darkness.  Dear Reader, I am asking you to be that light in the most probable darkness of 2017. Human hate may seem to be gaining a foothold, but love will always overwhelm hate, as long as we do not give in to indifference. The noise of voices raised in hatred may seem to be all you hear, but add your voice to the multitude, even if no one joins you. Silence is never an option. Silence is unacceptable.

So let us do what we can. We know that getting alternative views out there is not easy. Publishers control knowledge. Blog if you can. Blogging is cheap and easy-ish. So blog.

Speak truth. Speak YOUR truth. Truth will always be true and your truth will always be yours. Keep on speaking into the darkness. Do not give up. Even when it seems impossible. Impossible is a word used to define a problem to which a solution has not yet been found. You are the solution to a problem. In the fullness of time, the tendrils of the light will return to you manifold and multiply. Be strong, be courageous, be persistent. Be present. Speak.

Be proactive. If our emotional energy is spent reacting to hatred, reacting to intolerance, reacting to ignorance and reacting to malevolence, then that hatred controls us. Hate should never have any sort of power over us. Only love. Always love. So love, but love proactively. Do not give in to inaction. Do not wait for the disaster that threatens. Act. Now.

Look inward. The overwhelming levels of hostility we see may be intimidating. But really, that is not what we are concerned with. We are concerned with our purpose. Our purpose should be to be a better version of ourselves and use that better version to better the world. If you feel that the purpose of your life is to do good, then do it, while the light lasts, for 2016 has shown us that candles are quickly extinguished, flames die early, leaving us with smoke in our eyes. So do good, while the light of 2017 lasts.

You can only write one blog at a time. You can only do one good thing at a time. You can only say one positive thing at a time. You can only take one step at a time. Do not be overwhelmed. 2017 is ours – one step at a time, one day at a time. 2017 is ours, while the light lasts.

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Migration and the Need to Decolonize (Hegemonic Thought)

‘decolonization has different implications in practice. Rather than a grand new theory, it ought to be approached as an option[7], a set of strategies explicitly aimed at a radical shift in the distribution and use of power at the service of equity. Addressing the structural power inequality embedded in our knowledge production practices is then a necessary, even though not sufficient part of the struggle towards decoloniality.’

// Olivia U. Rutazibwa

(This short piece was written in the Summer of 2016 for the Global Dialogues publication of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg, Germany during my visiting Fellowship there. You find the full publication here.)

Looking at the world from and in Europe today, the old continent seems to be grappling with its waning capacity to control its interaction with the rest of the planet. Bodies, ideas, capital, violence and a climate on the move, forcefully knock on the Fortress’ walls from the outside and within.

How are we to understand this beyond the fear-mongering tropes engulfing our public debates? Panta rhei[1]: everything flows. Yet, sub sole nihil novum [2]: there is nothing new under the sun. In all their simplicity and complexity, these two seemingly contradictory insights attributed respectively to Greek and Judeo-Christian – dixit European – traditions, probably best capture how…

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Dreaming of a White Christmas in Ilorin

Christmas has always been more about the anticipation than the actual day. We spend so long looking forward to Christmas. There is always at the centre of all this longing for Christmas, a heavy dose of nostalgia. We want yesterday’s Christmases, not tomorrow’s. My Christmases past were mostly spent in that splendid city of Ilorin.

In Ilorin, you could literally smell Christmas coming. at the end of October or the begining of November, you could feel the air change as Harmattan beckoned. You knew then, that Christmas was coming. During the 80s and the early 90s, NTA Ilorin had just two Christmas cassettes. There was Jim Reeves’ ‘Twelve songs of Christmas’ (I am dreaming of a White Christmas was played many, many, many times), and for some weird, and as yet unexplained reason, only one side of Boney M’s 1981 Christmas album (Mary’s Boy Child & Feliz Navidad are the only two Christmas songs I can remember being played).

We spent the run up to Christmas guessing which one of our primary school teachers would put on the red suit and don augmented belly. When Mr. Alfa played Father Christmas (We knew no Santa!) his voice gave him away; and Mr Ikujini’s distinctive walk soon unmasked him. We looked forward to the Christmas cantatas and the carols on the rock. Ilorin, a primarily Muslim city (We have a mosque and an emir’s palace!) was festooned in tinsel and plastic Christmas trees; our green and yellow taxis all declaring their dreams of a white Christmas. Sometimes, our parents bought us ‘Christmas cloth’ and woe betide the tailor who did not sew up our dazzling Christmas outfit in time. If you had any doubt about who belonged to which family, wait patiently for Christmas, when all will be revealed.

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We did not revel in the idea of Christmas presents (we had very few) or the dubious ‘magic’ of Christmas. We had jollof rice and chicken – who needs magic when you have jollof. We sang ‘We wisoo, a mewy kimas.’ We played! Oh how we played. And all the parties and NTA would show films on television and sometimes stay on air past 10pm, imagine! But these were the Christmases of my youth. They were all the more beautiful because they can never be replicated. It is not just the absence of departed friends or the scattering of Ilorin’s inhabitants to the four winds or the changes in the world that prevents duplication – it is the innocence of youth that made us bask in the joys of Christmas, oblivious to the weariness of the adult world. It is the joy of a child that makes it Christmas. So we make Christmas beautiful for our children, even if it is not a white Christmas in Ilorin.

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An African’s Lament

Is there nothing left?…

What became of the mighty kingdoms of  Jukun and Kanem-Bornu? The Empires of Benin, Mossi, Oyo, Kitara, Jolof, Wolof, Songhai?

What became of the people whose stories brought travellers from far off lands to these shores?

Travellers who gazed in wonder at the magnificent splendour of the majesty and the masquerade?

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Who remembers the exploits of kings and queens whose legends imbued them with indisputable divinity?

Who could withstand Idris Alooma?

Who would not admire Queen Amina of Kano?

Who would not make obeisance before Ovonramwen Nogbaisi?

Would you not shake before Shaka Zulu?

Or kneel before Queen Nzinga?

Would you not be dazzled by Sunni Ali?

Or celebrate Sundiata?

Would you not have kissed the feet of Kabaka Mwanga?

Or feared annihilation by the N’Nonmiton?

 

What became of the riches of Benin?

The wealth of Mansa Musa?

The splendour of the Asante?

The gold of Buganda?

The gold of Yeke?

The gold of Lunda?

 

Or even the mountains of groundnut at Kano?

The mounds of sugar at Bacita?

The hills of limestone at Ewekoro?

 

Is there nothing left?

 

 

Have we sold our souls for a pittance,

Our land for a penny,

Our future for rubble,

Our freedom for blood, devastation, and war?

 

What will we leave to our children but tales of dust and despair?

What is left of the darkness of the night?

 

But we are what is left.

 

Empires may rise and empires may fall,

But the African spirit is strong, the African heart remains.

We may have eaten a dinner of death and disgust, bitterness and gall.

But we shall rise once more, we shall rebuild again.

 

Because we are what is left of the night.

And the dark night will flee before us.

The fire burning in our bellies is a resolute spirit, unwavering, unbending, constant, eternal.

 

Because we are Africa.

We are the lightning and the rain,

The flood and the forests,

We are the midnight whisper and the noonday wail.

We are darkness and magic, we are silence and thunder.

We are the storm.

We are Africa.

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An African Celebration

I celebrate life, because mourning is not an option.

I celebrate the hustle, because stopping is not an option.

I celebrate the lives of the youths, friends and wise elders that surround me,

I celebrate fortitude, resilience, strength and indomitable spirit,

I celebrate the past and its lessons, I celebrate today because I am here,

I am here and tomorrow comes.

I celebrate the future and hope and faith in an unfailing everlasting God.

 

I celebrate opportunity, I look up to what is to come.

I celebrate the earth and its abundance;

I celebrate the sky and its fullness,

I celebrate the rain,

I celebrate the dust,

I celebrate the rivers,

I celebrate the deserts

I celebrate the noise, the laughter, the tears, the dancing, the screaming, the pain, regret and redemption.

I celebrate the sound of clapping that I hear in my heart, the noise of rejoicing that my hope is producing.

 

I celebrate the sound of a fallen giant rising to its feet,

far greater and stronger than before its fall,

strong from the fire of oppression and deprivation,

pain and misery,

resolute in its resurgence,

undaunted by the derision of the world.

I celebrate my people, men, women, young, old, north, south, east, west.

 

I celebrate because we are here,

I celebrate our fears,

I celebrate our tears.

I toast all our tomorrows

May they come.

Nigeria’s Twitactivism Woes: E.g. the 2015 election

I know it has taken me a while to write this, but it is good to look back and reflect (my excuse. Handy, right?)

I have previously written about how the promotion of the ‘right’ to democracy infers that a peoples’ aspirations to human dignity can only be achieved through representative governance, evidenced by political participation and regular elections. Because of the premium placed on elections as the only marker of democracy, Nigerians have become inordinately emotionally invested in the hoopla of elections. With the advent of the internet, Nigerians have taken this investment and made huge online deposits that do not seem able to yield any returns. Rather than use the power of information technology to improve community, we saw in 2015, the spread of misinformation, pettiness and vitriol through social media. When it comes to post-truth, we got there first. Naija no dey carry last!

 2015 Nigerian Elections & Cyber Attacks On Identity: Battle for the Heart of Nigeria

According to some reports, in Nigeria, internet usage grew by 16% in 2014. At which time 37.53% of Nigerians had internet access. These numbers are still growing exponentially. ICT is the new Nigerian Black gold (a completely redundant metaphor, I’m sure.) Now everyone is a blogger, including me, of course. Before the 2015 elections, both major political parties (APC & PDP) staged Google Hangouts and had websites. Those elections marked the first use of Facebook in Africa to engage voters. A major milestone. Furthermore, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) turned to social media to provide a check on the legitimacy of elections. The result was that more people were reached by all the major actors and agents, much faster. According to Tijani:

Facebook became platform for information diffusion, participation, mobilisation, propaganda, abuse, ethnic polarisation, radicalisation, caricaturisation and empowerment

Political Thugs are being overtaken by Internet Warriors

Consequently very real battles were staged in the comments sections, with ‘soldiers’ instructed to attack opponents. The BBC ran an article on that very phenomenon. Nigeria’s internet warriorsThe site of violence moved online. However, while physical violence diminished, the number of people subject to attack increases expansively. Fewer broken bones, more bitter souls. The attacks are focused on the fault-lines of our fragile union

‘I usually use corruption and ethnicity to attack…Distort public opinion’

-Chemistry graduate turned internet warrior

We saw facts distorted and shared as truth, pictures manipulated and shared as originals. Spreading like wildfire, no one bothering to fact-check. (I have often maintained that one of the reasons why scamming is popular in Nigeria is not because we are fraudulent, but because we are gullible. We will believe absolutely anything, anything at all.) The effect of the digitization of electioneering?

Post election violence in 2011 = approx. 800 killed, 65000 displaced

Post election violence in 2015 = approx. 40 killed, unclear whether Boko Haram or election

THE EXACERBATION OF THE FAULT-LINES

These fault lines were toyed with in various ways – fabricated stories, comments in response to actual events, or by pushing the boundaries of reality, but it was always the same fault-lines – our sense of belonging to something other than Nigeria, ethnicity and religion, always ethnicity and religion.

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Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the Oba of Lagos was reported to have threatened the Igbos in Lagos that they will be drowned in the Lagos Lagoon if they fail to vote for the APC candidate during the governorship elections in Lagos State. This statement was reportedly made during the courtesy call of the Eze Ndigbos in Lagos on the Oba at his palace.

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Soyinka in the Frame…Again

The Cable, an online paper, alleged that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka accused the Igbo of voting according to their “stomachs”.

In his response to the story, Soyinka said in a statement: “I have just read a statement attributed to me on something called The CABLE, a news outlet, evidently one of the Internet infestations.”

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The Earnestly Religious

 Ima Sadiq, a Muslim cleric tweeted to call on Muslims to support GMB stating that “It is a sin islamically for a Muslim to support a non Muslim for leadership”. Pastor Adeboye is believed to have backed the Jonathan ticket, Osinbajo’s presence on the ballot notwithstanding.

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Identity Attacks Results in Negative Peace

At the core of International Human Rights Law is the concept of individual human dignity for all. However, many African philosophies’ ideologies on human dignity are centred around the core and cyclic concepts of ‘being’ and ‘belonging’. E.g. Umuntu ngumuntu nga bantu‘I am because others are’. Thus belonging is all-important, but belonging is naturally precedent on being. Failed (more accurately, developmentally-stagnated) states like Nigeria, impelled to promote a ‘raw’ concept of rights have failed abysmally at this. The intervention of international law, ignores the African-dignity need for belonging, promotes human rights ‘raw’ i.e. with no diffusion between IHRL and cultural expression.

Further, where there is a proliferation of competing internal ‘others’, ‘belonging’ is contaminated and thus ‘being’s’ cultural currency is devalued. The ensuing breakdown of community paves the way for disconnection between communities and between communities and the government, resulting in escalating hybrid conflict, human rights violations and infrastructural stagnation. The right to democracy is then implemented in a formulaic manner rather than substantively.

The 2015 election campaign witnessed concerted and direct attacks on the cultural ‘belonging’ need. While the election turned out to be much more peaceful than the 2011 election, where there was large scale pre- and post-election violence (attacks on the ‘being’ need), the 2015 election was conducted by attacking the need for ‘belonging’. Therefore, the scars that were opened by an election that was relatively peaceful, could have a more negative effect on the stability of the Nigeria than an election that was quite violent.

Identity attacks indicate a zero-sum conflict situation. They arise in a community where there is no collective sense of identification, no shared values, and no common vision for the nation. The nation-state is perceived as an imposition by the colonial invaders. (We can see this in the renewed calls for a state of Biafra.) The state is also seen as being perpetuated by the dominant group whose identity defines the national character. This results in a weakened democracy, that regular elections, no matter how peaceful cannot sustain. There is very little alternative to state disintegration or state failure.

We should never presume that the mere absence of violence is the same thing as POSITIVE PEACE.  Positive peace is marked by the restoration of relationships, creation of social and political systems that serve needs of whole population and constructive resolution of conflict. That is what we want. What we have is negative peace or perpetual pre-hostility.

But guess who won the internet?

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Democracy in Africa: Looking Beyond Elections

In 2016, several African states had elections with vastly differing and mostly interesting results. Globally, it could almost be said that 2016 was the year of voting and an illustration of the limitations of democracy, if evidenced by voting alone. Cape Verde, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, CAR, Chad, Comoros both Congos, Rwanda, Senegal, Niger, the Gambia and São Tomé & Príncipe are among the states that had elections. In all 29 African states/nations had elections, but Gambia’s elections were the most reported. I will return to Jammeh in a moment. A disturbing trend across several of the elections was the governments creating a media blackout, shutting down all access to the internet just before and during voting. Yahya Jammeh of Gambia conceded defeat by telephone and then deconceded a few days later. Constructively, carrying out a palace coup – probably the only person who has organised two coups for the same prize. Anglophone African leaders rushed to Banjul to sort him out. We await the outcome of all the ‘diplomacy’. One could suggest that the above is a testament to how well democracy works in Africa. I contest that one two grounds. One, we tend to confuse, good elections with good democracy – they are not the same thing. Two, we need an understanding of democracy and its limits, before we can lay claim to our systems as democracies. A fundamental problem with democracy as a concept, is the part it plays in international relations and the consolidation of international community.

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What is Democracy and Why is it Important?

According to Buchan, for states to be considered part of international community, they have to exhibit traits of liberal democracy, even if their internal political culture is not one of liberal democracy. Basically, to join the club you have to wear the tie, the other items of clothing are not as important. This articulation of the international community is reflected in the US foreign policy, that is, democracy and market economy includes states and international organisations in the international community – allying them to the US – accords them legitimacy and protects them from multilateral intervention from the US.

Democracy can be considered as an international human right enshrined in Article 25 (the right to vote and be voted for) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or a means of implementing the human rights codified in international human rights law. Democracy is encouraged because ‘good governance is a crucial element for peace and development, while autocracy has been shown to fuel conflict, and human rights violations in a number of cases.’  Autocracy retards development, however, the economic rise of China questions the conventional accepted link between liberal democracy, market economy and development. The requirement for democracy presupposes that democracy is the only form of ‘good governance’. Furthermore, democracy is seen as a means of ensuring human rights protection or the shared values of the international community such as freedom, equality, tolerance and dignity are reflected in national life. And because Article 25 does not define democracy but almost mandates elections our ideas of democracy and good governance are tied to periodic elections.

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The Problem with African ‘Democracies’

In Africa, ‘Democracy’ has been used as a tool for opposition politicians to deceptively garner the support of the international community.  Democracy in Africa is purposively appropriated by the political elite and used to empower politicians and not populations.  This is facilitated by the nature of the international system. The results of implementing democracy through elections in Africa have in many cases been counterproductive, causing conflict, human rights violations and further departure from democratic principles.  Furthermore, an entitlement to democracy within a state exhibiting institutional and operational failure is largely a redundant right.  The implementation of democracy in Africa is hampered by the lack of modification of Western style democracy when applied to Africa and emphasis on civil and political rights at the expense of economic, social and cultural rights.  Democracy and market-economy do not reflect the needs, aspirations and characteristics of the populations of Africa, this is to the advantage of corrupt African leaders.  Further, democratic requirements take into consideration, the almost non-existent state in Africa.

Africa postcolonial states due to their origin and structure have peculiar and similar characteristics. They exist as postscripts at the end of colonialism, where transitions were marked by incomplete adoption of the Westphalian nature which decolonisation merely alluded to.  This is compounded by internal and inflexible adherence to precolonial theories of primordial concepts of community.  Democracy as characterised by elections and practised by post-colonial Africa states involve a system of reward before election rather entry into government via election to carry out favoured policies.  The desire and impetus to operate liberal democracies are not evident in the populace, as Africa has more patrimonial systems that seek messianic figures rather than accountable human representatives.

Because the political culture in Africa is neo-patrimonial in nature; the government is seen as a source of personal enrichment and not national development; national development remains the function of the community and is restricted to communal or ethno-linguistic development. Thus achieving democratization in Africa, especially through regular elections ignores the social and political nature of the constituent communities and the ideologies of the people of Africa.  Therefore state failure is endemic, inherent and systemic due to the nature of African states, rather than specific events.

If you want to read more (and you should really..) see:

Ipinyomi, Foluke Ifejola. “The Impact of African Philosophy on the Realisation of International Community and the Observance of International Law.” International Community Law Review 18, no. 1 (2016): 3-33.

And

This other post by me

A Short History of West Africa

This is a very, very short history of West Africa, most taken from the copious research I did for my doctorate. Let us never forget the imperative of studying history.

Beginning of Time or 12,000 BC – 1800 AD

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Most of the precolonial states were established and expanded through conquest or unification in response to invasions, but flourished mainly through controlling trade routes across the Sahara.  The coastal and forest states, such as Benin and Dahomey, were involved in trade along the coast and through the sea routes especially when European traders arrived on West Africa’s shores.  Some states, notably, Kanem-Bornu, augmented their trade revenue by collecting taxes from conquered states or from visitors and traders to the centres of the kingdoms.  Where barter was inappropriate or impossible, cowries were the most prevalent currency of pre-colonial West Africa, as it was universally acceptable throughout West Africa, in some cases, even up till decolonisation.

Askia (King) Mohammed I (1493-1528) of the new Songhai Empire notably divided his empire into regions dedicated to the produce of particular food crops. The Asante (Ashanti) Kingdom was notable for its riches in gold, though most of the states in the Gold Coast region (present day Ghana) were also rich in gold.

Most of the governments of pre-colonial West Africa were created and centred around an absolute monarch who was sometimes regarded as divine (or possessing divine lineage rights)  or a great warrior,  if not both.  Ascension was achieved by inheritance, conquest/usurpation, and kingmakers or in the rare case of the Wolof Empire by election; though the election was conducted only among the noble class and was not truly democratic.  Conversely, the Igbo (Ibo) peoples of the forest region of the easternmost parts of West Africa were mostly non-monarchical in nature as they did not cede any power to chiefs or rulers.  The Hausa states in the north revolved around fortified cities and Islam rather than a revered ruler; leaving them vulnerable to external invasion.  The Mossi states were decentralised though there was a recognised central ruler.

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While many of the West African kingdoms and empires lasted and flourished for hundreds of years, they were susceptible to internal implosion, even though they were usually unified by a common revered leader, common culture and language. Many kingdoms suffered from internal weaknesses due to conflicts over succession, weakened central government, ambitious governors or provincial rulers, violent attempts by vassal or constituent states or provinces to secede,  continuously expanding empires that were difficult to administer and/or defend, incompetent, corrupt, extravagant, tyrannical and/or ineffective rulers who employed questionable imperial administration techniques  ethnic and cultural clashes between heterogeneous peoples of a kingdom  and religious conflict mainly due to the introduction of Islam. These factors were further exacerbated by the risk of external invasion and the influence of European trade.

Contact with Europe was initially confined to trade; the Portuguese were at the forefront of this contact as they discovered the West African coast in the 15th Century.  Trade was initially limited to food produce, gold, ivory, pepper, ostrich feathers in exchange for cheap cloth, beads, iron rods, gunpowder, etc. Before long however, the West African-European trade was dominated by traffic in slaves.  The slave-trade primarily weakened hinterland kingdoms by causing diversion of trade from the Sahara to the Atlantic coast, and in so doing, weakening their control over the trade routes. The end of the slave trade overlaps with the gradual colonisation of West Africa.

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1800-1960

The conquest of West Africa was preceded by a period of wars of resistance and conquest between the European armies and the West African states.  The Europeans prevailed because they had superior military might and strategy.   In some cases treaties were signed which ceded West African territory to European states without the need to resort to military ascendancy; in some cases both were required to ensure colonisation. Through such methods as indirect rule, assimilation and association, the European powers exercised control over their colonies. Colonialism de-emphasized the African identity of their subjects while not allowing them to become sufficiently European.  It deconstructed or disregarded the traditional structures of pre-colonial government in favour of ‘civilised’ Eurocentric governance.

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1960 – now

Dissatisfaction with colonial rule evolved into agitation for self-government. The educated class in West Africa sought, within the constitution, assurance that self-government would pass to them, and not the traditional rulers who administered indirect rule. At the end of colonialism, administration of all colonies was placed in the hands of Western-educated Africans.  Not only does the issue of divergence of pre-colonial states and newly independent states based on colonial boundaries seem to influence state fragility in West Africa, the nature of the new ruling class appears to be equally contributory.  Both the natures of the ruling class and the new states suggest that the new states were successor states to the colonial protectorates and not the original states.  The colonial creations were much bigger and more complex than any of the defunct kingdoms had been.  Not only was the state itself a colonial inheritance, but the system of governance and architecture of authority was colonial. Unlike the pre-colonial nation-states that were governed through communal cooperation, in the new West Africa there was a change in the relationship between ‘king’ and ‘community’; these two sectors of society – the government and the people – have become antagonistic to each other.

While West Africa has various factors that are generally recognisable across the sub-region, factors that instigate state collapse and internal conflict are peculiar to each state’s history and political structure. The parameters of state collapse that led to the conflict in Liberia were basically rooted in socio-political disparity along ethnic and historical lines,  exacerbated by economic imbalance.  Guinea-Bissau at independence was a poor, underdeveloped country with a high level of illiteracy.  After independence the situation was worsened by corruption and bad governance.  Due to the colonial administration’s marginalisation of the Balantas and the Majoncos in favour of ethnic Cape Verdeans, there was indigenous resentment against the government, primarily for the misrule of the state,  especially because the Balanta are one of the larger ethnic groups.  The growing resentment was worsened by economic policies which were unfavourable to the people.  Vieira’s coup in 1980 added more autocratic elements of misrule to the mix which eventually led to internal conflict in 1998.  Cote d’Ivoire on the other hand, in the days following independence in 1960, was economically and politically stable.  A short economic crisis in the 1970’s led the country down the path to ethnic intolerance, internal conflict and instability.  Constant marginalisation of ethnic groups has characterised Nigerian politics from the Biafra conflict  to the present day clashes in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region and Jos. Bøas and Jennings state that Nigeria, especially in the conflict areas, is marked by a “combination of poverty, marginalisation, and underemployment, combined with environmental problems, crime, corruption,…”  in addition to this is the fact that the local communities experience few returns from the economic largesse of the nation. It is apparent, therefore, that ethnicity and marginal development are a major fuel to West African economic and political crises.

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During peacetime and conflict the internal politics in the new West Africa is highly suspect and a source of danger to the civilian population. The major political ideology of West Africa is “politics as a contest in which the objective was to seize control of the state and use it for the good of one’s ethnic group.  One of the reasons given for the involvement of the military in post-colonial West African politics is the violent nature of politics in the region; therefore when violence becomes an integral part of West African politics ‘the specialists of warfare’ became specialists and strongmen in politics.  Furthermore, not only has politics become militarized, the military in West African states has become politicized, with political leaders calling on the military to solve personal political problems, as well as ethnic based appointments and promotions within the military.

The postcolonial state mirrored the colonial states in that its executives were intent on controlling the resources of the state. However while in the case of the colonial state the plunder was on the behalf of the mother state, in the case of post-colonial West African states, the plunder was done for personal benefit.  This has caused tensions because the plunder of state resources was now visible to the populace, as opposed to colonial plunder which was not visible. This is because, firstly, a cohesive state did not exist before the independence and state wealth could not be attributed to the people. The paucity of the post-colonial state can be traced to the sudden removal of the financial crutch which the colonial state provided to stabilise the colonies. The fragility of these states on the other hand has been traced to the mode of creation of the states. Since these states never had to justify or struggle for existence and achieved sovereignty as states by default and not by reversion to original entities, they exhibit a weak and unconsolidated nature, without substantial statehood, cultural and political communion and marked by unusual levels of internal competition for resources and control of the state.

To reduce to suffering of civilian populations within West Africa, economic aid alone has proven insufficient and in some cases detrimental. Realistic and in some cases, innovative political solutions are required to halt the wave of conflict, human rights violations and poverty that beset the ordinary people in West Africa.

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A Reply to Elle: West African female leaders

So on the 7th of December 2016, Elle published an online story claiming that Nana Rawlings was the first woman to run for president in West Africa. They have since changed that West Africa to Ghana. Those who know me well, may freely imagine how incensed I was. I suspect the meteorological centres of the world reported a sudden heat flare somewhere in southern England. Anyone can make mistakes. However, the failure to fact-check this obviously false fact, arises from the unsubstantiated and ahistorical stereotypes of the feeble Black African Woman. A simple two-fingered search on google would have produced at the very least, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson. Just because the ‘Great’ United States of America has been unable to produce a female president, does not mean the rest of the world is so hindered. It is this type of thinking about Africa that produced both Hearts of Darkness. The stereotypes persist in silencing Africa, erasing her women, and their achievements.

So Elle, I am going to introduce to some actual West African women leaders (not people who have run for office, actual leaders), who you should have heard of. (Some of this research was done by buzzfeed. Elle, you fall your own hand o!)

Ellen Sirleaf Johnson (President of Liberia since 2006. Joint Winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.)

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Mame Madior Boye Prime Minister of Senegal from 2001 to 2002.

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Aminata Touré  (Prime Minister of Senegal 2013-2014)

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Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé (Prime Minister of Mali from 2011 to 2012)

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Adiato Djaló Nandigna  (acting Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau 2012)

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Carmen Pereira (acting President Guinea-Bissau in 1984)

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And because I do not consider myself bound by colonial demarcations (regular readers will know this) I will add some precolonial leaders/non-colonial leaders to my list.

Amina of Zaria (Hausa Muslim Warrior Queen of Zazzau died in  about 1610): ‘Queen Amina is a legend among the Hausa people for her military exploits. She controlled the trade routes in the region, erecting a network of commerce within the great earthen walls that surrounded Hausa cities within her dominion. According to the Kano Chronicle, she conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years.’

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Also Aba Women’s Riots/Women’s War (November-December 1929): Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in southeastern Nigeria, touching off the most serious challenge to British rule in the history of the colony.  The “Women’s War” took months for the government to suppress and became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.

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The N’Nonmiton of Dahomey also known as the Dahomey ‘Amazons’  (because we must always be compared to someone external,  like saying the ‘Hilary Clinton of Ghana’): the only documented frontline female troops in modern warfare history. Swift decapitation was their trademark.

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And this is just in West Africa! There have been women leaders across Africa, both postcolonially and precolonially – Malawi, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Sao Tome & Principe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia etc. There have also been people such as Cleopatra, Moremi Ajasoro, Iyeki Emotan Uwaraye, Efunsetan Aniwura, Inikpi of Igalaland, Taytu Betul, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Queen Nzinga, Omu Okwei of Osomari (Felicia Ifeoma Ekejiuba) among others.

Do your research or dey your lane!

Oshisko!

 

The Ugandan Bridge Schools & Education as Freedom

On the 4th of November 2016, a Uganda High Court judge (in the case of Bridge International Academies Ltd v. Attorney General Uganda) ordered the closure of 63 Bridge International Schools in that country. The judge cited the use of unqualified teachers, unsanitary learning conditions as well as the fact that the schools were not properly licensed as reasons for ordering the closures. The court also considered the poor quality of education provided in these schools.

Bridge schools are backed by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. The schools claim to have 12,000 students in Uganda and 100,000 students across Africa, mainly. According to their teaching model statement, teachers read scripted lessons from a tablet. The content of learning is standardized and not adapted to the needs of each student or cohort. It has been argued that this is an effective low-cost way of providing ‘quality’ education to a vast amount of learners. However, this presupposes some education is better than none. Forgetting of course, that a little learning is a dangerous thing. Bridge Schools in Africa have been the subject of much controversy (from Liberia to Kenya); the UN has suggested that the UK funding such schools could contribute to violations of international law. Those who suffer the most from this are poor Ugandans. A Ugandan friend said to me, that this group of people are caught at the intersection of a convergence of disadvantage: government education is unreliable, often unsanitary, and almost always underfunded. Private education is unaffordable and inaccessible for most Ugandans. Yet Bridge education is barely education at all.

So why is the Bridge educational structure problematic? To answer this question we need to examine education in Africa from legal, theoretical and historical perspectives. I have previously argued for the decolonisation of education in Africa, and for a general decolonial attitude. The Bridge Schools Case provides an excellent illustration of that argument. I contend that un-decolonised education results in epistemic violence/injustice and is thus pedagogically and ethically unsound – violating the right to education. My argument relies on a deconstructive reading of postcolonial theory, through an examination of the history of education in Africa as well as the purposes of education in any society.

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The Legal Angle

One of the problems we encounter in this discourse is that in Africa, the promotion of the right to education has been focused mainly on improving only the availability and accessibility of education. This is because, the right to education has been described as an empowerment right or a gateway right. Consequently, the right should enable the educated to take control of her life and contribute to the development of her state. In its General Comment 13, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that primary education should be free, and quality education should be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. However, according to UNESCO, African states are comparatively behind other regions in the provision of education. The inadequacies of the education system are played out against a background of high child-marriage rates, parent illiteracy, poverty and political unrest. While some regional legal instruments attempted to include ‘African values’ within their standards, (to make rights situationally relevant), these provisions failed to be effective, as they are attached to legal norms that seem to be in direct contradiction to those propositions of ‘African values’.

The Theory

Deconstructive postcolonial theory tries to explain how Africa has arrived at the above point. Post-colonial theory analyses the consequences of colonialism on the colonised. Theorists consider the ideas of hierarchical difference in how the image of Africa is reproduced or represented in literature as well as new and old media. The idea or invention of Africa cannot be divorced from the ideology that drove colonisation – the distinction between the civilised and the uncivilised.  That ideology pervades Africa’s current relation with the rest of the world – power structures, politics, language and knowledge. Post-colonial theory recognises that the incompetence and dependence of Africa’s contemporary political and intellectual elite on external approval and assistance result from hybridity of supposed African authenticity and the attempted replication of colonial character, all carried out within an inherited colonial structure. On the other hand, deconstruction asks us to look beyond the text or the ‘representation’ and question the normalisation of the construction of Africa, enabling us to rewrite/reinvent Africa, to de-victimise Africa, to iterate Africa in the context of a possible equal future. Read together, deconstructing the post-colonial speaks of what can be, despite the trauma of colonialism and the incapacity of the post-colonial state.

Due to our inaccurate knowledge of Africa, our discussions of Africa are ultimately and persistently concerned with social engineering (case in point!). Current epistemology is derived in an unbroken line of pedagogy from the precolonial to the post-colonial and used to explain all contemporary African phenomena.  Therefore current implementation of the right to education ignores the fact that mimicry of cultural ideology will never become mastery, notwithstanding sincerity of the mimic or the master. By relying on an externally created content, students are being made into mimics of educational material and not masters. As long as they are getting some education, surely that should be enough? No! Substandard education only suffices because our gaze of Africa is seen through its representations rather than its substantiation or any engagement with African humanity or the subjects’ lived experiences; these representations confine our collective memory to one of absolute night, forgetting the existence or possibility of sunrise. Education becomes a tool of conformity, rather than a means of personal development. We limit our vision of possibility, killing dreams before they can take flight.

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This results in a dilemma and a paradox. The African is torn between a past lost in the mists of time, and the fear of losing herself in a modern future constructed on an exogenous template.  This creates a dilemma from which there is apparently no possible escape: the African cannot be known without the tools of education, yet this education dilutes the authenticity of past experience and makes the knowing superficial. While education may be physically available and accessible, the learner suffers a deficit in epistemological access and availability, resulting in pedagogically unsound learning at a high psychological cost. The type of education offered by the Bridge Schools ideologically dislocates individuals from their society and, due to limited literacy and numeracy, does not equip them for any other. It results in a citizenry with low civil affinity to the state and little technological know-how, depriving African states of the right to democracy and development. The prestige of education becomes the end of education and its only purpose.

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The Imperfect Past, the Failed Aspirational Past, and the Fettered Present

Moving on from extremely flawed colonial education, African states have tried to improve the standard of education in their states. Inadequate personnel and research impede continental efforts to reform curricula, while international efforts are uninformed, sporadic and isolated.  The Structural Adjustment Programmes introduced to Africa by international financial institutions in the 1980s and 1990s, meant that governmental spending on education was greatly reduced.  African attempts to collaborate with the West in this regard are further encumbered by comparatively higher costs of travel, difficulties in obtaining visas or visiting fellowships. This has resulted in epistemic violence (popularised by Spivak.) Spivak argues that epistemic violence can only be defused when the intellectual represents the silenced.  However, the African intellectual lacks the structural capacity to represent the silenced; the Western intellectual lacks testimonial competence. Consequently, decolonisation of education has to be focused on research-intensive interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, egalitarian, overt, persistent, capacity-sharing and competence-building. Decolonising education in Africa should have as one of its focuses the liberating purpose of education.

Therefore, I agree with the judge’s decision in the Bridge Schools case. While the case focuses on the schools’ lack of licences, that overshadows a far more important point. The education offered by the Bridge Schools has the potential to violate international law. This is education predicated on a presumed state of the targeted population. Education has to develop people, as people, from where they are to where they want to go, not meet people where you presume they are and take them to where you think they ought to want to go. Conclusively, the education provided by the Bridge Schools cannot be said to be of an acceptable quality, because it does not equip its learners for freedom.

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