Monday, December 28, 2009

Dennis Brutus 1924-2009

By Biko Agozino

When I first met Dennis Brutus on the campus of the University of Calabar in the 1980s during the African Literature Conference Series that Earnest Emenyonu organized, he looked so tall and so larger than life that when I met him again in Pittsburg in 2002, I could not believe that it was the same person. We shared an Azania Heritage Foundation platform discussing reparations for slavery and for apartheid crimes. He briefed us on the litigation against companies that benefited from apartheid gold and I expressed the view that litigation might benefit lawyers who corner 40% of the payout more than the litigants and recommended that pressure for legislation, negotiation and arbitration might produce more substantial 'reparative justice' in the long run for the victimized.

Later, Dennis agreed to grant me a videotaped interview in his office at the University of Pittsburgh during which he taught me a few lessons. I had read the dolphin poem in the Stubborn Hope collection during high school and believed that the reference to a father was metaphorical, not knowing that it was a poem to his own children about freedom in the open seas with all the risks being preferable to the security of the swimming pool from the point of view of the dolphin; his children had asked him for a dolphin poem, he explained. But when I interviewed him in Pittsburgh,
feeling like one of the children for whom he wrote it, he did not pretend, just an honest reality check.

I interviewed him about his anti-apartheid activities and he explained something that had been bothering me for a long time, given my own name: why did Steve Biko not join the ANC? The explanation of Brutus was that the ANC would not admit white people and colored people back then, Brutus himself had to join the colored people's congress, for instance, and progressive whites had no choice but to join the CP. Biko was of the view that anyone who was for the struggle should be allowed full membership. This explanation reminded me of that scene from Cry Freedom where Denzel Washington as Biko responded to those who queried what a white man, Donald Woods, was doing in the Township and Biko asked them to witness the education of a white liberal, an education that probably helped to save the life of Woods when the regime went after him. It took a long time before the ANC came round to the correct position of Biko in terms of inclusiveness but it may have been a sign of the times with apartheid decreeing separateness in organizations. I checked this fact on the ANC website after several senior scholars expressed surprise at the information. Brutus was right because the official history of ANC states that membership of the party was thrown open to 'non-Africans', meaning non-Blacks, only after the 1969 Consultative Conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, as a measure to consolidate the mulit-racial ideals of the party as expressed in the Freedom Charter declaration of 1959.

Brutus will never die! I told him as much at the end of my interview with him. What was he still doing in Pittsburgh when he could be exercising greater moral and intellectual leadership in South Africa? He expressed concern about the violence in the country but I reassured him that no one would dare touch him if they knew what he represented. He must have been planning the relocation and surely enough, he achieved a lot more in those final years than he could have achieved in exile, at least judging by all those honourary doctorates that our Baba Dolphin gathered in the wild compared to the sterile chlorinated pool that he resisted being deported from when the wild sea was still ruled by apartheid sharks!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Healing The President

Healing Help for President Yar’Adua

By Biko Agozino

My book, ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine, has been recognized by the National Natural Medicine Development Agency for many months as the ‘Book of the Month’ in their digital library. I am pleased to say that the book has the solution to the health of President Yar’Adua. The solution would cost him absolutely nothing and also save our country from the contempt of the international com munity. Poor Nigerians will also benefit from my discoveries because my effective prescriptions cost absolutely nothing because they are based on drug-free and herb-free methods of healing!

They said that the man complained of chest pain and doctors diagnosed it as pericarditis with symptoms of cough and catarrh. None of our medical scientists in Nigeria and abroad is able to prescribe anything for the poor comrade and so we are enduring the shame of having our number one citizen being detained by common medical doctors who are dictating when he would be allowed to come back as our Servant Leader. What a shame!

We are not told details of what the illness is and so we can only speculate. It is important that we know exactly what the president is suffering from to avoid unnecessary panic whenever he is hospitalized. Nigerians have demonstrated their melodramatic Nollywood traits by organizing prayer carnivals or jockeying for his office rather offer a scientific response to what is a scientific problem in the age of the knowledge economy.

If it is common catarrh and chest pain, then we should be told so because there is nothing secret about the common cold. Millions of Nigerians catch it every year without having to rush to hospital. Many would just buy antibiotics (unnecessarily) from chemists and treat themselves but many more will just endure it and let it pass. What is shameful is that our number one citizen would go abroad for treatment when there could be effective remedies in the country. To put it bluntly, the president should save us the embarrassment of going abroad to be treated for the common cold because there is no known cure for the infection.

For the chest pain, the president should immediately check his posture. I read in one of the papers that he is sitting and watching football as he recovers in Saudi Arabia. Bad situation, if you ask me! Sitting on a couch or being propped up in bed to watch hours of television is exactly the kind of posture that would trigger chest pain. Snap out of it and do some gentle stretching for at least 30 minutes daily. As a powerful man, I am almost certain that the kind of couch he sits on at home and in the office is very soft. Wrong type if you have to sit there for hours and hours on end. Always sit with your back resting on a firm backrest and always sleep on your back for quick recovery from the chest pain without any medication!

If it was allergy to hay fever, the president should note that he may be catching it from his air conditioners. As a big man, he probably sleeps in an air-conditioned bedroom, drives everywhere in air-conditioned vehicles, works in air-conditioned offices and rarely gets to breathe fresh air. This could lead to something called air-conditioner fever which is caused by pores that the cold air blows into the enclosed environment. The air indoors is twice as polluted as the air outside. So for prevention, the president must make sure that he opens the windows in his bedroom, his office and his vehicles at least once a day. He should use fans more and air-conditioners less.

If the allergy is about to attack him by blocking his nose, he must not blow his nose. He should sniff it in and spit out to prevent the imminent attack from being full blown. If the cold is a full blown attack, all the president needed was to go off food, get plenty of bed rest, lots of fresh air, lots of fresh fruits and lots of water and he would be better within twenty-four hours. My 2006 book, ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine ISBN: 978-1-4116-6915- 4 ( has a chapter on how to prevent the common cold and the president may benefit from reading the book for this and other ailments that could be treated or prevented without any medication.

It is an easy to read book about bio-feedbacks and how to listen to the body in order to learn how to prevent or how to heal the body without relying on drugs or herbs for the cases of ill health covered. In it I reveal to any person who suffers from many chronic illnesses, the secrets of how to listen to the body and to understand what the body is saying and how to respond to the feedback from the body in order to stay more healthy.

ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine is good news to the poor people of the world who lack adequate access to modern medical technologies because the methods revealed in the book are not only drug-free, they are also free of charge because you do not need to buy anything other than the book to help you follow the instructions and take better control of your health.

ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine is a humorous step-by-step guide to help individuals rediscover the ancient wisdom that must have been with us from the beginning of time when there were no doctors or drugs and yet people lived for centuries because they could tap into knowledge systems that the modern world may have lost as we chase after pills and disregard anything that could not be sold as a commodity.

I wrote ADAM: Africana Drug-Free Alternative Medicine to help my family, friends and colleagues to learn from my personal discoveries but they soon started urging me to publish it and share it with the world generally. My aim is to get the book to readers as quickly as possible without making the book too expensive, hence I used on-demand printing to publish it.

I propose to share the discoveries in the book with the Nigerian public as part of the struggle for better health for all but especially for the poor who do not have the kind of money that made it possible for our Comrade President to travel abroad for such a small thing. If the government would approve a research grant for the clinical trials, I would design an experiment in which thousands try my proven ADAM principles while a control group tries the conventional methods and we will compare to see which is more effective.

The newly founded national institute for alternative medicine is a step in the right direction and I would like to collaborate with the institute in the clinical trials if funded. Apart from the flu and the common cold, my book also has discoveries on how to prevent migraine without drugs, how to heal backache without drugs or surgery, how to cure bellyache without drugs, and many more tips that could benefit both the rich and the poor.

It is sad to read that the president keeps being rushed abroad where the authoritarian doctors keep holding him hostage in order to claim a bigger payment in defiance of our national interest to have our Servant Leader back! When will the human rights lawyers bring a law suit against the foreign hospitals for kidnapping our Comrade President? I wish the president quick recovery but I also hope that his handlers are alert to issues of national interest in how his health is being handled. I hope that the issues will be carefully analyzed to identify lessons for the country and for the president personally.

Dr Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

By Biko Agozino

It was my daughter’s ninth birthday recently and she chose as one of her birthday activities to go and see the Disney movie, The Princess and The Frog. As we waited for the movie to start, she interviewed me about what anyone needs to do in order to be famous. I replied that anyone who writes a great book would become famous and anyone who stands up to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or makes great music or plays great sport, or discovers something important in science, or becomes a great politician or makes a lot of money and uses it to help the poor. I added that being famous is different from being notorious because the famous person is liked by many while the notorious person is disliked by many. I ended by suggesting that it is better to be a good person who is not famous than to be a bad person who is notorious. As we watched the movie later, I kept reviewing my responses to this unexpected question and kept wondering if I gave the right answers.
After the movie, I tried to reopen this discussion about fame by asking my daughter if she liked the movie and she said that she did. So I asked her what she liked about it and she said everything. I could not pursue the discussion further but promised myself that I will review the movie and hope that when my daughter is older, she will remember my review and understand how I felt about the movie that got a standing ovation from some in the audience. As the National Amusement Preview magazine put it, quoting the executive producer, John Lasseter, a Walt  Disney movie like The Princess and the Frog is famous or liked by many because it ‘is an ageless fairy tale…but with a fresh twist that combines everything we look for in great stories: comedy, adventure, music, and the kind of heart that sets Disney animation apart.’
One of the new twists is that the Princess is black for a change and my daughter made sure that she chose the black princess doll as one of her birthday presents soon after watching the movie. This is probably the first Disney animation with a black princess and I can see why my daughter loved everything about the movie for I have often called her Princess. Apart from that other Disney drama production of Cinderella in which the music and comedy star, Brandy, played the poor girl who was transformed into a princess by the fairy godmother, there is no other Disney movie that I know of in which the princess is a black woman.
But what the two Disney black princesses have in common is that neither of the two princes is a black man. In the case of Brandy’s Cinderella, the prince was Asian, a marketing strategy by Disney to bring in more audiences around the world. However, does this choice have anything to do with a certain reluctance to present black romance as a standard fairy tale that is ageless the way Eddy Murphy tried in Coming to America? In the case of The Princess and the Frog, the prince appears to be a poor European who had been disinherited by his parents in a fictional kingdom of Moldavia. Does the fact that he was not of Anglo Saxon ancestry and that he had fallen from grace serve in this movie as an indirect justification why Disney was ready to risk having a poor black woman kiss a dark white prince?
The poor black woman was laboring and skimping to save enough pennies to buy a restaurant that was her father’s dream before he worked himself to death to no avail. Here the young woman was about working herself to death as well to the scorn of others who jeered that she would never save enough to buy that restaurant. Even after she thought that she had saved enough for a down payment through her hard work, the real estate agents took her money only to tell her that another investor had offered them the full payment in cash and unless she could come up with the full payment for the dilapidated warehouse, she should kiss her dream goodbye. Here Disney is alluding to the discriminatory reality in real estate which makes it difficult for African Americans to get a fair loan especially in places like the New Orleans location of the movie where the recent memory of Hurricane Katharina remind us that African Americans and poor whites were concentrated in the poor neighborhoods that were flooded out.
Her own mother had labored as a maid for the rich white girl whose obese father enjoyed being waited upon and served as part of the motivation for the young girl, now a grown woman, to seek to realize the dream of owning a restaurant just so she could wait upon the rich all her life. Neither the rich white girl nor the poor black girl was presented with the now more common option of going on to college (where female students now outnumber male students by far) to earn higher education with which to access better paying jobs or access more profitable entrepreneurship. All the young women were presented with from the beginning in the story read by the black woman as the maid to the two young girls was the chance to kiss a frog and marry him when he turns into a prince! The black girl was horrified and said that she would never kiss a frog for any reason while the white girl said that she would kiss a million frogs and begged the nanny to read the story again and again.
The black girl learned from her own parents that hard work is the best way to make an honest living as President Barak Obama told students in his surprisingly controversial school address but look where all that hard work got her parents – perpetual poverty. Once upon a time in America, working hard was known as working like a Negro and look where all that hard work got African Americans after many centuries! We need to emphasize that working smart produces better results than working hard all the time. The Shadowman in the movie worked really hard  trying to use voodoo to change the porter of the prince into the prince and turn the prince into a frog in order to fool the rich white girl into marrying the pauper so that the voodoo man would get his hands on her father’s riches after he killed the rich man with a voodoo doll. He could have worked smart by looking for a woman of his own to fall in love with and build a family to prosper together. Instead, he spent his whole life trying to pimp a rich white girl to a poor white man and ended up losing his life to the forces of darkness that he slaved for and that he recruited to serve him. The blind voodoo woman did not work as hard but used smart tactics to get the two people who were now frogs to fall in love and kiss each other of their own volition in order to break the spell that Shadowman had used in turning them into frogs.
In the end, all the black people in the movie appeared to be created just to satisfy the needs of white people in different roles. None of them was put in the movie to address the urgent needs of the black community in New Orleans – from the joblessness of Shadowman, to the multiple-job working poor of the girl’s father and mother, to the disability of the voodoo mama. All that mattered was to make sure that the disgraced white prince regained his parents’ approval and thereby his inheritance by marrying a princess. The white people in the movie had power as the rich white man whose daughter had to be waited upon by a black woman and her unpaid child and as the real estate agents who decided who could buy what choice property or as the cruising rich being entertained by poorly paid musicians. In fact the white prince did not even have the courage to propose to the black girl who risked everything to kiss him in a vain attempt to turn him from being a frog into a human and in return for a promise to help her buy her dream restaurant and who labored to paddle him on the raft and cook for him on their way to find a cure. In the end, it was the poor girl who proposed to him by asking him not to kiss the rich white girl because she, the black girl, loved him. Then the rich white girl proceeded to plaster kisses all over the frog and claimed that she was doing it patronizingly for the poor black girl as if she did not have the ability to kiss her own frog especially now that she too was still a frog. 
As a black parent of a young black girl, I was uncomfortable about the moral of the story and I hope that when my daughter grows up, she will follow her father and shun the gospel of hard work (as I tell my students: hard work is for dummies) and instead choose the more rewarding smart work of highly educated or talented people. I hope that she would not go about the disreputable quarters of New Orleans looking for white frogs to kiss in order to be able to afford a dilapidated old warehouse where she could die on feet waiting on rich white people but that she would be using her great intelligence to invent the future (the motto of Virginia Tech) where everyone (irrespective of race, class or gender) would have equal chances to be the best that they could.
However, despite my reservations about The Princess and the Frog, the positive roles of the talking firefly and the alligator may have redeemed Disney’s storytelling by emphasizing the Copenhagen Green Summit message that we should live in harmony with our bio-diverse environment rather than burn everything in pursuit of greed.
Dr Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Mandela Day Activity

Mandela Day Reflections on Ekwe-Ekwe’s Discourses
By Biko Agozino

I wrote this on July 18 in response to the call by Baba Mandela that people all over the world should spend 67 minutes to do community work in honour of his 91st birthday. Bayeete aaaah Madiba! I must confess that it took me more than 67 minutes to read Ekwe-Ekwe’s essay and then write this review but that is a good omen that Saint Mandela will be with us much longer and forever continue to inspire the struggle for African national unity from Cape to Cairo. Happy Birthday Baba!

I was a student of Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe at the University of Calabar in the early 1980s when I took his introductory political science class as an elective. I credit him as one of those who helped to sharpen my critical thinking. I would have liked to take more classes with him but he resigned to join the editorial board of a national newspaper and an essay of his in the memorial to Bala Mohammed, published by the Kano State Government, suggests that he also associated in some capacity with the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) led by Mallam Aminu Kano; with S.G. Ikoku as National Vice Chairman and Chinua Achebe as the National Secretary.

Other progressive intellectuals in that party formation included the great Eskor Toyo who was probably my greatest informal teacher at Calabar University; Bala Mohammed who was lynched (supposedly because of his progressive radio broadcasts in Hausa language, the tapes of the broadcasts were burnt) by a mob that the police allegedly described as a ‘cooperative mob’ , according to Yusuf Bala Usman, another radical scholar who served as Secretary to the PRP Kaduna State Government of Balarabe Musa before the governor was impeached.

Something must have happened in that political party to traumatize these progressive scholars because they emerged from the PRP as if from a house on fire and mostly changed course ideologically in puzzling ways apart from Eskor Toyo who remained consistent. Achebe came out from the party and published The Trouble with Nigeria in which he launched into a bewildering critique of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik of Africa, the first president of the country, whom he dismissed as a quitter who never saw anything through. That polemical booklet interpreted the trouble with Nigeria mainly as the trouble of discriminating against the Igbo while promoting mediocrity in national leadership.

S.G. Ikoku emerged from PRP and bolted in the opposite ideological direction by joining the National Party of Nigeria, the then federal government ruling bourgeois party. Ekwe-Ekwe himself emerged from that experience with a consuming passion to campaign against the genocide that the Igbo suffered from 1966 to 1970 before and during the Nigerian-Biafran war. Yusuf Bala Usman went back to his teaching at Ahmadu Bello University and was soon fired by the military regime that toppled the second republic but he went to court and won his job back. However, his radical historiography began concentrating on a weird theory of how the oil in the Niger Delta was the product of the sedimentation of centuries of flora and fauna from the northern region and so the oil was actually derived from the north and not from the south. I look forward to reading an internal critique of what happened in that party (PRP) to produce these ideological reactions from eminent progressive intellectuals.

An indirect explanation came in the form of ‘Brazil discourses – Africa, the state, genocide and the future’, the text of ten lectures on Africa delivered by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe between 13 June and 10 July, 2009, at several Brazilian Universities. Opening with Ekwe-Ekwe’s characteristic incisive thinking, the long essay asserts that, ‘Arms, arming, armies and armed conflicts as well as a deleterious political economy characterize the tragedy of contemporary Africa.’ He goes on to lament that 15 million out of 40 million people killed in wars since the end of the Second World War in 1945 were killed in Africa and added; ‘- notably the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide executed by the Nigerian state and its allies (was) the foundational and most gruesome genocide in Africa to date where 3.1 million Igbo people were murdered…’

Did someone try to raise this issue within the PRP and demand that the party take a position towards advocating reparations (or demanding prosecutions, Ekwe-Ekwe’s preference) but was shouted down and ran out of town by the membership of the northern based progressive party? Ekwe-Ekwe’s Brazil lectures did not raise this question but he may have provided clues when he concluded by calling on his Brazilian audience to campaign against the sale of arms to Africa by the Brazilian military industrial complex because such arms would end up being used to continue the killing of Africans by what he calls repeatedly the genocide states in Africa.

Ekwe-Ekwe bemoans the fact that Africa has the most number of child soldiers in the world today. Africa also transfers more money to the international community than all the foreign aid and foreign direct investments coming into Africa while African émigrés send back more remittance than all the foreign aid. For instance, since 1981, Africa has transferred as debt servicing, ‘US$400 billion to the West – a sum which is in fact four times the size of the original US$100 billion principal of the continent’s “debt” as it stood in 1980 and in excess of the present value of US$350 billion.’ He blames this dilemma mainly on militarization which continues to enjoy the lion’s share (25%) of the GNP of African states at the expense of health (2.1%), education (2.4%), housing, agriculture and infrastructures.

He links the wars in Africa with the struggle to control and exploit the rich natural resources in Africa in the interest of the corrupt local elites and their foreign backers and he indicts British and American governments with being the major gun-runners in Africa because Africa still remains largely incapable of manufacturing small arms. He dismisses the dichotomy between legal arms from the West and illegal arms from Eastern Europe and observes that the consequences are the same since all the arms, legal and illegal, are used to kill Africans en-masse while Africa remains rich in natural and human resources with abundant arable land for agriculture.

He also dismissed the idea that Africa is full of failed states especially in the region that western media analysts like to refer to as Sub-Saharan Africa as if the inhabitants are sub-human. He dismissed such terminology by wondering if the other regions of the world should be renamed sub-this and sub-that in reference to their proximity to major geographical landmarks. According to him, the trouble with Africa is that all the states constructed by European colonizers ignored natural ethnic boundaries and lumped nationalities together under one country without consulting the people. What is to be done is to disarm the neo-colonial states, dissolve them and then reconstitute them along the lines that the people choose by themselves according to their cultural traditions. He concluded by calling on President Obama and African Brazilians to campaign for Africa to be designated an arms-free zone.

Unfortunately, it is true that some of Ekwe-Ekwe’s lines of reasoning have been used by Eurocentric scholars to dismiss African nationalism as inauthentic nationalism on the excuse that African nation states are actually multi-national states because they have competing ethnicities and competing loyalties. The irony is that all modern nation-states are indeed multicultural or multi-ethnic in form except for a few tragic cases in which the ruling groups attempted ethnic cleansing for the purpose of attaining the unattainable goal of homogeneity in a modern national population. The tragedy is that all the states that attempted to constitute a homogeneous population ended up almost completely destroyed by the forces of differentiation.

A few examples will suffice. Can you think of any country today that has only one language and therefore only one ethnicity or that attempted to construct such a fiction? That is right, Germany comes to mind and everyone knows that the country was almost ground into the dust of history as a result of that xenophobia. Japan tried it too but pulled back from the edge of the abyss. But closer home in Africa, the examples of states with only a single language include, surprise-surprise, Rwanda, Somalia, and Bantustans! Do I need to say what happened to them? In Nigeria, the Niger Delta activists are actually killing more Niger Delta people than anyone else in their battle for homogeneous control over oil company crumbs.

On the contrary, the more multicultural a country is today, the more vibrant the more promising it tends to be. For instance, while speaking in the dynamic multicultural country of Brazil, Ekwe-Ekwe never called for the dissolution of the country and its reconstitution along the lines of Amazonian tribes, African Brazilians and European descended people as separate nations. Instead, he simply called on them to campaign against arms sales by their country to Africa but without advocating for those of them, African Brazilians in particular, who still suffer racial discrimination despite the prosperity of their country, who wished to return to a united Africa should be encouraged to campaign for African Unity to enable them to enjoy dual citizenship like the Euro-Brazilians.

It is worth noting that OXFAM and United Nation agencies that Ekwe-Ekwe critiqued for their limited humanitarianism are already campaigning to bring about an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that would regulate the ‘responsible’ transfer of arms. The call for Africa to be declared an arms-free zone appears impractical given that the arms trade is largely legal as Ekwe-Ekwe admits and that even if arms are banned completely, the weapons used by perpetrators of genocide need not be sophisticated weapons but often crude clubs and machetes as the Rwanda genocide reminds us. It is up to us Africans to refuse to buy weapons of mass destruction and concentrate our resources on socio-economic development.

Ekwe-Ekwe dismissed the call for African Unity under the suspicion that it would give rise to a genocidal state but I believe that he is mistaken. A United Africa would be the antidote to genocide in Africa because no section of the Peoples Republic of Africa United Democratically (PRAUD) would wake up one morning, slap their buttocks (as Ekwe-Ekwe used to say in class in Calabar) and decide to commit genocide against their neighbours without contending with the might of a united Africa to step in and stop it or deter it without waiting for permission from the local state. The savings we would make from avoiding the multiplications of defense expenditures would go to infrastructural development, education, health and industrialization for the prosperity of our people. Our people would be free to move to any part of the Peoples Republic of Africa and settle without undue fear just as the citizens of all powerful countries in the world today.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


By Biko Agozino

Analysts are slow to give credit to whom honor is due for a key decision of G8 leaders in Italy. I propose that we give the credit to our self-proclaimed ‘Servant Leader’, President Umaru Yar’Adua, who must have used quiet diplomacy to sway the G8 leaders in the desired direction. Some analysts were quick to point out that the $20 billion grants for agriculture agreed by the leaders was a little step in the right direction but complained that it was still too small to solve the huge problem especially in Africa. No one wondered where the idea came from in the first place.

Some wrongly suggest that brother Barak had to bully his G8 colleagues to get them to agree on the initial $15 billion and then he had to bully them some more to raise it to $20 billion shortly afterwards. This is unlikely because the likeable President Obama does not have it in his character to bully even an ant. Moreover, the way the initial sum was agreed only for the amount to be increased shortly was indicative of the fact that the leaders did not plan to make such a decision or they would have agreed on the target amount in advance.

So who done it? I wish to suggest that President Yar’Adua of Nigeria, was the only leader from the developing countries at the G8 meeting with an antecedent of having provided a similar policy in the form of a 200 billion naira credit facility for agriculture in Nigeria this year. As he reluctantly boasted to The Guardian Newspaper in an exclusive interview in April 2009, such a policy had never been implemented in Nigeria before.

It is true that Yar’Adua’s predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, had proposed a similar policy but on a smaller scale and no one is certain what became of it. I recall that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then finance minister, had announced out of the blue that 50 billion naira would be made available as credit to cassava farmers for commercial export-focused production. Sister Ngozi also promised the innovation that 20% of the fund would be set aside for female farmers and I advised her immediately to make it 50-50 considering that women did the lioness’ share of the work on farms in Nigeria. I hope that both Yar’Adua and the G8 would observe gender equity in the disbursement of the huge investments that they have promised to the agricultural sector.

As I observed in newspaper opinions and interview responses at the time, the policy sounded very similar to proposals that I had announced barely weeks before the Federal Government adopted parts of it. In my preliminary campaign for office of Governor of Enugu state in the 2007 elections, I had proposed that one sure way to turbo-charge the economy of the state was to disburse billions of naira annually as grants, not credits, to the people of the state to invest productively as they saw fit. I pointed out that this was the trend in the industrialized countries and that we need to emulate such a policy if we hope to eradicate poverty from our lands. Of course, I was pleased to hear that the Federal Government was ready to adopt my policy option merely weeks after I made it public but I pointed out the errors in the interpretation of the policy – I called for grants and not credits, I called for such grants to be given to all sectors of the economy and not just to agriculture and surely not for one crop like cassava and definitely not just for export production, not a one-off but a systematic part of the annual budget with at least 10% of the budget to be set aside as grants to the people year after year!

In the past, as I have been arguing without fear of contradiction, the leaders of the developing countries routinely attempted to dictate agricultural policy to the leaders of the developed countries. They usually argued like this – ‘Boss, you know that we do not give a dime as subsidies to our farmers while you give hundreds of billions to yours as subsidies annually. Following the gospel of free market, we insist that you should eliminate farm subsidies to level the playing field.’ Nonsense, thought the leaders of the developed countries. Just because you neglect your farmers is no reason for you to wish to dictate that we neglect ours too.

I have always been convinced that the wiser policy was to support our own farmers and other investors in our economy to the best of our ability and watch our dynamic people take it and run with massive wealth creation despite the inevitable losses in some investments as is always the case. The fear of inflation is raised by critics of such a fiscal policy but my proposal is not for consumption but for production and the government would be able to recover the grants through taxation of the profits of the investors, income taxes on their employees and VAT on purchases.

I have argued repeatedly that this is part of my answer to the Niger Delta question and the question of predatory crimes of kidnapping and armed robbery across the country. If we guarantee that at least 10% of the budgets at the Federal, State, and Local Government levels would be reserved for disbursement to the people as individuals or cooperatives annually, a lot of the youth who are seduced into violent crimes for monetary gains or as protest against underdevelopment could have been empowered to create wealth, jobs and increased happiness in our country. Instead, what we have is brazen kleptocracy in which a few people raid the economy and horde the loot abroad, leaving many people with little option but to work in the devil’s workshop.

My humble hypothesis is that our servant leader, who bravely adopted this policy suggestion as part of his Seven Point Agenda, went to the G8 leaders and looked them straight in the eyes and pontificated: ‘There is an old African saying that if you give a man fura de nunu (fresh yogurt), you feed him for a while but if you give him a cow and teach him how to milk the cow, you feed him for life. For too long, you have acted as humanitarians who provided food aid to the many needy people especially in Africa. We commend you for this generosity without which millions could have died of starvation. But have you considered the option of providing grants to agriculture along the lines of your farm subsidies so that our farmers may be better able to feed our people and even have some to spare for export? Such grants might save you money on food aid and the saving could then be awarded to the poor unemployed youth in your cities to enable them to set up their own enterprises. It is a win-win option for all!’

The G8 leaders must have looked at each other and wondered why they never thought of that before. I hope that brother Barak Obama would take this insight further by announcing an Obama Plan for Africa and inviting a coalition of the willing to contribute to the fund annually to help Africa overcome centuries-old disadvantages. When Africa is empowered to release the immense economic potentials in the continent, the whole world would benefit because Africa would be able to buy more from and sell more to the rest of the world as China and India are beginning to do. I hope that African states will recognize the wisdom of this policy and continue it annually even if the G8 leaders fail to continue such grants. I hope that the Peoples Republic of Africa will soon emerge to continue this policy and end the humiliation that Africans continue to endure in the midst of plenty. Obviously, this extends to all the poor in the world if their governments adopt similar policies of investing 10% of the budgets in the people-initiated research and development or commercial ventures.

Monday, June 22, 2009


By Biko Agozino

Dear Prof.,

If to say na me be President Yar’Adua, I for reply your long letter like this: Thank you for your so long a letter in the tradition of Mariama Ba. How madam and pickin them dey? Na waa for you brother Niyi self. You done dey turn oyibo o! How you take write your brother so long a letter and you no even ask about family, unlike Mariama? Plus, na only oyibo man go write one letter put am for three envelopes say this one na part one, that one na part two and then this last one na part three. African man go put all the parts for one envelope to save money for stamp. Abi na lie? You sabi how much poor man go pay to buy The Guardian for three straight days (May 26-28) just to read your dogon turenchi? You know say your letter dey sweet like your poetry wey we no dey miss for Sunday Tribune in those days. I beg make you no stop o, make you keep on writing a column now. I beg now, e joor, biko nu, mbo, dualla.

Anyway sha, joke na joke and Joké na person name. The national problems that you bemoaned in your letter(s) also preoccupy yours truly, wallai tu lai. I thank you for adding your powerful voice to the task of seeking solutions. In the words of the young Nigerian Pan Africanist, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who was killed in a tragic motor accident in Kenya on Africa Day and buried in Funtua recently; Do Not Agonize, Organize! Feel free to join us in doing what you can to help solve the problems.

But Prof, even you will admit that you were going over the top when you concluded by suggesting that the re-branding of our country could be represented with the metaphor of re-branding of a rotting corpse. Haba! Quite to the contrary, Insha Allah, our people dey kamkpe, we continue to be vibrant and very much alive, for as you said in one of your poems, ‘Our Earth Will Not Die’, and as you put it in your letter, our people remain dynamic. Our task is to tap the dynamism for the development of the people in a sound environment.

I was also surprised that you heaped all the bucks at my door mouth without a word of advice to the international community that created the financial meltdown that is affecting the local economy on how to lend a hand while they spend hundreds of billions to rescue their own firms. Nor did you have any words for local politicians and residents to please behave themselves in a democratic manner. Our people should learn to lose elections gracefully or go to court to challenge the results reasonably instead of all that magomago and gragra to intimidate voters or influence electoral officials. Four years time, you have a chance to try again, it no be by force. The same goes for militants who boast about kidnapping and killing workers in Nigeria – let them go to court if they have a genuine case.

My next surprise is that you did not mention anything positive that we are doing on the ground in Nigeria. I am pleased to tell you that I discuss our Seven Point Program with other African servant leaders and I hope that they will accept and implement the key principles. For instance, we are making available this year, a two hundred billion naira credit facility for commercial farmers. This has never happened in this country before whereas Europe and North America routinely give hundreds of billions annually to their farmers as farm subsidies alone.

In the past leaders of developing countries have tried to lobby that the developed countries should withdraw subsidies from their own farmers to level the playing field. None of them figured out that it was much more practical to provide as much help as they could to their own farmers on an annual basis as Professor Biko Agozino has been arguing for some time now. This has changed from this year in Nigeria. Do you advise that we continue to invest hundreds of billions annually to support farmers in this country? As I told The Guardian, agriculture contributes 60% to our GDP compared to 20% from petroleum and gas and 5% from industry. We need to build up our capacities in all areas with the state acting as an activist and catalyst for development in partnership with the private sector and the community at large. Shouldn’t we make similar grants to the arts, research and development, small businesses, inventions, sports, health, education, power-generation, transportation, annually?

Bros, let me end before my letter gets as long as yours. You know say I no sabi book reach you, Prof! Thanks again brother Niyi for writing. Please write again soon and keep the suggestions for innovative policy options coming. Make you greet your family for me. If na me be him, na so I for reply you. We go see now, Se gwo be, Ka e mesia nu, Alafia.

For those who missed Osundare's Letter(s), follow the link below:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Miracle of Harlem?

By Biko Agozino
‘The Harlem Miracle’ as reported by The New York Times in an opinion article by David Brooks on May 7, 2009 is noteworthy if only because a Harvard University Economist, Roland Fryer, claimed that the Harlem Children’s Zone study changed his life by making him hope for more than marginal gains in closing the academic achievement gaps between white and black students. I wonder why the focus is on the gaps between white and black when Asians appear to be the ones setting the achievement standards at the moment. Perhaps it is too much to expect that black students could rival Asian ones.

Education reform programs, according to Brooks, tend to produce small 0.1 to 0.3 standard deviations gains whereas the Harlem Children’s Zone experiment produced 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. The trouble is that standard deviations are double-edged swords; the bigger the standard deviation, the wider the spread or distribution of the population from the mean, positively and also negatively. In other words, standard deviations of 1.3 and 1.4 might also mean that the outliers below the mean are farther away from the mean than standard deviations of 0.1 or 0.3. Before we start celebrating standard deviations, we should also know what are the minimum and maximum scores and what is the measure of central tendency or the mean without which standard deviations are meaningless by themselves.

Dr Fryer is quoted in the article as using the analogy of curing cancer to celebrate the report that Promise Academy ‘eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students’. This might not be the appropriate metaphor to use because it assumes that there is something wrong with the black students or that they were suffering from an illness that the school cured. The problem might lie in the teaching methods or learning methods rather than some disease within the students themselves. Before we try to replicate the ‘cure’ as he urged, we must be careful not to produce iatrogenic repercussions or the creation of a disease in an otherwise healthy student as a side-effect of trying to heal ‘literally and figuratively’.
In the opinion of Mr. Brooks, the disease of Harlem students is that they lack middle class values such as being goal-oriented, exercising self-control and knowing how to work hard and that the experiment inculcated these values in the students by teaching them how to shake hands, how to look people in the eye when talking with them and not to accept excuses. He recommends New York Times articles like ‘Whatever It Takes’ (whatever?) and ‘Sweating the Small Stuff’ (no air-conditioners in the classroom?) to support this opinion but that begs the question whether goal-orientation, self-control and hard work are essentially middle-class values? Some of the hardest working people in the world are not middle class at all and just because poor people do not have the means to live all their dreams is not to say that they have no goal-orientation. Is there any evidence that poor students lack self-control?
Believing that this is the case, the Miracle of Harlem proceeded to detain black students in school double the time that white students spend in school if they are below their grade and one and half the time that their white peers spend at school, if they are performing at their grade level! That is no miracle, it seems punitive and prejudiced. It has always been assumed by black parents that their children would work twice as hard as white children in order to get a fair shake in societies structured in dominance but for the educational system to accept this handicap as the ‘cure’ for the supposed ‘cancer’ afflicting black students is to institutionalize discrimination.
What if there is a different method of learning that would produce even better results without having to detain black children in school for up to twice the time it takes white students to learn their Maths and English? What if school work is not really hard work but smart work which students could master effectively if only they knew how to study smart rather than hard? That method is described in two of my blogs: ‘For a Culture of Learning’ and ‘When the Piranha met the Honey Bee at school’ in (below) and I would be happy to know if Dr Fryer and his team would also study this method that produces better results for students who work smart and not necessarily hard.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Series Editor Interview by Ashgate Publishers

Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations
Series Editor: Biko Agozino, The University of the West Indies
Selected titles from thisseries
This series brings together research from a range of disciplines including criminology, cultural studies and applied social studies, focusing on experiences of ethnic, gender and class relations. In particular, the series examines the treatment of marginalized groups within the social systems for criminal justice, education, health, employment and welfare (for more information about the series:

An Interview with the Series Editor, Biko Agozino

What encouraged you to enter academia?
I guess that it was the fact that in the village where I grew up, teachers were the middle class professionals that I had daily contact with and I admired them. My parents were peasant farmers and I laboured with them on the farms for meager returns. I made up my mind early that farming was not for me and focused my attention on book work with the aim of becoming a teacher. Whenever the teachers asked us what we would like to be when we grew up I always wrote about wanting to be a teacher and so it has been.

What made you (decide to) initiate this series?
It was a case of, ‘you can’t put a good book down’. I had my book proposal from my doctoral dissertation rejected again and again. One small progressive publisher appeared promising after the series editorial committee recommended my proposal for acceptance but the publisher rejected the recommendation on the ground that there was no market for a book on black women and the criminal justice system or else there would be a book on the topic already. Some logic. Then I came to Ashgate and two series editors turned the proposal down, claiming that it was too specialized to fit in. Fortunately, a young commissioning editor, Kate Hargreaves, went through the files and decided that she rather liked the proposal and if it would not fit into any existing series, then she would launch a new series with my book. And would I like to be the series editor, she asked. Wow, I was just happy to be getting my first book contract. To be asked to edit a series on the basis of that first book must be one of the highest honours out there in academia land. I jumped at the offer even though some senior colleagues warned me that it would be too much work for one individual and advised that I should recommend an editorial committee to the publishers. Over a decade later, I do not think that it is hard work, it is fun to work with Ashgate.

What are your academic background and research interests?
My first degree was a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours in Sociology from the University of Calabar, Nigeria, 1985; my Master of Philosophy was in Criminology from the Law Faculty of the University of Cambridge, (Trinity Hall College), England, 1990; and my Doctor of Philosophy was in Law and Society from the Law Faculty of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1995. My first tenured appointment was as Assistant Lecturer in the department of Sociology, University of Calabar, 1987-1989. My second tenured appointment was as a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice, Liverpool John Moores University 1994-1999 and the series started from there in 1997; then I relocated to Indiana University of Pennsylvania as Associate Professor of Criminology, 1999-2003; then to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest historically black university in the US as Associate Professor of Social Relations, 2003-2006; and from there I relocated to the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago where I served as Professor of Sociology, Acting Head of Department of Behavioural Sciences, Coordinator of the Criminology Unit and Deputy Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, 2006-2009; and from August 2009 I will be relocating to Virginia Tech University as tenured Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Africana Studies Program.

Very briefly, where do you see your discipline going in the future?
I see my discipline (sociology) going more in the direction of critical scholarship, direct community engagement by public intellectuals and the increasing importance of interdisciplinary scholarship. All these could have been predicted from the focus of the Ashgate Publishers Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations that I have had the privilege of editing from the start.

What has been the highlight of your academic career so far?
The highlight of my academic career so far is to hear my peers saying that my work has launched a new paradigm in my field, the decolonization paradigm. This is the sub-title of my first book with Ashgate that launched this series and a colleague who reviewed the book was the first to identify the originality of my emphasis on the decolonization model. Since then, I have elaborated on this theme (especially in my 2003 Pluto Press publication, Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason which was hailed by a reviewer as launching a sub-field of Post-Colonial Criminology). More colleagues are proposing to write books on this theme and a course on Decolonization Criminology has actually been taught by a colleague in Canada. I am honoured by this positive affirmation of my work by colleagues internationally.

Whose achievements would you like to emulate within your own field?
That will have to be the great Stuart Hall. Here is a black man from Jamaica who has only a first degree in English but who transgressed disciplinary boundaries by becoming a Professor of Sociology and in the process helped to create a new discipline, Cultural Studies, while remaining a public intellectual, ever so critical and ever so committed to community engagement. Interestingly, while I was doing the field work for the book on Black Women and the Criminal Justice System, I heard Hall on the Open University television broadcast, deconstructing the poem, Tiger, by Blake and I was transfixed, watching this brother that I had not met but wished that I could meet. Low and behold, the very next morning, who do you think that I bumped into on Kilburn High Road? The great man himself, looking very ordinary and pedestrian. I started to holler as we used to do in Nigeria, Proooof! Prooof! He smiled and asked me what I was doing in London, he must have known from my theatrical accent that I was another Third World native like himself. I told him my research topic and he said, ‘that must be very challenging’. Exactly my own feeling even though some colleagues tried to discourage me on the ground that a man would find it difficult to do research on women. They would ask me to change my topic to black men or to corruption in Nigeria but my guru, Hall, saw where I was headed and he invited me to his home nearby to discuss my research. He asked if I had a pen to write his phone number and I said that I would remember it any day. He gave me the number and walked on and I rushed into the shop nearby to borrow a pen and write it down to be double sure. When I visited his cramped study with books everywhere. He asked me to explain my perspective and as soon as I started to talk about black women facing race, class and gender discrimination in the criminal justice system, he pounced and told me that I was talking about articulation. But, excuse me, from what I know, articulation is about the modes of production and all that. Yes, he said, but you can abstract it and apply it to social relations as well. He gave me a 1980 UNESCO book on race in which he has a chapter on race and class articulation and I have never looked back theoretically.

What book (not from the series, but generally) has most influenced your own work?
That will be The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon which we were made to read and re-read as undergraduate students when we took electives in Political Science with young radical lecturers like Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe. The book remains an inspiration to me that someone could come from the Third World, like myself, and make original contributions to knowledge that will last eternally.

What do you find particularly interesting about your role as series editor?
The most interesting thing is that it is close to being a cross between a genius and a genie. I make wishes come true for authors but not as a servant of the wishful writer since I can be a hard-task critic too. A colleague tells and retells a story of attending my author-meets-critics session at the American Society of Criminology. He approached me timidly afterwards to ask if I could comment on his book proposal before he sent it to publishers. I asked him what the book was about and when he told me, I invited him to submit it to Ashgate and told him that I would like to publish it for him in my Ashgate series. He could not believe that a series editor had that much power to grant wishes. Neither did I but working with Ashgate is empowering.
Any advice for people wanting to publish in your series?

Keep writing and never stop rewriting. Do not write one book and wait until it is published before you start the next one. At any point in time, make sure that you have at least ten projects at different levels of completion and as one gets published, start a new one to take its place. This is the recommendation of Charles Wright Mills in the appendix to The Sociological Imagination where he talked about scholarly craftsmanship. But specifically for my series (oh that sound great, my very own series), make sure that you reflect the wisdom of Stuart Hall by asking how your analysis could be deepened through race-class-gender articulation, disarticulation and re-articulation.

What was the last book you read?
Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean by Colin Palmer. This was sent to me recently by Erica, the daughter of Williams, after I confessed that I had not read it and it is thrilling. The chapter on Eric Williams’ engagement with Africa is my favourite. But also interesting is the analysis of how discrimination was experienced within his family and in his schools where skin colour was privileged above contents of character but he escaped much of the discrimination because he had ‘good hair’ and, above all, because he displayed powerful intelligence. Before I read the book, I had visited the Eric Williams Memorial Collection where I discovered to my amazement that I have a lot in common with Dr Williams although I do not have his type of hair – his office desk is as messy as mine; I frown like he did by narrowing the gap between the eyebrows instead of lining the forehead by raising the eyebrows; when not smiling, my lips curl down slightly at the end just like his; I walk like him; I studied on scholarships and got first class honours degree like him; published my doctoral dissertation to critical acclaim a little like him; taught in a historically black college in America just as he did; and relocated to Trinidad and Tobago just as he did. Of course, I am no Eric Williams for there would never be another but I am proud to know that I have traits similar to his and of course he must have had traits that I do not have and may not want to have (tobacco abuse) and traits that he had that I would love to share (statesmanship); that is what makes each of us an individual.
Interview kindly received May 2009.

Friday, April 24, 2009



By Biko Agozino and a brother

I just read Pambazuka online and sent this comment about Shivji’s paper:

‘Professor Shivji's Dudley Lecture was a good read. I marvel at the inventiveness of Swahili and other African languages - turning modernization (utandawazi) into a network of thieves (utandawizi) effortlessly. In Igbo language, the closest equivalent would be Otu Uwa (one world) and Otu Ugha (liars club). I particularly enjoyed the reflection of the thoughts of Julius Nyerere on how he was wrong to oppose Kwame Nkrumah’s proposal for a unity government with the gradualist alternative of regional unity first. Also revealing is the information that Nkrumah started out as a gradualist himself by championing the regional unity stepping stone approach before quickly abandoning it for the Union government option.

However, I was expecting that the publication of the lecture as a book chapter would reflect what questions Issa was asked in Nsukka and how he answered them. For instance, with the global African presence, is it wise to dismiss globalisation simply as imperialism when it is clear that Pan Africanism was a globalized movement from the start? According to Shivji, ‘I will talk of African nationalism as an anti-thesis of globalisation. For me globalisation is imperialism.’ Why not attempt a theory of the democratization of globalization as Chomsky advised given that the first call for globalization came from the left – ‘workers of all countries, Unite!’?

This omission became glaring in the lecture especially because there was no serious analysis of slavery and its consequences. Rather, Issa took the Berlin conference initiative of 1850 as the first scramble for Africa whereas Dr Eric Williams correctly identified the first scramble as the centuries long enslavement of tens of millions of Africans and concluded correctly that what Shivji called the second scramble is actually the third.

Furthermore, what did Shivji mean by the quote: ‘Remember that the insurrection of ideas precedes the insurrection of the gun’? Speaking in Nsukka which was the battle ground in the Biafra-Nigerian civil war that claimed the lives of some of our brightest minds, including the irreplaceable Chris Okigbo, was he not being insensitive by implicitly invoking the insurrection of the gun in a university setting? I believe that Issa was harking back to the old maxim that armed struggle was the essential way to liberate Africa but we cannot accept that uncritically today given the damage that armed conflicts have wreaked on Africa and continue to do so.

Rather, we should embrace the African philosophy of non-violence which Gandhi admitted that he learned from the Zulu and move forward to build the Peoples Republic of Africa United Democratically (PRAUD) and extend it to the willing Caribbean with dual citizenship for the African Diaspora who desire it. We need to emphasize that our aim is not to fight against Europe and north America who have nothing to lose from African unity, our goal is to serve our people and not to fight against others as China successfully demonstrates. Do Not Agonize, Organize! I sent this to a respected brother who wrote back defending Shivji even before he read Shivji’s chapter:

‘I haven't read the lecture and will have to do so to fully understand where you are coming from. Understand your comment on problems with silencing/marginalization of slavery in a discourse on colonialism but not clear on what's wrong with the idea of insurrection of thought before insurrection of the gun. The quote, as you present it, does not seem to imply a fetishization of the insurrection of the gun as you suggest in finding him insensitive to Biafara and other concerns. A good point on non violence but I don't see the relevance in relation to your quote from Shivji; indeed, the Shivji quote you present seems to support your emphasis on the power of ideas=2 0over guns. And on globalization: There is an imperialist globalization to be rejected but does that mean in doing so one does not/can not recognize/imagine another form of global exchange. I'll be surprised - nay, shocked - if someone like Shivji is not aware of historic calls for global solidarity from the left. I'll have to disagree with the notion that the first call for globalization came from the left, as the worldwide expansion of capitalism (the beginnings of globalization) surely predates 'the left'. Will try and read Shivji later.’ And then I replied to him:

You are a hard marker you know, glad I did not take your class or you may have messed up my GPA. Okay, I might have been too hard on Shivji myself but the teleology from ideas to guns appears to privilege the gun ‘in the final analysis’. With shottas scaring the nation with them amanation (Junior Marvin), we must be skeptical of any notions of militarism, however disguised. Capitalism was never a call for globalization but a call for bourgeois nationalism. Marx and Engels were the first to see beyond Smith’s myopic Wealth of Nations in their critique o f impoverished political economy to identify the global wealth of the workers of the world.

Yes, let us reject imperialist globalization but more urgently, we must concentrate on building the democratic globalization instead of the essentialism of fighting globalization as if it is all negative. Cuba fights less against anyone despite the 50 year old blockade and more for the people, hence its success in using the African philosophy of non-violence to concentrate on education, health and social services as the best defenses against imperialist aggression. Japan did the same after world war 2 and so did Germany, China too to some extent, hence their relative insulation from the meltdown. I hope that the new Africa will concentrate on building and not on fighting.

‘Ah, my brother, you are curing while creating new ailments. Still haven't read Shivji so you might be right about his teleology on armed insurrection.

To critique and fight capitalist globalization is not to deny positives that emerge out of the process. After all, none other than Marx saw positives in the worldwide expansion of capitalism; indeed, he was over the top in his analysis and predictions of the progressive forces unleashed by capitalism. I don't think anti-globalization folks can be reduced to being essentialists who don't grasp the complexity and contradictory processes of globalization, but they do see much in it to resist and fight and no contradiction in doing that and pursuing good education and health services. Quite often they have to fight powerful elements of globalization to pursue these objectives, to democratize globalization.

Cuba is such a bad example of your non violence ethic, having fought countless wars in Africa and Latin America as part of their defense against 'imperialist aggression'. And they did this while concentrating on education, health and social services. You are in danger of setting up some binary formulations in the quest to assert the philosophy of non violence. Japan and Germany are also weak examples, given that their militarism was curbed by external forces, and they20play and an important role in the militarism of the lone superpower. I don't know about their relative insulation from the meltdown; the crises in Japan and Germany are profound. As for China, the reasons for their success and potential go way beyond any philosophy of non violence (which I don't know to be their philosophy; after all, the party that rules fought a serious war for the opportunities to address issues of education, health, etc). To understand China's trajectory we need to pay more attention to the hidden abodes of social relations of production there and their peculiar relations hip with the market (incidentally, Smith might have more to offer in this exercise than Marx but I'l leave that for another time). Such an exercise would reveal a lot more about the dynamic within China than fishing for examples of non violent philosophy.

'Capitalism was never a call for globalization but a call for bourgeois nationalism'. I disagree. Capitalists, as part of the process of accumulation and the pursuit of profit, have long called for unbridled access to the resources of the globe; it is a core feature of globalization. Bourgeois nationalism is but one form of rule that has governed this process. I think you are in danger of treating linked phenomena as conceptual isolates.

We all hope that the new Africa will concentrate on building and not fighting but I know we all remember how many in the 'old' Africa had to fight for the opportunity to build, and this was not because of some penchant for militarism.’


I accept your point that these things are articulated and not separate. I do agree that non-violence is not pacifism, after all Gandhi learned it from the Zulu of all warlike people. My argument remains that non-violence is the major contribution of African civilization to world civilization and that all people who have adopted it have reaped greater dividends from it than from warfarism. This includes even Uncle Santa where our people have made huge impacts not just from jumping into all the bacchanal there but more by offering intellectual and moral leadership in the direction of non-violence, as Obama seems to be offering; it is an African thing for a presidential candidate in the middle of a war to take an anti-war stance and still win, against a decorated war veteran, never happened before.

I strongly believe that the success of the post-war economies of Germany and Japan owe a lot to their concentration on the economy and relative withdrawal from military aggression. Of course, Marx was right that capitalism is not all bad and no good, it is indeed better than feudalism but still not the best for humanity and what is to be done is to form a party of the working people but not to form an army; Lenin added that what is to be done is to establish a newspaper with which to organize the party, not to form a suicide squad. Yes, Mao said that it is a false contradiction – violence versus non-violence – because it depends on the nature of the challenge. If the challenge is militaristic, then it is inevitable that the resistance would involve some military means as Fanon established although some people misunderstand him as the apostle of violence while he was showing that violence is often evidence of psychiatric problems.

But if the onslaught is ideological, economic and technological, then that is where we need to concentrate our efforts as the great Bob Marley theorized: ‘I and I don’t come to fight flesh and blood but spiritual wickedness in high places, so while they fight you down stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises, for I and I don’t expect to be justified by the laws of men, by the laws of men, though they find you guilty….’ Oh sure, he swore that he shot the sheriff but then the solution (as he saw it) is to legalize the herbs so that he would not be told to kill the seeds he planted and not to go on shooting sheriffs (with music and the wonderful thing about music is that when it hits you feel no pain). Sheriffs have more guns and would shoot more rebels down more easily.

The way to end wars, according to Marley, is not by building a stronger army but by ensuring that there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; that the colour of one’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of one’s eyes. That was why there was no right to bear arms in the 10 point program of the Black Panther Party. I think that it will take a whole book to flesh out the arguments I am outlining here.

The brother concluded that the fun of the exchange was over because this last posting of mine clarified that we did not have any differences to debate anymore. Onwards to the Peoples Republic of Africa!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

'If' and if not?

By Biko Agozino

The poem, ‘If…’ by Rudyard Kipling was one of my favourites in High School after I saw a copy on the wall of my English Literature teacher. I copied it by hand on a large poster and kept in my room at home as an inspiration. However, another literature teacher from a girls’ school near home visited me at home once and saw the poem and immediately critiqued my poor handwriting. True to Kipling’s advice, I accepted the criticism and gave as my excuse, the fact that the civil war led to the loss of all the furniture in our school and at the end we sat on the floor and used cement blocks as writing desks with which to learn how to write. The teacher accepted my excuse but encouraged me to work on improving my handwriting.

That should have been the end of the matter but one of my cousins was furious with the teacher for trying to disrespect my prized poster poem. He challenged the teacher to look beyond the handwriting and see the philosophy of the poem as a guide for a young man growing up. Before I knew it, we were engaged in a heated debate about the contents of the poem.

The teacher said that it was actually his original intention to call attention to the content of the poem and that he was glad that my cousin raised it. He said that he did not trust an English man to provide the philosophy with which young African men should guide their lives long after the end of colonialism. He called it an example of colonial mentality. We all disagreed with him and said that it does not matter if a poem is written by an African or by a European, a good poem is a good poem.

The teacher disagreed with us and insisted that what is good for the rat is not always good for the cat and vice versa. So we challenged him to say exactly why he was against the poem. He invited us to read the poem more closely with him and ask the author, ‘What if not’ at every line, would you not be a man still even if you lived your life in a different way from his colonial prescriptions?

First of all, keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you could be a very dangerous thing especially if you are the one responsible for them losing their heads. In that case, you are not likely to keep your head for much longer. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, then you must be smoking or drinking something that you should not be smoking or drinking. When all men doubt you, it is not just some men, say a minority or even a majority, but all men, then you had better re-examine your own confidence for signs of false confidence. Otherwise, you might just come across as an arrogant aristocrat who does not care about what everybody thinks.

Waiting and not being tired of waiting could be simply a sign of lethargy and a dangerous one at that especially if you are talking about decolonization and the colonial masters want you to wait because you are not ripe for independence, as if you are some kind of bananas. Sometimes, waiting is not a virtue if you have waited centuries already, sometimes it is good to say that you are indeed tired of waiting and it does not follow that you will be less of a man when you tell the colonial overlord to get off your back, the teacher reasoned and we nodded.

How about not telling lies even when people lie about you or not hating people who hate you and yet not looking too good nor talking too wise? We asked him, trying to salvage something from my prized poem. He sucked his teeth at us and said that those are not prescriptions for being a man but prescriptions for being a good child. A good man will clear his name when people lie about him and a good man would hate it when the strong oppresses the weak. Who is to say what is too good or too wise? He asked us and without waiting for an answer, he told us not to mind the English man who thinks that he will always be better than us. Instead we should try to be the best that we could.

The next stanza got even worse as the teacher queried who Kipling thought that he was addressing anyway. Why was he saying, ‘If you can dream, if you can think…’ Of course, we can dream and think because we are human just like him and a colonized people do not need to be reminded that dreams are no masters for they still struggled against the nightmare masters that they wanted to free themselves from. We reminded the teacher that maybe he was the knave who was twisting the truths of Kipling to make a trap for us fools but he fired back that we were no fools but free men and that poetry is not truth but arts. As for watching the things you gave your life broken, he said that a good man would at least try to protect or defend the country he gave his life to instead of just standing there and waiting for the invaders to destroy it before meekly trying to rebuild with, of all things, worn out tools. How pathetic, the teacher sighed.

The next stanza is all about gambling and the teacher advised us to avoid that kind of mentality if we ever hope to grow up as good men. We must never gamble all our resources away in one heap and hope to start again at the beginning because there may never be another beginning but a sad end. Instead, we should learn to invest our resources wisely and spread our investments rather than leave all our eggs in one basket. If it only takes a will to serve your turn when your body is tired, remember that you are part of a team and not just a selfish individualist poet. When you are tired, the teacher advised us, take time out and get some rest and let another member of your team continue.

The final stanza warns about the danger of losing your virtue when talking with crowds as if the masses are vile and would pollute your good qualities. At the same breath, the imperialist Kipling advised that we should walk with kings and retain the common touch as if people who live in republican democracies must be pitied for not having kings to walk with. If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, then you are dead already, cried the teacher. Finally, he intoned, what counts is not how many seconds you put into your minutes but how many miles you put into your minutes if you are a long distance runner. So do not let the devil fool you into thinking that yours is the earth and all that is in it, you are already a man my son and you will have to share the earth with billions of other men and women. Kipling is simply crazy, he concluded. I got up and tore off the poster from my wall and shredded it.

Monday, February 23, 2009



When I arrived in Trinidad newly, a student told me that if I had dark glasses on top of my white jacket, I would have looked just like the Doc. Like who? Dr. Eric Williams, he explained. I thanked him for the flattery but thought that I am not that short or that bald. Of course, I admire Eric Williams as an intellectual and as a nation-builder but I did not know much about his life.

An opportunity came when I was asked to facilitate a television studio panel discussion on ‘Democratic Fatherhood’ for NCC channels 4 and 16 that was broadcast on Independence Day 2008. I had read a speech by Erica Williams in which she paid tribute to her father even while admitting his shortcomings. I wanted the studio panel to read that speech before the programme but the producers said that they could reach Erica by phone and I was able to interview her on what type of father he was. We concluded that he was a democratic type of father.

Recently, I met Erica for the first time and while we had lunch in Movietown, she shamed me by asking if I had visited the Eric Williams Collection in the Main Library of UWI? No, I had not and she said, ‘shame on you’. I decided that I would go and see it and she told me that there was a seminar coming up with international participants and that it was going to be a good opportunity for me to see the collection with a group. I agreed.

I was amazed to discover how much I had in common with Dr Williams. The documentary, ‘The Will of the People’, produced by Che Rodriguez, opened with the unforgettable statement that Williams was a wizard and that like all wizards, he was regarded with awe, not always with love but always with respect. I often felt that that was how some people regarded me but I also wondered why the producer used the word wizard instead of the Trini creole equivalent, obeah man.

I also heard the voice of Williams, not for the first time for it has been played on radio before, but it struck me that he never raised his voice and I am told often that I am soft-spoken myself but not while I am on a stage. I could bawl when I am performing on stage but that is perhaps because I still need to attract attention whereas Williams was so sure that his audience was listening to every word he spoke. Although in one of the clips, two people were whispering to each other as he spoke.

Then he walked and I sat up instantly. In that clip of his visit to China that was repeated in the short documentary, Doctor Williams walked just like I do. He walked as if he was floating the way that the big masquerade would float during carnival rather than walk like the little mas, floating with the legs stretched out in front of him in short confident strides without bending the knees. What a strange coincidence for that is exactly how I walk, making some women in the village in Nigeria where I grew up to nick-name me Oje la nwayoo (the gentle walker).

I am not bragging but the similarities are startling to me. Eric Williams studied with scholarships and so did I, he got a first class honours degree and so did I, he got his PhD from the UK and so did I and his dissertation was published to wide acclaim and so was mine, he left the UK to teach in America at a historically black university and so did I and he relocated to Trinidad from there and so did I after roughly the same amount of years in the US. I was still thinking of these similarities when the film ended and we walked downstairs to the second floor of the library to view the Eric Williams Collection.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw his desk the way it was when he left it. The desk was chaotic, crowded with papers and books, files and folders exactly the way my table usually looks all the time! He was as messy as I am, no more, no less. Now I know that I am in good company and so when next a bossy cleaner tries to straighten out my desk at the office, I will tell her to go and see the Eric Williams Collection!

Of course, I am no Eric Williams and there would never be another one like him. For instance, I have no series of heavy industries that I established to build a new nation, I have not liberated any country from colonialism and I have not headed any state or government. Moreover, I do not own a collection of tobacco pipes or nicely carved elephant tusks nor will you find a picture of a group of children and I with a stick of cigarette between my lips.

Health education has enlightened us more on the harms of tobacco and environmental awareness has taught us not to display elephant tusks but in this case, it is a piece of history given to him on his state visits to African countries and the way he treasured the tusks shows his warmth towards mother Africa, though he swore allegiance to only one mother – Mother Trinidad and Tobago (two mothers?).

Biko Agozino is Professor of Sociology, Coordinator of Criminology Unit, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Deputy Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, St. Augustine.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

African Time

Managing African Time

By Biko Agozino

The application of the concept of African Time was evident at a Nigerian High Commission in the Caribbean where the visiting Consul General and his staff were assisted by the High Commission staff to register hundreds of Nigerians for the new electronic ECOWAS passport. The process appeared to be chaotic in a way that seemed consistent with the concept of African fractals. For instance, the staff started work in the PM and ended in the AM daily!

The chaos seemed to have a method to it as they started with a long list of first-come, first served Nigerians that ran into nearly five hundred. But the data-capturing machine was slow, grew too hot sometimes and had to be switched off to let it ‘sleep’ or cool down and so, by the second night which was intended as the last night of the visit, they had only managed to scratch the surface of the ever-growing list. Exceptions were announced for the pregnant women in the crowd and then for families with little children and then there were suspected man-know-man and eye-service as some complained. Then the list was completely abandoned the next day when, without explanation, the team announced that they would stay for two more days, including a Saturday. They now collected the passports of those present whenever they started work and refused to accept any more for processing during that day/night. Some had to go as early as 7 AM and wait until past midnight to be served. Rather than set an office time for the work, they chose to set a quota of work to be done on a day.

Those who grumbled most loudly were often the ordinary Nigerian immigrants, most of who worked as security guards. The High Commission staff had a ready mantra that they chanted against allegations of favouritism: there was a professor sitting quietly among the applicants, waiting to be served and if they could not serve him, it was implied, why would they attend to the common folks? That excuse enraged a few of the men who started shouting on the top of their voices that they too were human even without degrees and without being doctors.

I doubt if there is any other diplomatic service in the world that would meet with a full professor in a foreign land who is also a fellow citizen and have him wait until midnight on two occasions only to be refused registration for a new passport, even if he was the last person to be attended to. The professor surprised everyone by responding to that final refusal, not with anger but with praise for the dedication of the staff beyond the call of duty, wishing them safe journey and told them to manage their time better to be even more productive with their commendable dedication.

That was a testament to the poor management of the human resources available to us as a nation. True, refusing registration to the professor afforded him the opportunity to wait and listen to the biographies of the less fortunate immigrants in more detail as they voluntarily shared their tales of woes, threats, fears and aspirations. The professor encouraged one to write up a particularly dramatic story of love and troubles ‘for papers’ and send it to The Commonwealth Short Stories Competition. He queried what was the point for a high school graduate like him to aspire to writing when a whole professor was not being shown respect just because he was not super-rich? His dream was to save up money and go and reopen his fishing line trade in Onitsha Main Market. But the prize money might help you to set up your shop, the professor implored, urging him not to give up on further education. But how could he, on a minimum wage and long hours of work? He asked.

Okro no be soup, na management, goes a Nigerian saying which encapsulates a sense that management means just getting by rather than satisfactory performance. This might be a clue to our legendary (mis)management of our abundant national, human, natural and material resources. Starting with time resources, we have a concept of African Time that suggests that events would tend to start later than expected and continue beyond the intended time. Trinidadians call it Trini Time and African Americans call it CP or Colored Peoples Time. Where did this laid-back approach to time evolve from?

One suggestion could be the concept of African Fractals which Ron Eglash used to describe the tendency among Africans to design their physical and mental environments in fractal patterns tending towards chaos whereas Europeans prefer lineal Cartesian grids that tend to be easier to control or manage. My hypothesis is that Africans evolved African fractal designs in response to the predatory threats that Africans faced for centuries. If the Africans who turned up in time for meetings with the predators were consistently the ones that were first kidnapped and enslaved, why would Africans act as if keeping to time was beneficial? Any other species of animals hunted as intensely and as extensively as Africans were hunted for centuries would have adapted by evolving complex strategies for survival to make it more difficult for predators to catch them. What Eglash called African Fractals may not be fractal at all, it may be African Wholeness since it applied to the whole African worldview, as a young African Trinidadian painter, Shawn Peters, retorted when I first saw his paintings and told him that the motifs were full of African Fractals.

The chaos approach to the management of time may work better sometimes than lineal time-management but we must also look at ways that we could bring out the best in our amazingly dedicated fellow-citizens through strategic planning and more effective deployment of limited time, human and material resources in public service. I recommend the following:

1) It was admirable and praise-worthy to see our fellow citizens work such long hours at night but they could have achieved a lot more by resting at night and working normal office hours during the day. Working until 2:00 AM on consecutive nights might look like patriotic efforts from our diplomats beyond the call of duty but it is simply wasteful hard work when modern technology is available to help them to work smart and achieve more. It is also counter-productive because the late night means that they sleep in and start the next day at midday, obviously skipping breakfast, while applicants assemble as early as 7:00 AM. This is a penny wise pound foolish approach to time management that should be avoided.
2) Make sure that the tireless lady, who took the finger-prints and digital photos as well as complete the electronic applications (again) while interviewing the applicant to make sure that he/she was a true Nigerian, has a comfortable desk and chair to work those long hours from and adequate division of labour with the rest of the staff. She was even the one who went out to call in the next applicants when the colleague sitting at the door as if the door-keeper could have done that. Later, that role was assigned to other colleagues but it meant that our apparently tireless lady missed the opportunity to stretch her legs and had to stop and go for a brisk walk when her back pain got worse but no one trained to continue while she rested. I advised her to rest her back to avoid the back ache and she complained that her desk would not let her lean back for she still needed to stretch to take the finger-print. Another colleague should have been in charge of the finger-printing. She was sitting on a cushion to help her arm-chair become more comfortable but the wise thing would have been to offer her a more comfortable chair.
3) This whole drama could have been less of an ordeal for the staff and the fellow citizens they were serving if the data-capturing machine, laptop with software and digital camera were supplied to the High Commission so that a team of four from New York would not need to make international travels at huge costs that could have bought the equipments for the High Commission with spare change left. What if the equipments got lost or damaged as they were being carried from post to post? I hope that they have back-ups for the applications they processed.
4) The appointment system should be used to space-out applicants so that parents would not have to drag out their young ones, workers would not risk a sack and the staff processing the applications would be less stressed if the mass of the people did not stay all day and night on multiple days without knowing if they would be ‘lucky’ to be served or ‘helped’. The initial announcement was that the team from New York would not even visit this particular country and advised the citizens here to travel to another country and meet them there for the exercise at huge costs to themselves and risk to their jobs. They later changed their mind and agreed to visit the High Commission but only for a day and half. At the end of the full day or night, they suddenly announced that they would stay some extra two days and work a full day on Saturday as well to help their fellow citizens. That was charming but it was suspected by some that they may have over-slept and missed their flight or that they were doing it for the extra US$20.00 ‘processing fees’ that they were collecting from applicants who had paid the full electronic application fees of US$110. Why not trust Nigerian officials to collect the whole fees in cash from those not able to pay by credit card?
5) This brings me to my final suggestion: It is about information management. The staff could have provided more information to the applicants by explaining that they needed the $20.00 for mailing back their passports by recorded delivery when they are issued, for example, the explanation that I tried to guess for skeptical fellow citizens. The electronic forms should have been saved on the website by the software instead of making the applicant enter the details all over again because the only thing that the reference number could recall was the confirmation of payment slip and not the full application with next of kin and state of origin.