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.