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.