Monday, June 21, 2010

Abati on Sports and Development

By Biko Agozino

Ruben Abati made very insightful observations in his analysis of the failure of the Nigerian national football team to inspire enthusiasm from supporters at home and abroad during the World Cup in South Africa. He concluded that the outing has brought more shame than pride to Nigerians given that the Nigerian preparations for the competition were characteristically shoddy, while the South Africans distinguished themselves by organizing an efficient competition at a level that Nigeria could not manage, the way they effortlessly introduced a new equipment to the game, the vuvuzela, while Nigeria has yet to bring an innovation to the game we love so much, and how their national team played well even when they lost or drew while the Super Eagles are praying that some other team should suffer misfortune at the hands of some other team in order for us to qualify by default the way we managed to qualify for the finals.

Nigeria’s only innovation appears to be in the unprecedented image of the hustler with 30 stolen tickets who was sentenced to jail by a FIFA special court that must be the first of its kind. The other disgraceful image was that of the most unprofessional player ever whose name, Kaita, supposedly means disaster, who kicked a player outside the sidelines because he allegedly shoved the ball at him and called him unprintable names to get him out of his face so he could throw-in the ball. His red card caused the Nigerian team to collapse from an early lead to a 2-1 loss as they all trooped to the defense and gave up the mid-field to Greece without any imagination that they could still win a game with one man down the way Ghana’s Black Stars beat the Nigerian Super Eagles during the nation’s Cup in Ghana and again in Egypt with just ten men each time. Next time, Kaita should play hurt and see if he could send off an opponent instead of lashing out with the typical Nigerian gra-gra or bolekaja (Yoruba for come down and let us fight) mentality and if he gets sent off for acting hurt, the team should play on and try to win with an attacking game – the best type of defense. Apologies to Abati, I was wearing my coaching cap there, every Nigerian is a coach, says Abati, and yet we believe in the Cargo Cult mentality that the best coach must be imported from Europe.

Abati’s observation about national branding by Argentina which distributed free jerseys of their stars, free national flags and free vuvuzelas with their national colours to the international fans is a teachable moment for Nigerian officials. The Nigerian memorabilia were put up for sales even though the national sports commission may have already paid for the items to be distributed and in any case, there is not likely to be any accountability for the miserly sale of unpopular jerseys with names like Kaita on them. Typical of Nigerians, some official probably saw it as an opportunity to make quick bucks with the result that some Nigerian fans had no choice but to accept the free Argentina jerseys and wear them proudly without fear of losing their citizenship as punishment given that many Nigerians throw lavish parties to celebrate whenever they give up their citizenship and naturalize in some other country with regular electricity supply as one fan told Abati when threatened with denationalization for wearing the colours of Nigeria’s opponents.

I completely agree with Abati that we need to use this opportunity to re-examine our sports institutions from the local leagues that Nigerians do not seem to care about while they appear ready to kill and die for English Premiership clubs, to the training of coaches with the knowledge that mercenary foreign coaches will never teach us all they know for fear that some day we will face their own national teams, to the organization of supporters’ clubs and to private-public partnerships in the sponsorship of sporting events as is the case all over the world. Bringing in Tokunbo coaches from abroad at the last minute to disrespect the Nigerian coach who struggled to win qualification and demonstrating Pharisees-like prayers on the field of play will not cut it for us.

Where I disagree with Abati is on his observation that the National Stadium is being used by sex workers and fast food hawkers instead of being used for sports development. I would like Abati to visit the stadium early on any Saturday morning and he would be stunned. I recently visited a nephew in Lagos and he told me to get ready for a treat because early on Saturday morning, he wanted me to go running with him at the national stadium. I was intrigued and sure enough, he woke me up about 7:00 AM and off we went with Okada, then changed to a bus, then got another Okada before reaching the distant stadium.

I could not believe my eyes as the whole area surrounding the stadium was filled with amateur sports enthusiasts and fitness gurus and freaks alike jumping, boxing, doing martial arts, weight-lifting, dancing, running, skipping, doing yoga and aerobics, sweating and smiling. Sure, there were food and drinks vendors around but the people needed such refreshments after running non-stop for two hours. We joined one popular group that was led in song by a tireless young man and we chorused with the growing crowd of followers. It was as if we were back in high school and many of the songs were Igbo songs like ‘Obi Kererenke’ - ‘Obi’, to which the lead singer added popular Christian chants like ‘Anyi Ga Ebulia Aha Yaa’ to the chorus, ‘Enuuu’ (or let us raise His name, High!) which served as a notice that he was about to change to a different song. He would chant about the end of diabetes, the end of smoking, the end of alcoholism and his followers provided the ‘End’ chorus faithfully but when he chanted about the end of Igbo or marijuana many protested and shouted nooo! Some who did not understood the exchange in Igbo language asked for translations. I was soon exhausted as I had not done such hectic running in a long time and thankfully, the pure water vendor was on hand to rehydrate me with four sachets of water while I sweated buckets with a big smile on my face.

There and then I began to understand something that I had observed on the faces of many Nigerians: They looked more healthy than I had imagined from the sad stories of poverty and hunger we hear abroad. This must be one of their survival strategies – keeping fit for the fun of it. I asked when this revolution happened in Nigeria and they said that it was started by Sam Oparaji, the Nigerian football player who died tragically on the pitch from a heart condition at the national stadium where his statue stands. It was said that he used to run at the stadium in the 1980s and gradually, his fans joined him every Saturday morning. It felt as if I was witnessing something that happens only abroad and not at home and I was highly impressed.

I was surprised to know that such a popular lifestyle activity was going on for years and none of the newspapers had covered it. If Abati visits Surulere any Saturday morning, then he will realize that his dismissal of the national stadium is premature. Where Abati may not be surprised is that neither the government nor corporate sponsors have absolutely any role to play in all this. There is no budget to train the fitness coaches on safety precautions, there are no ambulances or health workers trained to attend to any emergencies, there are no freely distributed running shoes and jerseys to promote any company products and wait for this, there was no toilet for the athletes who had to enter the nearby bushes to do number one or number two.

The gates of the stadium were firmly shut against the enthusiastic sporting citizens from whose ranks would emerge the next sporting superstars. Only national sporting stars were allowed to train inside the stadium, I was told. There is no doubt that talents abound in Nigeria in all fields but the government and private investors are yet to tap in adequately towards the development of these talents in all fields to win national honours, create wealth for the sports players and create fair employment opportunities for others. For instance, the young man who led the jogging songs was not paid by anyone but I understood that some of the fellow runners settled him occasionally. Here is an opportunity for sporting clubs to emerge and train the Usain Bolts, Tiger Woods, goalie Enyeama and the Williams sisters of the world to break new world records in sprinting, golf, football, tennis and many other sporting areas but greedy leaders are more interested in scrambling for oil blocks that they always auction off to foreign coaches (sorry, companies) and pocket billions of dollars in commissions that they claim they do not know how to spend. What a crying shame!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Any Cook Can Coach

By Biko Agozino

This title was suggested by the title of an essay by CLR James on politics in the Caribbean in which he argued, following Athenian democracy, that ‘Every Cook Can Govern’.  However, the institution of slavery in Athens, the fact that Athens had a war-mongering monarchy that oppressed philosophers, and the fact that women and children did not have the rights of citizenship meant that Athens was deeply flawed as a model of participatory democracy. The unfitness of Athens as a role model is particularly so for people of African descent who suffered centuries of chattel slavery, colonization and disenfranchisement, and who have also retained radically republican democratic traditions of the sort that anthropologists dubbed headless or acephalous societies. In his recent Nyerere Lecture, Wole Soyinka concluded that one such society, the Igbo, is a good model for the rest of Africa.

Walter Rodney identified such village democracy types of society in his Groundings with My Brethren as true of the majority of cultures in Africa and warned against using the few monarchical traditions, just like monarchical Athens, as a model amplified and made the hegemonic representation of a supposedly monolithic African culture. This is not only in Africa but also in the Diaspora where music genres created by Africans tend to have Kings and Queens of each genre despite the tendency towards democracy in the African worldview and struggles.

Nevertheless, the historical-material ist critique of elitism in politics by James could be extended to the colonial mentality in sports by which we are made to believe that only elite coaches from elite countries with elite pay could coach the teams of poor countries. The Wall Street Journal recently asked whether African teams could not be coached by African coaches given that all but one of the African teams participating in the World Cup in South Africa have foreign coaches, including some that never coached a world cup squad or failed to qualify for the competition as their own nations’ football coach? The answer to the question is that any cook can coach although the journal quoted some Nigerians as saying that the players will respect a white coach more than a Nigerian coach. The fact remains that even European national teams also hire foreign coaches and maybe someday, an African would coach a European team.

What are the lessons that we could learn from the poor performance of our teams that are full of talents and what is the way forward for sports and the nation for the national team could be a metaphor for the nation with enormous resources largely controlled by good ‘coaches’ but with mediocre results to show for it all? My twelve year old nephew once asked me, ‘Uncle, I am happy that Essien scored one of the goals at the African Nations Cup because I am a Chelsea fan but I cannot believe that the Super Eagles were beaten by a ten-man Black Stars team. What happened?’ Here he was demonstrating what James would see as the Athenian democratic principle by which the audience voted on the plays to select winners during festivals even if some of the winning poems openly mocked the then rulers like King Pericles. I explained to the young boy who already plays in a junior football club in London that it could be that our talented players played like individuals and not like a team. He asked me to explain that to him.

I explained that although I am not good at football, I have had the experience of coaching children in league tournaments when my two sons were involved in youth soccer in the US. I asked my nephew to watch all the goals scored in the English Premier League and tell me what he learned from the skills. He simply told me that they were great goals. I told him to look more closely and he gave up, asking me to explain the skills necessary for scoring goals to him.

The skills are very simple. Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea use these skills all the time to dominate the top league. The teams that do not use the skills are the ones that struggle in the league. Steven Garrald ignores this principle frequently as he tries individual play to the disadvantage of Liverpool FC. Ghana used the skill to score the winning goal in the quarter finals match during the Nations Cup when Agogo tapped in that square cross with eight minutes to go. It is called team work as opposed to talented but selfish waste of energy. This is how it goes:

A player runs at the goal with the ball and pretends that he is about to strike at goal. The goalkeeper and the defense all focus on blocking his shot but at the last second, he dummies and passes the ball to an unmarked team mate who stabs the ball into the net. That is simple and it works most of the time. The inadequacy of it explains the weakness of our Super Falcons and Super Eagles but also super corporations and super states alike.

The struggling teams are those in which the attackers are so full of confidence that they think that they could dribble past every opponent but they almost always lose the ball after skipping past a few defenders. If they manage to bulldoze through the defense repeatedly, they suffer recurrent injuries as a result, like Ronaldo, Rooney, Yorke, Gerrald and Maradona. England was dominating the USA until the introduction of Wright-Phillips who dribbled and dribbled instead of crossing the ball in as expected from the wings.

My nephew nodded in agreement and told me that his coach never told him that. He wanted to learn more skills from me. He stood up and started dancing around an imaginary football to show off his own youthful skill as if imitating one of his heroes, JJ Okocha. Forget Okocha, I told him. You want your team to win games not just to show off your personal entertainment skills. Argentina dominated the opening match against Nigeria with short passes while the Super Eagles tried long shots, possessive dribbling and weak shots that were nowhere near the goal when they could have touched the ball once to control it and then pass it to a team-mate in an open position to score!

The skill that is applied at the goal mouth to score goals is also the skill that is applied in the midfield to keep control of the ball. The top teams have perfected this skill. It is called one-two touch football. The first touch is to control the ball and the second touch is to pass it to a teammate in a better position. As soon as you pass the ball, you run into an open position ready to receive it back. That is called teamwork, I told the young man. If you play selfishly in any successful team, you will be lucky if you sit on the reserve bench at all, you would be soon dropped, sold or traded before you know it. Tarves is still wondering why Manchester Untied sold him but he tends to keep the ball to himself for too long whereas Messi has mastered the solo run that is intended to end in a one-two with a team mate. Many politicians ignore this rule of teamwork by seeking tenure elongation and sitting tight when they should be passing the ball in the interest of the national team or even take a recovering position after they have lost the ball to the other team.

France took this team skill to a higher level during the World Cup in Germany by using a one-touch method that made the games much faster. That is, the first touch was to pass the ball or strike at goal. Unfortunately for them, this led to too many inaccurate passes or shots wide off the mark although it helped Henry to stab in the winning goal against Brazil in the semi final but ultimately failed against Italy in the final match. France used the same tactic of fast-paced one-touch French-kicks in their opening match against Uruguay and were lucky to get a goalless draw. So I would still recommend the one-two method any day because by the third touch, you have given the opponents time to anticipate your move and block it and with only one touch you do not give your teammates enough time to anticipate your move and position themselves. Argentina used this a lot especially in the midfield and Nigeria appeared clueless a lot during that opening match in Johannesburg.

My fascinated young nephew told me that sometimes it is necessary to run at the goal and try to score when you see an opening like Drogba, Adebayor, Messi, Henry or Ronaldo or simply send a salvo at goal with your first touch like Kanu’s trickish surprise shots that sometimes zip out from behind him with a flick of the leg or Gerrald’s long distance shots for Liverpool and for England. I agreed with him but insisted that such moments are rare and that teamwork is the best guarantee of success as both Kanu and Gerrald prove by also being selfless playmakers of note with records of many assists, earning them captaincies. The goal by Argentina from a corner kick was a sign of teamwork as the attackers distracted the Nigerian defence and pushed them back towards goal to allow a free header to the scorer, prompting Efan Ekoku, the commentator and former Nigerian international to criticize the Nigerian players for ball watching and failure at school yard defense principles that frown at free headers.

‘Uncle, teach me more skills please’, he pleaded. Well, this one is an elementary skill, I told him. I told him to touch the ball, kiss the ball, hug the ball and tell me what it felt like. He said that it felt normal. Exactly my point. The ball does not bite, it has no claws like a lion and it is not hot like coal. So when next you are in a wall defending a free kick from the likes of Bekham or Messi, keep your eyes on the ball and do not get scared of the ball the way most defenders instinctively do. If you keep your eyes on the ball, you improve your chances of stopping the free kick successfully but jumping aimlessly just allows the free kick to be bended over the wall and into the net before the goalkeeper sees it, blinded by the unnecessarily scared-like- hell wall.

The young boy protested that he would never stand in the way of a shot from some of the top scorers because such scorchers could maim a man or a woman for that matter. Wrong, I told him, it is always a lump of leather filled with air and if you keep your eyes on it, you stand a better chance of avoiding having it slammed into your closed eyes to knock you down or having it slammed into your pants, causing clutching pain.

‘Oh uncle, tell me more because I want to play for the Eagles when I grow up, I will be too ashamed to play for England because I see myself as a Nigerian,’ he stated. Well, I told him, if you play for Nigeria, you will become a national hero and the country would reward you with cash and give you houses in choice plots. He licked his lips in anticipation. But you must start practicing teamwork now by helping more around the house, ironing your own clothes, clearing the table and sweeping the house as a team player, I told him. He said that he already ironed his own clothes.

My final tip for success is related to the previous one but it is mainly for the goal-keeper. The goalie must not panic at the sight of a striker because the shot is never going to be a thunderbolt or a bullet, just a lump of leather filled with air although most goalkeepers who panic are less scared of the ball and more anxious not to mess up. We saw this in the courage of Enyeama who single-handedly denied Argentina the chance to humiliate Nigeria with more goals. The Under 17 Nigerian goalkeeper who helped to win the World Cup for Nigeria by saving more penalty kicks than the French goal-keeper also practiced this. He said back then that what helped him was the secret verses from the Koran that he was chanting. This is an indication that he had such strong faith that nothing the attackers could throw at him would hurt him because, they could not shoot cannons, only balls of leather, Insha Allah. So the young man did not dive blindly, hoping to gamble correctly as most goal-keepers do. He waited for them to kick the penalty and then he dived to stop it! That was how Ghana scored from the spot against the Serbian goalie who dived first in Pretoria, to give Africa the first win in the first World Cup on African soil.

To inculcate these simple teamwork skills, we need to watch what other footballing nations are doing. They start training teams from age four and keep exposing them to team competitions from that age on. Mikel Obi was probably referring to the lack of team spirit when he said that there was no love among the Eagles players in Ghana. Everyone wanted to be the hero that saved the nation, it seemed. The answer is not in a foreign coach because no coach can teach the team spirit if you have been brought up all your life to hustle selfishly for everything as many children grow up to be due to poverty-induced hoarding tendencies or due to undeserved sense of a privileged right to greed born of unearned affluence.

The team spirit goes with sportsmanship such that when you lose, you do not lose the lesson. We need to congratulate the successful teams that beat us and wish them all the best because the better teams won the matches instead of trying to use bribery or intimidation the way some of our politicians do after losing elections. The Trinidadian social theorist, CLR James, in Beyond a Boundary, credited the game of cricket with his moral upbringing in the sense that he never tried to cheat or whine or complain, saying well played to the winners but did his best and did not gloat even in victory, telling the losers better luck next time.

He may have been exaggerating his obedience to the rules of game theory given that he was an activist transgressional radical who overstayed his visa in America by many years and had to be detained and deported after he appealed unsuccessfully. However, I have always thought that James’ moral and intellectual character could be attributed more to his African cultural background of radical republican democracy but proof of that is disappearing due to the legacies of slavery and colonialism which have sadly eroded much of our cultural values and replaced them with dog-eat-dog dodgy capitalist perversions by those that Fanon called the phantom bourgeoisie in The Wretched of the Earth that mimics the bullishness of the metropolitan bourgeoisie with little of its fanatical patriotism.

As Nyerere would recommend with the Ujamaa philosophy of familihood that he found common in Africa, we need to recover our sense of communal morality and rejoice and celebrate the fact that West Africa has produced some of the best teams consistently in the continent. If we have been doing so without any organized training from an early age, imagine what would happen if all over Africa, the 54 states start youth sports programs in football, baseball, lawn tennis, basket ball, cricket, tracks and all manner of sports and games with annual leagues. Our raw talents would be polished and we will shine again and again in all sporting activities and sooner win the World Cup or Wimbledon and still allow individual talents to emerge and flourish.

Such programs could also contribute to poverty eradication in Africa when the individual players become big on the world stage and earn enough to uplift their extended families at least. But beyond monetary gains, the training in team spirits could contribute to nation building and entrepreneurial success as we begin to see the bigger picture of ourselves as members of one family, club, national and international teams as players but sometimes even as supporters. Together Each Achieves More = TEAM

We can apply the same team principles to all athletics by sponsoring athletics clubs across the country with private companies partnering the government. The shame of returning from the World Athletics Championships empty-handed must come to an end. The aim of winning four medals at the next Olympics is too criminal for contemplation when a small country like Jamaica hauls in medals in double digits. Let us aim for 100 medals and start training teams of individuals with targets of breaking existing world records in every sport. Let us aim at going to the Tennis Grand slams to challenge the Russians and the Americans for the championships in ladies and men’s events. This way, we will give our restless youth something positive to focus on. When they know that Kenyans and Ethiopians win up to a million US dollars just for running a marathon, no one would be able to stop them from dominating that sport if we train them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

BEWARE OF ANTI-BIGOTRY BIGOTRY

BEWARE OF ANTI-BIGOTRY BIGOTRY
BY Biko Agozino

As a fan of the work of Mahmood Mamdani, I was shocked to read his commencement speech at the University of Johannesburg following his honorary doctoral degree on May 25, 2010. The speech has just been published by Pambazuka online with the title, ‘Beware of Bigotry: Free Speech and the Zapiro Cartoons’. The speech showed the dismay of Mamdani to find that his favourite cartoonist in the Mail & Guardian newspaper had followed the example of Danish and European newspapers of the left and the right to publish a cartoon of the Holy Prophet Mohammed without sensitivity to the concerns of Muslims who would find such offensive:  http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/64923

What concerns me is that Mamdani himself may have committed a similar offense of insensivity by asserting that when the Danish offensive cartoon controversy broke, he was in Kano – a majority Muslim city in northern Nigeria – but he failed to inform his readers that an estimated 100 mostly Christian Igbo lives were lost in that part of the country, the only place where people were massacred in the world due to the recklessness of a Danish cartoonist who is not related to the Igbo in any way. Instead, Mahmood made the incendiary statement that is unexpected from a respected powerful scholar of his ilk:

‘When the Danish cartoon debate broke out I was in Nigeria. If you stroll the streets of Kano, a Muslim-majority city in northern Nigeria, you will have no problem finding material caricaturing Christianity sold by street vendors. And if you go to the east of Nigeria, to Enugu for example, you will find a similar supply of materials caricaturing Islam. None of this is blasphemy; most of it is bigotry. It is well known that the Danish paper that published the offending cartoons was earlier offered cartoons of Jesus Christ. But the paper declined to print these on grounds that it would offend its Christian readers. Had the Danish paper published cartoons of Jesus Christ, that would have been blasphemy; the cartoons it did publish were evidence of bigotry, not blasphemy. Both blasphemy and bigotry belong to the larger tradition of free speech, but after a century of ethnic cleansing and genocide, we surely need to distinguish between the two strands of the same tradition. The language of contemporary politics makes that distinction by referring to bigotry as hate speech.’

This false claim of equal-opportunity bigotry between the Kano Muslims of the North and the Enugu Christians of the South is a-historical and potentially provocative of even more ethnic cleansing in the troubled climate of northern Nigeria where the Igbo have been periodically massacred for being ‘nyamiri’ but without retaliatory massacres in Igboland. Far from his allegation that ‘If you stroll the streets of Kano, a Muslim-majority city in northern Nigeria, you will have no problem finding material caricaturing Christianity sold by street vendors. And if you go to the east of Nigeria, to Enugu for example, you will find a similar supply of materials caricaturing Islam’, I can testify that I have walked through the streets of Kano without finding any street trader, most of whom are Christians from the Eastern part of Nigeria by the way, hawking bigotry against Christians.

On the contrary, what I had no difficulty finding when I strolled through Kano in 1999 were numerous election campaign posters in which candidates with Christian and Igbo names were vying for offices to represent the predominantly Igbo ward known as Sabo Ngeri or migrant quarters in Kano. Muslim brothers had no bigotry inviting me and my companion to their homes to partake in meals of ‘talia’ (Italian, for Spaghetti) during the Muslim feast of Ramadan. Similarly, I grew up in Enugu without finding a single bigoted piece of literature targeting Muslims. We even had a local Malam who is from Enugu and who spoke Hausa but practiced Islam and we shared our home with him and his two wives and children without charging him any rents at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in which we lost dear family members. The bigotry that is not hard to find in Enugu is not against Muslims given that the residents of Enugu actually elected a Muslim from Kano as Mayor of Enugu city in the 1960s.

The common form of bigotry in Enugu is more commonly between Catholics and the various protestant sects. When I was growing up, it was common to continue elementary school football rivalry with my cousin at home by chanting our inane humors: I would chant, ‘Shiemenshi (CMS or Christian Missionary Society) are thieves, they led astray the motor of the children of ghosts, Fada (Catholic or Rev. Father) is King, ewah!’ My cousin would reply, ‘Fada shat in the motor and wiped his ass on the tire…’ It was partly to end this divisive tendency that the Gowon administration nationalized sectarian schools but the last Obasanjo administration started handing them back to the founding sects, coinciding with a steady decline in students’ academic attainment in a climate of decreasing funding for schools. Despite their rivalry for converts that would make parents forbid their children from marrying into any other sect unless the fiancĂ©e first converted, they collectively preached against traditional religious worshippers, not against Islam, despite the common incidence of syncretism just as the recent Boko Haram and the previous Maitasene sects rioted against ‘infidels’ and ‘western’ influences, not against Christianity per se because Muslims also revere Christ as a Prophet. Soyinka observed anti-traditional religion bigotry in his hilarious ‘Neo-Tarzanism’ reply to Chinweizu and his troika of critics in the 1975 issue of Transition:

"They (Aladura Churches) were, in addition, rabid iconoclasts, more efficient and more successful than either the Roman Catholic or Anglican churches, contrary to popular misconception on the subject. If you added together what they burnt on their own and what they had burnt in conjunction with the more orthodox Christian churches upon whom they frequently descended all over the country for bonfire revivalist sessions, the Cherubs rank as the most dedicated arsonists, depleting our traditional art heritage in the name of Christ. Their power was truly enviable, their passionate rhetoric sent listeners hurrying into the recesses of their compounds to return with price-less carvings ("pagan idols") which they hurled into bonfires in an orgy of excitation."

I am not saying that bigoted literature might not exist in Kano or Enugu but I am not sure where Mahmood strolled in order to have no difficulty finding such literature. On the contrary, the vivid accounts in Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Soyinka’s Season of Anomy indicate that the Muslims and Christians appeared to be friends in the North before the pogrom in the 1960s in which former friends had no qualms massacring their Igbo compatriots, spurred on by hate speech in newspapers and radio broadcasts by local and foreign elites as if in rehearsal for the Rwanda genocide as Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe recounts in Biafra Revisited. Given Mamdani’s claim to be a student of the Rwanda genocide in his speech, I would have expected him to be more sensitive to possible uses of his suggestion of equal-opportunity bigotry by agents provocateur to incite more of the endemic cycle of violence against mostly Igbo southerners in the northern part of Nigeria. For as he put it in his own speech; ‘The Rwandan trials are the latest to bring out the dark side of free speech, its underbelly: How power can instrumentalise free speech to frame a minority and present it for target practice.’

Mamdani makes the matters worse by picking 1967 as his first significant date in the history of bigotry but uses it to talk about an obscure Penguin publication of a blasphemous book targeting the Christian faith in England and how the publisher trucked the entire stock of the book from the warehouse and had a book-burning bonfire in order not to offend his Christian friends even though he himself was not a Christian. Having written about Fascism in Uganda under Idi Amin, I am sure that Mamdani is aware of the fact that 1967 represents the first time in Africa that ethnic cleansing was conducted with impunity and with the eager support of the international community of the left and the right, resulting in the genocidal killing of over three million Igbo people as Ekwe-Ekwe and even Mamdani’s own friend, Ifi Amadiume, documented in her editorial with Abdullahi An-Na’im, The Politics of Memory: Truth, Healing and Social Justice, published by Zed Press in 2000.

I do not know what to make of this speech from Mamdani in an African University that talks of the African Danshiki flowing gown exclusively as a gift to Western academia from the Madrassa Islamic schools of the Middle East but without any reference to the revered history of Sankore University in which Africans institutionalized both learning and the academic gown while Europeans were still wallowing in their dark ages. He also identified mathematics as ‘Indian Mathematics’ and dubbed philosophy as ‘Greek Thought’ to show the graduating students of the University of Johannesburg that Europe borrowed a few things from the Orient. No mention of the fact that Cheikh Anta Diop has indubitably documented the African origin of mathematics, philosophy and the sciences, including the fact that Chemistry comes from Al-Kemet, for instance.

Rather than offer a Eurocentric address on the widespread publication of Orientalist bigotry in European history in a commencement speech to some of the future leaders of Africa, I would have expected Mamdani to use his speech to highlight the on-going project of African Unity, to warn against the nonsense of Africans killing fellow Africans in South Africa in orgies of brotherphobia that the media misnamed xenophobia, and to cite the example of the great Madiba Mandela who came out of prison and agreed to meet Chief Buthelezi at a press conference but while the chief fumed about his Inkhata Freedom Party  hatred for the ANC and his determination to battle the liberation movement to the last man, the wise Mandela reminded him that he and his father were friends and that they fought together against apartheid, thanked the chief for supporting the call for his release from prison and offered to work together with him to usher in a new South Africa (A Long Walk to Freedom). Here Mandela was exemplifying the legendary African tradition of non-violence which Gandhi claimed that he learned from the Zulu in South Africa (Gandhi: An Autobiography) but which Mamdani completely ignored while offering an Orientalist anti-bigotry bigotry as a commencement speech in South Africa. Why?