Sunday March 31 2013

Is Nigeria an African sleeping giant unable to wake up? Part I

By Harold E. Acemah

In his seminal work, Africa must unite, Dr Kwame Nkrumah forecast on the eve of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963, the disaster which would face Africa if the continent was not politically united. He warned that unless African countries met the obvious and powerful threats posed by neo-colonialism with a united front based on a common economic and defence policy, they would be picked for destruction one by one by the neo-colonialists. Barely three years later in January and February 1966 it happened to Nigeria and Ghana respectively.

Nkrumah’s argument does not nullify the contribution of internal factors to the political and economic disaster which has plagued Africa for much of the post-colonial era, but the fact remains that neo-colonialism has directly and indirectly had a profound negative impact on Africa, and the masses of Africa have paid a dear price for the lack of political unity and lack of vision at the national as well as continental level. Against this background, the tragedy of Nigeria in the context of pan-Africanism has been that as the most populous country in Africa and as one of the richest, it has so far failed to provide effective leadership comparable to the leadership Ghana provided in the struggle for political independence during the 1950s and 1960s.

Right from the day Ghana achieved independence on March 6, 1957, Nkrumah made it clear that “Ghana’s independence would be meaningless unless it was linked to the total liberation of Africa from the yoke of colonialism” and he spared no effort in the realisation of that noble objective. For example, in April 1958, Ghana hosted the first conference of the few then independent African states to discuss cooperation among them; in December 1958, Nkrumah convened an All-African Peoples Conference attended by 62 liberation and nationalist movements from all over Africa, including Uganda.

In November 1959, delegates of trade unions from all parts Africa met in Accra to establish an All-African Trade Union Federation and finally in July 1960, a conference of African Women was hosted by Ghana to discuss common problems such as freedom, unity and the need for socio-economic progress in Africa. At the UN, Ghana played a pivotal role in the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1960 of the landmark “Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples” which accelerated the pace of uhuru in Africa and elsewhere in the third world.

If Nigeria had been blessed with great and visionary leaders like Nkrumah, what a major difference it could perhaps have made for the second phase of Africa’s struggle for liberation, namely the struggle for economic emancipation and self-reliance. Instead of constantly depending on band aid, charity and megre handouts, Africa could have made better use of its enormous human and natural resources to achieve rapid and meaningful economic and social development for all Africans. Alas, today as the rest of world advances, most African countries have stagnated and some are marching backwards!

Unlike Ghana during phase one of Africa’s struggle for liberation, Nigeria’s record during phase two of Africa’s struggle leaves a lot to be desired. Like most African countries, Nigeria has been bedeviled by poor governance with a series of military coups, a tragic civil war (1967 – 1970) which almost tore the country asunder and endemic corruption on a humongous scale, symbolised by the case of former Minister Umaru Dikko who is alleged to have looted $1 billion from the treasury of Nigeria!

As former President Obasanjo observed, “Africa’s future lies in greater economic cooperation and ultimately in integration.” To translate such ideas into reality demands good leadership which has political will, commitment, integrity and vision which reminds me of a pertinent question posed by the just-departed great African writer Chinua Achebe to the many “thoughtful men and women of conscience and talented people of Nigeria”. The question was: “Why is it that all these patriots make so little impact on the life of their country?”

The reasons are many and varied, but truth be told, most of the economic, political and social problems of post-colonial Nigeria, Uganda and much of Africa have been caused by the small educated elite of Africa who often deny the fact. They instead look for scapegoats to blame such as, colonialism, past regimes, tribalism, the opposition, saboteurs, terrorists and even rumour mongers! The unpleasant truth is that the ruling classes of Africa are the principal cause of Africa’s shameful human tragedy. To be continued.

On March 22, death robbed Africa of one of her greatest sons, authors and wise men, namely Chinua Achebe. He was 82. Achebe deserved to die in Africa, not in exile where he sought refuge from the hostile political environment prevailing in much of Africa today. Today is the 12th anniversary of the passing on of my dear friend, Daudi M. Taliwaku. I thank God for the exemplary and inspiring lives of Achebe and Taliwaku. May the LORD grant them eternal peace and rest.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.