Restoring The Dignity Of Africa
BY Sule E. Egya
Brain Gain for the African Renaissance, Edited by Okello Oculi and Yakubu Nasidi; published by Ahmadu Bello University Press, Zaria; 447 pages.
What we know of socio-cultural and scientific civilisation today, it has been established, started from Africa. Per Ankh, the house of life, in the ancient Egypt was a brain-home from where knowledge spread to other parts of the world. World-class African thinkers such as Cheik Anta Diop, Ayi Kwei Armah and Theophile Obenga have persistently forged a narrative to connect us to that glorious past. Regrettably, their narrative, what Armah calls “the way,” is countervailed by forces that have retrogressively reduced the height of Africa. The Africa that housed intellection in the past, as absurd as it sounds, is now a pitiable shadow of itself, its intellectuals driven to continental self-enslavement. During the slavery of the past, the white people came and captured Africans, but in the present slavery Africans willingly present themselves to the white people as slaves. It is the exodus to the West; it is the brain drain Africa suffers from.
To stem the tide of intellectual erosion as a result of the brain-drain phenomenon, Africa Vision 525, a non-governmental think-tank based in Kenya and Nigeria, has initiated what it calls Brain Gain book project. Part of the objective of this project, according to Okello Oculi and Yakubu Nasidi, editors of the first book in the series, is “to contribute to ameliorating [the crisis of brain drain] by drawing back into African universities intellectual products of the African Diaspora and Africanist scholars resident outside Africa” (ix). Contributions by outstanding scholars on the continent are also brought into the pool of intellectual productions the project injects into a system that is practically comatose. This first volume of the project demonstrates the feasibility and, indeed, the fruition of a concerted effort to reconstruct the canon of intellection in Africa. Here is a conscious response to a continent’s moral, ethical and intellectual failures; a measured criticism that validates the notion of inward positivism and a pragmatic approach to Africa’s solutions to Africa’s problems.
The theme of this volume is “Issues in Governance.” A crucial angle from which to begin the business of renaissance in Africa, you may say. The choice is vital. Governance is perhaps the most derailed sphere in the evolution of nationhood in Africa. It is a continental weakness—really, an insurmountable vice—that reduces one of the wealthiest continents in the world to beggardom. The choice of scholars to tackle these issues Brain Gain has made is both appealing and gratifying. The names are intimidating: Ali Mazrui, Toyin Falola, Okwudiba Nnoli, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, P. Anyang Nyongo’o, Okechukwu Ibeanu, Crawford Young, and others. In their diverse themes and styles, tones and tenors, these intellectuals engage the readers in profound dialogues that evaluate and define the course of governance in Africa.
Falola’s “Writing and Teaching National History in Africa in an Era of Global History” is a primal discourse. The eminent, globe-trotting scholar returns home, patriotic, having been exposed to the sophistry of globalisation. Beginning his argument from the existence of nation-states, in spite of what he refers to as the “ambiguities” surrounding them, Falola harps on the conspiracy of the globalists to undermine, and consequently nullify, national historiography. In doing this, he undresses globalisation and presents her to us in her full nakedness, with all her ugly joints. The scholar informs us that “[it] is the weak nations [in the sense we see all nations of Africa] that are being asked to adjust, to subordinate their national histories to the threatening agenda of a global world and a global history” (58). In this design, globalisation weakens weaker nations and strengthens stronger ones, insofar as the concept of globalisation is continuously fashioned and manoeuvred by the powerful nations of the world. A powerful nation, then, upstages her history to what Falola calls “metanarrative”. In this premise, the less powerful nations must evolve a history to confront the many lies and infamies of globalisation, and with resilient intellectualism and vigorous historiography. A further antidote, pragmatic in its chemistry, is offered here:
We have to keep decolonizing African historiography, to turn to indigenous creativity and ideas, to empower the marginalized voices, to shed light on the tremendous energy and success represented by popular cultures, market women, craft workers, and local cultivators, among others. Oral history should not be abandoned in the face of global history. Students and researchers must contribute to our understanding of a variety of topics: migration flows within Africa and nation-states; regional conflicts; ethnic and religious divisions; inter- and intra-national relations within Africa; development and modernization; processes of democratization and participatory practices; neoliberal reforms; cultural transformations; market and economic networks; the Cold War and its aftermath; ecological history and sustainable development; and mass communication. (Italics mine, 77-78)
It seems like a thesis that will liberate nation-states in Africa from what one may call globalism i.e. the dishonest rhetoric of globalisation. But many Africa-based students and scholars, as some of the essays in Brain Gain attest, have been engaging in the enterprise Falola proposes, except that the overall socio-political climate of Africa does not welcome—and, indeed, kills—intellectual activities meant to forge a liberated and equitable nationhood.
It is this hostile climate in Africa that Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja draws our attention to in his “Challenges to State Building in Africa”. His discourse is clear and familiar to us. His first sentence opens the wound we have been nursing for long: “After three to five decades of self-rule, the people of Africa have yet to see the fulfilment of their expectations of independence for full citizenship rights” (87). This is painfully true. The eminent scholar goes on to outline some of the factors responsible for this condition. The problems are home-based, though mostly engendered by the hypocritical posture of the West, Africa’s chief coloniser. Greed and Dishonesty, the twin sisters, are the hot-legged prostitutes cradling African leaders on their laps. They caused the disillusionment of the post-independence era, lengthened to destructive militarisation, which has begotten anaemic democracies in Africa. Nzogola-Ntalaja neatly ties this to the globalisation-syndrome Falola has expounded: “contrary to the political vision of Amilcar Cabral and other progressive founding fathers of African independence, post-colonial rulers have not transformed the inherited structures of the state and the economy to serve the deepest aspirations of their peoples instead of the interests of the dominant classes of the world system, with which these rulers tend to identify” (88). The gist is simply that African leaders, since independence, have set their visions abroad to cater for their greed and the interest of their colonial masters. Nzogola-Ntalaja believes that Africa is yet to severe its umbilical cord from the West and that is one of its greatest problems. He harks back to the early rhetoric of Pan-Africanism, reminding us of the good intentions of the fighters of independence, giving us an insight into the stupendous wealth waiting for Africa at the dawn of independence, and he regrets that Africa today is a famished continent whose children troop to the West in search of food and survival. Really, every section of Nzogola-Ntalaja’s essay echoes the ignominy that Africa Vision 525 intends to redeem with its book projects. Part of Nzogola-Ntalaja’s suggestion for a better Africa is that “a successful development strategy [for Africa] requires a radical break with the past, that is, with the authoritarian and predatory character of the colonial state, as well as the promotion of egalitarian and participatory values” (107).
Some of the essays in Brain Gain are very revealing. Okechukwu Ibeanu’s “Petroleum, Politics and Development in the Niger Delta” is an eye-opener for non-Nigerians whose knowledge of the Niger Delta conundrum is what the radio brings to them. The depth of Ibeanu’s research and the clarity of his language are such that you will see, most graphically, the situation in the Niger Delta today. “ECOMOG Operations in the Resolution of Conflicts in West Africa”, by Gani Yoroms, is another eye-opener for those who have heard much but have known less about Africa’s peace-keeping operations in Africa. Deftly expository, Yoroms’s essay is different from most others because of its tone which is less critical. Yoroms is interested in furnishing us with facts with which we can conclude that Africa, after all, can tackle its crises, although what we see of Somalia and Darfur today confounds us. But no matter what we see today, if we read Yoroms’s essay, we are likely to agree with him that “it is important to acknowledge that ECOMOG operations were indeed path breaking approaches to peace keeping in Africa” (373).
Other essays, such as Kristen Timothy’s “Defending Diversity, Sustaining Consensus: NGOs at the Beijing Women’s Conference and Beyond”; P. Anyang Nyong’o’s “Good Governance for Whom? How Presidential Authoritarianism Perpetuates Elitist Politics in Africa”; and Adagbo Ogbu Onoja’s “The Commonwealth Intervention in the Zimbabwe Land Reform Crisis: Africa’s Security in the Post Cold War Era” give us profound education on issues that are here with us and yet we know just little about them. Beyond the depth of the researches collected in this book, the spread, which is an attempt to embrace all facets of political life of Africa, is a commendable feat.
With about fifteen essays, the book is one that every scholar and thinker, irrespective of the field of specialisation, ought to possess and give it a prominent space on his/her shelf. Perhaps, those who need the service of this book most are the politicians and the policy-makers of present-day Africa who have become persistently noisy and noisome about reforms. The book will help them reform themselves, and give them a lead-way towards the evolution of a genuinely democratic norm in Africa.
Sule E. Egya, Ph.D, writer and scholar, teaches in the Department of English, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nasarawa State.