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Highlighting challenges of Pan-Africanism at felabration 2017

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Kadaria Ahmed (left); Guest speaker; Prof. Patrick Lumumba; Executive Editor, The Gaurdian and Fela’s lawyer, Femi Falana


Felabration, the yearly public lecture held in honour of music maestro and political activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, took place last week. It had as theme ‘40 Years After Festac, 20 Years After Fela… Wither The Pan-African Dream?’ The keynote speaker was Director and Chief Executive Officer of Kenyan School of Law, Prof. Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba.

Panelists and moderators of the discussion were the Executive Editor, The Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo, media entrepreneur, Mrs. Kadaria Ahmed and activist, lawyer and Fela’s personal lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana. Initiated by the eldest child and daughter of the Afrobeat musician, Yeni Kuti, the event is a festival of music and arts in commemorating life and times of the musical icon.

Lumumba, who spoke passionately on the pan-African topic, engaged participants for almost an hour about facts and figures of the effects of continuing imperialism on Africa and Africans. He spoke about Pan-Africanism in the context of celebrating Fela, saying being part of the event was like being in the presence of greatness. For many young Africans, who are familiar with the history of Africa and pan-Africanism, he defined what Pan-Africanism is and for whom it is intended.

According to Lumumba: “This continent has had her moment of greatness. As much as we celebrate history, we must ask ourselves where we come from. Pan-Africanism can be divided into several equals. Those of you, who remember the pioneering works of some individuals, will remember when all those countries were under the colonial yoke, but the activities of Africans in diaspora served to energise the early freedom fighters such as Kwame Nkruma of Ghana, Nelson Mandela and many other African countries.”

He said the entire agenda of pan-Africanism at that time was to ensure that Africans regained their independence, which had been taken away from her at that infamous conference in Berlin, Germany in 1884.“If we are to assess African history correctly, there is a sense in which the pan-Africanist movement in the young days was devoted to ensuring that we regained our independence.”

He noted that it was amazing that even in those difficult early days and without the benefit of social media, these individuals were able to communicate and to hold several meetings for the sake of their countries. Lumumba said: “Whether the meeting took place in Monrovia, Namibia, or Ethiopia, the unanimity and clarity with which leaders fought was as amazing as it was fulfilling. Ultimately, African countries, one after the other, started acquiring political independence. I can still hear, through the vicissitude of time those Nkruma’s spoken words in 1957, that Ghanaian independence would mean nothing if other African countries did not gain theirs.

“Nkrumah, was brave; he taught his companions of the day to ‘seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest shall be given unto you.’ Unfortunately, once the political independence was gained, it became a tragedy, such that it is debatable if Africa really acquired political independence.

“Even in those early days, Nkrumah had the vision and the foresight of a Jewish prophet in recognizing that the colonizer would want to destroy the newly independent countries. So, at the meeting held on May 25,1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the presence of 32 other heads of state, with the sense of urgency and commitment, Nkrumah said ‘Let us not leave this hall without one currency for Africa because neo-colonialism is alive and well and it will get us to our trappings of power.’ We did not listen to him; we went to our little countries and no sooner had we settled in our newly won independence than the neo-colonial project began unraveling.”

Lumumba said, barely nine months after gaining independence, DR Congo’s Patrice Lumumba was assassinated; Togo’s leader had been eliminated. After that, it came here in Nigeria. Nnamdi Azikiwe was removed from power and you remember very well Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna of Sokoto were assassinated in the process and, in a sense, whether we like it or not, Nigeria has never been the same again!”

Lumuba continued: “They didn’t stop there. Ghana’s leader was removed; Togo, Benin Republic and many others. The other leaders, who remained were already wondering and being choreographed by the colonial masters so that till today, Africa remains the only continent in the world that is referred to in these terms: Francophone Africa and Anglophone Africa. In Cameroon they are divided into Francophone and Anglophone. Even Nigeria is Anglophone, not Yorubaphone, Ibophone, Hausa/Fulaniphone! And those of us who have attained some level of education are comfortable telling people: this country is Anglophone and this one is that. When we go to Cape Verde and other countries, they define themselves as Lusophone. This is the tragedy in Africa!”

Lumumba summited that Fela was right when he said: “When they want to enslave you, they make sure you do not know who your forefathers are. As we are gathered here to remember the man, Fela Kuti, in the context of Africa, we must ask ourselves what relevance this is because there is a sense in which we gained or regained our independence, but there is a sense in which we lost it.”

LUMUMBA also recalled vividly those early days, when musicians did not sing for the sake of it, neither were writers writing for the sake of it, saying they were making serious contribution.

“When you look at the writings of Prof. Wole Soyinka, whether in Kongi’s Harvest, The Interpreters, The Man Died and his other books, Soyinka was speaking to our minds, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, A Man of The People and others, he was speaking to our minds. In Ghana, Ayi Kwei Amah is asking, if The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, same thing with East Africa’s Ngugi wa ’Thiongo. He is asking us the same question in A Grain of Wheat: all that they are asking us is, are we alive to our circumstances?”

He also spoke about the newer crop of musicians of the day such as Manu di Bango, Hugh Masekela, Mariam Makeba, and more, who are asking the same question.According to him, “Fela is asking legitmate questions. When he sings ‘Yellow Fever,’ he is asking the African woman why she is not comfortable in her dark skin; when he sings ‘Zombie,’ he is asking why we have been zombified.”

The former anti-corruption war went further to recall some prophetic utterances in Fela’s music. He asked, “Why is it that we respond to external stimuli without questioning, when Fela sings ‘Teacher, no teach me nonsense.’ He is interrogating our educational sector and asking Nigerians what we are teaching that we have not been able to change anything. And when he sings about ‘International thief, thief,’ he is asking why we continue to sell our soul to western civilization!”

In fact, when Fela was alive, he suffered the fate of many prophets. He was not accepted in his own country. It is on recorded that he was arrested about 200 times, abused times without number, with some thinking he was even mad, although many great men the world over had been thought mad in their days.However, Lumumba said: “Today, we recognise that the things Fela was speaking about many years ago have come to fruition. Nigeria and many African countries are infamous for leaders who only steal on an industrial scale and are involved in mass murder of people. We are infamous for the wrong things and all these things are not new; Fela saw them many years ago.”

The Kenyan urged the audience not to just gather to remember Fela merely as an annual jamboree, but to ask themselves what they could do to give practical value to his ideas, how they could immortalise them 20 years after.

According to him: “People like Fela are evergreen because their ideas are evergreen. They speak the truth and history has recorded times without number that when you are a speaker of truth, you annoy officials, but it is our duty to ask questions because in Africa, we have lamented and analysed our history for too long. We have complained and historised and philosophised our problems for too long. The people are now asking for simple and practical solutions.”

Lumumba reminded the audience of the FESTAC 1977, where Africans met at National Theatre to celebrate African arts and to remind themselves that they are of the Negro blood and have always had a sense of history. During the event, according to Lumumba “Yoruba, Congolese, Swahili, Zulu and all African music was played here, but beyond the entertainment, what have we done?”

He said Africa is in the business of “doing things that make us feel good without making us think, but 40 years after FESTAC the question is, have we realised our potential? I remember 17 years ago, when we departed the 20th century, into the 21st century. We said, this will be the century for Africa, but when I look around, the evidence that is available to me is that it is the century of the Chinese. We Africans are still where we were!

“If you look at Africa today, the two billion of us combined, our GDP is not more than USD$3 trillion. That is the GDP of Spain alone. So, all we Negros, the goods and services we produce are less than what Spain, which is less than 100 million produce.“The question that we must ask ourselves is, are we children of a lesser god? God, in his divine wisdom, gave us all the natural resources that we need. I dare say that the natural resources of Africa are scandalous.”

LUMUMBA also spoke about anti-corruption fight, saying, “We can solve our corruption problem. Corruption is the bane of Africa and the thing that undermines us. In Nigeria, if you are to have an assembly of the leaders of the 36 states and you have read the story of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves, you will discover that they are no longer 40, but thousands of thieves. Until the day we liberate ourselves from the clutches of these thieves, Africa is going nowhere.

“Today, when I look at the number of thieves Nigeria has produced, I weep. I rember the efforts of my good friend, Nuhu Ribadu, when he tried to fight corruption in this country. He was almost killed, but when he came out with all his credentials and asked you Nigerians to vote for him, you did not. But when you elect other officials, you expect them to be Nuhu?

“You must be consistent. When your current president campaigned on the platform of anti-corruption, you elected him, but when he began to fight it, you say let corruption come back. What do you want him to do. It is all of you Nigerians, who are in that office in Enugu, Abuja, Kano; you that is minister, who is in charge of petroleum, stop being corrupt!”

He further eulogised Fela and his fight against social ills, saying: “Fela was a human being just like us, an artists who came with Afrobeat. For those whose agenda in life is to dance, they will think that he only wanted us to dance, but I understand Fela perfectly. He was telling us to dance the Afrobeat of education so that we could produce a bicycle and that is what Pan-Africanism is all about!”

The guest lecturer also cited the example of Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, who recognised that pan-Africanism was real, who dared say that anything that man could imagine he could do.“They cut his life shot. But in the five years that he was there, he asked the question, ‘why are we called Upper Volter? We are Burkina Faso; we are the land of the upright man; we are the Burkinabe.’ They tried to destroy the memory of Sankara, but his memory is alive and well!”

ONE of the panelists, Ogbodo, spoke on the pervasive culture of lamentation in Africa, when he said, “The way we lament in this country almost feels like we are going to have another book of lamentation. There is this capitulation we do because we were colonized and enslaved, and so incapable of doing anything by ourselves.“Why is it that anytime we begin to speak to our situation, we say ‘they want us to do this?’ Why can’t we do things the way we want to do them?”He also wondered why the word ‘Felabration’ has not entered the dictionary even though the event has existed for about 20 years now and is being celebrated across all the continents.

According to Ogbodo, “Culture is a very fundamental issue because to operate outside culture is almost impossible. It is like operating outside your essence. What defines a man is not his intellect, but his spirit, though in our usual ways, we always feel that it will be better if the model is patterned after Americans or the British, or it cannot work. If you look at the words ‘occidental’ and ‘oriental,’ the basics of advancement anywhere in the world is rooted in culture and their origin; it cannot be otherwise.

“If you see a Chinese man, you know he is one in his dressing, his ways, and food. If you go to Japan, considered to be the headquarters of technology, you still see their small festivals, the Sumo wrestling; they will be naked doing their thing. Africa’s ways are just different and I don’t know where that is coming from. We have to re-colonize ourselves because nobody is going to do it for us. These are the lamentations that, maybe after gaining independence, we un-gained it because we have not really built on our culture and until we do so, we will continue this lamentation.”

Ogbodo went down memory lane on Fela, when he said, “We were small when Fela started his music, but he died, when I had come of age and I took time to listen to all his songs and some of the things he said 20 years ago are as tenable today as they were then. So, there is something we are yet to get right. I think until we upgrade our culture pedestal we cannot become global citizens.”

Falana noted that the topic would not have come at a more opportune time than now. He stated this in view of Africa’s excruciating economic problems, where young people, who are disenchanted and frustrated with the system, are being invited by the most reactionary segment of the ruling class to go back to their ethnic shells. However, he said in the drawing book of the rich, nobody talks of religion or ethnicity, especially when they want to destroy and steal the wealth of the country.

According to Falana: “A lady executive, who was charged with stealing N250 billion pleaded with the government and said she would return N194 billion. Everybody was told by the ruling class, aided by journalists, that everybody should mind their business! So, they want to keep us divided so that it will be easy to rule us and that is what is going on.”He, however, had one problem with what Lumumba said: “Yes, Africans are corrupt, but I beg you, don’t be tempted to jump to the conclusion. The west stigmatises us as one of the most corrupt people, but America and Britain are the most corrupt nations on earth. Transparency International tried to rate the most corrupt countries; it says Nigeria is corrupt; Ghana, Cameroon and others are corrupt, but Switzerland that warehouses all corrupt money in the world is not!

“Secondly, Fela once asked me: ‘Femi all this your funny law sef, where did you get the idea of fraud and money laundering? If the west were not stealing, there will be no such words. If a man is a thief and you tell him so, his children in school will be ashamed, but when you say the man is engaged in fraud or money laundering, it looks like it is not stealing.”For those who didn’t understand Fela, Falana said he was my most interesting client, adding, “For many of us, he had the propensity for criminality, but here was a man; he would call me and say, ‘Femi, I wan commit this crime; I am going to breach this colonial law. It is your business to defend me’ and he will do it.”

“One interesting thing is, he would have done his homework well; all he needed was to look for a lawyer to back up his defence, the type you cannot challenge in any court and that was how he got away with many violations.”Falana commended Lumumba for his illuminating lecture on pan-Africanism, adding, “Prof., what you have done for us today as Nigerians and Africans is to recall those beautiful songs of Fela, how he challenged the African elite to think Africa. As an undergraduate, one of the most valuable books I came across was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. It was Fela, who circulated and publicised that book in Africa. As far as he was concerned, that book was a compulsory read for every African undergraduate. He went to campuses with lorry loads of it. In two years, he delivered 60 lectures in our campuses in the 1980s, just to challenge Africans to drop foreign names and decolonies our lives.”

Ahmed wanted Lumumba to speak on the politics of identity and how African leaders have utilised it to divide the people, and what Africa should do under such circumstances to build identities that would allow growth in diversity.Lumumba’s response was: “Once again, I will say there are no simple solutions. Countries cannot be completely successful. The U.S., for instance, is a country of immigrants; they have also had many problems throughout the ages, including the civil rights movement, but yet there is a sense that even in those difficult times, the country continues to thrive and tackle those issues.

“The Italian-Americas emphasise their identity as Italians; there are Irish-Americans, African-Americans, but those who love America only emphasise American identity to the extent that it does not undermine Americaness. It is not easy, but it is something that is worth fighting for on a daily basis and reminding the narrow-minded ones that if you want to use your identity for negative reasons, it will consume you.

“We must remember that even in our little countries, if the Yoruba think that a Republic of Oduduwa will unite them, when they are left alone, they will discover that there are many things that will divide them. So, they must always look for the things that unite them, not things that divide them. Let us create a nation, which is united but diverse and that is how they came about the confederals, and Africans must re-examine that.

“Africa is a prison of concepts that are conceptualized outside. They have been told that democracy is equal to multi-party system. They have been told that it is equal to periodic elections, that it is equal to what London and America think. When will Africans think for themselves?”Lumumba enjoined Africans to begin to interrogate some of these institutions of governance because of the contradiction of the west, which is constantly telling us what to do.

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