2019 Person of the year: A friend of our mind
Africa’s story, of colonization, subjugation, dehumanization, want misery, poverty, neo-colonisation, wars, bad leadership and all sorts, lost its exciting appeal of a bestseller a long time ago.
That story has been told and retold so often that it graduated from being a story, true as it is, into an excuse for an undesirable pitiful condition. For some reason, Africa would seem unwilling or unable to live the truth that a man suffers his way to wisdom.
In fact, a giant fog seems to sit on the African mind that blocks out a real appreciation of his condition and an understanding of a pathway to true progress and happiness.
Once in a while, therefore, when a voice rings out in this wilderness of misery to remind the African that he could and should take his destiny in his hands, such a voice carries not just a breath of hope but also an adrenalin-pumping, cathartic feeling of release.
Not in recent times has there been such a voice let alone one so compelling, so heart-rending in detailed lamentations of the African condition and also so sonorous in songs of wisdom for the way to liberty as that of Arikana Chihombori-Quao, a medical doctor who is currently holding the world spell-bound by speaking the truth to those powers holding Africa to the stakes.
For much of 2019, as the ambassador representing the 55 countries of the African Union in the United States of America, Arikana Chihombori-Quao made her office a pulpit from which she railed against the immorality of the current world order and the injustice therein.
She lamented the tethers of colonialism still around the waist of Africa, preached about the unity of all Africans and spoke of the need to work together to build a dream homeland.
She was unsparing in condemning the exploitation of the continent and the pillaging of her resources by all sorts of marauders. Not unexpectedly, the leprous hands of manipulation showed up and for standing up for her people and speaking truth to power so vigorously, on October 7th, 2019, Chihombori-Quao was removed from her position.
But she has remained neither bowed nor cowed.
Indeed, her removal from office as ambassador has only served to cement her position as an authentic conscience of Africa and strengthened her as a voice for the continent and its oppressed people.
What Arikana Chihombori-Quao has continued to do is to fire the imagination of all and open the eyes of Africans to the redemptive powers of the woman in the African community. With her unrelenting calls for justice, she has, indeed, become a symbol of hope for Africa
Her words have become the lantern illuminating the misery of a continent so blessed with natural resources but impoverished by mindless invaders, aided by poor, subservient native leadership; and the mystery of a people supposedly free from colonialism but shackled economically by the same rogues who owe them a world in reparation.
Already, her words are bearing fruits. A bloc of West African countries have begun the process of breaking free from the France-controlled currency and asserting their independence from Paris, even though not without protestations and scheming by France for the status quo to remain.
She has deployed the best weapon, courage, against the forces of colonisation. By standing up for Africa, she has challenged all Africans to stand up and slip the bonds of domination actively encouraged over the past five decades by Africans’ own docility.
It is said that the eagle’s flight is made possible by shedding any weight that holds it down. If they did not know before now, Chihombori-Quao has pointed out to all Africans the burdens that weigh them down. It is now left for all to band together and fly.
Even as her voice rings true and loud in condemning the legacy of slavery, the legacy of colonisation in her beloved land and therefore, to use her words, an ‘insanity of the highest order’, which the relationship between Africa and the West, or even, lately, the East is, she never claimed to be saying what has not been said or known before.
She indeed gives credit and acknowledges the fate that befell those who spoke or even acted long before her. The assassination of every African leader who had at one time or the other protested the injustice against the continent practically brings her to tears. So does the phenomenon of dead or living puppet leaders used as instruments of their people’s self-destruction.
Indeed, Chihombori-Quao is following in the indelible footsteps of Africans, especially women, who, like mother-hens worked to protect their brood.
She brings to mind the gallantry of Yaa Asantewaa who, as Queen Mother of the Edweso tribe in present-day Ghana, led an army of thousands in 1900 against colonialists and was driven into exile in Seychelles where she lived for 20 years until her death in 1921.
Arikana Chihombori-Quao’s actions salute the bravery of Queen Nzinga Mbande of Ndongo and Matamba in present-day Angola who was a thorn in the flesh of Portuguese colonial adventurers. Her life pays tributes to the late Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria and reminds all of the sacrifice of Josina Muthemba Machel, a great leader of the Mozambican fight for independence. She joined FRELIMO in 1960 and led the “Women’s Detachment” who took up arms alongside men in the trenches to fight for Mozambique’s freedom. She married Samora Machel, the iconic leader of Mozambique and she died in 1971, aged 36.
Taytu Betul as Queen of Ethiopia, fought alongside her husband, Emperor Menelik II, and led her people to victory over Italian forces in 1896. The list is long, of African women and men who paid supreme sacrifices for the liberation of Africa.
Indeed, Chihombori-Quo’s lamentation of the impudence with which France has continued to rape Africa merely re-echoes the first President of Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Toure’s emphatic “No” to France’s injustice and domination, saying as far back as 1958 that “it is better to be poor and free than to live in opulence and be a slave.”
Nonetheless, with her words and actions, Arikana Chihombori-Quao has written her name on the hearts of Africans. With her fearless crusade for justice and equity, a need without boundaries, she has made humanity her native community, speaking, as it were, for all oppressed peoples of the world.
“She is a friend of my mind,” a character in African-American author, Toni Morisson’s novel, BELOVED, says of the woman after his heart. “She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” And in a tone laden with immeasurable joy, the man sighs: “It’s good, you know when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
Friendship of the mind.
That is the epoch which the ongoing love affair between the continent and this illustrious daughter should reach.
Africa was lucky to awake in 2019 to the spectacle of a daughter who sought, in love, to gather the pieces of her continent and put them in all the right order. Africa is blessed to have a friend of its mind.
Today, her name evokes the admiration of all and needles the hearts of the continent’s enemies, within and without. Indeed, not a few leaders are catching the fire from the flame of her courage.
While her cry from the heart may not immediately affect too much change in the order of things, it may well serve as a call on her beloved Africa to begin the search for real architects of its salvation.
And as she cries like a mother would do to save her child from destruction, may Africa not prove unworthy of Arikana’s exertions.
For damning all consequences to preach, with clarity and courage, that Africa must be free and free indeed, Arikana Chihombori-Quao has done more than most in 2019 to serve and save her beloved continent.
And she is The Guardian’s Person of The Year 2019!
…as Nigeria packs a punch!
Sporting accomplishment undoubtedly casts lights of glory on its community of origin.
Sport is already well established as a measure of economic and cultural power. It is also a formidable tool of international relations and diplomacy.
Though British by citizenship, the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is not only Nigerian by birth and in name, his strength of body and character as well as determination to win is very Nigerian.
Tenacity is the attribute that crowns ability. Persistence rewards disappointments in much the same way success is often built on the ashes of failure.
Anthony Joshua could have been lost to the streets or underworld of London as an errant boy that he was.
He could have given up after heart-breakingly losing his championship belts to a short, portly Mexican earlier in the year.
But he re-discovered that peculiarly Nigerian resilience in him, picked up the pieces, got prepared and eventually won.
Victory is rooted in self-confidence.
For reminding the land of his birth of what it takes to win and being such an inspiration to the young of Nigeria, Anthony Joshua is a hero and a symbol of Nigeria’s possibilities.