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Stir good trouble

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How do Africans in other African countries, Africans in the United States of America…can we really speak of Africans in the USA? After all we do not speak so easily of Europeans who emigrated to the USA. We don’t even decorate them with their geographical place of origin as we do others. So, let’s leave them out of this “we are all Africans” net. We are not all Africans. Not even the blackest of black Americans speak like any of us. So perhaps we should stick to our Africans then. So let’s start again.

What do Africans in other African countries think of our local heroes and heroines? Do they know Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Yorubas know him and bow to him “bi Orissa”?

Do they know Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmad’s Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto know these three as powerful men of Nigeria as Nigerians know them?

We need to ask the question the other way round. Do we Nigerians know their heroes as we know them? We hardly know their men not to talk of their women. They don’t know our Mrs. Ransome Kutis either.

When we look across the African continent some names have crossed our borders and they are genuinely proclaimed and claimed as Africans. They are politicians such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara. And Leopold Sedar Senghor, who happens to be a poet and a politician. There is Patrice Lumumba, about whom a Yoruba dramatist Hubert Ogunde wrote and performed a play. This is how most Nigerians first heard of Patrice Lumumba, in a Yoruba song. There is Gamal Abdul Nasser. Later there was Mobutu Sese Seko heard about because of stealing Zaire dry. There was Julius Nyerere who ruled Tanzania gently, without doing havoc to the country.

Other African characters would be Wole Soyinka, a literary person known across all borders, not those of Nigeria alone. There are boxers who claimed world titles through their boxing like Hogan “Kid” Bassey and Dick Tiger, both of Nigeria. People and practitioners in each area would know each other but that does not amount to being know across our borders.

Nelson Mandela did not have a middle name known to the world until he had served 27 years out of a life sentence. Before you know it every street and road and boulevard and main road and close and roundabout and corner. And everything and anything was named after Mandela. Out of fear of ethnic quarrels it was not suggested that the country be named after Nelson Mandela. After all a geographical name like South Africa’s was easiest to change. So, how many Africans around the world had heard of John Lewis 1940 – 2020, the man who famously admonished young African-Americans to stir good trouble. This column must have heard of its name in Barbados, that cross-cultural world of teachers, writers and politicians. Which is why our Mr. Trouble takes his name from a Caribbean man, like the song with the name.

US senator for 30 years, who was part of the black movement for years, whose head was used from time to time as their drum of choice fought on no violence protest. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. took his lesson from Gandhi. Mandela picked up non-violence from Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. in spite of the fact that the Mahatma began non violence when he was in South Africa and took it back to India.

In 1965, John Lewis led hundreds of protesters over the bridge that crosses the Alabama River in the state’s town of Selma. It was a peace march. “State troopers attacked them and Lewis was left with a broken skull on what became known as Bloody Sunday”.

400,000 signatures have been secured to rename the bridge after John Lewis for the attack he suffered on that bridge. A member of the KKK (if any child knows not who these were she and he must Google it) almost kill John Lewis as a result of the skull breakage inflicted on him. Yes later, the same member of the KKK came to ask for the pardon of Senator John Lewis. John Lewis forgave him, the KKK person. I wouldn’t if I was him. John Lewis forgave him. At present, the bridge is named after a confederate general we would not dignify by mentioning his name. We might have to wait for a Democrat President to get that possible naming ceremony.

It is not only the personal achievements of John Lewis that lifts him high above his peers. It was what he did to inspire them to join the movement. Ask Martin Luther King Jnr. (This Column is aware Dr. King Jnr. has passed on, hurried on his way by an assassin’s bullet). But you can ask their biographers.

John Lewis lived to be eighty years of age. He saw the passing of the Vote Bill. He lived to see the first African-American President of the United States of America. They are a lot to witness in a life time of relentless activism.

At every stage, African-Americans passed the baton on to the next generation having run their lap. During the running of their lap, we did not hear that they soiled the positions they occupied if they were lucky to be given positions to occupy. It is not the same thing with our Africans. When one generation passes the baton to the next generation, it is so dirty the receiving generation drops it for something else. Each generation accumulates enough dirt for itself and its generation that enough is quite enough. South Africa is enough example, as if what the rest of the continent had down were not for five generations to come.

Hardly had the baton left the hand of Mandela than it was tarnished by dirt. Was it not under his presidency that the arms buying was initiated? Which makes some critics of Mandela insist that the dirt was there during the time of the struggle. It is as if to exonerate Mandela who was in prison during that part of the struggle.

Let’s stop here for now.


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