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Monday, 26 April 2010


A trilogy in 4 parts

This essay involves 3 interesting and interconnected personalities, each of them is outstanding in their particular field, each of whom can be described in law enforcement speak as ’a person of interest’ and all three of them are linked to shady deals in shady places or concerned citizens. These 3 individuals are James Ibori, Sarosh Zaiwalla and Tony Baldry

Chief James Ibori was the governor of Delta State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, one of the key oil producing states in the Federation between 1999 and 2007.

Delta State produces 40% of Nigeria oil revenue and receives from the Federal Government 13% of the total annual revenue received from oil production.
With this massive wealth that is generated and then filtered back into the state it would be expected that this state would be one of the most developed in Nigeria.

Not so.

Ibori used his time in office to extract most of the wealth of that state using a network of family members, lawyers and associates and a large and complex network of companies to steal and launder the money into the UK, USA, South Africa, The British Virgin Islands, Switzerland and beyond.

Theft was not a new vocation for Ibori, between 1990 and 1992 he and his wife were thrice convicted for crimes of theft and dishonesty, in the Greater London area. In 1995 he was convicted in Bwari in Nigeria of criminal conduct and breach of trust.

So how does such a person become a Governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

He initially came to the limelight as a candidate for the defunct National Republican Congress (NRC) for the Federal House of Representatives;
He lost and up to this point was just another petty criminal trying his hand in politics however in 1993 his luck changed, the June 12th Presidential elections were annulled, democracy such as it was, was extinguished and then Gen Sani Abacha came to power and began actively looking for people to assist him in his various nefarious deeds.

According to Ibori’s own website he served as a Special Adviser in public policy formulation between 1994 and 1997 (Abacha ruled from 1993 until his death in 1998)
A man who had lived off UK government charity and supplemented his income through petty crime up until then suddenly had the resources to open a Citibank account in Maryland, in the US in 1994, feeding in several large sums of money.

At the time Ibori, was registered as unemployed in London and claiming unemployment benefits and council housing from the UK, he was also (according to his website) working as a Special Adviser in Public Policy in Nigeria and according to his Citibank application was self employed, an ‘International Policy Analyst/ Consultant’.

Being a man of many capacities who simultaneously could be unemployed, self employed and employed he maintained a balance of $1000- $5000 in the account, until November 1996 where upon he deposited $1.5 million followed by $250,000. He followed this up with instructions to disperse these funds to various Swiss and Bahamian accounts.

The US government was not unnaturally a little bit suspicious of this and seized the funds. Subsequent investigations read like a passage from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s award winning novel ‘I do not come to you by chance!’ as an almost textbook 419 type operation. First he gave the US officials 3 blatantly Nigerian phone numbers claiming he was in the Hyatt Hilton, London, and then he presented 2 US driving licences (Maryland and Virginia) with different dates of birth, all in all between November and December 1996 he received and disbursed over $1.75 million to accounts round the world.

So what was special about 1996 that an unemployed petty criminal was able to set himself up as a millionaire and International Policy Analyst?
Well in November 1995, the Abacha regime had hung the 9 Ogoni activists and was under increased international pressure from the international community, NADECO, the Nigeria Labour Congress, MKO Abiola and co.

Abacha was at this time promulgating his vision 2010, i.e. his plan to remain in power up until 2010 and beyond. To fund this he needed useful people to silence his critics and salt away sufficient funds to keep his family in luxury and pay off the various ‘interested parties’ in Nigeria

James Ibori was one of these useful people.

In 1996 Kudirat Abiola wife of imprisoned winner of the 1993 elections was murdered, Alex Ibru publisher of the Guardian was shot. Various Labour and civil liberties activists including Adams Oshimowole (current governor of Edo State, another state in the Niger Delta) were arrested and tortured. According to the Special Investigative Panel set up after the Abacha regime, Ibori was key to this repression using his old political contacts to gather information on the various activists and generating support for pro- Abacha groups

This is further reinforced by the fact that this unemployed, self employed, employed consultant managed to open a newspaper (Diet Newspapers) in October 1996. His business partner was Hadi Hamza, who is the brother of Major Hamza Al Mustapha, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer (currently in prison awaiting trial for the various murders above).

This newspaper was used solely to propagate Abacha must stay propaganda, to the point that it was no longer credible. To remedy this when Abacha manufactured a coup attempt against his regime in 1997 he not only arrested the alleged perpetrators but also the journalists who reported the case. Alongside pro democracy journalists was the editor of Ibori’s paper Niran Malaolu.

Of the 4 arrested journalists 3 were released on bail with the exception of Malaolu who was detained for over a year. Whether this was because he knew something incriminating about his boss or mere ruthlessness is unknown however it gave Ibori the breathing space to claim his paper was independent and was as much persecuted as the others, the pertinent thing is Malaolu an individual who is not known for any journalistic or literary ability, who has run at least 2 newspapers into dissolution ended up as Commissioner for Information in Ogun State under Governor Gbenga Daniels, (another fascinating individual) and now runs the only private radio station in the state. The Diet newspaper folded almost immediately the Abacha regime ended

Thus in 1996 Ibori was firmly ensconced in the bosom of Abacha’s murderous apparatus to the extent that when the US authorities wished to seize the mysterious $1.75 million, the Abacha regime manufactured several letters and documents to justify the payments, which were originally claimed as fees for services ‘from unknown sources’, were later claimed by the Abacha regime to US authorities to be payments recovered by Ibori on behalf of the Nigerian Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

In 1998 Abacha died and his various boys scrambled to find their feet, some like Ibori were lucky and smoothly transitioned in the new political dispensation, using his wealth and contacts to form the Grassroots Democratic Movement which morphed into the Delta National Congress and then with other nascent parties into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the current ruling party in Nigeria.

In the 1999 general election the three key Niger Delta states were all won by PDP. This victory was assured via the assiduous rigging and intimidation perpetrated by militants under the aegis of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC).
Therefore Ibori had increased his capacities agaib, he was no longer just a petty criminal, or claiming benefits in London, he was no longer unemployed, self employed or employed he was the Governor of the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in West Africa

Upon entering office (despite the minor inconvenience of a court challenge by his opponent), there was a massive upsurge in ethnic violence in Delta State with the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itekiri’s involved in a tripartite violent armed struggle.
Coincidentally at the same time the Ijaw Youth Council splitting into the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force and the Niger Delta Volunteers.

You see at this point the three key Niger Delta governors Peter Odili (Rivers State), Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa State) and James Ibori (Delta State) had decided the had enough of being under the control of their godfather and founder of the IYC, Edwin Clark so decided to sponsor rival militant groups.

These groups derived funding through bunkering (stealing oil) and basically the ethnic violence was a turf war between the various splinter factions in order to secure the most lucrative bunkering routes. They also quite cheerfully took time out to kill and harass both PDP and non PDP rivals of these good fellows, unsurprisingly they were all re elected.

The capital of Rivers State, Port Harcourt and key port and oil city of Warri in Delta State turned into war zones as these rival groups and their various factions fought it out, thousands were killed (mainly innocent civilians) and tens of thousands displaced.

When President Obasanjo decided he wanted to amend the constitution to run for a 3rd term, Ibori was one of those to oppose him. Although those opposed to the 3rd term campaign were successful, the chickens came home to roods with corruption, as Obasanjo used his last days in office to unleash his attack dogs at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against them.

They obviously didn’t need to look far, Odili and Alamieyeseigha were quickly brought to heel charged and arrested. Although they got off with relatively light sentences the message was clear. Ibori was different, he had stolen so much and controlled such a powerful militant and bunkering network that his pockets were deeper and he was able to keep buying his way out of trouble.

Despite the charges and investigations hanging over him he reinvented himself as a power broker, once his 2 terms in office (and immunity from prosecution) had ended donating heavily to Umaru Yar Adua’s presidential campaign. Using his embezzled money, bunkering funds and his capacity as the godfather of a private militia he delivered the Niger Delta states for Yar Adua and PDP and helped bankroll the final Supreme Court judgement that brought Yar Adua to power to the tune of N30 million per judge

His reward when Yar Adua became President was to appoint his own people to key positions, i.e. Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, and to get his nemesis Nuhu Ribadu dismissed from the EFCC and in an added twist charged with corruption himself.

Thus our friend Ibori was no longer self employed or unemployed but decided to increase his capacities to warlord ($70 per fight, 7 times the Afghan Taliban’s going rate incidentally), illegal oil trader and then power broker, political sponsor and EFCC smasher. Quite a guy!

Unfortunately the change in EFCC’s direction didn’t come quickly enough for Ibori as the EFCC had been working closely with the UK Metropolitan Police, Proceeds of Corruption Unit and they had sufficient evidence to charge Ibori and a wide coterie of his associates with money laundering and various other fraudulent practices.
Ibori fortunately for him skipped out of the UK on time but his wife Theresa (Tessi) Ibori, mistress Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), sister Christine Omatie Ibori-Ibie, personal assistant Adebimpe Folayinmi Pogoson, lawyer Bhadresh Gohil, and financial advisers Daniel McCann and Lambertus De Boer were not so lucky and have been hauled before the UK criminal courts for money laundering and other associated financial crimes.

Iboris corruption is such as too be on par with Abacha, he used no less than 35 companies to launder his stolen money and execute bogus contracts.
One of his scams involved using Delta State Governments 820 million shares in Intercontinental bank as collateral to secure a N44billion loan from Intercontinental Bank Plc for Ascot Offshore (an unknown company owned by a close Ibori associate Henry Imaseka) in 2007 to purchase Wilbros International and oil servicing company.

Needless to say these toxic loans caused these banks to collapse in 2009.
Part of the evidence the Crown has against Christine Ibori- Ibie (Ibori’s sister) is a contract awarded to a company Onovin Ltd to supply running tracks for a stadium, although £300,000 was released to the company less than £100,000 was paid to the actual suppliers of the running track. The owner of the Onovin is Vincent Uduaghan, brother of current Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Ibori’s known or suspected assets in the UK total £35 million, not bad for a man who was unemployed and then earned no more than £25,000 per annum during his time in office.

Thus in addition to his harem and lawyers being on trial in the UK, in Nigeria he was charged with 147 counts of corruption. The original trial was scheduled to hold in Kaduna, however was moved to Asaba, Delta State, where Ibori not only controlled the militants but as we have seen shared the wealth liberally with his successor Emmanuel Uduaghan

Needless to say this case went nowhere, there were several adjournments all of which coincided with attempts by the lawyers of those on trial in the UK to claim that the UK trial should be halted so they could return to stand trial in Nigeria. It even got to the ridiculous point that defence lawyers in the UK were making statements that could be construed as confirming Ibori criminally enriched himself, thus the Nigerian defendants had to go back to Nigeria to testify against him

“ Andrew Trollope QC, defence counsel to Christine Ibie-Ibori, read out the bundles of papers received from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of which stated that James Ibori defrauded Delta State along with his close associates and relatives through inflated contracts, including the supply of 271 vehicles to the government of Delta State and that virtually all the contracts awarded during his position as governor were to extract massive amounts of money from oil-rich state.

He also stated that Mrs. Pogoson established a company with the intention of removing money from Nigeria on behalf of James Ibori and keeping it in foreign accounts, thereby using foreign companies as receptacles for proceeds from laundered money.

Trollope QC affirmed that the EFCC had alleged that (Pogoson’s) MER-UK company assisted James Ibori to purchase choice properties in both United Kingdom and United States of America, and that Ibori was poor prior to the 1999 election that brought him to power. He, however, left office in 2007 with ‘sudden unexplained wealth’ which can be traced to unspecified crimes or illicit business activities.”

Fortunately the UK Judge was quite adamant and the trial went ahead, when Ibori realised he could not use ‘Nigerian style’ to get the cases against these peoples quashed, he then deployed his biggest gun yet using Sarosh Zaiwalla an extremely notorious lawyer with a very questionable reputation in the UK Asian legal community to pay a barrister Tony Baldry in September 2009 to write to the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, copying in the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice and the Secretary of State for the Home Department allegedly stating that the trial of Iboris relatives and co conspirators threatens UK national security and energy security interest and allegedly endeavouring to get the trial halted.

The interesting thing is that Mr Baldry is a top member of the Conservative Party from the same region as the head of the Conservative Party David Cameron. He states that the letter was written in his capacity as a Barrister not as a Member of Parliament however James Ibori was not on trial, and all the defendants have solicitors and barristers, thus there is no logical reason for a barrister who is an MP would be writing to fellow MP’s and politicians other than to use that link to influence behaviour.

It is interesting that in the letter Mr Baldry allegedly stated that due to Ibori’s links with militants UK nationals and interests could be threatened if the case against him continued.

It is alleged that Mr Baldry visited Abuja in 2009 and met President Yar Adua (Mr Baldry is yet to deny this), Ibori’s chief backer and was convinced that Ibori’s trial was political persecution by people who wished to destroy the amnesty in the Niger Delta.

Obviously this tugged at Mr Baldry’s heart strings so for a mere £22,012.57 he wrote 5 pages of I presume high powered legal arguments to 5 political appointees in the UK government (in his capacity as a barrister of course), in reference to the case.
Unfortunately this ruse didn’t work and the case went ahead, James Ibori’s luck went from bad to worse as his patron Yar Adua was rushed to Saudi Arabia in a near vegetative state, knowing that the continuation of Yar Adua’s rule was his only protection, he invested heavily in the charade that surrounded the former President, sponsoring the various groups that were preventing the vice president from assuming executive powers.

Again Mr Ibori’s capacities failed him and his overt backing of the wrong horse snapped the patience of the government and his cases were re-activated, spurning several invitations to come to the EFCC he was declared wanted where upon he retired to his village Oghara, Delta State. The police team sent to arrest him was subsequently attacked by 1000 militants who blocked access to the town and forced them to pull back giving Ibori cover to run away into the creeks of the Niger Delta.
Thus in a full circle of capacities the petty criminal who became a governor using militants becomes a fugitive with those self same militants

The most fascinating aspect is that Mr Baldry in his capacity as a barrister was able to accurately predict that the man he interceded on behalf of who was on trial in his capacity as a thief would eventually turn to armed militants and militancy.

Next part: The many capacities if Tony Baldry, MP, Barrister, Businessman, debtor

Monday, 12 April 2010

The New Nigerian Year

As the year comes to a close so too does a chapter in Nigeria’s history. We are in a crisis that has been building and growing for years and finally the various chickens are coming home to roost.
From amalgamation, to independence to the first coup, to the civil war, to the subsequent coups, military rule, June 12th, Abacha, Obasanjo and Yar Adua, the entire Nigerian project seems to be in a subdued but headlong tumble towards a crisis.
We are currently without a President, the Vice President is disrespected and on unproven legal grounds.
The Presidents entourage assures the people of the Federal Republic that the President is alive and well but he cannot for some reason be induced to give a television interview to reassure the citizens he purports to serve.
After a typically shadowy amnesty program in the Niger Delta, during which recovered weapons were not recorded or destroyed publicly, the militants languish in squalid conditions without retraining, rehabilitation or even sustenance. Apparently these elements of the rehabilitation plan require Presidential approval. Thus inevitably these boys who have returned to the only thing in their lives that has given them purpose in their lives and begun attacking oil facilities.
The upsurge in brigandage and kidnapping in so many parts of the country particularly in the South East means that the freedom of movement of any individual of any manner of means be it an office worker, a trader or a businessman is curtailed. Not that movement is possible as the typical fuel scarcity has returned with a vengeance, coupled with the poor roads, and lack of alternative transport modes most Nigerians living away from home have to stay put.
This year has seen various industries shut up shop and relocate to other countries, our ports and gridlocked and non functioning, our airports would be better used as training aids for combat pilots with the complete paucity of navigational aids. A recent returnee had the joy of leaving an aircraft and identifying their luggage by torchlight at Murtala Muhammad Airport.
Lets talk about 6000MW of electricity. In 1991 it took Saddam Hussein less than 6 months to reconnect the entire Iraqi nation to electricity; this was after the entire electric system was bombed by the most powerful air forces on earth and his nation was blockaded and under sanctions. At the same time he was spending the majority of his GDP on trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, rebuilding his armed forces, fighting 2 rebellions in the north and south and also siphoning off a goodly portion of his country’s wealth to his personal accounts.
This is in a desert country with no other resource than oil. Yet a country with an abundance of gas, oil, coal, rivers, and sunshine, cannot even guarantee electricity to its political and commercial capitals.
The worthlessness of our health system can be demonstrated by the fact the President is abroad being treated for an illness that could be dealt with easily in most countries.
Education is non existent, the quality of Nigeria’s previously famed academics and students is so poor as to be tragic. Students can barely put two sentences together living in conditions that prisoners in other third world countries would reject
And then there is the elephant in the room that shows how low we have gone, a suicide bomber. A pampered rich kid who was apparently so exercised by the condition of Afghans he took it upon himself to try and blow up an American plane. Reading his life story, schooling in an international school in Lome, studying UCL London, living in a £4million flat, it is obvious that he believed all Nigerians were of the same ilk as he if not he would have used his privilege to help the thousands of street kids in Katsina, or maybe he would have been touched by the wholesale massacre of hundreds of Northerners in Boko Haram, or maybe even protested the complete destruction of the Niger Delta and its people. I mean if he knew all these things he would have blown himself up on the private plane of one of the oligarchs to which he must have surely had access.
But the things listed above are not the problem.
They are symptoms of the problem which is the complete and utter lack of leadership and accountability in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
A situation in which an Attorney General seeks to prevent a Governor from standing trial for corruption, in which a Foreign Minister spends almost his entire budget on foreign travel yet oversees a complete neutering of Nigeria’s ability to influence international affairs, in which a country with 4 refineries imports refined petroleum products can only exist where the people in charge are corrupt or incompetent or both.
In an ideal world corrupt incompetence is its own punishment however Nigeria is not an ideal world although sometimes the devil does poke his finger at his own as the widowers Obasanjo and Babangida can testify (and maybe the widow Turai?).
The time for hope and prayers has passed. Hope was killed in 1966 and prayers emigrated in 1993. The time now is for cold steely eyed resolution. The path Nigeria is on is not unique. It is the path that Somalia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Liberia et al went down, with every stage clearly signposted.
First a cabal seizes control of political power and its organs. Then it begins to manipulate the countries affairs towards it own ends. These ends may start out political but in the end the pecuniary aims predominate. Funds are first diverted through quasi legitimate efforts and then wholesale looting begins, state organs and infrastructure are diverted and stripped to benefit the cabal.
The wider the gap between them and the commoners grows the more ostentatious they become. Opposition is suppressed or bought off; the country is now no longer treated as ones own but as occupied territory to be stripped with wealth diverted abroad.
As the organs of state fail the cabal resorts to overwhelming violence and then massive bribery to suppress dissent. As the circle of discontent grows, these tactics become untenable and the reality becomes apparent, the praise singers become slightly less shrill, the ‘orders from above’ are no longer hopped to by the public servant.
And then the country disintegrates. The cabal usually tries to hold, generally by claiming enemies under the bed, be it a particular tribe, ethnic group or religious group. The cabal uses the security forces but due to deliberate mismanagement these forces are underpaid and untrained and thus cannot perform and need to take off the people forcibly in order to sustain themselves. Those of the cabal that remain switch sides as is necessary or flee abroad.
The ordinary people die and suffer in conflicts that are not so much battles but wholesale massacres of people who can’t run away fast enough
This cabal is not from a certain tribe or religion, it transcends such petty things, it is a group of people who believe that the Federal Republic exists solely to service them and their families, thus you see one family producing Senators, Governors, Vice Presidents, Presidents etc from independence to date. Not a single one of them can point to a tangible public work that stands for the good of the people
However this cabal could not function without the coterie of sycophants and hangers on that surround them and this along with their greed and ignorance is their biggest weakness. These individuals are opportunists who dance to whatever tune is played. These people exist solely for their own benefit. I eagerly await the outcome of the Ibori trial and how much the accused will start to give up as these individuals face a trial they can’t buy their way out of
An interesting tale emanates from the Kosovo war of 1999. After several weeks of NATO bombing the Serbian forces there was no weakening of the resolve of the Serb forces or people to resist and NATO reluctantly considered a ground invasion. This did not perturb the Serb leader Milosevic as he thought his forces could resist long enough and cause enough casualties for the Russians to intervene. However all the state funds and proceeds from drug, people and arms trafficking that he and his group were making were laundered through Cyprus.
Unbeknownst to them the EU members of NATO had slapped a travel ban on all members of the inner circle. As their moneyman (the head of the country’s Post and Telecommunications monopoly) travelled out to launder the next instalment he was stopped turned away from Cyprus and then London. Their funds were frozen. They were trapped in their country, with no avenue of escape and most importantly they had no money, and no access to their money, thus the war and the chaos were no longer necessary.
Serb forces pulled out in a few days.
This was the beginning of the end of Milosevic. The next year he rigged the presidential elections after a concerted crackdown against the opposition and the media. The resultant protests were carried out in concert with his security forces who agreed with the opposition not to resist or stop them when they took control of the Parliament and government controlled TV station in Belgrade.
A year later Milosevic was on trial in the Hague for war crimes.
Saddam Hussein disappeared after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 and continued on the run for 8months till capture. His hiding place was betrayed by his bodyguard a close relative. Likewise his sons sought sanctuary in a cousin’s home, who cheerfully grabbed his family, stopping long enough at an American base to give them the news and collect his reward.
The moral of this story is that a cabal or group that exists solely to extract and benefit from ill gotten gains is most vulnerable to that which it desires most and by those who facilitate it. Once the ship was sinking these individuals assessed that rather than sink with it they would actively work to get on the good side of the people they had previously harangued, harassed and murdered.
Thus this gloom is not all pervading. There are many great positives that emanate from our most honoured and beautiful nation. The fact that we exist at all is one, exist and despite all that is thrown at us continue and endeavour to succeed by all means necessary. The greatest thing about Nigeria is and will always be our people. Ever ready to strive, endure and succeed and let the bad apples not sour us to the rest. For every Nigerian you see in the diaspora acting badly be it through rudeness and criminality there are 2 or 3 others working hard, honestly and quietly. For every illiterate, corrupt politician there is an underpaid, overworked activist holding him to account under constant harassment and threat of death, torture and imprisonment. These are our ambassadors and ‘rebrand’ consultants. The Festus Keyamo’s and those of his ilk bringing grandees of the cabal to trial and winning is a first and most important step. Our culture and cultural abilities shines a happy light on the Federal Republic from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful uncompromising prose and the host of new Nigerian authors getting international recognition, along with Nigerian actors like Chiewetel Ejiofor starring in blockbusters to such events as a musical about the life of Fela Anikpulapo Kuti being performed to rave reviews on Broadway with producers like Jay-Z and Will Smith.
All of these shine a light on the Federal Republic like never before, thus making this our 50th year our most crucial.
If we truly chose to fight and win and reclaim our country then we must chose our battle field and our weapons and our greatest weapons are those mentioned above. Our people and our culture, our voices and our words. The lives we lead and the examples we set. Our courage, our intellect our perseverance and our belief. Most importantly our belief in a strong, developed, undivided Nigeria, ruled according to the wishes of the people for the benefit of people
So the period 1960 to 2010 cannot be considered our true beginning and it is definitely not our end. It is the beginning of the beginning.
Our beginning.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sometimes a thing is just a thing

This article below gives a good indication of some of the thinking of frustrated young Africans. It is reproduced here without permission

“Sometimes a thing is just what it is, a thing....when we see lightning killing people we don’t ask why, we just stay out of thunderstorms”. This quote from the Virgin of the Flames by Chris Abani strikes me as the most astute summary of Africa and African attitudes I’m yet to come across. It summarises our way of thinking and why we survive so many catastrophes and more importantly why catastrophes continue to befall us
Unlike other colonized or conquered people with the exception of certain tribes in Namibia who attracted the unwelcome attention of the Germans virtually no African peoples have been exterminated. Despite the best efforts of wars, slavery, floods, disease, malnutrition, droughts, climate, more wars, colonialism, independence, dictatorships and more wars, Africa and Africans survive.
Africa always finds a way.
Because to us a ‘thing’ is indeed just a ‘thing’. Not to challenged, questioned or bent to our will. But rather to be accepted and a will to be bent to. By adapting to disasters and seasons and our flora and fauna we have been able to survive. By accepting the superiority of another tribe or an enemy a village pays tribute but survives, living and going about its business in relative peace.
A river with dangerous undercurrents regularly sucks people in who venture too far from the shore. It is declared off limits, the Elders state there is an angry River goddess that requires placating and the river is avoided except for rituals at particular points of the year. No one is inclined to check for fords or river patterns. The village remains idyllic and isolated. It survives, it exists but it doesn’t expand or necessarily prosper. Risk is averted, evil is avoided, life and the way of life is preserved but by corollary so is ‘evil’
The ability to adapt, improvise and overcome is without doubt the most striking thing about Africa. If anything distinguishes us it is that we survive. At least as a people if not as individuals. The collective survives because the collective accepts the ‘thing’ and although they might lose some people on the way the collective always survives in some shape or form
The question is though; would the casualty rate be the same as actually confronting these ‘things’ as accepting them?
This is the very reason we are so ill used and we accept the tyranny of Big Men. We laud and flatter illiterate murderers and thieves because we meekly accept their itinerant power. We are willing to be co-opted and accept second best for no other reason or question than ‘that’s how it is’
Leaders cannot be confronted because they are ‘ordained by God’.
In order for a people to survive in a harsh and aggressive environment it is necessary to accept and adapt, but in order for a people to advance and progress they need to challenge and modify. Sometimes it is necessary to climb a mountain for no other reason than that it is there. Maybe there’s nothing at the top? Or maybe on the other side is a fertile valley.
Development and survival are two different things. Great Britain developed because it was a cold rain swept island without much opportunities, which was generally always a naval defeat away from being absorbed by larger European powers. The people did not accept these things they spread out, fought, conquered, exploited, oppressed and their island progressed.
Great Britain was not made good by kind words and generous deeds but by brigands, pirates and slavers who did not accept the strictures of their society or even the strictures of the law on a small feudal island but went out on the premise that a thing may be a thing but if I grab it and hold on to it, it becomes my thing and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it. For every Lugard, Rhodes, Livingstone, or Stanley there are thousands who died and will remain unknown except for some obscure entries in old shipping logs or scientific societies records. But for the 100 who died 1 or 2 prevailed and seized entire nations for themselves or their home countries.
This is not an advocacy for murder, rape and pillage. Instead it is an observation that the biggest prison of any peoples are the prisons that their minds and cultures permit. Those that looted Africa in the name of colonialism did so with the benefits to themselves and to their people in mind as they recognised that their advancement depended on everyone around them. Thus even today you can walk around London or towns in the North of England and see remnants of towns and public works built by slave traders and colonialists. Because by shoring up their home countries they guaranteed a market for the products they were extracting. Yet at no time were these people more numerous than those they ruled.
So what has changed today?
A tiny number of uneducated, unskilled people can hold entire nations to ransom with ill equipped and ill disciplined armies simply because we accept it is so.
With that acceptance comes impunity, the impunity to steal, kill and impose themselves without the slightest compunction and it is impunity that is the greatest impediment to real change in Africa.
In order to eradicate corruption and poor leadership it must be a top down exercise, mainly because the top strata are the most guilty and least numerous. These people cannot yet be prosecuted in their own courts so they must be held to account in other ways.
The lack of consequence and retribution removes whatever incentive the powerful have to perform as expected
But how and who? Why should I try and dam the flood when I can go along with the flow for as long as it takes me? Why fight for tangible and possibly nonexistent goals if I can’t feed my family?
Because if not you then who? Someone must first climb that mountain and peer into the abyss below. Someone must prove the route that others might follow. Possibly like those first prospective colonialists he will be unknown and unmourned but on his back a great civilisation could be born
We can stay out of thunderstorms and avoid lightning, but sometimes lightning strikes the house as well, and then we’d all get burnt and electrocuted anyway. Sometimes it is worth one of us stepping out and getting wet and watching where the lightning comes from so at the very least we can warn the others