For a continent like Africa whose modernisation has been such a painful process for the majority of the populace, the continuous re-examination of each and every proposition is at the heart of Afrocentric consciousness. This is the sense in which Professor Issac Olawale Albert’s recent Inaugural Lecture, impressively titled, “Pinched, Ditched or Jinxed? The Mantra of African Solutions to African Problems” should interest all of us.
When is a problem African and what constitutes Africanity?
Prof. Albert’s is an interesting voice because he is coming from the University of Ibadan, about the only one still standing, with respect to minimum attributes of the university. Most universities in Nigeria have been bastardized. This has nothing to do with the students or their lecturers but a consequence of the devastation wrought on the university system in Nigeria by the World Bank and its local ambassadors. It is such that the value system has totally collapsed. At the last count, for instance, one of them announced over 100 First Class Degrees and probably thought it was doing something great when it was actually embarrassing the universe of inquiry.
The second reason Prof Albert should attract our attention is, having just got his professorship, his Inaugural Lecture gives Nigerians an idea of the professorial capability of the average academic in Nigeria. For, the culture of Inaugural Lecture died a long time ago in the Nigerian university system. Only in a number of them is the culture just being brought back from the graveyard or observed but mostly in a manner anti-thetical to the very idea of the culture.
But then, what did Albert say? First was his basically discursive expose of the ideology of ‘African Solutions to African Problems’. His account is that it is the Western world’s adaptation of the logic of battlefield medical science by French medical team in deciding which casualties to attend to during the First World War. There were those who were likely to live regardless of what care was given, those who were going to die regardless of what care was given and those for whom immediate care would mean much. By the 1990s when the Cold War was over, Africa had become, in the Western mind, a case of a dying casualty irrespective of what care was given. Hence, the notion of African solutions for African problems, a way of telling Africans that they were on their own, with particular reference to containing Africa’s numerous wars and violent conflicts through African based Preventive Diplomacy, Peace Keeping, Peace Making and post conflict Peace Building. In other words, ‘African solutions to African problems; is not an innocent phrase but a contextually loaded one.
Second is the lecturer’s interrogation of the concept of African problems. What, for example, do we make of an Obama saying to Africans, “your future is up to you”? Is this a home truth or a case of Obama’s escapism into sound bytes? Will America’s endless search for ‘regimes we can call our friends’ allow Africans to really decide their future? Or do those who say here and there that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans imply the possibility of a future when the Africans and their political leaders would be tired of their sufferings and decide to get angry at the local and international system which accounts for the drudgery of their existence? Or does the slogan mean the pinching, ditching and jinxing of the Africans by the international community?
Reduced to whether Africans are the origin of their own disconnect from modernity or some extra-African forces, Professor Albert’s answer is that the Africans share the blame to a greater extent. What this means is that he disagrees with Walter Rodney and co who argue that European imperialism underdeveloped Africa, saying in his own way, that Rodney’s position suffers from Marxist mono-causality. And that after all, Asia and Latin America equally experienced Euro-American imperialism but over which many Asian and Latin American countries have transcended. For him, the political rascality, the hereditary democracy and permanent presidency that define the African leadership landscape must be uniquely African problems for which we can’t blame outsiders. He isolates the amorality of leadership in Africa, particularly the syndrome where a leader rules as long as he lived only to be succeeded by his son, as has happened in Eyadema’s Togo, Omar Bongo’s Gabon and Kabilla’s DRC.
With a leadership like these, Africa found herself buying into the ideology of ‘African solutions for African problems’ but in a different sense from that of their white patrons. For the African leaders, According to Prof, ‘African solutions for African problems’ is a framework which can help keep international community from pressuring these local dictators. In inter-African relations, the slogan, he says, helps African leaders to support each other’s illegalities, a case he illustrates with South Africa’s endorsement of the 2007 elections in Nigeria as a case in point.
His argument here needs to be quoted extensively, “Shawn Hattingh’s piece on how South Africa supported the fraudulent 2007 election in Nigeria is quite interesting He observed that the ballot papers for the election, which were printed in South Africa, contained no counterfoils or serial numbers which would have made vote rigging difficult. Though 65 million Nigerians were registered to vote during the election, INEC printed only 40 million ballot papers. To worsen the situation, only 30% of these ballot papers were ever sent to Nigeria from South Africa where they were printed. The rest were still lying in South Africa when Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua was pronounced the winner of the 2007 election. Rather than adopt silence as his own humble variation on the mantra of “African solutions to African problems”, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa who knew more than any other person about the structural nature of the 2007 electoral fraud in Nigeria and who indeed had spent the best of his time as an African leader talking about the “African Renaissance”, was the very first person to congratulate Obasanjo and Yar’Adua on a job well done.”
The quotation continues, “Worldwide condemnation of the election and Yar’Adua’s admission in his inauguration speech that the process that brought him into office was deeply flawed did not deter the South African leader. He still invited Yar’Adua to Tshwane (Pretoria) to have a personal congratulatory meeting with him. Why this obvious indiscretion?
Quoting the labour analyst further, he puts the answer to “South Africa’s policy towards Africa, in the form of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the relationship that it has with the ruling party in Nigeria, and the expansionist agenda that South African corporations and parastatals have in Nigeria… Despite what the ANC government claims, South Africa’s foreign policy towards Africa is not based on Pan-Africanism or anti-imperialism; it is rather based on promoting South Africa’s expanding business interests on the continent. In reality, the South African state’s interests, in both the domestic and African arena, have become fused with those South Africa’s capitalist elite”.
In other words, South Africa felt more committed to protecting its investments in Nigeria (which include MTN, DSTV, Standard Bank, First Rand, Imperial, Johncom, Massmart, Nampak, and Sun International, Tsogo, Broll, etc.) than to stand on the side of social justice with the Nigerian people and the international community that widely condemned the elections and called for electoral reforms
Shifting from the Africans’ conception and utilization of the slogan of ‘African solutions for African problems’ to that of the extra-African world, Albert poses the argument that it is nothing but the “act
of the developed world empowering Africans to track down the enemies of the developed world. Using the case of the Global War on Terrorism, this is because, “it is a truism that the likes of Al-Qaeda have nothing to do with Africans except the western interests in Africa”.
Albert is an emergent professor of African History and Peace Studies. In fact, it could be said that he single handedly brought Peace and Conflict Studies to the University of Ibadan if we follow his story of that effort as told in the Inaugural Lecture under reference. This means he is a product of the Ibadan School of History and its most famous debate as to whether colonialism is an epoch or an episode in African life. This background means that he is not only equipped to make tough, controversial statements, he also has the capacity to supply the evidence if challenged. This is what an Inaugural Lecture giver is substantially expected to do – accounting for one’s professorial journey in a way that enables potential professors to find more angles of research to do to become professors. On that note, Professor Albert’s has been a major outing, even if only for putting the topic of the Inaugural lecture on the table of the African debate. That is if we all permit the possibility of a non-professor saying so about a professor, even though there is no such feudalism in academia.
By Adagbo Onoja