Monday, 27 December 2010

The Bogey of African-French Relations

(This essay, first published in usafricaonline.com [March 2003], sets the context that helps explain the increasingly desperate French position on the ongoing crisis in Côte d’Ivorie)

It never ceases to amaze how very hypocritical indeed French foreign policy considerations can be especially when it comes to Africa. For a country that has displayed unrelenting opposition to the ongoing US and British military intervention in Iraq, France appears to be basking in the global populist imagination as perhaps the country that not only invented the concept of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs, but is guided unambiguously by this principle in its own policy in practice.

The robust performance of Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin during those dramatic January-March 2003 UN Security Council debates on Iraq would have added vivid credibility to this assumption. In one memorable session in these debates, de Villepin’s opposition to military intervention drew unprecedented applause from even usually reticent diplomats. Such were the liberatory contents in de Villepin’s address that one would not have been too mistaken if they thought that these had been derived, unedited, from the seminal papers of Amilcar Cabral!

Yet a few weeks after these declarations and coupled with the preoccupation of an international media audience intensely focused on the unfolding Iraqi crisis, France intervened militarily in the Central African Republic (CAR). In the wake of a coup d’état that had toppled the Angé-Felix Patassé regime in Bangui (CAR capital), France sent its troops into the country under the pretext of “protecting French nationals” – the standard French rationalisation for its military interventions in Africa in the past 43 years which, in reality, are aimed at protecting the extensively entrenched socio-economic and strategic interests that Paris still wields across its former conquered African countries. France’s mid-March invasion of the CAR is its second military intervention in Africa this year and the 48th since 1960.

Earlier on in January 2003, France had significantly escalated its 2002 intervention in Côte d’Ivorie, to the west, by reinforcing its overall troop-deployment to about 3000 and expanding the so-called sandwich territory between it and the forces of the Ivorian state and north-based insurgents. Given the frequency and the tally of its military interventions in Africa since 1960, France has, contrary to prevailing international perception, the worst record of Northern World power state military intervention in the Southern World.

Quintessential target

Africa has been the quintessential target of French military interventionism during this period because immanent in the worldview of the French political establishment, irrespective of ideological/political colouration, none of the former French-conquered and occupied African states is really seen as independent or sovereign by any breadth or shade of either of these definitions. Instead, according to this conception, these are “francophone” backwoods, which, at best, have some measure of local administrative autonomy (hence, “francophone Africa”!), with ultimate sovereign power lodged back in Europe – in Paris. If recent evidence from the highest level of political authority of the French state is required to buttress this line of thought, we should recall that very introspectively frank declaration made on the subject in the early 1990s by Francois Mitterand, the former socialist president of France: “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century”.

It was however Mitterand’s conservative Guallist party presidential counterpart, Charles de Gaulle, who, 50 years earlier, had inaugurated the now well-known French obsession to control Africa in perpetuity. The irony of the circumstances was indeed not lost on anyone. Despite France’s early capitulation to Germany in 1940 in the latter’s war of aggression against its neighbours, de Gaulle, then exiled leader of the anti-German “French Free Forces” struggling desperately to effect French liberation, was himself vociferously opposed to the liberation of Africa. Africa, we mustn’t forget, was then under the jackboot of French occupation and those of its British and Belgian wartime allies. During the 1944 Brazzaville conference of French “overseas” governors which de Gaulle chaired, he was adamant in what he saw as his vision of the future of French-occupied Africa: “Self-government must be rejected – even in the more distant future”.

Supercilious antagonism

De Gaulle’s supercilious antagonism to African liberation was of course not unique at the time. Similar sentiments were evident in the position of Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, who insisted that he had not attained his position as head of government to “preside over the liquidation of the British empire”. The Belgian king and government who barely resisted Germany’s attack and overrun of their country beyond three weeks in May 1940, were themselves equally unwilling to discontinue their occupation of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo) after Germany’s eventual defeat in 1945. This was in spite of the central role that the Congo played in the financing of the Belgian war effort (including the entire expenses of the country’s exiled royal family and government in London), which totalled the grand sum of £40 million. “In fact, thanks to the resources of the Congo, the Belgian government [in exile] in London had not to borrow a shilling or a dollar, and the Belgian gold reserve could be left intact”, recalls Robert Godding, the then Belgian government-in-exile secretary with direct responsibility for the occupation of the Congo.

But unlike British and Belgian leaders, de Gaulle pursued France’s long time ambitions in Africa with megalomaniac intensity in the years after 1945 – opposing African liberation projects in the western and central regions of the continent under French occupation as well as on the islands off the east coast in the Indian Ocean especially Madagascar. However in 1958, de Gaulle changed track, somewhat, in his anti-African independence drive. Stung and disillusioned by the 1954 spectacular and humiliating defeat of French forces in Vietnam and the looming disaster in its ongoing war in Algeria, de Gaulle produced a document for a purported future of African freedom. In the main, this document envisioned a circumscribed African independence outcome that would ensure continuing French political and economic hegemony in Africa. Apart from Guinea, which opposed it when it was put to a referendum, France succeeded in imposing the document on the rest of its occupied states, with evident compliance with some segments of the African leaderships of the restoration-of-independence movement and the all too familiar tragic consequences since. The stage was now set for France to invoke the licence, at its own choosing, to intervene in the political process of any of its prized African lands of “francophonie”: invade, intimidate, manipulate, install, antagonise, ingratiate, indemnify, expropriate, invade, intimidate...

Hardly any of these 22 African countries in “francophonie” escaped this epoch of witnessing the invasion of their territory by some contingent of the French military from one of its numerous bases in the region or from those further away in Corsica. Each of these states “hosts” a French military base of varying capabilities and configuration as part of this overarching network in which Dakar, Sénégal, is at the epicentre, in turn linked to requisite interventionist brigades positioned back home in Corsica. Thanks to this network, the French military has invaded this African “francophonie” enclave 50 times since 1960 – from Chad to the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Côte d’Ivoire to the Comoros. Such invasions provide the French the opportunity to directly manipulate local political trends in line with their strategic objectives, install new client regimes, if need be, and expand the parameters of expropriation of critical resources even further. On this score, the DRC (or Zaïre or Congo-Kinshasa as it has been variously called), the jewel in the crown of “francophonie”, is aptly illustrative. Between 1961 and 1996, France intervened militarily in the country 17 times to prop up the notorious dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko which ravaged one of Africa’s richest economies. Countries such as Central African Republic (or Central African Empire as it was known when it was ruled, literally, by the very francophile acolyte and dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa), Rwanda (French military intervention was ongoing in the country as the forces of the pro-French central government perpetrated its dreadful genocide against the Tutsi in the mid-1990s), Burundi, Djibouti and Chad bore the brunt of the invasions as France sought to enforce or safeguard the fortunes of one client regime or the other. For France, therefore, its hegemonic control of “francophone Africa” in the past 40 years has been a lucrative and prestigious rearguard quest to maintain a stranglehold of influence in the Southern World despite the obvious militarily weakened position of its overall international status after the end of the Second World War. Jacques Godfrain, who was a former head of the French foreign ministry, is perfectly right to observe: “A little country, with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our] ... relations... with 15 or 20 African countries”.

This factor is crucial in understanding why the seemingly “humanist” tenor of French foreign policy rhetoric the world has witnessed lately over Iraq lacks resonance in the African auditorium. Yet despite its near-monolithic activity in the lives of a generation and the resultant semblance of durability, the importance and influence of “francophonie” in Africa is beginning to wane. Events in Africa in the past 10 years have seriously weakened and undermined its efficacy. The Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, organised premeditatedly by France’s ruthless local clients in power in Kigali whilst a French expeditionary force was operating in the country, was a monumental indictment of the entire “francophonie”  project in Africa. France could not escape some complicity in this horrific slaughter of 800,000 Africans. Pointedly, there has been a partial eclipse of French influence in this central/southern Africa region since the genocide.

The popular overthrow and subsequent death in exile of Congolese dictator Mobutu, during the same period, was a further blow to the fortunes of “francophonie”  in the region. Elsewhere in the empire, the tentacles of “francophonie”  were also beginning to unravel. The situation in the Côte d'Ivoire economic powerhouse was of particular relevance. The sudden death in 1993 of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the Ivorian political colossus who had been state president since 1960, created a serious crisis of succession in the country that still remains unresolved. In 2002, it became the background of a tragic war between the state and insurgents in its north region and the precipitate collapse of Africa’s most successful economy. In Sénégal, France’s attempt to continue to dictate its choice of leaders in“francophonie” was rejected massively in the 2000 presidential elections when Abdoulaye Wade, the veteran opposition politician, defeated Abdou Diouf, the incumbent president and Paris’s much preferred candidate.

In a desperate effort to stem the steady decline of  “francophonie” , France embarked on its biennial so-called African-French summit that extends invitation to leaders of non-league states. It was in this context of “francophonie”-extension in the 1990s that France intensely courted the friendship of Sani Abacha, the Nigerian dictator and genocidist military commander who participated in the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide, who was at the time internationally quarantined as a result of his regime’s gross human rights violations. Abacha’s predictable appreciation at this gesture of breaking out of painful political and economic isolation was followed by a deft regime decision that keyed into the inner workings of the infrastructure of“francophonie”: Nigeria would hence embark on an intensive educational/allied cultural programme to adopt French as an additional lingua franca to English! Paris was of course delighted! But it was very short-lived indeed. The lingua franca opportunism died with the genocidist and dictator in 1998!

It was also in the context of the forum of “francophonie”-extension that President Jacques Chirac insisted on his invitation of Zimbabwean President Mugabe to last February’s summit between him and African leaders in Paris despite the European Union ban on travels to member states by principal Zimbabwean state leaders. Chirac was of course not interested in discussing with his guests how to find lasting solutions to the acute crises besetting Zimbabwe nor indeed those of the wider continent. He had literally “summoned” these leaders of “francophonie”-extension to Paris to endorse a solely French-prepared, so-called African-French Declaration on Iraq. This was nothing but the French position on its turbulent two-cornered diplomatic stand-off on the possibilities of a US-led war in Iraq – against Britain and Spain in the European Union, and against the US, Britain and Spain at the United Nations. France brooked no debate with the visiting Africans on the subject (not to mention the central and east European prospective members of the European Union that it had ordered to “shut up!” for daring to oppose its stance whilst siding with the US’s) even though it exuded enormous pride in debating its opposition openly against both the US and Britain! Most disgracefully of course, the world did not know of the independent views of the 50 visiting African heads of regime who had variously travelled 3000-12000 miles to the summit. It was left to Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, the affable Senegalese foreign minister, to put a brave face on an awkward situation when he claimed, albeit unconvincingly, that the African voice had not been heard in Paris because “we Africans, we respect our host, you don’t challenge the host!”

There was of course nothing “African” in the behaviour of these utterly failed and failing leaders to remain silent during those two days in Paris. Africans know that Africans speak their minds whether they are hosts or guests ... It was clearly the choice of self-styled leaders who most of the time are at war with their own populations, their own people, to remain silent because they lacked the integrity to state their positions on a subject whose varying facets and strands did in fact expose the state of their ruinous regimes back home. Even though Gadio was doing all he could to minimise the glaring character of the disgrace that these leaders had brought on themselves, the implication of his assertion was nonetheless troubling. If these leaders had remained silent and endorsed the French position of opposition to the impending war on Iraq because they were “Africans [who] respect [their] host”, they would equally have remained silent and endorsed the contrary British pro-war agenda on Iraq (because they were “Africans [who] respect [their] host”) if only Prime Minister Tony Blair had also “summoned” them to a London summit soon after being wined and dined and all expenses paid by the Elysee Palace.

Opportunity and limit

It is now clear that the tenuousness of “francophonie” in Africa, despite French propaganda to the contrary, lies right in its foundational premise of operations: the incorporation of a league of countries that exists to serve French interests whilst critically dependent on its day to day operations on usually ruthless anti-African local regimes. This ruthlessness is a feature of its overarching moral and intellectual bankruptcy, which ensures that it does the bidding of such projects as“francophonie” or“francophonie”-extension because of the firm grip that it exercises on its home turf. Paradoxically, though, this grip is all too brittle as can be seen in the immediate consequences on “francophonie” in the event of the overthrow or death of the dictator. The French find it extremely difficult to contemplate that, with the intense African grassroots’ pressure on their inept African-led regimes which can only increase, “francophonie”  has no long-term prospects in Africa. While the overall socio-economic situation across the continent is currently in a state of flux, Africa is unlikely to return to that spurious stability epoch of the Houphouët-Boignys and Senghors or the murderous repression of the Mobutus and Bokassas which enhanced the development of “francophonie”.

France will realise much sooner than later that it cannot continue to construct some phantom prestige in international relations based on its control of the destiny of Africa and Africans. If there is any single lesson that France should have learnt from the Iraqi debates earlier on in the year, it is not to confuse Bangui or Brazzaville or Bujumbura or Bamako for Baghdad or Basra; Ndjamena or Niamey or Nouakchott for Nasiriya or Najaf; Kinshasa or Kigali for Karbala, Kirkuk or Kut. For the first time since 1960, the French were confronted, even if belatedly, with the Achilles’ heel of “francophonie”: Africa is at once the opportunity and the limit of French foreign policy impact in the contemporary world.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

17 days: South Sudan – and Africa’s date with history

Aimé Césaire once told an interviewer during one of those illuminating discourses of his on history: “History is always dangerous, the world of history is a risky world; but it is up to us at any given moment to establish and readjust the hierarchy of dangers”. It is indeed in the very course to disrupt – and “readjust” this hierarchy of an age in favour of the African people of south Sudan that this nation heads for an historic referendum just 17 days away, poised to vote for the restoration of their independence from Arab/muslim rule and hegemony.

There is an added verve of audaciousness in the south Sudan choice of or agreement to a January date, the 9th (2011), to make their decision. On another January date, this time the 1st, in 1956, the supposedly departing British occupation regime imposed the minority Arab/muslim population on the south in a bogus independence contraption aimed at perpetuating its vast economic and strategic interests in northcentral Africa. The south’s response was to launch a stretch of resistance which has transformed that monstrosity to a case of referendum and breath of freedom. This time around, south Sudan has indeed wrestled down January and tamed its clime of adversity!

Ten years after 1956, 29 May 1966, the Igbo nation of southwestcentral Africa, some 1800 miles away from the Sudan, spectacularly disrupted the presumed teleological insistence of the burgeoning genocide state in Nigeria, the first in Africa in 60 years. The Igbo had played the vanguard role in the liberation of Nigeria from the British conquest and occupation. As Nigeria embarked on its genocidal campaign to destroy the Igbo, which resulted in the murder of 3.1 million of the people or a quarter of the population within 44 months, the Igbo responded by declaring their independence, the state of Biafra, from yet another outlandish British contraption. Nigeria, to all intents and purposes, collapsed in the wake of the Igbo genocide. We mustn’t forget to recall that the final edifice of the Nigeria contrivance, namely the British positioning of the minority Hausa-Fulani muslim/north region on the apex of its “hierarchy of dangers”, was instructively fitted by the same occupation governor James Robertson who had, on 1 January 1956, officiated the Sudan farce that is on the eve of unravelling. Contrariously, Biafra is the first African people’s-centred state created on African soil since the 1885 formal loss of all-African sovereignty.

The bridging of 29 May 1966 and 9 January 2011, the two most important dates on the African calendar since 1885, will henceforth chart and transform the continent’s political landscape in this evolving epoch of the post-Berlin state of Africa. After 9 January 2011, the bridge becomes a panhandle unto which the new successor states will embark on the construction of an unprecedented polycentric connectivity of relations on the African scene.

Fifty-five years after 1956, the wheel has undoubtedly turned full circle in Africa. Africans are back to the beginnings but this time clearly on their own terms. The constituent African nation – so long maligned, so long impoverished, so long brutalised, so long humiliated, so long massacred, is recognised, at last, as the principal actor and agency of its being. This nation can now decide what precepts, what aspirations, what trajectory, what goals, it has set its new state to embark upon…* Whoever says that history isn’t so incorrigibly fascinating?! As Césaire deftly puts it in the interview already referred to, the challenges of the times become the “quest to reconquer something, our name (sic), our country … ourselves”.

So, which new states will emerge after south Sudan? The overwhelming majority of 50 million Igbo surely wish that theirs is next, following the link with south Sudan. But the Igbo know, particularly from their own experience, that history does not cohere to some logic of sequencing. Given its volatility, a people consciously and actively constructs, humanises and maintains its own passage of history. Igbo base organisations – human rights, civil rights, peace, workers, women, youth, students, enterprise and intellectuals must now begin the process of planning and carrying out a referendum of all Igbo people in occupied Igboland and abroad (Nigeria and elsewhere in the world) to decide freely on the restoration of Biafra. Reports from east/central Africa already indicate that four new states could emerge from the Congo Democratic Republic and two new states from one or two of the Berlin-states of northeast Africa. In the west region, observers, no doubt, will keep developments in the following countries in their sights: Cameroon, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria … Surely, as from the morrow of 9 January 2011, Africa is back!

*To underscore an important feature of this fast moving development in Africa, even if some might wish to categorise this particular example as “retrogressive”, Omar al-Bashir, the head of the Sudanese regime, made the following broadcast on Khartoum radio and television on 19 December 2010: “If south Sudan secedes, we’ll change the constitution. There will be no question of cultural or ethnic diversity. Sharia will be the only source of the constitution, and Arabic the only official language”. The people of the south would probably have responded, presumably quietly, in the confines of their homes: “This is your right, Mr al-Bashir! We have gone!”

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

June 1969: Documenting a crime against humanity

Thankfully, for the interest of posterity, the Igbo genocide, perpetrated by the Nigeria state, is one of the most documented crimes against humanity. Leading university and public libraries across Europe (particularly in Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Denmark) and North America have invaluable repositories of books, state papers (including, crucially, hitherto classified material now declassified as part of mandatory timeframe provisions and freedom-to-information legislations), church papers, human rights/anti-genocide/anti-war groups’ campaign papers, reports, photographs and interviews, Red Cross/other third sector papers, reports and photographs, newspaper/newsmagazine/radio/television/video archives and sole individual depositories, some of which are classified as “anonymous contributors”.

These data variously include extensive coverage of news and analyses of varying features of the genocide between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970 as well as still photographs and reels and reels of film footage of the devastating impact of the genocidist’s “starvation”-weapon attack on Igbo children and older people, the genocidist air force’s carpet bombings of Igbo population centres (especially refugee establishments, churches, shrines, schools, hospitals, markets, homes, farmlands and playgrounds) and the haunting photographs and associated material that capture the sheer savagery of the slaughter of 100,000 Igbo in north Nigeria towns and villages and in the country’Lagos/west/midwest region during phases I-II of the genocide, 29 May 1966-5 July 1967.

(New York Art Quartet plays Charlie Parkers composition, “Mohawk” – personnel:  John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Roswell Rudd, trombone; Reggie Workman, bass; Milford Graves, drums [recorded: Nippon Phonogram, New York, 16 July 1965])

Maniacal insouciance, Prospero, Caliban

A stream of these archival references has flowed steadily unto the youtube website as well as other internet outlets and much more material on the genocide will be available online in the months and years ahead. On the whole, these documentations are a treasure-trove for the conscientious scholar and researcher on the genocide.

For the would-be- prosecutor of the perpetrators of this crime, they couldn’t have wished anything more for that crucial resource base to embark on their historic enterprise. A total of 3.1 million Igbo, or a quarter of the nation’s population at the time, were murdered in the genocide, the worst in Africa since the 19th century.

Quite auspiciously, the genocidists’ own record on the genocide makes no pretences whatsoever about the goal of their dreadful mission – such was the maniacal insouciance and rabid Igbophobia that propelled the project. The principal language used in the prosecution of the genocide was Hausa. Appropriately, the words of the ghoulish anthem of the genocide, published and broadcast on Kaduna radio and television throughout the duration of the crime, are in Hausa: Mu je mu kashe nyamiri/Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su/Mu chi mata su da yan mata su/Mu kwashe kaya su (translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property).

The Hausa word for war is yaki. Whilst Hausa speakers would employ this word to refer to the involvement/combat services of their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, sons, brothers, other relatives and friends in Boma (reference to World War II Burma [contemporary Myanmar] military campaigns/others in southeast Asia, fighting for the British against the Japanese) or even in the post-1960s Africa-based “peace-keeping” military engagements in Cameroon, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Sudan, they rarely use yaki to describe the May 1966-January 1970 mass murders of the Igbo people. In Hausaspeak, the latter is either referred to as lokochi mu kashe nyamiri (past tense: “when we murdered the damned Igbo”) or lokochi muna kashe nyamiri (past continuous tense: “when we were murdering the damned Igbo”). Pointedly, this lokochi (when, time) conflates the timeframes that encapsulate the three phases of the genocide (29 May 1966-3 January 967, 4 January 1967-5 July 1967, and 6 July 1967-12 January 1970 – for detailed analysis, see Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Biafra Revisited, 2006), a reminder, if one is required, for those who bizarrely, if not mischievously, wish to break this organic link.

Elsewhere, genocidist documentation on this crime is equally malevolent and brazenly vulgar. A study of the genocide-time/“post”-genocide era interviews, comments, broadcasts and writings on the campaign by key genocidist commanders, commandants and “theorists” and propagandists such as Adekunle, Danjuma, Gowon, Obasanjo, Katsina, Haruna, Rotimi, Awolowo, Enaharo and Ayida underscores the trend. A brief review of Obasanjo’s contribution (published in his My Command, 1980) that focuses on his May 1969 direct orders to his air force to destroy an international Red Cross aircraft carrying relief supplies to the encircled and blockaded Igbo is hugely illustrative.

Obasanjo had “challenged”, to quote his words, Gbadomosi King (Nigeria genocidist air force pilot), who he had known since 1966, to “produce results” in stopping further international relief flight deliveries to the blockaded Igbo. Within a week of his infamous challenge (5 June 1969), Obasanjo recalls nostalgically, Gbadomosi King “redeemed his promise”. Gbadomosi King had shot down a clearly marked, incoming relief-bearing International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) DC-7 plane near Eket, south Biafra, with the loss of its 3-person crew.

Obasanjo’s perverse satisfaction over the aftermath of this crime is fiendish, chillingly revolting. He writes: “The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air Force especially on 3 Marine Commando Division [the notorious unit Obasanjo, who subsequently becomes head of regime for 11 years, commanded] was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned and the troops they supported in [my] 3 Marine Commando Division”.

Yet despite the huffing and puffing, the raving commanding brute is essentially a coward who lacks the courage to face up to a world totally outraged by his gruesome crime. Instead, Obasanjo, the quintessential Caliban, cringes into a stupor and beacons to his Prospero, British Premier Harold Wilson, to “sort out” the raging international outcry generated by the destruction of the ICRC plane...

Twitter@HerbertEkweEkwe

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Andrew Young, Obasanjo and the Nobel

(originally published in nigeriaworld.com, 5 March 2007)

The recent declaration by Andrew Young, the US-based pro-Obasanjo lobbyist, confidant and business associate, that he and other members of his obusonjoist lobbying/contracting outfit are campaigning for Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s head of regime, to be awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace is arguably the most outrageous intervention in African affairs of the past 12 months. For the Nobel awarding committee to even begin to consider giving its distinguished peace prize to any leader of Africa’s genocide-states is utterly inconceivable. This is more seriously the case if the leader being so considered is from Nigeria, the continent’s primer genocide-state and inaugurator of the grave emergency that threatens African existence currently. The Nigeria state carried out the Igbo genocide of 1966-1970 in which 3.1 million Igbo people were murdered. Since then, 12 million other Africans have been slaughtered in genocidal rampages and other murders sponsored/perpetrated by African regimes and their allies from Sierra Leone and Liberia in the west, through to the Sudan, Rwanda and the Congos in the centre and Uganda in the east.

One would be forgiven if one thought that this “Obasanjo-for-Nobel” initiative was the brainchild of the founder of a neo-Broederbond executive, who gloated over the dreadful existence that African peoples have been reduced to by the ruthless African-led regimes in their midst, and not by a close ally of Martin Luther King, one of the most outstanding African leaders of all time.

It should be recalled, to underscore the irony that interpellates the very nexus of the Andrew Young-Olusegun Obasanjo relationship of 30 years, that as Young marched alongside King and other great Africans across US towns and cities 10 years earlier heroically proclaiming and demanding freedom and liberation for America’s oppressed African populations, Obasanjo and his pulverising league of sergeants and brigadiers and corporals and colonels and majors and troopers and the like at the other side of the African Atlantic were engrossed in the encirclement and the fire-storming of Igbo towns, cities, villages, everything “that moves or doesn’t move”, to quote the outburst of one of his notorious comrades-in-arms at the time: murdering, raping, burning, looting, wasting 3.1 million Igbo lives in four long years of genocide not seen in Africa since Belgian King Leopold II’s ravages of the countries of the Congo basin during the 19th century. The Young-Obasanjo pact is therefore a relationship that the venerable Martin Luther King would have viewed with horror; he would have denounced it outright … It is an association that has undoubtedly inflicted an incalculable damage on trans-Atlantic African relations. In the light of the above, Young cannot fail to contend with the distinct possibility that instead of his business associate heading for the European city with the spelling that starts with the alphabet “o”, Oslo, to collect his coveted “peace prize” later this year, he could well terminate his journey at a different city further south – still in Europe, but name beginning with “t”, The Hague: to answer charges at the international criminal court house situated there for genocide and crimes against humanity, committed during the Igbo genocide of 1966-1970. Given Young’s three decades of friendship with Obasanjo, it is not unlikely that either the prosecution team or indeed the Obasanjo’s defence panel might wish to summon Young to The Hague to testify as witness during proceedings.

So, as Young prepares his Obasanjo-support dossier for the Nobel award committee, it is unthinkable that he would omit the cardinal features of the Obasanjo legacy in 40 years of “public life” deeply embedded in the Igbo genocide. Young must ensure that he covers the following areas of his subject’s life, as this will be of immense interest to the committee:

1. What is the nature of the Mathew Olusegun Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo-Andrew Jackson Young relationship since it began in the 1970s?

2. What is the nature and extent of Young’s business interests in Nigeria since the 1970s?

3. What does Young know of the infamous fertiliser-import scandal in Nigeria of the 1970s?

4. As Obasanjo’s friend and confidant for 30 years, what does Young know about Obasanjo’s involvement in the Igbo genocide of May 1966-January 1970?

5. In May 1969, at the height of the Igbo genocide, Captain Gbadamosi King of the Nigeria air force, who was attached to an Obasanjo-led rampaging unit in south Igboland, deliberately shot down an International Committee of the Red Cross plane carrying urgently-needed relief supplies to the encircled Igbo, killing all crew on board. Obasanjo, who had known Gbadamosi King for three years before this outrage, remembers the latter with nostalgia – a “dare-devil-pilot”, as Obasanjo notes, quite affectionately, in his memoirs (see, Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command [Lagos and London: Heinemann, 1980], p. 78). Prior to Gbadamosi King’s destruction of the ICRC aircraft, Obasanjo had “challenged” the pilot, as the former recalls sardonically (My Command, p. 78), that Gbadamosi King should “produce results” to stop further international relief flights to break the Nigerian blockade of the Igbo, a crucial plank of the genocidal campaign, to which the pilot “promised to do his best”. A few days after the request, “within a week”, Obasanjo reveals meticulously, “[Gbadamosi King] redeemed his promise” (My Command, p. 79). In the end, Obasanjo’s response to Gbadamosi King’s grim crime was that of perverse satisfaction as he, himself, recalls in My Command: “The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air force especially on 3 Marine Commando Division [name of Obasanjo-commanded slaughtering unit] was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned and the troops they supported in [my] 3 Marine commando Division” (p. 79). Has advisor Young ever read Obasanjo’s My Command? What does he think? What does advisor Young think should be the world’s response to those who plan and/or approve of the destruction of a clearly marked Red Cross aircraft on a humanitarian mission? What does advisor Young think should be the world’s response to someone who acknowledges the staggering crime of ordering the destruction of a Red Cross plane with such grotesque relish in his memoirs? What does advisor Young think should be the world’s response to Obasanjo and his fellow Nigerian perpetrators, military and civilian, who carried out the Igbo genocide between May 1966 and January 1970?

6. What does advisor Young know of Obasanjo’s pernicious anti-Igbo socio-economic and military programme of 1999-2007? What has been Young’s advice on this policy, which singularly defines the catastrophic tenure of a vile regime?

7. Young has been an unofficial advisor to Obasanjo since 1999. He has an elaborate executive office located at the head of regime residency in Abuja. There is no local (Nigerian) legislative oversight involved in the appointment or maintenance of this position or over the resultant benefits in cash or kind. How much has Young received for these services since Obasanjo was sworn in as head of regime of Nigeria in 1999? Is there a fixed or a more flexible salary? From what budget provisions has he been paid? Who has approved this budget? Whilst Young was an elected 2-term mayor of the US city of Atlanta, could he have appointed a foreigner, say from Turkmenistan, as advisor without approval and oversight from the city council? If not, why not? Could a US president appoint a foreigner, perhaps an Azeri, as his/her advisor with a well-furnished office and support staff at some wing of the White House in Washington without any oversight from Congress and the wider democratic institutions of the US? If not, why not? Would Andrew Young be able to procure his Abuja-brand appointment in Pretoria, Dakar, Gaborone, Brussels, London, Nouakchott, Ottawa or Alma Ata? If not, why not? What is it about Nigeria and/or Olusegun Obasanjo that ensures that such a crass anti-democratic and illegal process of public office abuse could prevail with impunity?

8. Young is an Obasanjo lobbyist in Washington. How much is he paid annually for his service? How much has he been paid since this assignment began? What exactly does this job entail?

9. In 2005, Obasanjo launched a so-called presidential library in his hometown in west Nigeria. Millions of dollars’ worth of “donations”, including from corporate organisations especially in oil and engineering-contracting firms located in Nigeria, were raised. Was Young involved in this project? Is Young still involved in this project?

10. Obasanjo has been Nigeria’s minister of petroleum – the key ministry in regime day-to-day business – for most of these eight years of his 2-term tenure of his regime. Does advisor Young know how the hundreds of billions of dollars that accrued to the Nigeria treasury have been spent?

11. Since 1999, 10,000 people have been murdered in Nigeria by the state and its allies. These include a number of prominent public figures such as intellectuals (Chimere Ikoku, Victor Nwankwo, Victor Uchendu) and politicians (Ayo Daramola, Bola Ige, Funsho Williams). In 2003, Chuba Okadigbo, an ex-head of senate and leading Obasanjo critic, died suddenly. Okadigbo’s family has still not ruled out the possibility that the senator was the victim of another political murder of the era. In 2004, Obasanjo ordered an armed attack on the Anambra region of Igboland. It was led by Chris Uba, a self-confessed obusonjoist-operative, during which every conceivable asset of the region’s executive, legislative, judicial, information/communication infrastructure was destroyed. The total cost of this rampage ran into millions of dollars. 30 Igbo people were murdered during the brigandage. Since then, the regime has placed the entire Igbo country under a quasi-state of siege. Of those 10,000 murdered during the life of this regime, the overwhelming majority, possibly 9,000, are Igbo. Does advisor Young know the circumstances of these murders and brigandage?

12. What does advisor Young know of Obasanjo’s expansive plot during 2005-2006 to illegally extend his 2-term regime duration? According to reports in the Nigerian media at the time, the regime resorted to bribing members of the central legislative assembly (US$500,000 for senator; US$400,000 for member of lower house) for the enterprise. The venture collapsed ultimately due to sustained countrywide opposition. Did Young support or was he opposed to the Obasanjo extension scheme?

13. As these lines are written, Obasanjo is feverishly engaged in rigging the forthcoming (April 2007) head of regime elections for his self-appointed “successor”. He had earlier rigged the results of the 2006 countrywide census. Obasanjo has already tagged these elections, quite ominously, as a “do-or-die” affair. Is advisor Young aware of these developments? What does he know? What doesn’t he know?

Andrew Jackson Young must now inform an eagerly awaiting world of what his behind-the-scene role has been in the cataclysm that is Nigeria during this long-drawn out age of pestilence – particularly in its obusonjoist 1999-2007 phase.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Slogans for the future?

Less than 90 days to the Sunday 9 January 2011 historic south Sudan referendum for independence from the Sudan, the people have been organising mass rallies to campaign for the great day – and future. In a recent rally in Juba, the capital, two prominently displayed slogans read: “Unity by force is slavery” and “Separation means peace”. Are these contradictory expressions? Do these slogans represent the future for/of Africa? What do you think?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Nigeria does not deserve UN Security Council permanent seat


Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

(French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a permanent African membership of the United Nations Security Council. Addressing a summit of  “francophonie” leaders in Montreux, Switzerland, yesterday [Saturday 23 October 2010], Sarkozy said that it is a “scandal” that Africa, a continent of 1 billion people, is not “represented” on this crucial UN body. The following essay, first published in nigeriaworld.com [12 May 2005], is reissued here as a contribution to the debate on a seat on the SC by an African country.)

It now appears very likely that Nigeria will, after all, hand over Liberian fugitive leader Charles Taylor (currently on exile in Nigeria) to the Freetown-based UN court investigating war crimes in conflicts in and around Sierra Leone. Thanks to the insistence of the US government, the Obasanjo regime is about to send Taylor to the Freetown court despite its long-held position to the contrary. The regime has until recently argued that it was against its “national honour” (whatever that means) to respond positively to the court’s request to extradite Taylor to face trial for overseeing the slaughter of 1.3 million Africans in the west central states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and (southern) Guinea whilst he was head of regime of Liberia.

Devil itself!

The irony is of course not lost on any keen observer of this development. Whatever may be the US’s strategic interests on this subject (possible Taylor links with al-Qaeda, possible Taylor involvement in millions of dollars’ worth of money laundering, possible Taylor complicity in the January 2005 attempted coup in Conakry to remove the pro-American Guinean head of regime), it has taken the intervention of a non-African power to force a disreputable African regime to hand over the head of a fellow murderous African regime to face trial for the murder of 1.3 million Africans – not 1.3 million non-Africans. African democrats are surely unencumbered by this irony. Africa’s regimes have murdered 15 million Africans across the continent in the past 40 years in appalling spates of genocide and other murders. Even if the devil itself were to lecture African regimes to stop murdering their peoples and, in the process, help prevent just one more African been annihilated by their depraved overlords, that would be readily welcomed. African populations are under siege by brutal regimes replete across Africa. The peoples require unremitting support for the right to safeguard their lives and progress from wherever in the world. Not less.

If indeed the US administration has threatened to block Nigeria’s current so-called bid for a permanent seat on a possibly enlarged UN Security Council if it continues to keep Taylor away from facing justice, as some press reports indicate, Washington has done very well. But the Americans shouldn’t lift their threat yet, even if Nigeria dispatches Taylor to Freetown. It is breathtakingly obscene for Nigeria to wish to be considered for a permanent seat at the Security Council given the ghastly human rights records of successive Nigerian regimes in the past 40 years including the current one where statecraft, at best, is run as some medieval baronial fiefdom. The US and the rest of the world should reject this “bid” out of hand. Not to do that would be to send the wrong signal to Africa – by rewarding a band of genocidist operatives who have the blood of Africans on their hands and who have in tandem pillaged an economy whose resources alone could easily have transformed all of Africa.

Age of pestilence

It mustn’t be forgotten that Nigeria inaugurated Africa’s current age of Pestilence in May 1966 when it embarked on the premeditated massacres of its Igbo population during a stretch of five months. 100,000 Igbo were murdered during what emerged as the first phase of the genocide. The following year, the regime, headed by Yakubu Gowon and genocidist “theorist”-deputy Obafemi Awolowo, expanded the territorial reach of this campaign into Igboland itself, Biafra, for the second phase. 3 million Igbo, or one-quarter of the nation’s population then, were annihilated within 30 months. Most of Africa stood by and watched, hardly critical or condemnatory of this wanton destruction of human lives, raping, sacking and plundering of towns, villages, community after community...

As the perpetrators appeared to have got off free from any forms of sanctions from Africa (and the rest of the world) for what were clearly crimes against humanity, several regimes elsewhere in Africa (alas!, including the one that would be headed 20 years later in Liberia by one Charles Taylor who was then a nondescript high school student) were “convinced” of the lessons that they had drawn from the escapades of their Nigerian counterpart: “We can murder our peoples at will. There will be no sanctions from abroad”. As a result, the killing fields of the age stretched inexorably beyond the Nigerian frontiers: Liberia, Sierra Leone, southern Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan.

In the past 40 years, Nigeria has been run by a succession of genocidist generals and other operatives (military and civilian alike) who planned, executed and sustained the Igbo genocide. The current head of regime, Olusegun Obasanjo, commanded a notorious division in south Igboland which committed indescribable atrocities as it overran cities, towns and villages. Obasanjo also ordered his airforce to destroy a clearly marked International Committee of the Red Cross DC-7 aircraft flying in urgently needed relief aid to Biafra in June 1969. Indeed, Obasanjo records this crime in his memoirs most unabashedly (see Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command [Ibadan and London: Heinemann, 1980], p. 79.). Neither Obasanjo (who has been head of regime for a total of nine years during the period) nor any of his colleagues (most of whom are still alive) has apologised or shown remorse or, most importantly, been indicted for their crimes against humanity. On the contrary. In fact Gowon, the grand overseer of the genocide, only recently told the press in Enuugwu (political and cultural capital of Igboland) that he had “nothing to apologise” to the Igbo. Before he shot himself in a Berlin bunker in 1945, few would have expected Adolf Hitler to apologise or show remorse for his organised genocide of 6 million Jews across Europe during the Second World War. Hardly anyone, though, would wish to contemplate a Hitler travelling to Jerusalem, today, to address a press conference in which he would insist categorically:  “I have nothing to apologise for the 6 million Jews my forces annihilated between 1939-1945. What I did was right”. That would be unimaginable monstrosity. But this was precisely what Gowon did at Enuugwu a fortnight ago.

Nigeria’s “bid” to join the Security Council could not have provided the world with a better opportunity to deal with the crux of contemporary Africa’s malaise: the non-accountability of Africa’s regimes which employ genocide and pillage of the economy as twin-track instrument of power. No country in Africa is more appropriate for the world to enforce this accountability than where the disease emerged in the first place on the continent – Nigeria, the quintessentially failed and genocide-state.

Now is the time for the US and the world to insist that each and every member of Nigeria’s “leaderships” who participated in the murder of 3.1 million Africans 40 years ago, and who in effect triggered the chain of mass killings of 12 million others elsewhere in the continent must be made to account for their crimes. Besides, if Nigeria is ultimately forced to hand over Taylor to face trial for the murder of 1.3 million Africans in the 1980s/1990s, then his current hosts (Obasanjo, Enaharo, Rotimi, Adekunle, Akinrinade, Abubakar, Babangida, Buhari, Gowon, Danjuma and many many others) must also be apprehended for the murder of 3.1 million Africans in the 1960s/1970s.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wednesday night prayer meeting*

(Charles Mingus: bassist, composer)
It is no mean achievement that Charles Mingus’s music encapsulates all the critical junctures of jazz. His work with the pioneering geniuses of Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Art Tatum in New York of the early 1950s gives Mingus the compositional and arranging insights that would soon be the bassist’s forte.

Few jazz scholars would now disagree that the success of that much discussed May 1953 concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall featuring the Parker Quintet (Parker, alto; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Bud Powell, piano; Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums) is not just a Parkerian triumph but equally that of the iconoclastic bassist from Los Angeles. Beginning with Mingus, the bass ceases to be merely an “accompanying” time-keeping, harmonic instrument in jazz. It still has to contend with “time-keeping”, but it has entered into the interplay as a polyphonic participant. The work of subsequent bassists particularly Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Jimmy Garrison, Scott La Faro, Gary Peacock, Eddie Khan, Charles Haden and Dave Holland attest to this Mingusian redesignation

In 1954, Mingus launched his Jazz Workshop experimentation which was to emphasise more of “group” or “collective” improvisation in jazz, away from what was then increasingly becoming the tedious and formularised “theme-solo-theme” structures of the bebop revolution that had been launched in the 1940s by the Parker-Gillespie-Thelonious Monk troika. As a critic once observed, it was not that Mingus was “avoiding Bebop, he straddled it”. He still had to absorb the great jazz heritage to move the music forward to wrestle with the new possibilities.

Creativity and rehearsals and creativity

It is therefore the case of Mingus trying to return jazz to the “group feeling” of those years of its early development in the closing decades of the 1800s. The soloist still has a great deal of space in Mingus’s thinking but their musical concepts have to develop in anticipation and in response to the polyphony of collective interaction; there are now multisided and multiple centres of creativity soon after that infectious bass intro! The act of creativity is no longer dependent on some space and time limitation. The Workshops could not distinguish between rehearsals, for instance, and real performances! Creativity during rehearsals becomes rehearsals of creativity occurring at bandstands with or without an audience (for the latter, listen to the 1962 album Mingus Presents Mingus, featuring Eric Dolphy). The music is always in a state of flux: evolving, developing, maturing, breaking up, only to form the nucleus of another centre of activity, itself interacting with other centres of the medley.

With the classic Pithecanthropus Erectus album (1956), Mingus gives notice to this sense of continuous creativity – after all, this composition is his portrait of the formulaic development of a cataclysmic human form and the (predictable?) resultant chaos that this produces in the world by the end of the 20th century. Using distinct but unusual forms of squeals, grunts, duets and harmony, the composition exacts a coherent understanding of this tragic travelogue that a 1996 earth inhabitant would perhaps be familiar with (exhaustion/appropriation/destruction of the world’s limited resources, rupture of the ozone layer) than their counterpart 40 years before. The impassioned crystalline-striking lyricism of altoist Jackie McLean, the Rollinsesque rebuttals of tenorist J R Monterose and the plodding, haunting echoes of pianist Mal Waldron strokes keep the narrative of the age on course and there is relief, at the final movement, when the pulverising destroyer falls, is destroyed.

In Blues and Roots album that follows suit, Mingus pays homage to the sacred music of his roots. The rhythmic tension at play by soloists McLean, Booker Ervin (tenor), John Handy (alto) and Jimmy Knepper (trombone) over such compositions as “Tensions”, “Moanin’”, “Cryin’ Blues” and “E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too” always calls for new insights, ever more challenging interpretations on replays. “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” is predictably such a joy and by the time this composition is confronted yet again by a new Mingus personnel line up live in Antibes, Juan-Les-Pins (France) in 1960, detailing Mingus (bass and piano), Ted Curson (trumpet), Dolphy (alto), Ervin (tenor) and Danny Richmond (drums), it has become the launching pad for intuitive flights and virtuosity.

Commentary

 Mingus’s vivid commentaries on contemporary American life and worldwide developments are prolific. These samples range from ballads (“Sue’s Changes”, “1 X-Love”, “Bemoanable Lady”, “Celia”) to the very humorous (“Eat that Chicken”, “Hog Callin Blues”, “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am”, “Old’ Blues for Walt’s Torin”, “My Jelly Roll Soul”), sentimental/sensuous (“Portrait of Jackie”, “Love Chant”, “Orange was the Color of her Dress, then Blue Silk”, “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”) to outright, politically serious (“Pithecanthropus Erectus”, “Ecclusiastics”, “Passions of a Man”, “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”,“Letter to Duke”, “MDM – Monk, Duke, Mingus”, “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me”, “Meditations on Integration”, “All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother”, “Fables of Faubus”, “Haitian Fight Song”, “Weird Nightmare”, “So Long Eric”) and dirge – “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, Mingus’s salute to tenorist Lester Young, and of course Epitaph, his 127-minute long composition which was performed posthumously by a 30-piece orchestra at the New York’s Lincoln Center in 1989.

Nearly a decade before critics would use the term “free jazz” to describe the music of revolutionaries such as Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, etc., etc., the Mingus Workshops were already redefining and laying the foundation of new points of departure for jazz. Names of Workshops’ alumni read like the priority core zone of the restless and most adventurous innovators of the jazz directory of the era: drummers Willie Jones and Danny Richmond; trumpeters Clarence Shaw, Richard Williams, Ted Curson and Johnny Coles; altoists Jackie McLean, Charlie Mariano, John Handy, Eric Dolphy (also flute and bass clarinet virtuoso), Charles McPherson; tenorists Teo Marcero, J R Monterose, Roland Kirk, Booker Ervin and Clifford Jordan; trombonist Jimmy Knepper; pianists Mal Waldron, Jaki Byard, Horace Parlan, Roland Hanna.

*This essay was first published in the African Peoples Review (Vol. V, No. 3, September-December 1996, p. 22) under the signature of Nnamdi Nzegwu. It is reissued here in the original – HE-E

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Freedom, survival and the future

The major preoccupation of an aggressor/conqueror state is to seek to effectuate a process of memory erasure over its overrun nation and land. This is the opportunity for the conqueror to begin to construct a bogus narrative of possession and control of the targeted society that arrogates it to the fictive role of primary agent of the course of history.

The enduring success of Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart is that the classic not only anticipates this conqueror’s predilection but it subverts the triumphalism of the latter’s pyrrhic victory. Despite the District Commissioner’s bombastically-titled anthropological treatise at the end of the novel, heralding the latest European “possession and control” of another region of Africa, this time Igboland, the future direction of history here neither lies with the administrator nor his evolving occupation regime – nor indeed with his conquering capital back home in Europe!

To locate the source for change and transformation in Igboland, subsequently, we need to examine, carefully, the import and circumstance of historian Obierika’s address to the administrator on the life and times of his friend and people’s hero, Ogbuefi Okonkwo, who had recently committed suicide. We are reminded that as he speaks, two full sentences into a third, Obierika’s voice “trembled and choked his words”, trailing off into gasps and silences of deep contemplation. It is precisely within the context of these kaleidoscopic frames of Obierika’s recalls and introspection that we discern the sowing of the nation’s regenerative seeds of resistance and quest for the restoration of lost sovereignty. It is therefore not surprising that Okonkwo’s grandchildren would spearhead the freeing of Nigeria, to which Igboland had since been arbitrarily incorporated by the conquest, from the British occupation.

For the aggressor state with a clear genocidal goal, memory erasure of the crime scene at the targeted nation is even more frantically pursued. On the morrow of the conclusion of its execution of the second phase of the Igbo genocide in January 1970, genocidist Nigeria wheeled out pretentious cartographers to embark on erasing the illustrious name, Biafra, from all maps and records that it could lay its hand on! During its meetings, the Gowon genocidist junta in power banned the words “sun”, “sunlight”, “sunshine”, “sundown”, “sunflower”, “sunrise” or any other word-derivatives from the sun star that unmistakably reference the inveterate Land of the Rising Sun. This task and symbolism of “sun-banning” and “sun-bashing” were of course bizarre if not daft as the junta itself was to discover much sooner than later – and from a most unlikely source indeed…

At the time, a British military advisor to the junta, who was out dinning with a senior member of the council in Lagos, unwittingly compared Igbo national consciousness and tenacity with that of the Pole. The advisor, who had studied modern history at university and was a great admirer of the exceptional endurance of Polish people in history, stated that the Igbo had demonstrated similar courage in the latter’s defence of Biafra and that a “rebirth of Biafra is a distinct possibility in my lifetime” – this was unlike the 123 years it took the Polish state to re-appear in history after its disappearance from the world map! The advisor was then in his early 30s and the obvious implications of his Igbo-Polish analysis were not lost on his host. The junta member co-diner was understandably most outraged by the advisor’s crass insensitivity on the subject which he readily shared with his junta colleagues. Predictably, the immediate consequence of the hapless advisor’s impudence was an early recall home to Britain.

There were other bouts of farcical treats on display in Nigeria during the period aimed at erasing the memory of the Igbo genocide. Junta and other state publications and those of their sympathisers would print the name Biafra, a proper noun, with a lower case “b” or box the name in quotes or even invert the “b” to read “p”, such was the intensity of the schizophrenia that wracked the minds of the members of the council over the all important subject of the historic imprint of Igbo resistance and survival.

The Awolowoists and Awolowoids on the junta even toyed with the idea of abolishing money altogether in the economy of the resourceful and enterprising Igbo. They reasoned that this would deliver the final solution that had eluded them during the “encirclement, siege, pounding, and withering away”-strategy of the previous 44 months… They ended up with the “compromise” pittance of £20.00 per the surviving male-head of the Igbo family – a derisory sum, which, they reckoned, stood no chance of averting the catastrophe of social implosion they envisaged would occur in Igboland subsequently. We mustn’t fail to note that the £20.00- handout excluded the hundreds of thousands of Igbo families whose male-heads had been murdered during the period… Dreadfully, the accent placed by Nigeria on this third phase of the genocide, starting from 12 January 1970, was the economic strangulation of the 9 million Igbo survivors… 3.1 million Igbo had been murdered in the genocide between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970.

Igbo survival from the genocide is arguably the most extraordinary feature for celebration in an otherwise depressing and devastating age of pestilence in Africa of the past 50 years. Few people believed that the Igbo would survive their ordeal, especially from September 1968 when 8-10,000 Igbo, mostly children and older people, died each day as the overall brutish conditions imposed by the genocidist siege deteriorated catastrophically…

The Igbo were probably the only people in the world who were convinced that they would survive. And when they did, the aftermath was electrifying. In spontaneous celebration, the Igbo prefaced their exchange of greetings with each other for quite a while with the exaltation, “Happy Survival!”: “Happy Survival! Nne”, “Happy Survival! Nna”, “Happy Survival! Nwannem”, “Happy Survival! Nwanna”, “Happy Survival! Nwunyem”, “Happy Survival! Oriaku”, “Happy Survival! Dim”, ‘Happy Survival! Kedu?”, “Happy Survival! Ndeewo”, “Happy Survival! Ke Kwanu?”, “Happy Survival! Odogwu”, “Happy Survival! Okee Mmadu”, “Happy Survival! Dianyi”, “Happy Survival! Umu Igbo”, “Happy Survival! Ndiigbo”.

Igbo survival, at the end, does represent the stunning triumph of the human spirit over the savage forces that had tried determinably for four years to destroy it. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s description of Half of a Yellow Sun (this sun, anyanwu, yet again – odi egwu!), her majestic tome on the subject, as a “love story” couldn’t therefore be more appropriate.

Forty years on, first and second generations removed from their parents and grandparents respectively who freed British-occupied Nigeria in 1960 and survived the follow-up genocide, Ogbuefi Okonkwo’s progeny are once again tasked and poised to restore Igbo lost sovereignty. Everyone knows of their firm resolve and ability to achieve this goal. The Igbo can feel it; they feel it. Surely, the successful outcome of this endeavour is the most eagerly awaited news in Africa presently.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Nigeria 1 October 2010 – Celebrating? What?

1966-1970IgboGenocide3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered1966-1970IgboGenocide
1966-1970IgboGenocide3.1millionIgboPeopleMurdered

Coltrane’s creative spirit

On this day, the September equinox, the jazz world celebrates the 84th birthday of John Coltrane, the iconoclastic tenor saxophonist who, arguably, has had the most profound impact on the development of jazz, African American classical music, in the past 50 years.

Prior to forming his own band in 1957, Coltrane spent his first eight years as a professional musician playing in a number of bands of the be-bop movement, most notably the Dizzy Gillespie big band and the various Johnny Hodges combos. But it was during his tenure in the tenor saxophone chair in the Miles Davis Quintet (1955-57 and in the expanded sextet during 1958-1960 incorporating Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone) and those crucial six months of 1957 whilst at residency (at the New York’s Five Spot) with the compositional genius and pianist Thelonious Monk that the world began to take notice of who would soon be the most influential jazz saxophonist since Charlie Parker. At the time with Davis, Coltrane had moved from the standard be-bop scalar improvisation to begin to explore the possibilities embodied in chord variations of standard compositions – his “sheets of sound” phase as Ira Gitler has graphically described it. Giant Steps, one of Coltrane’s memorable 1957 albums as leader, typifies this shift.

Modes

Next, of course, was the Davis Sextet’s experimentation with modes with fewer chord changes, beginning with the 1958 Milestones to the exquisite Kind of Blue in 1959. Coltrane would use this experimentation on modal jazz as his launch pad for continuous melodic excavations to produce a range of albums in the subsequent five years, including the following landmark signatures: My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz, Coltrane’s Sound, Bye Bye Black Bird, Live at Birdland, The European Tour, Impressions, Live at the Village Vanguard, The Avant-GardeOlé Coltrane, Africa/Brass, Afro-Blue Impressions, Crescent, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane and A Love Supreme.

Following A Love Supreme in 1964, Coltrane gave notice of his abandonment of most rules that had governed jazz compositions to date. Coinciding with the great African American freedom movement of the epoch, the free jazz interplays threaded stretched but interrupted melodic lines, entombed harmonic hubs, and pushed the saliency of the instantaneity that is often the hallmark of jazz creativity to the fore. Reflecting on the period, Coltrane told interviewers: “I’ve got to keep probing. There’s so much more to do … Change is inevitable in our music – Things change”. The albums he recorded during 1965-1967 attest to this change. These include: First Meditations (for quartet), Meditations, New Thing at Newport, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, Ascension, Om, Live in Seattle, Creation, Brazilia, Cosmic Music, Live in Japan, Live in Antibes, Stella Regions, Kulu Sé Mama, Sun Ship, Interstellar Space, One Down, One Up: Live at The Half Note, Transition and Expression. Other brilliant composers and instrumentalists of free jazz include, particularly, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Donald Ayler, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Booker Little, Clifford Jordan, Scott La Faro, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Sunny Murray, Roswell Rudd, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, George Coleman, John Tchicai, Archie Shepp, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Garrison, Bobby Hutcherson, Grachan Moncur III, George Russell, Sun Ra, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers and Jaki Byard.

African-centredness

It should be stressed that the relevance of the three “phases” of Coltrane’s musical career just sketched lies more for its analytical import rather than any rigid ruptures in what is, on the whole, a clearly coherent testament of an odyssey. A continuing thread that runs through the inner workings of coltraneology is its preoccupation with African-centredness. While ill-health and sudden death in July 1967 denied Coltrane his well-advanced plan to visit and study in Africa, the motherland evoked, centrally, the musical imaginations and cathartic probes of his ten years (1957-1967) as band leader or leading soloist in other groups. In the 1957-59 period, Coltrane’s interpretations of African themes in two critical 1957 personal albums, as well as a couple of 1958 albums made by a sextet led by trumpeter Wilbur Harden are instructive. The Harden albums are appropriately entitled Dial Africa and Tanganyika Strut and the tracts therein have a telephonic urgency of an Africa continental-based directory: “Dial Africa”, “Oomba”, “Gold Coast” and “Tanganyika Strut”. The tracts “Dakar” and “Bakai” from Coltrane’s own albums complement these African references. None of these compositions is actually Coltrane’s but the tone colours and textures of his solos and exchanges with other personnel horns and the underlying rhythmic foundations of the music here are richly embellished with African ornamentation – evident in his conferencing with the dual baritone presence of Cecil Payne and Pepper Adams on “Dakar”; the enduring, alternating 2-cornered discourses with baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab and trumpeter John Spawn on “Bakai”; the majestic interchanges with Harden and trombonist Curtis Fuller on those other entries in the Harden phonebooks.

In the 1960-67 period, African themes become more programmatic in the Coltrane trajectory. Coltrane reels off several compositions that focus on identifiable African places, persons, personages and events: “Africa”, “Liberia”, “Ogunde”, “Dahomey Dance”, “Tunji” and “Kulu Sé Mama”. No doubt the 1961 big band (15 members) performance of Africa/Brass, with the breadth-taking orchestration and arrangement by his friend and multiintrumentalist Eric Dolphy, is a dress rehearsal of the Africanised spiritual music which we referred to earlier and which would be most pronounced in Coltrane’s output in the last three years of his life, beginning with the December 1964 A Love Supreme and continuing with the eschatological treatise called Stella Regions which was initially recorded in February 1967 but released posthumously in 1995 – 28 years later!

Stella tracts such as “Seraphic Light”, “Sun Star”, “Configuration”, “Tranesonic” and “Stella Region” itself underline the exploratory, and quite often incantatory, transcendental African spirituality which, all along, defines Coltrane’s music but particularly in the last three years of his life beginning with that much discussed, much reflected upon, and most expressive rendering for the gods called A Love Supreme (Coltrane would return to the studios within a year with yet more offerings, Meditations, this time adding two more voices [tenor saxophone and drums] to the original quartet that performed on Supreme and First Meditations).

Interstellar Space, which was recorded a week after Stella Regions (and also released posthumously – 1974), is a duo performance with Rashied Ali on drums. This provides Coltrane with the space to evoke and configure the tapestry of sound that elucidates the planetary references to “Mars”, “Venus”, “Jupiter”, “Saturn” and “Leo”. The proceedings in Stella Regions are executed more conventionally in the quartet mode that had charted and encapsulated most of his work until lately: the master on tenor saxophone; Alice Coltrane, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass, and Ali, drums. The outcome is nonetheless the same. The interrogative tension and quest in “Seraphic Light”, “Sun Star”, or “Tranesonic” are not too dissimilar to the throbbing and exhilarating escapades in “Mars” nor “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” first movement in Meditations nor the transfigurative and triumphant 11-member ensemble, 40-minute brainstorming workshop in Ascension (2 trumpets, 2 alto saxophones, 3 tenor saxophones, piano, 2 bases, drums). The palpable serenity that prevails in “Venus” is as evocative as the sketch of “Iris” in Stella Regions or “Equinox” (a 1960-recorded blues dedicated to the saxophonist’s birthday) in Coltrane’s Sound or “Serenity” in Meditations or indeed “Psalm” in A Love Supreme. Coltrane’s staggeringly ingenious 27-minute long tenor saxophone solo on “One Down, One Up” in his classic quartet’s March and May 1965-recorded live performances in New York is a compulsory reference for anyone researching the state of the African American freedom struggle as at the first half of 1965 (personnel at the date: Coltrane, tenor and soprano saxophones; McCoy Tyner, piano; Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; New York’s The Half Note, music not released until October 2005 – One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note).

The point is that whatever the personnel line up, Coltrane’s music has an integrative spiritual coherence about which is easily traceable to his upbringing in North Carolina (US) in the 1930s where his maternal grandfather was a politically conscious and active minister of St Stephen’s African Episcopal Zion Church in Hamlet. Consequently, the themes on Africa, African Essences and African Reality, become the propelling force in Coltrane’s seminal musical quest for life’s meaning and in his enduring contribution to the great African freedom projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo – Poet, polymath, human rights activist

Today, Monday 16 August 2010, is the 80th birthday of the great Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo. Okigbo is Africa’s most celebrated and most influential poet. He occupied the poetry chair of the continent’s post- (European)conquest literary academy in the 1960s with Chinua Achebe the head of the novel institute and Wole Soyinka, head of drama.

Okigbo’s scholarship and influences are extensive and varied: Igbo history, mythology, art and philosophy, ancient world religious and spiritual heritage encompassing Kemet (“ancient Egypt”), Nri, Babylon, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Greece and Roman as well as the poetry of Ovid, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Yeats, Mallarmé, Eliot, Pound, Hopkins. Right from the outset, Okigbo’s perspicacious intellectual contribution in mapping out the tenets of Africa’s renaissance scholarship is his focus on both redeeming the European occupation’s assault on the spiritual embodiment of the African existence, in the wake of the conquest, and confronting a ruthless genocide state-in-the-making in Nigeria at the first half of the 1960s. Okigbo’s worldview does not tolerate any excuses for either the perpetration or perpetuation of any forms of tyranny and subjugation of peoples. Since then, Okigbo’s poetry has had a profound impact on the work of several poets of his generation as well as on the ever-expanding stretch of the “post”-Igbo genocide generation of poets and writers in other genres.

Crucial site

Fifty years on, the state in contemporary Africa is essentially a genocide-state – exemplified most catastrophically by Nigeria, the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Okigbo’s incisive scholarship (see, especially, Christopher Okigbo, Heavensgate, Silences, Limits, Distances, “Laments of the Masks”, “Laments of the Deer”, “Four Canzones” and Path of Thunder), to the poet’s eternal credit, anticipates the nature and characterisation of the multifocal crises of this development and rigorously interrogates their tragic consequences. For Okigbo, given the operationalising backdrop of the European conquest and occupation, the spiritual is a crucial site of the African resistance and campaign for the restoration of sovereignty. This is because the eventual goal of the occupation’s assault is aimed at burrowing a cataclastic fault-line in the soul of the people to pre-empt or complicate their determined process of recovery on the morrow of the triumph of freedom. Evidently, Okigbo responds to this emergency, in his scholarship, by weaving a multilayered and panoramic landscape of often-complex fabric of overarching architecture of ideas that meditates on the variegated spiritual universe of the people.

Genocide

In the 1960-1966 Nigeria historical context particularly, Okigbo’s scholarship of resistance pitches its tent squarely on behalf of those who would confront blatantly-rigged election results and imposed parties and leaderships, rigged census returns, arbitrary arrests and detentions, rabid and rampant authoritarianism and, most tragically of all, the Nigeria state-organised genocide against the Igbo people. The poet himself was killed defending his beloved motherland. 3.1 million Igbo people were murdered during the 44 months of the genocide – 29 May 1966-12 January 1970. In the gripping lines of his last poem cycle, Path of Thunder, written before the outbreak of the genocide, but published posthumously, Okigbo breathtakingly presages the contours of the cataclysmic consequences of Africa’s foundational genocide of the 20th century and his own likely death during the slaughter:

AND THE HORN may now paw the air howling goodbye …

For the Eagles are now in sight:
Shadows in the horizon –

THE ROBBERS are here in black sudden steps of showers, of
caterpillar –
THE EAGLES have come again,
The eagles rain down on us –

POLITICIANS are back in giant hidden steps of howitzers, of
detonators –
THE EAGLES descend on us,
Bayonets and cannons –

THE ROBBERS descend on us to strip us of our laughter, of our
thunder –

THE EAGLES have chosen their game …


POLITICIANS are here in this iron dance of mortars, of
generators –
THE EAGLES are suddenly there,
New stars of iron dawn;

So let the horn paw the air howling goodbye …

O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be
my last testament; let this be
The ram’s hidden wish to the sword the sword’s
secret prayer to the scabbard –


BEYOND the iron path careering along the same beaten track –

THE GLIMPSE of a dream lies smouldering in a cave,
together with the mortally wounded birds.
Earth, unbind me; let me be the prodigal; let this be
the ram’s ultimate prayer to the tether …

AN OLD STAR departs, leaves us here on the shore
Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching;
The new star appears, foreshadows its going
Before a going and coming that goes on forever…

Many a season

Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo would be appalled by the devastation of Igboland, 40 years after the end of the second phase of the genocide. He wouldn’t rest on his laurels, though, in response to challenge and overcome what is undoubtedly a clear, conscious, fiendishly-scripted and targetedly-driven juggernaut to destroy one of the world’s very talented peoples. Okigbo, who believes in the power of words, would head for his keyboard … and more…

History testifies that the quest for human freedom is not often an engagement pursued over just one season. For many, and the Igbo appear to be incorporated in this group, it is rather much more painfully drawn out; it could entail a cast of over several, long seasons. This trajectory, therefore, inevitably, encapsulates its vivid vicissitudes of pain … grief … opportunities … turmoil … setbacks … triumphs … turmoil … grief …  opportunities … breakthroughs …  What is at stake here is for a more focused, more steadfast, and a more enduring understanding of the huge tasks ahead. Surely this is music in the ears of the resourceful and resilient Igbo people.

The Igbo can and will rebuild their battered towns and villages and economy, which was one of Africa’s fastest growing power houses on the eve of the genocide. Unquestionably, the Igbo will restore their sovereignty. As the Okigboan œuvre demonstrates, human freedom eventually prevails most luminously. Okaa Omee.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

British arms to Africa

The new British Conservative-Liberal Democratic government, the first coalition administration in the country since the end of the Second World War, is grappling with significantly cutting the record national budget deficit of £160 billion during the life of the current parliament. The deficit represents about 11 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Massive cuts are therefore expected across the entire spectrum of government departments’ expenditure with only healthcare and overseas “aid” funding provisions preserved. But even on health services, positions of health managers and other administrators as well as hitherto powerful supervisory boards are being abolished.

So, not even spending on crucial departments as education nor indeed defence (despite the war in Afghanistan and the other country’s security commitments elsewhere in the world) is spared, such is the gravity of this crisis of the British budget deficit. This financial year’s (2010-2011) defence ministry’s core budget is £37 billion and the impending cuts mean that officials here are already looking for sources beyond the treasury (finance ministry) to offset any cash shortfalls. One source recently suggested by Peter Luff, minister for defence equipment, is to boost the export of British weapons. For Africa, a continent where Britain is currently the leading global arms exporter, Luff’s comments to the media on the future drive of his department on the subject is ominous indeed: “There’s a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this government.”

There is nothing in Luff’s statement which implies that the previous British Labour governments of 14 years (Prime Minister Brown’s and Blair’s) were anywhere “embarrassed” or ethically challenged on British arms sales/ transfers to Africa. On the contrary, it was indeed during the Labour party tenure that Britain acquired that unenviable status as “leading arms exporter to Africa”. As from 2004, Britain’s annual income from selling arms to Africa crossed the £1 billion threshold. Besides being a major arms supplier to such genocide-states as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, Britain also sold arms during this period to 10 out of 13 conflict-stricken countries on the continent. These included states in east/central Africa then involved in the so-called Great Lakes’s War where London in fact sold arms to both sides of the principal protagonists (DRC, Rwanda, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Uganda), which led Charles Onyango-Obbo, the respected Ugandan journalist, to reflect, at the time, that “Britain is supporting both sides [in the war] – it just robs them of any moral authority and a lot of people rightly do despise the British government on this affair.”

Britain should ban all arms sales to Africa immediately and comprehensively. This act should be a priority implemented by the new Cameron government. Africa must not be the arena where Britain wants to seek urgent financial resources, through arms sales, to ease its budgetary difficulties at home or achieve other goals. As I have argued severally in the past decade, British and other exported arms to Africa are used principally by the local recipient regime to murder its own people(s), often targeted constituent nation(s), as inter-state conflicts/wars have been more of the exception. 15million Africans across the continent have been murdered since May 1966 with the use of these weapons in genocidal campaigns and other intra-state conflagrations. We mustn’t fail to recall that the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide which claimed the lives of 3.1 million Igbo people (a quarter of the nation’s population), the foundational genocide of post-European conquest Africa, was carried out by the Nigeria state with the active involvement of the British government of the day – Labour’s Premier Wilson’s. British support for the campaign included steadfast supply of arms and other logistic and diplomatic backing to the genocidist regime in Lagos throughout the gory and devastating duration of the 42 months of slaughter.

In his major speech in Bangalore (India) last week on one of the prominent threads of the existential threat of our age, Prime Minister Cameron may have opened up a laudable, new vista in international relations discourses that requires statespersons to approach pressing global issues more openly, more honestly, more frankly. Arms to Africa is another prominent thread in this threat. Given Britain’s much embedded role in the thread, Africa and the rest of the world do expect the reforming Cameron to administer the Bangalore treatment to this problem at his earliest opportunity.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Congolese diamonds for Belgian Queen Paola – What’s really the fuss?

It isn’t quite clear what the seeming controversy is all about in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe over Queen Paola’s receipt of a gift of Congolese diamonds during a recently concluded visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Paola had accompanied her husband, King Albert II, to represent Belgium at the Kinshasa commemorative festivities to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s so-called restoration of independence. The DRC’s head of regime Joseph Kabila gave Paola the priceless diamond set of necklace, bracelet and earrings, an impressively rich package indeed which led La Dernière Heure, the influential Belgian daily newspaper, to note, most pointedly: “a gift of choice and certainly with a high price”.

Some commentators in Belgium, the Netherlands and France are apparently surprised, with a few even “shocked” to learn of the Belgian royal family’s “acceptance of such (sic) expensive presents” from a country a Reuters’s and Agence France-Presse’s dispatches on the gift describe, respectively, as “impoverished” and “one of the poorest in the world”.

Really!? It is inconceivable that either Paola or Albert would have thought or would think that the central African country they visited a month ago is anywhere “impoverished” nor is it “one of the poorest [countries] in the world”. The Democratic Republic of Congo is overwhelmingly richer than Belgium and no one is better placed than the Belgian royal family, itself, to confirm this fact of comparative international economics. The family cannot but be aware that King Leopold II, their 19th century “illustrious” ancestor (some would differ by using the adjective “notorious” or even “bloody” to describe Leopold instead) wrestled that Congo basin of central Africa from Africa for the Belgian royalty and state. This was after an indescribably brutal campaign on the African population by Leopold’s private army and forces of the Belgian state during which 10-15 million Africans were murdered. In effect, Leopold’s army ravaged the Congo in search of diamond, rubber, ivory and the like, accumulating gargantuan wealth for the king (by the time Leopold dies in 1909, he had reaped a personal fortune of US$1.1 billion dollars [in early 21st century adjusted value terms] from the Congo genocide, making him one of the richest monarchs of his age) and transforming the nascent Belgian state into a modern European state.

To his credit, Leopold II made no secrets at all of the instrumentalist impact that the riches of the Congo would have on his poor Belgium. He had insisted all along: “I d[idn’t] want to miss the chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake”.

This African cake remains as scrumptious as ever for Belgium! Thirty-one years after Leopold’s death, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, forcing the then Belgian royal family and government to flee to London on exile. Thanks to the inexhaustible wealth of the Congo bakery, the entire financing of the Belgian war effort including the expenses of the exiled royals and government, which totalled the grand sum of £40 million, was paid off comfortably. Thus, Belgium neither borrowed any money to pay for the war nor was its gold reserves used.

The historic effort made 15 years later by the irrepressible Patrice Lumumba, the young Congolese postal clerk and itinerant salesperson, to recover this bakery of his people for his people was violently suppressed by Belgian special forces and some of their foreign allies operating in concert with those Congolese hostile to the restoration of African independence. Lumumba was murdered and a Joseph Mobutu (or Mobutu Sese Seko) was ultimately installed instead to oversee the preservation of the bakery to its agelong exclusivist access, but with some modification in response to the exigencies of the epoch: Belgian royalty and government, the emerging “francophonie” constellation of states under French hegemony, Mobutu and his African cohorts. Yet, the Congo, Africa and the rest of the world will never forget Lumumba’s moving speech, addressed to his people and the Belgians, after being sworn in as prime minister on that 30th day of June 1960, part of which reads as follows:
… We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being; for it was a noble and just struggle and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force…

The “magnificent African cake”, so graphically expressed by Leopold II (he should know!), is indeed the metaphor at the crux of the Congo story, the Sudan story, the Nigeria story, the Burundi story, the-rest-of-the-Africa story...

It should now be clear that there is no such thing as “poor Africa”. The latter is an inexcusable obfuscation of language – and reality. Besides, it is an unpardonable slur on the humanity of African bakers who year in, year out, bake the cake that they are shut out from eating. Just as the Congo, Africans have been shut into anti-African caricatures of the state where they live, principally, to create incredible levels of wealth – not for themselves and their children and grandchildren and theirs, but for the continuing expropriation by extracontinental interests and their local African allies.

There is no future of African progress in the existing “Berlin states” of Africa. The inexorable logic of these states’ existence is to alienate Africans from their being and wealth. Africans have no other choice but break out of these states and create new states of organic sensibility where they are certain to not only bake their own nation’s cake but participate fully in the meal as well.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Yet, another breaking news from The Hague!

When a person desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize [their] dream.
– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (London: Thorsons, 1995)

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has declared, in a landmark ruling, that Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law. On the contrary, ICJ President Hisashi Owada notes, in his address on the majority verdict (10 jurists to 4), that international law contained “no applicable prohibition” of Kosovo's declaration of independence. The ICJ therefore rejected Serbia’s claims, which it had earlier brought to the court for consideration, that its “territorial integrity was violated” by the Kosova independence proclamation.

These are extraordinary times indeed… It mustn’t be forgotten that it has been under the seemingly protective umbrella of this “[state’s] territorial integrity was violated”-dubious legal mantra that many a regime across the world, particularly in Africa, have since the 1960s waged genocidal and other military campaigns against constituent nations and peoples within the population who seek their own independence and state. The most notorious of this occurrence is of course the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide. 3.1 million Igbo people were murdered during the timeframe of 42 months. For the Harold Wilson British government, which was centrally involved in the planning and the execution of the genocide and which often prided itself at the time as a more credible spokesperson of the campaign than envoys of the genocidist junta in Lagos, this mantra was the linchpin of its publicity and lobbying efforts across varying sociopolitical forums and circles during those 42 catastrophic months to “rationalise” its sordid role.

Forty years on, both the ICJ and the International Criminal Court, also in The Hague, have made it impossible for anyone, anywhere, to invoke some statute of international law as a “rationalisation” to embark on the murder of any people or peoples within its frontiers on the bogus basis of operating for or on behalf of this existing state’s territorial status. No heads of regime or indeed any other regime operatives enjoy immunity, as a result of their office, for murdering people or peoples in their population and there is no statute of limitations for the crime of genocide or/and war crimes. Forty four years after the beginning of the Igbo genocide, today’s ICJ ruling is a giant step forward in bringing the goals of the restoration of the sovereignty of Biafra very much closer. As the saying goes, the ball is now clearly in the Igbo court.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Nigeria perpetuates violence and insecurity in Igboland

In these very turbulent times, the recent high profile summit of leading Igbo human rights scholars (including respected literary critic Ben Obumselu) and activists (including influential lawyer Olisa Agbakoba) at the Ofuobi African Centre, Enuugwu, may well be the turning point on the ground in Igboland to decisively chart the final phase of the course to the restoration of Igbo sovereignty.

Away from the usual heart-rending equivocations and staggering untruths that emanate from occupation-appointed officials and acolytes and by uncritical commentators (some of who are, amazingly, Igbo!) on the source of the current violence and insecurity in Igboland, the summit’s communiqué lays the case squarely on the Nigeria state – its “siege and occupation” of Igboland, as the text appositely states. It elaborates, most profoundly:
[Igboland] has become militarized with a vast deployment of expeditionary and predatory police and army personnel who are from outside the region. For instance, there are 61 Police check-points between Abakal[e]k[e] … to Nsukka … (a distance of about 130km). In [contrast] between Obolo-Afo [Igboland] and Lokoja [Nigeria] (a distance of nearly 400 km) no checkpoints exist. This state of siege is exemplified by the current [situation] of … [Igbo] cities [including] Aba, [Enuugwu, Abakaleke, Onicha, Owere] and Nnewi – hitherto the fastest growing and thriving industrial cum commercial cities in the African continent now being turned into refuse dumps and ghettos. Businesses that would have provided jobs to engage our youths have been strangulated by incompetent and criminal leadership.

The summiteers conclude with a 10-point resolution and demand made on the occupation state, three of which are particularly pertinent:
1. Immediate demilitarisation of Igboland by dismantling all checkpoints and security barricades that it has set up across the country

2. Immediate rescinding of the deployment of Nigeria military forces to Igboland on the spurious mission of fighting kidnapping, instead reorienting policing from expeditionary operations to intelligence-based operations in cooperation with communities

3. Immediate and unconditional release and withdrawal of illegal criminal charges of members of the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafran (MASSOB) including Ralph Uwazurike, Uche Okwukwu, and other prisoners of conscience

What is clearly evident is that the accent, presently, on Nigeria’s unrelenting genocide on the Igbo, since the 1966-1970 foundational stretch when it murdered 3.1 million of the people, focuses on demolishing the crucial socioeconomic architecture of their collective being. Pointedly, this preoccupation constitutes one of the five acts of genocide explicitly defined in article 2 of the December 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “deliberately inflicting upon the group conditions of life designed to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (the Sudan’s head of regime Omar al-Bashir’s recent indictment for genocide, by the International Criminal Court, was effected partly because of his regime’s perpetration of this particular act of genocide in Darfur – see previous blog posting).

If one refers, for example, to the innumerable public statements on the Igbo genocide made over the years by Olusegun Obasanjo, a fiendish operative of this heinous crime and ex-head of regime in Nigeria, Nigeria has since been deeply troubled by its failure to accomplish its dreadful objective of annihilating the Igbo population 44 years ago. It therefore considers its current project of destroying the socioeconomic heritage and viability of the Igbo nation a sufficiently lethal tactical plank to accomplish its much vaunted, gruesome mission. Since 1970, the primary ambition of a typical Nigerian police officer graduating from police colleges in Nigeria is to be deployed to Igboland; he/she readily bribes their commandants to receive the coveted Igboland posting where they make an incredible fortune in just a few years of their placements at the myriad checkpoints, detaining/kidnapping/extorting money or a range of choice consumer products from road users. Even Igbo school children going to and from school, are not exempt from this officially-sponsored, openly-organised brigandage. Igbo homes and businesses (particularly shops and markets), as can be expected, are also regular targets of this institutionalised thieving spree. We mustn’t forget that, just over seven years to the day (10 July 2003), it was a Raphael Ige, a Nigerian assistant inspector general of police, who spectacularly carried out the kidnapping of then governor Chris Ngige of the Anambra region, northwest Igboland. Ige was a key executioner in the Ngige abduction plot, which was planned and authorised by the Obasanjo regime to divert Anambra public funds to Obasanjo-recruited hirelings opposed to the ongoing reconstruction of Igboland.

Abduction, detention and extortion constitute the 3-headed monster that the Nigerian occupation employs to savage the Igbo economy – most ruthlessly and most remorselessly. In essence, and perhaps most perversely cast, the Igbo nation subsidises its very own occupation – an indirect taxation thereof, amounting to millions and millions of US dollars of savings annually for the near-bankrupt Nigeria treasury. Given the paltry state of its finances, Nigeria cannot afford its continuing occupation of Igboland without its simultaneous ravaging of the legendary wealth of Igboland. The Igbo therefore carry the burden of this occupation with all its tragic ramifications. There are no comparable occupations elsewhere in the contemporary world with the same viciousness and severity.

What happens next in Igboland? When will the Nigeria military and police forces depart – as duly demanded by the Igbo human rights practitioners? How do the Igbo shut down this occupation? The Igbo demands are for immediate implementation. Nigeria must comply with these demands. The Igbo should now ensure that Nigeria evacuates its occupying military and police forces from their country forthwith. The Igbo are not Nigerian. The Igbo are from Biafra. The Igbo are Biafran. Whilst the Igbo worked extraordinarily hard by playing the vanguard role in the liberation of Nigeria from the British conquest (beginning from the 1930s), the Igbo ceased to be Nigerian on 29 May 1966. This was the day Nigeria launched the Igbo genocide. The Igbo renouncement of their Nigerian citizenship is the irrevocable Igbo indictment on a state that embarked on the destruction of 3.1 million Igbo people, one-quarter of the nation’s population at the time. The only future a genocide-state has is its dismantling – nothing else.

The Igbo should now stop paying the millions and millions of US dollars worth of expropriation tax that sustains the occupation and their subjugation. One must never, ever, be a participant in their incarceration, their deindividuation. A general, indefinite strike across the Igbo country should be called forthwith, demanding the unconditional dismantling of Nigeria’s barriers of extortion and expropriation, and the evacuation of its military/police bases from their land. An extensive and continuing-evolving organisation is required as this march of freedom develops. All strata of the 50 million Igbo population, at home and abroad, must be mobilised – particularly women organisations, farmers, youth/students’ bodies, the redoubtable umuada and umunna circuits, market/allied trade guilds, custodians and overseers of Igbo traditional religious places of worship, the clergy and the rest of the intellectuals. The Igbo clergy, for instance, has its work cut out. The role of the church in national freedom movements has been invaluable as the world has seen in places like Poland, the United States (the African American church, for example), several countries in Latin America and, of course, back home in Biafra as occurred 44 years ago – surely in the next sermon in the churches and cathedrals of the land, the congregation will be interested to learn of the legacies of the venerables Akanu Ibiam, Godfery Okoye, Benjamin Nwankiti… The Igbo expect their intellectuals, many of who are part of the world’s best and brightest, to play a critical role in responding to this existential threat to their nation. Already, there exists a rich legacy of the outstandingly selfless role played by Igbo intellectuals to Igboland at the onset of the genocide to build upon.

Finally, the rest of the world must know of the historic Enuugwu human rights community declaration and the measures being taken by the Igbo to free their homeland. The text of the communiqué should be distributed worldwide, particularly to institutions and agencies working on genocide, human rights, peace and freedom. The use of all the creative avenues of new technology is paramount. Igbo website networks will indeed be very busy in the coming days and weeks. The millions of Igbo émigrés, especially those in Europe and North America, should begin, right away, to lobby their elected representatives(members of parliament/deputies/congresspeople/senators) on these breathtaking developments and also seek support and solidarity from civil and human rights bodies in their community, region or country of domicile. Students should take up this campaign in their unions, clubs and societies on resumption after the summer vacation. The office of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, should be contacted at once with the astonishingly vast documentation that the current and previous phases of the Igbo genocide attest to. Last year’s British Broadcasting Corporation’s investigation of the Nigeria police murdering-escapades in Enuugwu as well as that of Amnesty International’s wider canvass of investigation on the same police barbarities in other parts of occupied Igboland and Nigeria (see links below) are indispensible additions to the existing dossier on the genocide:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8400799.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8401119.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7986039.stm

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR44/038/2009/en/f09b1c15-77b4-40aa-a608-b3b01bde0fc5/afr440382009en.pdf