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Africa: Time for a novel plan of action

By Chika Ezeanya

The year 2014 marks a special milestone of 50 years: 50 years ago Patrice Emery Lumumba, one of the greatest forces behind the wrestling of Independence from the unwilling hands of Belgian colonisers of the Democratic Republic of Congo was assassinated and this year, Africa's most celebrated freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela died.

Mandela's peaceful transition on the eve of the 50th remembrance of Lumumba's violent exit marks the end and the beginning of an era for Africa.

Both men stood for freedom and spoke truth to power. Both gave their lives. Lumumba's was cut short. Mandela's was taken away in instalments, the longest of which was 27 years in prison. Both men represented sometimes synchronised, sometimes divergence strategies in their fight for freedom, but at the core, both demanded political liberation and both got it, at least in principle, prior to their demise.

For Africans left behind to savour political freedom, it is important to realise that what is yet to be gained for Africa is - shocking to admit - way beyond what was gained by Lumumba and Mandela. In a post-Mandela and post 50th Lumumba era, Africans need a novel plan of action, a change of strategy in order to consolidate the political freedom brought by our martyrs. Africans of today need intellectual and economic freedom.

Only recently, it was quite a common but erroneous assumption across Africa that freedom from external political oppression held the magic wand to all other freedoms. For decades after the words were uttered, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah's "seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you" resonated across the continent south of the Sahara.

But by the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the oppressor was willing and ready to give political freedom, which was no longer to his advantage. Fresh from prison, Mandela was handed blueprints to ponder, with the likes of Jacob Zuma whose unfortunate background did not grant the privilege of formal classroom learning or interaction. There was no Google to quickly check through facts and precedents and read up theories, strategies and tactics.

The South African apartheid regime impressed on Nelson Mandela and his team that they were fighting for political freedom and that they could have it. The words of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah must have been fresh in the ears of Mandela and his negotiating team. Yes, political power was everything they needed. With a satisfactory smirk, the apartheid regime gave political power with the left hand, and with the right hand, the hand of might, held on to the most fundamental power needed in the present dispensation - economic power.

Africa's nationalists fought and gave their blood for political power; present day Africans must fight for economic power. In the present dispensation, economic power is not fought for and secured with iron and blood, but with brains and wit. Africans must change the way they think and view the world. The intellectual- cum-economic battle Africa needs to fight begins with what Africans allow in their mental space, be it through the media or through more formal learning channels. Input equals output. Western and other media have made a sport of showing Africans that they are not worth anything but ethnic and religious conflicts, hunger and malnutrition. Africans have to ignore that uncivilised attitude and focus on building themselves by celebrating their strengths and victories and objectively dissecting their shortcomings.

In this manner the continent can have sound expectations and projections for the future. Education at the formal, informal and non-formal levels holds the key to Africa's long-term advancement in every sector. While Africa's leaders continue to hold on to political power, the continent's former colonialists and other emerging economic interests target the minds of redrafted in the wake of the controversy surrounding that state's unsuccessful bid to legalize religious-based discrimination. North Carolina is currently considering whether to go forward with an Arizona-style "religious freedom" bill. However, other states, including Hawaii, Maine, Ohio, South Dakota and Tennessee, have rejected similar bills.

Patrice Emery Lumumba Nelson Mandela Africans. Africa's battle must now move to the classroom, boardroom, conference room, newsroom, sitting room and chat rooms. The mind of the African must be liberated from sub-service, 'copy-catism' and misinformation. At the formal level, every subject of study and course of instruction in Africa, from the kindergarten to the post-graduate level, must be thoroughly reviewed. Curriculum will have to be redrafted to reflect facts and homegrown realities and not Western realities bequeathed by the colonial masters. Education drawn from the learner's immediate environment leads to spontaneity of thought, which is the harbinger of creativity and innovation.

Africa's media, entertainment and other non-formal learning mechanisms including religious and civil society organisations must wean themselves of foreign ideas. This is not to say that Africa should de-link from the world. Global realities and trends must be closely followed and observed and best practices studied and understood, but not copied. The West, Asia and much of South America all got to the present level of development through home-grown strategies; by simply placing value on who they are and what they have, while concurrently seeking to understand others and learn from them. When Lumumba gave his life and Mandela gave 27 years of his to secure political power, it was because of the urgency of the situation. Today, the intellectual battle that will herald Africa's economic independence, while it must be urgently addressed, is unlikely to be secured urgently. Africa has to learn to grow by being and doing. By trying various well-thought out strategies and by taking calculated risks; by studying best practices all over the world to understand and glean wisdom, but to be careful not to copy. The numerous externally planned and executed poverty alleviation, reduction programmes that promise magical turn arounds for Africa have all failed. Africans must now look deeply inward to learn from authentic African experiences and indigenous knowledge.

The post-Mandela and post- 50th Lumumba dispensation is a period for Africa to invest positive thoughts in itself. Africans must begin to look out for and celebrate positive experiences, teach authentic African knowledge and package homegrown strategies, without ignoring emerging global realities. Pockets of this stance can be spotted across the continent, but there is need for a scaling up. Rwanda, for instance, has succeeded to a large extent through the indigenous Gacaca system to show that Western legal system ought not to be the sole recourse for Africans in achieving justice for victims and in the reintegration for offenders.

Nigeria is leading in the entertainment sector by churning out homegrown alternatives to Hollywood. But it is too far from Uhuru. There is so much to be done. Where is indigenous African architecture being studied and improved? How about indigenous African cuisine? How much is known about indigenous African political systems and practices? How about indigenous science and technology? Lumumba and Mandela's generation shared certain characteristics - a combination of integrity, character, strength and fortitude. These were men and women who spoke words and kept to their words, who knew that without their brother's happiness, their own happiness would be shortlived and at best, shallow. Present day Africans are short of these virtues.

The heart and mind of the African has to a large extent become a cash and carry phenomenon. Wherever quick money is to be made, there the African is to be found. Several African researchers, for instance, clamour to conduct research on only those areas that Western organisations are willing to fund, and not on the pressing challenges facing Africa. It is often forgotten that the numerous research efforts that led to the discovery of much of what we still depend on today were conducted without funding; think of the telephone, electricity and even more recently, Facebook. Research in Africa has become driven by Western market and not by the needs of African people. Fifty years after Lumumba was assassinated and at the passing of Nelson Mandela, Africa's strategy must emphasise intellectual and economic freedom. Africans must learn to firmly say no to exploitation and oppression. - African Executive.


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