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Roll out drums; Africa is 60

Roll out the big drums because the mother of all continents, Africa, is 60 this year. Please bring out the biggest African drums from Zululand. Many old timers may have forgotten, but there was this short story in one of our old primary school English textbooks with the title, A Zulu boy and a Basuto boy. The Zulus and the Basutos live mostly in today’s South Africa and Lesotho.

It is nearly fifty years since I last read that story so I cannot recall the exact wordings, but it was something like this. A Zulu boy boasted to his Basuto friend that in his village, they had a drum so huge that drummers could stand on it. The Basuto boy doubted the story, but he then told his own tale. He said in his village, they had a goat as big as an elephant. The Zulu boy said he did not believe it, so the Basuto boy said, “If there is no goat as big as that, where did your people get the goatskin to make your drum?”

It is this kind of Zulu drum that we should bring out today to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Africa. Now, I am not saying that the rock and soil of the African continent is 60 years old. In fact it is about 550 million years old, according to geologists. Nor did humans arrive in Africa 60 years ago. In fact, Africa is the cradle of mankind. According to all paleontological and anthropological evidence, it was here that both archaic and modern humans emerged somewhere in the Ethiopian highlands and the East African Rift Valley. From there, humans migrated in waves, over tens of thousands of years, to Europe, Asia and Australia through existing land bridges. Much later, humans crossed from Siberia through a land bridge to Alaska. They then marched southwards into North America, down to Central America and all the way down to South America.

Fast forward to a century and a half ago when Europeans, who are our descendants, sat at a table in Berlin, hosted by the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. They used a map and pencils to partition Africa among themselves. The Berlin Conference was the culmination of the attack, sacking, killing, enslaving, raping and plundering of the African continent. I said “culmination” because many centuries before that, Arab merchants marched an estimated 8 million Africans across the Sahara Desert to slavery in Arabia. Portuguese sailors then came and shipped an estimated 12.5 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to become slaves in the Americas. In other words, a grown-up child, the European, turned around and raped his own mother.

America was the last major continent to be inhabited by humans but today, the lone North American superpower lords it over everybody. North American Whites are the descendants of Europeans, who in turn are descendants of Africans. In other words, an upstart North American Yank is today kicking his own grandmother all around. Europeans were our own sons and daughters because they marched out of Africa into Europe and hid in caves during the Ice Age. From there, Portuguese sailors took them in sailing ships to America, where they decimated the Red Indians and wiped out the bison herds. These days these same children and grandchildren of ours turn around and kick us, their ancestral grandparents, about like football.

Anyway, in 1960, African countries in large numbers attained independence and at last began to take back our destiny into our hands, or so we thought. The Second World War, which ended 15 years earlier, provided a strong impetus to end colonialism. Nationalist movements rose all over the continent and drove out the colonial powers, or so we thought. Seventeen African nations, namely Chad, Cameroun, Central African Republic, Congo, Dahomey [Benin], D.R. Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast [Cote d’Ivoire], Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger Republic, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Togo and Upper Volta [Burkina Faso] all became independent in 1960.

Several African nations became independent years earlier, including Egypt [1922], South Africa [1931], Libya [1951], Tunisia, Sudan and Morocco [1956], Ghana [1957] and Guinea Conakry [1958]. Other African nations subsequently gained independence in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with the end of UDI in Zimbabwe in 1980 and end of Apartheid in South Africa in 1994.

We were taught in primary school that Nigeria gained its independence from Britain “on a platter of gold.” Which clever British colonial historian inserted that phrase into the History syllabus? Try telling that to Aba women rioters, Iva Valley massacre victims or to descendants of the great horsemen and archers who fought and died at the gates of Bida, Kontagora and under the Giginya trees in Sokoto to stop Lord Lugard and his West African Frontier Force [WAFF] from forcing them to swear allegiance to the British King.

Independence on a platter of gold? Tell that to Algerians, who lost 300,000 people in the fight that threw out one million French settlers from Algeria.  Or tell that to Kenyans, especially the Kikuyu, who staged the Mau Mau rebellion in order to stop White and Indian settlers from gobbling up their land. Try telling that to Angolans, who were plunged into a civil war immediately after independence from Portugal in 1975. Holden Roberto’s FNLA, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA as well as Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda [FLEC], all funded and armed by CIA and Apartheid South Africa, made Angolan independence blood-soaked.

Talk about independence on a platter of gold to Mozambique’s FRELIMO, to Guinea Bissau’s PAIGC, to Zimbabwe’s ZANU and ZAPU, to Namibia’s SWAPO or to South Africa’s ANC and PAC. The only good case of African corruption that I know was when Mobutu Sese Seko embezzled the money that CIA sent to him to buy arms for UNITA. That “corruption” saved tens of thousands of Angolan lives.

Has it all been worth it? In 1982 when Imo State Governor Sam Mbakwe went to a FEDECO voters’ registration center and found that his name was missing from the register, he said, “Nigerians cannot rule themselves! The British should come back!” Don’t blame old man Mbakwe. He was frustrated because the retreating colonials planted UNITA-style landmines all over the African political, economic and social landscape. These mines began to explode like so many fire crackers over the next six decades.

Let me cite just one example of a European post-independence minefield, as told by former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings to the great Kenyan academic Ali Mazrui in his television series The Africans. Rawlings said in 1960, it took one ton of Ghanaian cocoa to buy one Caterpillar tractor from Canada. In the 1980s however, he needed 60 tons of Ghanaian cocoa to buy the same tractor. Forget about money; product for product, the terms of trade deteriorated 60 times against Africa.

Other landmines that retreating colonialists planted in the African landscape included sponsoring coups, planting pliant rulers, deceptively acquiring military bases, instigating wars, arming both sides in African conflicts, acculturation using soft power of films and music, debt trap, bombing out some African regimes and lately, inviting all African leaders to single country summits. It is our fault, however, that in 60 years we did not dig up and detonate all the landmines.

Even if we don’t have modern mine detectors, we should have done what the Russians once did during the Crimean War. They got teams of volunteers to march through minefields and explode the mines, so that the rest of the brigade could safely march through. Even now it is not too late. Let us identify all the Euro-American political and economic minefields planted all over Africa, then get volunteers to explode them through self-sacrifice. Afterwards, the rest of us can march safely through.

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