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Meeting Obasanjo, Tshisekedi at Congo battlefield by Festus Adebayo

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Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC’s) Presidential Villa is a highly fortified palace. Like in many parts of Central Africa, the Congolese have turned their disadvantaged hilly and mountainous topography into aesthetic wonder. At every point in the expansive Villa, you confront menacing-looking, gun-toting soldiers who radio authorities before allowing you entry. White-painted effigies of four lions by the Villa gate compliment this menacing ambiance. The Villa itself is an old but well-maintained structure painted white and probably built in the 1970s. The language barrier limited the satisfaction of my curiosity as to whether Mobutu Sese-Seko ruled from this same Villa.

That perhaps is where the aesthetics end. Like Nigeria, DRC is in dire security straits. In features, both countries are twined like Siamese twins, as if from the same umbilical cord. While Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, DRC has the largest land mass on the continent. With its 2,344,860 km square, compared to Nigeria’s 923,770 km square, Congo is more than twice of Nigeria’s land mass. It also has two time zones. Blessed with abundant mineral resources, since gaining independence, however – again same time in 1960 – both countries have been challenged by the scant supply of leadership. As a result, Nigeria and Congo are a caricature of Providence’s design for them as Eldorado. Since 1960, they have not been able to appropriate their humongous God-given resources.

As Nigeria suffocates under the apparently superior firepower of Boko Haram insurgents and bandits, DRC is muzzled by an armed militia group called the M23. While M23 operates in the eastern flank of the DRC, Nigerian terrorists’ domicile is in its Northern part. Between mid-June and July 2022, M23 summarily executed at least 29 civilians in Congo while in Nigeria, thousands of lives have been tethered by the bloodthirsty grove of terrorists.

In the midst of this tension, it was thus a pleasant surprise last Tuesday to see Nigeria’s military General and two-term president, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the DRC Presidential Villa. He was a guest of President Felix Tshisekedi.

Armed with a background of the unpleasant time the DRC seat of power was going through in the hands of rebels, Obasanjo’s presence raised some rebuttable conclusions that he had come as an amicus curia of sort of the Congolese government, in its time of tribulation. A top Congolese government source indeed confirmed to me that Obasanjo had been invited to help mediate the DRC crises with the M23.

Having been in Kinshasa on a different assignment, ferreting out what Obasanjo was about became my preoccupation. My reportorial instinct and logic, added to the quip from my source, made me agree that the august visitor had indeed come on that mission. Former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, had in November 2008 appointed Obasanjo as peace envoy to the DRC. Obasanjo’s task was to mediate a deal between regional antagonists like M23 and the government. Global apprehension had been on the upsurge that, if not urgently trapped, the tens of thousands of civilians who fled into camps as a result of violent activities of the militia might be in jeopardy. In that assignment, Obasanjo worked with the African Union to tease out a peace deal between the Congolese government and eastern Congo Tutsi rebels, as well as the Rwandan government, suspected to be their funder.

Also, Obasanjo, as current UN High Representative for the Horn of Africa, has been playing a huge mediative role in the ongoing Ethiopian crisis, a role assigned to him by the African Union (AU). A few weeks ago, specifically on August 4, the Ethiopian media reported that Obasanjo briefed the Peace and Security Council (PSC) on the Ethiopian crisis and what he had done after PSC’s last meeting. As High Representative, he had earlier briefed the AU during its 1064th session held in February. In June, Obasanjo had flown to Ethiopia to interact with Tigray’s Regional State President, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, and his Ethiopian counterpart, the country’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde.

M23 is a codename for the March 23 Movement or the Congolese Revolutionary Army. It is a rebel military group of mostly Tutsi ethnic groups that operates in the province of North Kivu. It was given birth on March 23, 2009. Since its founding, M23 has terrorized DRC. Between 2012 and 2013, its attacks led to the displacement of thousands of people. On November 20, 2012, it annexed Goma, the capital of the Province of North Kivu, with its over a million population. The rebels were however repelled a few weeks after by the Congolese army, fighting alongside UN troops and retook control of Goma. In its report on the crisis, the UN stated that Paul Kagame, whose Rwanda borders DRC, was the sole sponsor of the rebellion. M23 resumed its offensive in 2017 and, about two months ago, captured the DRC border town of Bunagana. Though Kagame withdrew his support for M23 after intense international pressure in 2012, he is alleged to have meandered back into sponsoring the rebels. Ugandan army commanders were also alleged by the UN to have reinforced the rebels with troops and weapons, as well as assisted them with recruiting soldiers.

On June 21, 2022, as the rebels fought Congolese forces in Ruvumu, a village in the eastern province, the M23 rebels allegedly summarily executed about 17 civilians, a figure that included two teenagers. It executed even more within a spate of two weeks. The guilt of the victims was that they allegedly acted as informants to the Congolese army about the rebels’ whereabouts. Some other civilians got shot dead as they fled, with others executed at close range. Both the M23 rebels and the Congolese army-backed UN troops fighting in North Kivu have been alleged to have deployed explosive weapons like mortar fire and artillery shelling in their fights, which most times hit civilians and civilian structures.

There is no government worth its onions that would not be bothered by the incursion of the M23 into its territory. President Tshisekedi surely is. Congo is the richest country in Africa. Those scary mountains of its are reputed to hide inside their bellies huge reserves of cobalt, gold, gems, copper, timber, and uranium. Its most valuable resource is its large reserve of diamonds. Indeed, the Congo has the world’s second-largest diamond reserves, at 150Mct, or 20.5% of the global total. Substantial diamond reserves can be found in Kasai Occidental and Kasai Oriental.

At about 10a.m, he was ushered into the expansive and chic waiting room of President Tshisekedi by one of the Congolese president’s envoys, Pacifique KashashaBirinda. A few minutes after, he was led to the office of Tshisekedi, with press photographers alone allowed to take shots of their immediate convivial exchanges. Thereafter, the press was asked to excuse them. After about two hours of talks, Obasanjo and Pacifique came out to address a battery of Congolese and Nigerian journalists waiting for them.

Obasanjo and Tshisekedi met for about two hours. Immediately Obasanjo came out of the meeting to address the press, my question to him was why he was in Congo and what he and Tshisekedi discussed. Chaperoned by Pacifique, who also acted as his interpreter, the old warhorse however filibustered of sort as his response was omnibus. He brushed it off in diplomatese.

As the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, (IITA) Ambassador, Obasanjo, on his way to the airport to fly back to Lagos, visited the institute’s expansive acres of citrus and cassava farm located on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Asked again why he had come to DRC, he said, among others, that he came to congratulate Tshisekedi as the newly appointed Chairman of SADC.

Obasanjo further espoused how agricultural security, through agribusiness, can bring food to the table in Africa and how the misbehavior on the part of the youths is due to a lack of employment. One sector that can provide this security, he said, is agribusiness. He lauded IITA and its DRC-born Director General, Dr. NterenyaSanginga, for the institute’s contributions to food security in Africa and said that from what he had seen, especially in IITA-pioneered cassava farming, he would copy it in his farm in Nigeria. He said that the ongoing war in Ukraine exposed a huge gap in Africa’s agriculture, revealing that Africa depends on Ukraine and Russia for a great chunk of its wheat consumption. However, according to him, he was gladdened when, on a recent visit to Ethiopia, he was told that the country, in the next two years, would not only be self-sufficient in wheat production but would be a net importer of wheat.

The day before this, in the evening of Obasanjo’s second day in the DRC, President Tshisekedi had hosted him and his entourage to a sumptuous dinner beside his presidential palace overlooking River Congo. On the other side of the river, about a few kilometers, was Congo Brazzaville; the river being nature’s own way of bifurcating the two different nations. As we all waited for Tshisekedi, he appeared in a dark brown flown shirt, brown trousers, and black slippers at exactly 6.02 pm. A Congolese band was on standby to scintillate the audience. Obasanjo moved his body in consonance with the beat on the high table where he sat. At some point, Obasanjo and Tshisekedi again walked backstage and engaged each other in another round of mutual tete-a-tete for about 30 minutes.

A man many love to loathe, students of theology must be studying what the spiritual balm that makes OlusegunObasanjo tick is. As he landed in Lagos on Wednesday, right from the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Obasanjo was reported to have again jetted to London. It was only the second day that pictures of him and Nigerian politicians in another round of rapprochement surfaced in the media. The curious question to ask is why the world is inviting the old warhorse to mediate in their crises but Obasanjo’s peacemaking talent is pining away in the Nigerian backyard. Or, are those inviting Obasanjo foolish and Nigerian current leaders, wisdom personified?

Strictly Personal

Akeredolu And Katsina’s AK-47 Trainees by Lasisi Olagunju

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In Lawuyi Ogunniran’s Yoruba play, Ààrẹ-àgò Aríkúyẹrí, we see how a happy polygamous family is ruined by the indiscretion of the family head. Ògúnrìndé Ajé, the Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun of Ibadan, a man with three wives, throws a party to worship his ‘ori’; he lines up his wives in a singing and dancing bout; the second wife outshines the others; the husband celebrates her, publicly proclaims her as his favourite and shoves aside the other wives. The party is over, three children of the third wife die in quick succession – poisoned; hell is let loose. The first wife secretly tells the mother of the dead children that her Babalawo has revealed the favoured wife as the ‘witch’ who ate her children. The bereaved tells her husband the discovery, and, the man, in anger, shoots dead the ‘accused’ wife; the town steps in. Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun is accused of murder and brought before Baṣọ̀run Ògúnmọ́lá and the council of chiefs. The truth is revealed: the first wife is the culprit; she tells the chiefs that the wives loved one another before their husband picked his favourite in public. She confesses to killing the kids to punish the family head “who knows the slender wife that fits her husband on the day of the feast, and (knows) the fat wife fit only as a labourer on the farm.”

Nigeria is ineluctably rolling towards its destiny; it is approaching its final destination. That was the summary of my thought after watching the Katsina vigilante training video, the trainees’ open display of dexterity in handling AK-47 rifles, and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s charge at the double standards of the Federal Government. The governor alleged that South-West states applied for and got a no for its Amotekun from the Federal Government while Katsina State got a yes for its security outfit to bear military-grade weapons. The firm became firmer after I read the police’s explanation that what the Katsina vigilante boys got were not AK-47 assault rifles but mere training in the use of AK-47 guns. We live in a ghostly society ruled by funny, deadly ideas.

You saw the devastating effects of bias and favouritism in the Ààrẹ-àgò Balógun story above: Three children die of poison; one wife is shot dead by the husband; a jealous wife is sentenced to death; the family head is sentenced to death – but escapes to the miserable life of a fugitive. Even, members of the jury – the chiefs who sit on the case – become victims; they are busted as bribe takers and lost their privileges, and the bribe deliverers are sold to slavery. The lone survivor is the last wife who escaped with the morbid scar of the loss of three children. This story is Nigeria and its future in their very raw form. Clinical psychologists have a description of a household of bias and iniquity. They say a family of parental favouritism is one of shame, fear, and fight. Wherever you have the blight of bias, you see cohesion in flight; you feel disengagement and conflict in full swing. A home where the favoured child sees the parents as enviable and helpful, and the disfavoured child perceives them as wicked, selfish, and authoritarian is no one’s dream home. It cannot ever achieve its full potential. It is a house of commotion and destruction.

Human existence, Sigmund Freud theorized, is all about two basic urges – he called them drives: One is Eros (the desire to live); the other is Thanatos (the wish to die). Both cohere and contend throughout the journey of life. If Freud saw war as “the prevailing of death over love,” then Nigeria is the ground of that battle. Every step that is taken here, solitary and collective, is a shortcut to death and decay. Nothing is an accident; the virus ravaging our giant came with its bad birth and breath and feeds on the deformity. Imagine what the Nigerian government has made of a decision as basic as what weapons to deploy in fighting a collective enemy. The regime has costumed it in sectional arrogance, governmental infidelity, and unfaithfulness. The result is the outcry from Akeredolu and the shameful silence from Abuja.

Except the state armourer is the forest bandit, he should have no problem arming law enforcement agents and agencies against banditry. If terrorists in the forests of Katsina and Borno use AK-47, and terrorists in the forests of Ondo and Oyo use AK-47, shouldn’t the respective responses be similar in ways and means? We insist that our country’s full name is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, yet, we hate what real federations do. The United States is a federation with more than 17,000 state and local police forces. They are many and, yet, they get the job done in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect. Why is it difficult for us to do what others do so that we get what others get? We cannot insist that Nigeria’s unity and oneness are inviolable and non-negotiable while having one standard for the north and a different standard for the south.

Our founding fathers fought for and got Nigeria as a federation of disparate units. They voted for federalism because they knew it would stop the madness of one part from becoming a national epidemic. It is about balancing of power – and even of terror. America’s founding fathers opted for federalism because they sought “to balance order with liberty…avoid tyranny, allow more participation in politics and use the states as ‘laboratories’ for new ideas and programmes.” The fourth president of the United States and father of the country’s constitution and its Bill of Rights, James Madison, argued (in The Federalist, No. 51) that power must be set against power, and ambition must be made to counteract ambition if his emerging nation of many parts would progress in peace and plenty. Earlier in The Federalist, No. 10, he had explained how the adoption of federalism would engender peace and development: “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy, but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.” Drawing from Madison’s argument, an analyst says “federalism prevents a person that takes control of a state from easily taking control of the federal government as well.” What do those sentences tell you about Nigeria and its owners and why the nation’s ailments are incurable? The US experience apparently influenced what legal icon and elder statesman, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, argued for in April 2022. He called for a total constitutional overhaul of Nigeria instead of limping towards the next elections. We asked him to shut up.

Five months ago, Chief Afe Babalola looked at Nigeria he was living in and cried out that he could not recognize what he was seeing. Then he issued a statement and said he “decided to talk because this country is now different from the one I used to know.” He said he saw a gradually collapsing country, a half-dead nation with a currency that was N199 to $1 in 2015 but which had gone down to N570 to a dollar as of the time he issued the statement. “The external debt, which was $10.7 billion in 2015 is now over $38 billion. The government is borrowing more, and spending more, but earning fewer revenues. The worse thing is that the debt servicing level is also rising. In 2020, Nigeria was ranked as the poorest country in the world with over 50 percent of Nigerians living in extreme poverty while over 70 million Nigerians are in urgent need of life-saving assistance.” Chief Babalola said he was “of the firm conviction that moneybags now control the lever of powers.” He said if we allowed the present constitution beyond 2023, what we would be getting is recycled leadership, who would continue the old ways. “We need a constitution that will throw up young, brilliant, dedicated people to save this country. We can’t get all these under the present constitution. We need a new set of leaders in our nation; leaders who will not see themselves as Mr. Know-All and who will not see themselves as above anyone,” he said.

That was five months ago. How many bags of naira must you carry before you can purchase a dollar in Nigeria today? A thousand dollars may soon trump a million naira. If you are an optimist, you have something to chew on here. It is said that a witch who would stop being a witch would not build an all-female nest. Nigeria is that witch. It breaks the backbone of whatever is good and strong; it does not build or rebuild; it listens not to the voice of knowledge and understanding. How did we take Afe Babalola’s counsel that we rearrange our lives productively instead of going for the poisonous feast of the 2023 elections? We dismissed him and his words. The old man has since been minding his business, eating his pounded yam, mounting his horse during the day and ‘the other one at night. But for Nigeria, denial cures nothing; the country remains “a contagion of disgrace.”

Bloomberg, last week, in a damning report said bankers were bailing out of Nigeria’s stagnating economy. It mentioned ‘japa’ the new fad for brain drain. The drain is with the traumatized – made up of everyone: young, old, read, and unread. It is the result you get from a cracked system that won’t submit itself for reconstruction. Nigeria cannot work unless it has the right leaders. It cannot have the right leaders unless the structure is right. The tormentors of Nigeria run to the United States. But they won’t accept that that country works because it preserves the choices its founding fathers made at the beginning of their journey. Nigeria robs the world of hope and puts the optimist to shame. “The fountains are dusty in the Graveyard of Dreams; The hinges are rusty and swing with tiny screams” (H. Beam Piper in ‘Graveyard of Dreams’). We tempt fate and tamper with destinies; the result is the shrill death of hope. Fuji music’s grand old megastar, Kollington Ayinla, sang in the 1980s that Nigeria is the world and it would never die (Nigeria, ayé ni kò lè kú…). My starry-eyed generation (and the ones before us) sang and danced with Baba Alatika along the rich creeks of that optimism. But, life has taught us lessons on how not to be optimistic. If musicians are true poets, today, I would borrow from Odia Ofeimun and chant ‘The Poet Lied.’ I am not sure the lyricist in Kollington believes any longer in the spirit of his song of an eternal Nigeria. Nothing that is born to sink will swim – even when it is offered lifelines.

 

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Strictly Personal

Let us all grow bananas, make more pads, distil more Waragi by Jenerali Uliwengu

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We are now getting used to Kenyans chalking up achievements in areas where all of us should have been eager to prove our worth in. And it looks like there is neither atomic science nor black magic in what they beat us in. All they have needed is a little thinking space in which to exercise their minds, and, surely, that should be available.

This time round, I learn that a couple of Kenyan students, Paul Ntikoisa and Ivy Etemesi in the Rift Valley, have been putting their heads together around a problem that has been dogging young female learners in all our countries; some female students sometimes drop out of the school system because of the biological imperative of having to go through the menstrual cycles in an unfriendly environment.

Though we all know that this is a natural imposition of womanhood that no girl — unless seriously disabled — can avoid, we seem to think of it as a girl’s problem that she and her mother – not father — should deal with.

Modern education

It has been with us for a long time, and we have knowledge of the impediment it places on the path to women’s emancipation which should come through attaining modern education, and yet we do little to alleviate the inconvenience experienced by school girls. It has often been stated that many girls cannot stand the discomfort and humiliation they have to go through when the inevitable happens, every month because they are shunned and mocked by their uncomprehending male colleagues who treat them as if they were unclean, though it is obviously through no fault of theirs.

It is estimated by Unesco that to more than 2.6 million girls are faced with this problem in Kenya alone, and it is easy to imagine how many more will be affected across the continent.

Now, some Kenyan youth have come up with a brilliant idea that will radically change the way we look at the banana plant. Taking a cue from the traditional use of the banana stem by Ugandan women, these young Kenyan students went one better, by obtaining banana trunk fibre and processing it into wearable fibre that can be deployed as a sanitary pad.

Immediately, I heard of this big news I rushed to google it, and spent some time buried in the literature. Till I understood the processes. I am not a techy buff myself but I could kind of understand what they had done with the banana stem: take out the soft inner flesh of the stem, and wash it thoroughly to remove impurities…

Well, I must stop there lest I give misleading information to DIY enthusiasts, but my point is made.

What these young people have done is a practical demonstration of the can-do spirit with which many youngsters are imbued, and they are to be found not only in Kenya but in all our countries.

It is only that the Kenyans tend to get there before the others and get all the bragging rights. If I sound envious, it is because I am.

But better late than never, and all our youngsters in the other countries can take up the challenge.

Other tissue

First, we have the advantage of knowing what the Kenyan lads have done with the banana plant. That is not the only way to go, because someone could try to utilise some other tissue. I wonder how baobab bark would fare in this context, since ‘orubugu’ is hallowed textile in the Lake Victoria area and could do the trick if it is properly pounded and softened. What about papaya stem?

On a general note, we need to encourage our youth to be more adventurous, to experiment with what has never been used but is plentiful.

A long time ago I got some wisdom from a visiting young French man who told me, unforgettably: to make progress, you either identify something useful and acquire plenty of it, or you identify something that you have plenty of and find a use for it because you already have it. It is the case of banana plants all around us.

This might create a banana revolution in which people will uproot other plants to replace them with bananas, and find that the bananas have numerous advantages:

They can be eaten as fruit when they ripen; they can be cooked before they ripen to provide matooke and katoogo; the banana juice is sweeter than Coca Cola; fermented, it gives the alcoholic beverages, rubisi and mbege, from which a moonshine is extracted for serious Waragi and Konyagi gins consumers.

In addition, banana plants in large numbers help to decorate the land, cool the earth, and freshen the air.

Rainfall pattern

I see no reason why people all over East Africa do not plant as many bananas as they can in all the areas with a moderate rainfall pattern. DR Congo, which enjoys such plentiful rains, should take the lead in creating this luxuriant and extremely valuable agricultural belt.

We could all soon celebrate the banana plant as a liberator on so many fronts, and since some people have been trying very hard to make banana republics of our countries, we might as well complete the picture meaningfully.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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