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Pearl of Africa could become a country standing in water by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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In 2005, with the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala approaching, the Uganda government launched a campaign to promote the country internationally.

Dubbed “Gifted by Nature,” it ran, among others, on CNN, where reports said it received views on the broadcaster’s website alone.

Being Uganda, it was inevitably dogged by controversy about nepotism in the award of the contract and allegations that its cost was inflated.

What the campaign was honest about is that Uganda is gifted and beautiful.

Later-to-be British prime minister Winston Churchill wrote of Uganda in his 1908 book My African Journey: “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa”. And so the moniker “Pearl of Africa” was born.

Once fertile to embarrassing levels, though one of the three smallest East African countries, it has 50 percent of the region’s arable land.

On these rich lands, Ugandans have heeded the call of the Lord, gone forth and multiplied with great vigour. With a population growth rate of 3.35 per cent per year and with one of the earth’s youngest people, it is also one of its fastest growing populations. Currently over 42 million, the population is projected to surpass 100 million by 2050.

When you have so many mouths to feed and without a plan to exploit the land sustainably, you end up trashing it.

For three decades, Uganda has had one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, at approximately 2.7 per cent per year. It has become a regional rice-growing powerhouse but paid an enormous environmental cost.

Since 1994, it has lost more than 30 per cent of its wetlands. A drive between the eastern town of Soroti and the northern city of Lira and from Kampala westward is a feast of beauty. However, you go by many signs telling you are driving through a swamp area, but you don’t see a swamp or a glimmer of water anywhere.

In these climate-moody times, a peculiar ecological and economic disaster is slowly unflooding on its tortured soils.

In 2020, Lake Victoria and River Nile rose to their highest levels in two generations, leaving entire villages and suburbs under water. Roads to the north toward South Sudan, and west to Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda were broken as floods raged all around the country.

Eastern Uganda’s mountainous Bugisu region has become a flashpoint. Just over a fortnight ago, unusually furious floods and mudslides again hit it leaving dozens of people dead and widespread economic and infrastructure destruction.

For East Africa, the risks for trade routes into and out of South Sudan, DR Congo, and Rwanda are real. Back home, without a course reversal, Uganda might lose even its sole international airport to Lake Victoria.

There are many ways this story could end. The wetlands will fight back. In the worst case, by the end of this century, Uganda could be a Netherlands — a country standing on water.

It will likely survive on some Dutch-like ingenuity. Still, a very different type of people than the current lot will be inhabiting it, and it would no longer be equal to its Churchillian portrait.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

Strictly Personal

Independence, Whose Independence? By Festus Adebayo

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Yesterday, it was 62 years since Nigeria got her independence from colonial Britain. While some countrymen say the October 1 celebration rituals are worthy of flinging the cymbals, some others say it is a day to drench ourselves in sack clothes and ashes reminiscent of mourning moments for biblical Israelites. For decades, until the October 1 saturnalia began to lose its savour, successive governments made a good job of conflating the frills of the rituals as a representation of our national joy and unity. Children looked forward to the symphony or National Day orchestra, the perfect chemistry of matching feet at stadia across the country, and the arresting drums of police bands.

A musical rendition of this October 1 ritual that succinctly captures its mesmerizing glee is in the 1971 recorded vinyl of Ligali Mukaiba, Yoruba Apala musician. Mukaiba, widely known as Baba L’Epe, having been born in the riverine Epe area of Lagos, was a musical petrel of the 1960s, through 1980s. Mukaiba had a mellifluous and almost effeminate voice that singled him out among his peers. He was a social crusader, commentator and musical prodigy, serenading Nigerian fans and the west coast with his very sublime, penetrating Apala music. I am yet to listen to a more penetrating account of the Midas touch, arresting power, and talismanic power of the female gender as evocatively delivered by Mukaiba in the track he entitled Kurukere. He sang that when a woman enters the head of a man – bo ba nwuni, to ba njaraba eni, he called it, she destabilizes all his organs of reasoning and he begins to act in dissonance to his actual person. Sorry, I digressed.

In his song entitled Eyi Yato (This is different) wherein he had the particular track, Ominira – independence, Mukaiba narrated what transpired on October 1, 1971, at the Race Course. It was where the Union Jack was lowered and was eventually named the Tafawa Balewa Square, after the murder of Nigeria’s mercurial first Prime Minister.

October 1 celebrations, which have become perennial rituals in Nigeria, respect for the Nigerian flag, the national anthem, and many more, are some of the totems that successive governments use as objects of nation-building.

Nigeria’s fragile togetherness has since worsened. Two very instructive fables speak to what led us to the precipice we are in today in Nigeria. In those fables, we are covertly told that when more than one people come together, with recognized differences, there must be mutual respect for one another, equity, and a sense of rightness. The absence of these factors has led Nigeria’s disparate peoples to go their separate ways in spirit. The two fables got promoted in the songs of Ibadan-born Awurebe music singer, Dauda Akanmu Adeeyo, popularly known as Epo Akara.

The first fable, as narrated by Epo Akara, happened in the animal kingdom where both the Partridge, a bird which the Yoruba call Aparo, and the Crab, Alakan or Akan, held occupied territories, with each controlling his own resources. While each was doing well in his own sphere, they both reckoned that there was the need to forge togetherness so that their lots could be better catered for and they could grow stronger in shared resources. The Aparo superintended over a government bountiful in yam resources and the Alakan’s government had abundant water resources. Hitherto, each and their children required what the other had.

Coalescing their thoughts, one day, they held a conference of the two nationalities. Aparo and Alakan sat on the table to discuss theirs and the futures of their offspring unborn. Aparo spoke first. He recognized that each of them had limitations in resources. After consuming the barn of yams located within his borders, Aparo said, he would need water to wash down the meal. Could Alakan open up his borders for him and his children to have access to his aquatic territory while he too would open his barns for his children to have easy access to yams?

They both saw the shared opportunities in this coming together. The deal was sealed and delivered, the next day, Aparo flew into the Alakan territory with his children and they fetched gallons of water. They did this for weeks. However, in the third week, Alakan sent his children to go to Aparo’s farm to harvest yams for the family’s consumption. At the farm, Alakan’s children shouted his name and he replied garrulously, in the words of Epo Akara, “Ta ni np’Aparo?” – who is calling Aparo? And those ones replied, “Omo Akan ni” – we are the children of Alakan. Then Aparo flew into a rage, calling their father unprintable names. Alakan, in the expletives from Aparo, was unevenly shaped by the Creator, with hands and legs shaped like pincers, a boulder for chest, deceptive strides such that he walks awkwardly – “O s’oju hati-hati, o s’ese hati-hati, ab’apata laya, owo meji bi emu…”

Incensed by this sudden flouting of relational terms of agreement by Aparo, Alakan’s children went back to their father and reported their encounter with him. Convinced that they had misrepresented what transpired, Aparo himself left the river bank where he was busy with some aquatic assignments and went into the forest to meet with Aparo. The partridge repeated the same excoriation. In anger, Alakan and his children came back home and that was the end of this attempt to forge a nationality from their disparate territorial leanings.

The other allegory as told by Epo Akara in another song was the consort of four animals who came together in mutual understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They were Lion, Hyena, Cobra, and Tortoise. At the conference they held, each confessed his weakness to the others. The Lion was the first to speak. “If I am in the forest hunting, no one must dare behold my face,” he charged. Anyone who dared this, said the Lion, would have died as recompense – “enikeni to ba dan wo, Asalailu ni o si mon lo,” said Epo Akara.

For Hyena, no one must spill sand on his sacred body. The Cobra cleared his throat and said, “You could step on my head and I will keep mute; step on my back with no blowback but anyone who steps on my tail will die.” The Tortoise on his own told his fellow conferees that backbiting was his major put-off. Anyone who does this to him provokes the beast in him.

For decades, they lived in amity and hunted games collectively. However, one day, they sent Tortoise on an errand. Assuming he was without hearing the shot, the Hyena cleared his throat and began to speak. He bemoaned the Tortoise’s self-righteousness, stating, in that deep Yoruba aphorism, that everyone could haggle with the launderer but not an Ato’le – one stricken by incontinence of bedwetting.

The next day, as they were hunting in the forest, Tortoise then provoked discord. He looked straight into Lion’s face. Enraged, Lion spurted sand up which hit the Hyena and who in turn stepped on the Cobra’s tail, with the serpent spraying his lethal poison on all of them, leading to their mutual deaths.

The two Epo Akara fables speak to the Nigerian so-called togetherness. While our colonial heritage is the bane of our overall crises, there has been an internal re-colonialism of our own people by our own people. As foremost Political Science scholar, Prof Eghosa Osaghae said, the colonial heritage of states soldered together by force bequeathed on them a contested state. Africa is a good example. Flakes that naturally flow from this forced togetherness are the crises of corruption, violence, terrorism, economic dysfunction, and many more that we face today.

Today, what can bring Nigeria back from the brink of collapse is for her rulers to stop seeing Nigeria as an ethnic commodity, a conquered territory of the feudal North. In place of this, they must start empathizing with the people under their watch because transiting from statehood no nationhood can only be actualized when people start perceiving their president as the president of Nigeria and not the President of Fulani people.  To proceed from here, Nigeria has to re-negotiate her foundation. Proceeding from here is not about throwing saturnalia on October 1 and wriggling like maggots inside the sewer of celebration that Ligali Mukaiba painted in that 1971 vinyl.

We must first acknowledge that the independence we got from Britain in 1960 is pseudo independence, which has failed calamitously. The second is for us to begin to put in place the machinery for a Second Independence, as canvassed by Prof Osaghae. We must begin to decolonize our minds, preparatory to giving ourselves authentic Independence.

If Rwanda, a country riven by ethnic crises, could rise to become what it is today, Nigeria, with good leadership, can rise from the ashes of this hopelessness.  Like the animals in Epo Akara’s fables, the nations that makeup Nigeria have differences. Let’s recognize them. The northern part of Nigeria has over the decade behaved like the Aparo. Moving forward, let us come to a discussion table and agree on how we want to proceed from here.

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Strictly Personal

The likes of Dadis issue orders that people dare not oppose by Jenerali Uliwengu

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Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — remember him?—is back in Conakry, Guinea, claiming that he has chosen to come back to “clear my name which has been dragged through the mud.”

Does this kind of action depict a man so full of bravado that he can come back to a place that is literally his crime scene and claim innocence, or does he want to tell us something we have not been told as yet?

Three years ago when Dadis was head of the military junta ruling over Guinea, hundreds of men and women gathered in that stadium in Conakry at a rally protesting military rule that has plagued the country since the founding president of that country, Ahmed Seku Ture, was overthrown after his death in 1989.

Yes, I am saying that on purpose, for Ture had been such a terror to his people that they had to wait until he was taken sick and then flown to Morocco where he died, and his people could now overthrow him! That is how a military coup d’etat was carried out on a dead president!

Relinquish power

Now, this Dadis had come to power courtesy of another military coup and had shown no sign he was planning to relinquish power any time soon, and his people had gathered in the stadium to tell him he had to leave.

Instead, he ordered his soldiers to open fire, and a bloodbath ensued; more than 150 unarmed civilians lost their lives. Apart from the deaths — themselves horrendous enough—the soldiers unleashed a raping spree in which tens of young women and girls were gang-raped, tortured, and maimed — many dying on the spot or shortly thereafter, succumbing to the ordeals they had suffered.

According to many eyewitness accounts by even people who had become inured to the barbarousness of West African military thugs, that day had not been experienced before.

After that horrific incident, Dadis fled to neighbouring Mali, where he has been living in soft-cushioned exile until he decided to come back home “to clear my name”.

It certainly will be interesting to hear what he has to say in his defence, and it will certainly be a riveting story as prosecutors lay down the charges and call to the stand as eyewitnesses those who saw and experienced the massacres and the rapes first-hand.

We all know what a bloodbath looks like, or we think we do. We have recollections of Sharpeville in 1961 and Marikana in 2012, for instance, two incidents in one country, perpetrated by forces supposedly diametrically opposed but unfortunately bound together by a shared callousness where black lives come into collision with the interests of capitalism.

Onto the bloodbath in the Conakry case, add the scenes of mass rape, and a scene emerges that is hard to visualize.

Some of the women who have gone on record have shared stories of untold brutality and suffering which have had repercussions on their reproductive health ever since, heart-rending narratives that would make a brute monster break down and cry bitter tears.

Law and order

I am intrigued and want to know what this Didas will want to say in his defence.

Was it a case of trying to re-establish ‘law and order’ as we hear our rulers say so often, that people were threatening to sow chaos and disrupt normal lives? Had the military junta at that time received intelligence suggesting the protesters were enemy agents sent to bring their (itself illegitimate) government down?

Hardly. Neither of these feeble excuses would hold water, because there is no evidence to suggest there was interference from outside, and clearly indiscriminate shooting of unarmed civilians and rape is no way to establish “law and order”.

But Dadis could benefit from an unstated defence that would be understood in some quarters, even if not spelled out. That he gave orders to shoot because he saw a threat represented by the demonstrators in the stadium as an attempt to reinstate so-called civilian regimes are in fact all military except in name.

Any time

They have given up any attempt to persuade their people to approve their policies, of which they actually have none; they have ruled by issuing orders that their people dare not oppose; all too often when their people showed signs of wanting to rebel, they were kept in check by the same brute military force that the likes of Dadis and others are now using. Morally, there is no justification for castigating Dadis and his boys.

But all that does not explain the overkill in civilian body counts, and the rapes. Dadis will still be up shit-creek without a paddle.

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

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