What does it mean to be counted? I watched a YouTube video of a young woman who had been born to parents of two differing faiths in a country where that union is not allowed.
Her parents loved each other and the book of faith that they shared came from the same tradition but try as they might nobody would let them marry, so their children were left hanging. It was a TED Talk, by the way. About being a person with no state.
I sat this past week waiting to be counted. Not to brag or anything, but I can count on all my fingers and toes and I passed a statistics course once. I like censuses. I like people in every which way you can imagine, I like anything that measures peopleness and I especially like Tanzania.
So when my government announced it was doing a census this year, I might have been one of three Tanzanians who was excited about it. I love the idea of a census in a way that it might not be required for normal living.
Thing is, this census was announced in the worst possible way at the worst possible time.
Kenyans announced elections a long time ago because they can read calendars. Tanzanians can read calendars too, I assure you. No really, we can. We just don’t really put much emphasis on following its strictures. Life is something we respect too much to cinch in the girdle of a rigid system. It is infuriating. It is affirming. And I digress.
This year’s census was probably planned in advance, even if it hasn’t come across that way. We are a muscular country of an estimated 60 to 70 million people, all of whom seem to be commuting in Dar es Salaam on a bad traffic night during the rainy season.
We try to get a head count every 10 or so years, as the UN advises countries to do. We like the UN; we are often mildly interested in their recommendations. We try.
Like I said, I was excited about this particular headcount. I can’t remember the last time we did something together that wasn’t pandemic or election related and it nice to do, like, countrywide fun things isn’t it?
Non-threatening, constructive things, right? And a census is a way to give us all a joy time of togetherness in the glory of this beautiful land… as long as it is planned, right?
We were given notice of the coming census not a year before, not even six months before. At best, I will say it was three months before the event was supposed to take place because I am being polite.
And as soon as we knew, the Great Census Resistance of 2022 began. It is a grassroots movement that is widespread and intense, with prophets and detractors. It is a full-blown phenomenon. And the key phrase is “sitaki kuhesabiwa”.
I thought about that. What a luxury. The girl whose TED talk I watched, whose parents could not marry, who was stateless: she could not get basic state services where she lived.
No school. No health. Her best friend forged documents so she could get life-saving services when she needed them. She was stateless and thus not a person at all. She was a nobody and she would never count.
I think about citizenship from time to time. I have a concept of it, immaterial of whether the state I have chosen accepts me or not.
Tanzania is mine, and I was looking forward to be counted. I could not understand why people would not want that. But I listened, and I heard fear and distrust of the government. Some of it was irrational, and a lot of it was not.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway I got was that we can do this. We have a state, we have a government and we can do this. We can reject even those things that are in our own favour — as I see it.
I want to tell you that the census is going badly in a predictable way but it is not.
After all, this is Tanzania. We already know it is a failed and expensive project so we are having fun with it. We are bored, we are making jokes and we are mildly sabotaging the effort in that gentle Tanzanian way that is non-confrontational and totally understandable. Also: we know we matter, count or not. The census is an exercise, but Tanzanians are the reality.
There are a lot of stateless people out there, and it sucks. I want them to have a place to belong, something too large to be anything more than a concept and a collective effort full of disparate ideas.
A state. I want them to enjoy this right that Tanzanians have right now: not giving a flying damn about a census because come what may, we still matter.
I hope, for the stateless ones, that someday they can also enjoy this certainty in these most uncertain times.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Independence, Whose Independence? By Festus Adebayo
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.
The likes of Dadis issue orders that people dare not oppose by Jenerali Uliwengu
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!
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
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