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Let’s help Congo save its ‘lungs’ for the entire world to survive by Jenerali Ulimwengu

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How should the world take the news that processes are underway to carry out bidding and other activities leading to large-scale prospecting for oil and gas in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Much more importantly, how should the people of DR Congo take that news?

Reports of the bidding around oil and gas prospection in the Congo basin are important, to say the least, because of the huge interest that so many constituencies will have in matters such as this one.

My interest is no less than that of an average citizen of the world, tempered by history and humored by the many bitter experiences of our peoples and countries down the centuries, and the fact that our people do not seem to have the capacity to learn from what has passed and affected us so badly!

Congo. The mere mention of that name evokes memories of Leopold ll, the bandit king of Belgium who stole a country 80 times larger than his country and proceeded to pillage, rape, and massacre the luckless people of that unfortunate piece of geography that he treated as his personal property.

Leopold’s agents became the perpetrators of the first genocide known to the world, in which 10 million Africans were massacred through a systemic programme of killing, flogging, castration, mutilation, and starvation.

I have never been able to erase from my mind the horrifying pictures of severed hands displayed by the Congolese as punishment for not satisfying rubber collection quotas set by Leopold. These pictures are enough to make anyone’s blood boil with anger at the barbarity of the Europeans who enacted this behavior, which even animals are not capable of.

In 1960, Belgium gave Congo “independence” in the circumstances that we all know, and soon a black Leopold arrived on the scene in the person of Joseph Désiré Mobutu, and later by another Mobutu-like figure of Laurent Désiré Kabila. In the two people, it is the root word “desire” that is the evident denominator in the continuation of the plunder of the country’s resources.

It is this kind of history that makes one cringe every time one hears of another large-scale programme to exploit Congo’s resources.

One is more likely than not to have a lingering suspicion that we are about to be treated to another episode of monumental plunder and despoliation.

The fact that hardly anything of value has accrued to the people of Congo proceeding from the huge natural resources that the country boasts thus far and that its rulers have somehow managed to mirror Leopold at every turn.

It is not for nothing that every time the term “resource curse” comes up, the name Congo casts its silhouette on our consciences.

Several commentators around this development this month have hinged around the importance of Congo’s tropical forest and the role it plays on behalf of all humanity in preserving the world’s environment, and the possibility that any intensive mining may lead to the destruction of the good that Congo gives to the world.

It is estimated that the tropical forest helps to absorb about 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, making Congo effectively one of the important “lungs” of the world.

Doubts have been expressed as to whether intensive exploitation of hydrocarbons can take place without endangering this benefit the whole world is currently enjoying.

This is supported by speculation as to whether the economic benefits reaped by DR Congo will be necessarily sufficient to offset the environmental loss, and whether, indeed, all these projects will turn out to be profitable.

It becomes worrisome when reports suggest that impact assessment on the environment has not been carried out, and that is apart from the fact that illegal logging has always been going on apace in the basin.

The vast flora and fauna represented here are extremely important. The survival of these animals and plants, side by side with the well-being of millions of people and communities who live and work there, must concern all over the world.

But, at the same time, we must be thinking about the immediate economic needs of the people of Congo who, willy-nilly, have to act as keepers and protectors of the forest on which the whole of humanity depends for survival.

Keepers and protectors

This moves me to ask why the United Nations and other global bodies are not doing something to ensure that the keepers and protectors of these “lungs” — here one gets to think globally to include such places as the Amazon, the forests of Borneo, and Sumatra and the Australian Daintree Rainforests — are compensated in economic terms for the commercial gains they forgo by desisting from certain economic activities that are inimical to our common environmental health.

Such a global initiative would fall squarely within the purview of the concerns severally expressed in different corners and fora across the world regarding climate change.

The task is huge and grim, especially taking into consideration recent statements by Congolese authorities suggesting that the fate of the world’s environment may not be their priority.

The carcass lies prostrate, and in the sky, the vultures are circling!

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

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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