Africa is a great continent with great potentials. It has one of the most abundant mineral resources in all the continents, is blessed with fertile arable lands, but most importantly, it has a great pool of human resources.
Contrary to what Western media will force us to believe, Africa is blessed with great intellects, original science and art forms. Actually, civilization started from Africa.
The Benin kingdom has a well-developed art and culture form, the Igbo has a well-developed iron works technology, in fact white invaders were shocked to be repelled with local guns from the iron smiths of Awka, in their initial attempt to invade Igboland.
The North had a well-organized system of government, the era of Queen Amina was proof of sophisticated governance. Also the original seven Hausa kingdoms already had a vibrant trading centre that dealt in leather, gold, cloth, salt, kola nuts, animal hides, and henna as early as the 9th century.
In many other parts of Africa, the original African man , was proud and self-reliant. He was a master in Agriculture, trading, arts and science.
Their native doctors understood the science of herbal medicine. It is interesting to note that Malaria killed off most of the early white men, while herbal concoctions where very effective in taking care of our forefathers, and death by malaria was quite rare (Ironically, today, with all the advances in modern medicine, malaria is still the number one killer in Africa. )
Our colonial powers do not mean well for Africa, and most of the poverty and suffering in Africa today, can be traced to a deliberate influence by colonial powers.
I am not an economist, but I will do best to present the facts in the most objective light, but I do this not to blame our colonial masters, but to let us understand the root of some of our problems, and to let the youths of today know the important role they have to play in building a great Africa tomorrow.
To illustrate my point better, I will use the small West African country of Burkina Faso as an example, and in particular the era of Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara is viewed as one of the best Africa presidents. Sankara seized power in a popularly-supported bloodless coup in 1983, aged just thirty-three, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power.
Before taking power, the then Upper Volta, was in deep poverty and was highly dependent on foreign aid, especially from France and the IMF.
But immediately after taking power, Sankara launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent.
He renamed the country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso ( meaning “Land of Upright Man”).
His foreign policies were centered on anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalising all land and mineral wealth and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritising education with a nationwide literacy campaign and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles within 1 week. Sankara’s administration was also the first African government to publicly recognize the AIDS epidemic as a major threat to Africa.
Other components of his national agenda included planting over 10 million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents and establishing an ambitious road and railway construction programme to “tie the nation together”.
He did not depend on foreign aid to build the railways, he actually called on his citizens to come out en-mass to manually build the railways, and they were happy to oblige.
Sankara also called on every village to build a medical dispensary, and had over 350 communities build schools with their own labour.
Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, while appointing women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school, even if pregnant.
“Our country produces enough to feed us all. Alas, for lack of organization, we are forced to beg for food aid. It’s this aid that instills in our spirits the attitude of beggars.”
— Thomas Sankara
Immediately after Sankara took office he suppressed most of the powers held by tribal chiefs in Burkina Faso. These feudal landlords were stripped of their rights to tribute payments and forced labour as well as having their land distributed amongst the peasantry.
This served the dual purpose of creating a higher standard of living for the average Burkinabé as well as creating an optimal situation to induce Burkina Faso into food self-sufficiency.
Within four years Burkina Faso reached food sufficiency due in large part to feudal land redistribution and series of irrigation and fertilization programs instituted by the government.
This success meant Sankara had not only shifted his country into food self-sufficiency but had in turn created a FOOD SURPLUS ! Sankara also emphasized the production of cotton and the need to transform the cotton produced in Burkina Faso into clothing for the people.
He was not just interested in producing foods, but also in manufacturing, and using raw materials in Africa to make finished goods.
Large-scale housing and infrastructure projects were also undertaken. Brick factories were created to help build houses in effort to end urban slums. All regions of the country were soon connected by a vast road- and rail-building program laid by Burkinabé people to facilitate manganese extraction in “The Battle of the Rails” WITHOUT ANY foreign aid or outside money.
These programs were an attempt to prove that African countries could be prosperous without foreign help or aid. These revolutionary developments and national economic programs shook the foundations of the traditional economic development models IMPOSED on Africa.
Sankara created a court to try corrupt officials, in these courts, the officials must defend themselves, as they were denied access to lawyers. The consequent embarrassment was enough to discourage corruption, although he rarely punished the guilty ones seriously.
Some of his other achievements and initiatives were:
• He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers.
• He reduced the salaries of well-off public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.
• He redistributed land from the feudal landlords to the peasants, making the country food self-sufficient.
• He opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
• He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against what he described as neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance.
• He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting.
“Thomas knew how to show his people that they could become dignified and proud through will power, courage, honesty and work. What remains above all of my husband is his integrity.”
— Mariam Sankara, Thomas’ widow
• In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).
• He forced well-off civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.
• He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabés.
• As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freeze.
EVILS OF AFRICA
And gradually the evils that bedevil Africa began to rear its ugly heads. For Burkina Faso, these evils were the small, but powerful Burkinabé middle-class (the elite cabal), the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments, and France and its ally the Ivory Coast.
The colonial masters were shocked at the massive revolution going on in Burkina Faso, but they were more worried that other African nations will follow in the footsteps of Burkina Faso, and free itself from the shackles of IMF, the World Bank and colonial masters.
Although the colonial masters left Africa, they indirectly continued to enslave her with debts and policies designed to force African nations to remain at their beck and call, and thus to continue to rape her of her resources.
Don’t ever believe that the debts that Nigeria and other African countries continue to borrow from IMF and the World Bank is for her good.
That is the greatest economic lie! IMF and World Bank will continue to enslave Africa through debts.
Besides, where are the evidence of the massive debts we have borrowed so far? They only use it to enslave the future generations.
So the colonial masters has to stop the light coming from Burkina Faso. They found a willing puppet in a childhood friend and close confidant of Thomas Sankara, a power hungry man called Blaise Compaoré.
Compaore not only killed Thomas Sankara, but also dismembered his body and discarded him like an animal in an umarked grave, probably in a bid to erase any memory of his great friend and the rising star of Africa.
Deterioration in relations with neighbouring countries was one of the reasons given, with Compaoré stating that Sankara jeopardised foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighbouring Ivory Coast.
Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, rejoined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to bring in “desperately needed” funds to restore the “shattered” economy, and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy.
Compaoré’s dictatorship remained in power for 27 years, until it was overthrown by popular protests in 2014.
And so for 27 years, Compaore ruled selfishly, and returned back Burkina Faso to servitude and poverty.
Not only did he destroy Sankara’s legacy, but he also extinguished the flame of hope for other African countries, who were beginning to awake to the realization that we can be great without foreign aid.
Today, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest country in the world, with 44.5% of its population living under the poverty line.
Although Burkina Faso still mines copper, iron, manganese, gold, cassiterite (tin ore), and phosphates, these operations provide employment and generate “international aid”.
So, even though Burkina Faso is the fourth largest producer of gold, the citizens do not enjoy the wealth, as it must go to service their “international aids” and “foreign debts”.
Maybe now, you can see the evils of Africa.
It is obvious from the case study of Burkina Faso, a land locked country, that a great nation like Nigeria, can do much more.
We borrow billions of dollars from China, IMF and the world bank to build railways, when we have millions of unemployed youths who can manually do this work, and receive those billions of dollars.
We pay billions of dollars to China Construction Company , and other foreign contractors, to build roads, when we have millions of jobless engineers in the country.
We spend billions of Naira to import rice, beans and so many other items, even eggs, toothpicks and straw ! when these activities would have provided much needed employment for our youths, and bolster our economy.
Oh God ! When I see the potential of what we could become, it breaks my heart. How could we not see this? Who turned us into slaves?
How can full grown men, be carrying their CV from office to office for five years, in search of work, when there are so much work we need to do.
This curse of ignorance and servitude must be broken. We must learn that we are not slaves, and that we don’t have to depend on anybody to put food on our table. We must discourage laziness, and understand that we have the capacity to produce everything we are importing today.
This is already a long article, and although I am passionate to write more, I will truncate it for now.
I will let all well-meaning Nigerians to make your own contribution in the comment section below.
I will charge the youths to look at the example set by Thomas Sankara, and understand that we are not slaves, we can be self-dependent, and we can make Nigeria great, if we work together.
The elites who are throwing us against each other, do not mean well for us.
The colonial masters, will even prefer that we fight another war, to destroy whatever we have built and return back to their servitude, but if they can’t achieve this, they will look for puppets, touts and vile men, who they will impose as our leaders, who will do their bidding and put us in their debt.
Almost all the governors are falling over themselves to borrow as much as possible from foreign organizations, and continue the enslavement of future generations.
I strongly believe that if the masses raise their level of awareness, and free themselves from the shackles of poverty, an economic revolution will naturally depose evil men from power.
Hunger is a tool evil men use to climb unto power, but if the youths become more aware, and more self-sufficient, it will be increasingly difficult to bribe or cajole them into having meat-headed, greedy people as our overlords.
It may take time, but Africa will still rise. Nigeria will still be great. I believe this with every fiber of my being, and I will continue to preach this message as long I have breath in me.
Just one week before Thomas Sankara was cut down by a hail of bullets, he said,
“While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
Spread this idea in your own way, believe that we can be great again, encourage each other, and let the revolution start from you.
Engr Ifeanyi Okoro