African legends

Lecture delivered in Barcelona, Spain on Saturday 4th March 2017 at the inauguration of CAAIC: AFRO-CATALAN MOVEMENT

Let us start with the freshest in our memories. In early January 2017, the world attention was turned virtually to just two men, both of them black, Presidents and in their fifties. But that is where the similarities end.

Yahya Jammeh and Barrack Obama are as far from each other as the earth is from the mars in their social orientations and world outlooks. Jammeh became Gambian leader through a military coup some 23 years ago in 1994, and had since sat immovably in power with authoritarian ironhandedness; getting himself repetitively elected into office in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011 before he was defeated in 2016 by Adama Barrow. He first disappointed so many people including myself by conceding defeat; before being gripped by the ‘demon of leadership sit-tightism’ that has been the staple and scourge of African democracy. Barrack Obama, the first African American to have served as president of America assumed office on 20 January 2009 and vacated after a smooth transition on 20 January 2017 – eight years of laudable leadership that ended with 60% approval rating and with his head held up high. Jammeh was forced out on 21 January 2017 under a veritable threat of military intervention by the combined armed forces of ECOWAS regional alliance, thereby narrowly snatching Gambia from the jaw of political crisis. In a continent with a history of blatant subjugation of the people’s wishes through the circumvention of genuine, credible electoral process with transparent integrity, Jammeh is the latest entrant into the already brimming infamous list of African humiliated dictators. But in that comparison, I am jumping the gun somewhat. We shall return to that later.

Historically, the African continent had its own fair share of legends – remarkable men whose histories should remain permanent in our memories and written records. When Africa’s virginity was still intact; before her destiny, history, order of existence, social concepts, geographical symmetry, social harmony and micro community sovereignties were wantonly and rapaciously devoured, firstly by slavery and later by colonisation; Africa was a land of legends. Several of these legends, deserving of atavistic genuflection had become obscured in history, permanently buried in the rubbles of general amnesia caused by the relative absence of authentic records of Africans past, and the near total immersion in the glorification of the foreign values, histories and historic personages at the expense of ours; and of course, religion-triggered self-abnegation.

In that age, as it is today, leadership was very crucial, not just in times of peace and prosperity but more importantly in times of war and economic downturns when followers became vulnerable and community precarious. In my native Nigeria, a Yoruba Empire of Oyo had a model of British Cabinet system already in use nearly four centuries before the incursion of the white people. The 3rd king of that Empire, Arabambi Jakuta Ajala, more popularly known as Shango, was a great monarch who brought prosperity and more power and respect to the Empire. Though an aggressive, warlike and usually furious ruler, his aggression and fury were used to restore the glory of his Empire which ebbed during his meek predecessor’s rule – Ajaka. He became venerated and idolised, posthumously. He was a legend of his time. Sometimes around 14th century.

Around that same 14th century was the reign of Musa Keita, more popularly known as Mansa Musa, the Sultan (“and Lion”) of Mali. His pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325 left all communities, people, cities and nations on his route in awe. Reportedly accompanied by over 50,000 men and hundreds of camels, weighed down on both sides by loads of gold dust, which he dashed out in charity to the poor that came across his procession. The effect of his magnanimity caused severe devaluation in the gold market for the communities he passed through including Cairo, Medina and even the final destination – Mecca. On his way back to Mali, he also revived the market by borrowing the gold again at high interest rate from those beneficiaries of his largesse. That sounds to me like the modern day equivalent of the monetary policy of Open Market Operations; and that was the only time recorded in world history when one single person, singlehandedly manipulated the gold market.


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