Africa’s new sets of complex challenges dissected at Achebe 2012 Colloquium
By George Ukomadu
Special to USAfrica multimedia networks, Houston • www.USAfricaonline.com • @Twitter.com/Chido247, Facebook.com/USAfricaChido n Facebook.com/USAfrica247
USAfrica: December 7-8, 2012 marked the 4th annual Achebe Colloquium on Africa, held at the prestigious Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island – in partnership with The Achebe Foundation. Top American and African government officials and attaches – including United Nations and the European Union,
renowned scholars and celebrated business leaders occupied the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts to exchange ideas about some of Africa’s most pressing challenges in the ever and now rapidly shifting political and economic global landscape.
The 40 million dollar center, still in infancy, enjoyed its official opening in February 2011. The three story; 38, 825 square foot interdisciplinary center is situated at the heart of the University’s College Hill, and is home to Brown University’s faculty and students, expanding the purpose, research and boundaries of arts expression and discipline.
The Colloquium had a theme of ‘Governance, Security and Peace in Africa’, and seeking answers for the continent’s past, current and increasingly volatile milieu.
Substantially, the Achebe Colloquium ranks among Africa’s touchstone gathering of this calendar year.
The weekend’s activities commenced with a brief address by Brown University president, Christina Paxson followed by a spirited plenary address by billionaire-philanthropist from the Sudan, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. All were sure to give due honor to Chinua Achebe, the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies.
Fresh from his recently (2012) published work, ‘There Was a Country: A personal history of Biafra’, Professor Chinua Achebe, now 82 years old, witnessed the wealth of knowledge from the weekend’s events. The memoir begins with this Igbo proverb, “A man who does know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.” This adage encapsulates Professor Achebe’s historical reflections that gave life to the then hibernating volcano of intertribal unrest; in externality, opening many tonic wounds, unwittingly cloaked as scars.
The agitation awakened younger generations of ‘Nigerians’ worldwide, some unaware of their slumber. It re-inaugurated a dialogue that shone a light on the very core of Nigeria’s underpinning. Is it possible that this country cannot move forward or see true progress with such a heavy weight on its back?
Even more haunting, is the larger picture – Africa. Why has Africa not seen reasonable positive change for at least, the past half century? Is there a rebirth on the horizon? If so, how will it come to fruition? It was precisely this line of inquiry that served as the overarching theme: guiding the two-day discourse in Rhode Island, USA.
There is no denying that Africa is facing new sets of complex challenges in the 21st century. Some link the present landscape to that dreadful, but hope-filled day (November 17, 2010) Mohammed Bouazizi gave his life (self-immolation) in protest of the Tunisian government. This act sparked a revolution in Tunisia and since then, has taken the world by storm, evening garnering Time magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year: The Protester. Subsequent events have led to regime change in many African and middle-eastern countries, alike. In effect, governments like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, to name a few, are faced with the daunting task of securing a democratic state, foreign to their current political DNA developed from decades of dictatorship. The Central and Eastern regions are undergoing an incredible time of turmoil and instability; to add, South Sudan, as recent as July 9th 2011, celebrated its new national identity and independence from Sudan. West Africa is yet to find an answer to the evolving proliferation and sophistication of terrorism. Africa’s Southern Region still wrestles with matters of race, politics, economic problems, AIDS, housing scarcity and peace building.
Some of the panelists in deliberation were John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria (2004-2007), Walter Carrington (former U.S Ambassador to Nigeria), Prof. V.Y Mudimbe, Horace Campbell, professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, Ambassador Dhanojak Obongo, Deputy Head of Mission for the Republic of South Sudan to the United States, Uzodinma Nwala, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Nasarawa State University, Nasarawa in Nigeria, Bisa Williams (U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Niger), Johnny Moloto (Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa in the United States), Shehu Sani, Nigerian activist, playwright, author, and the president of Civil Rights Congress and Emira Woods who serves as Co-Director, Foreign Policy In Focus, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC.
Keynote addresses were presented by Mohamed Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, former managing director of the World Bank and one of the leading technocrats from South Africa, General Carter F. Ham, Commander of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), Emma Rothschild (Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History, Chair of Research Council and Common Security Forum and Director of the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University) and Babatunde Raji Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, Nigeria.
The Achebe colloquium was moderated for the 2 days by Dr. Chido Nwangwu, CEO of Houston-based USAfrica and the first African owned professional newspaper published on the internet, USAfricaonline.com.
From its inception, The Achebe Colloquium has been on the bleeding edge of the ‘African Conversation’. In 2009, the colloquium focused on the challenging issues affecting Nigeria’s then local and proceeding national government elections, as well as the country’s strategic position in light of Africa’s development. In 2010, Rwanda, Congo and Nigeria were the primary focus. The deliberations focused on the increasingly complex challenges impacting the respective regions. The 2011 colloquium tackled several challenges looming over the Northern and Eastern regions, in the wake of the Arab Spring – also highlighted were the issues of China and U.S. presence in Africa.
There were three takeaways that summed up the weekend’s discourse. The first was a sentiment expressed by Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim. In his commentary about Africa’s current state of affairs, he remarked that all of today’s civilized and developed countries were once colonized; so if Africa is to reach its highest potential, it must throw away all of its excuses and begin building like others have done beforehand.
The second was from Governor Fashola, who dismissed the notion of the new and popular placard, ‘Africa Rising’. He expanded his argument by making reference to Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and 14th century Timbuktu, Mali – noting that Africa was once great and is currently experiencing a renaissance.
The last, but not least, is the poignant charge by Professor Horace Campbell: one can only engage in a serious conversation about Africa if the assertion of its people’s humanity is the number one priority.
•Ukomadu contributed this report, exclusively, as a special correspondent for USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston.
First on USAfrica: Fashola on Achebe’s Biafra explosive book, live at Achebe colloquium. http://usafricaonline.com/2012/12/08/fashola-on-achebes-biafra-explosive-book-live-at-achebe-colloquium-by-chido-nwangwu/
By Chido Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher of USAfrica multimedia networks (Houston), first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com @Twitter.com/Chido247, Facebook.com/USAfricaChido n Facebook.com/USAfrica247
USAfrica: On a chilly Friday of December 7, 2012, Babatunde Raji Fashola, the popular Governor of Lagos State of Nigeria, flew into Rhode Island as a special guest and plenary session speaker at the Achebe colloquium on Africa. At almost 4:46pm,
he commenced his prepared speech with off-the-cuff remarks on a wide range of issues.
After a string of brilliant philosophical arguments regarding Africa’s renaissance to chronicling several remarkable achievements of his governorship, he cautiously stepped into thorny grounds….. Around the end of his impressive 38 minutes message, he carefully navigated the heated debates, the minefields of strong support and personal attacks which have followed Prof. Chinua Achebe’s latest 2012 work of history, poetry, education and creative exposition titled ‘There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra.’
Gov. Fashola, standing at the podium almost 15 feet away from Achebe, told the galaxy of African, American, European and Asian scholars, researchers, students, activists and business executives that the heat generated by the book almost made him look for a reason to avoid the event rescheduled for him from the 2011 colloquium, almost 300 days ago.
He said, according to the USAfricaonline.com notes at the colloquium: that after reading just about half of the book “I wanted to write Prof. Achebe to give him reasons why I cannot attend today’s occasion….” He said he was under pressure from his immediate Yoruba constituency.
He immediately ordered the new book to be mailed to an address in England, he would be traveling to– at the time. The man said he needed to read the book to know and understand why there was so much passion against and for the book; especially against the book by people of his ethnic group, majority of his supporters. “I’m Yoruba. Prof. Chinua Achebe is an Igbo. I’m a student of Things Fall Apart; things were No longer at Ease, but the center still held…”, he added, to applause from the audience, a play on words about some of Achebe’s novels.
Fashola, a senior advocate of Nigeria, whom I, as moderator of the 2012 Achebe colloquium on Africa, described a few minutes before his speech as “the governor who has shown himself as a worthy example of good governance in Nigeria” appealed to the dueling groups over Achebe’s new book on Biafra to calm things and “move forward.”
Consequently, during the Q&A session, he was asked by Prof. Obi Nwakanma (a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com and staff of University of Central Florida): “When will the wounds of the war heal?”
In a frank, brief answer, Fashola said the wounds may heal but the scars will be there; adding that, in his view, the new generation of Nigerians want to move beyond the issue.
In a remarkable context for him and the audience, Fashola pointed out, according to the USAfricaonline.com notes at the colloquium: “I was only 4 years old” when the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra war started.
But there were more follow-up questions, including the ones which raised the issue of the brutal devastations and genocidal killings held against Nigerian soldiers and wartime leaders (especially the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as reiterated by Achebe in his new book, extensively quoting Awolowo’s own words).
Gov. Fashola blamed the national information management system and its failure to document and release official information about events like the war for the heated disagreements.
USAfricaonline.com will post more from Fashola’s comments to the USAfrica question on whether he will contest the 2015 presidential elections, and other issues which were featured in Chido’s live-blogging of his speech/remarks on USAfrica’s Facebook page Facebook.com/USAfricaChido and Twitter.com/Chido247). •Special report by Dr. Chido Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher of USAfrica multimedia networks, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com; and recipient of several journalism and public policy awards, was recently profiled by the CNN International for his pioneering works on multimedia/news/public policy projects for Africans and Americans. http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2010/07/29/mpa.african.media.bk.a.cnn.
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