By Dele Momodu
Fellow Africans, to say I love Africa is an understatement. It baffles me how most Africans hardly know Africa outside their individual domain. The owners of Africa hardly appreciate the beauty of their own continent. The knowledge of Africa is usually from other people’s narrative and perspectives. The best library collections about Africa belong elsewhere in far-flung places. Africans were kidnapped, stolen and forced into slavery centuries ago. Today, we are forced into voluntary slavery due to our lack of visionary leaders willing to turn the misfortunes of Africa to prosperity. The slave mentality has refused to leave us.
I read so much about colonialism and neo-colonialism in the novels and essays of the famous Kenya author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who is certainly one of my favourite African writers. I was endlessly fascinated by the stories of the Mau Mau struggle for Independence. I bought and devoured Weep Not, Child; The River Between; A Grain of Wheat; Petals of Blood; Devil on the Cross; Decolonising the Mind; Writers in Politics; Detained; The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Homecoming. I read and re-read Homecoming. I wonder what took over our brains in Africa that we stopped reading the African Writers Series, which was published and popularised by Heinemann Books, in those good old days. At least, it helped to introduce Africa to Africans. I knew so much about Kenya long before I ever visited one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa by reading Ngugi, Meja Mwangi, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga, Jomo Kenyatta’s (his monumental book Facing Mount Kenya is superlative) and others.
I got introduced to Ghana through reading African authors, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kofi Awoonor, Kwame Nkrumah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Kwesi Brew, Adu Boahen (historian), Kwesi A Dickson (former President of the Methodist Church of Ghana and President of the All Africa Council of Churches) and others; Cameroon through Mongo Beti, Ferdinand Oyono, Mbella Sonne Dipoko and others; Senegal through Mariama Ba, Sembene Ousmane, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Birago Diop, Kamara Laye, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Aminata Sow Fall, David Diop and many others; Egypt through Nawal El Saadawi, Naguib Mahfouz and Tawfiq al-Hakim; others knew Nigeria through Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, Buchi Emecheta, Amos Tutuola, J. P. Clark, Flora Nwapa, Ola Rotimi, Kole Omotoso, Christopher Okigbo, Mabel Segun, Zaynab Alkali, Gabriel Okara, T. M. Aluko, Molara Ogundipe, Niyi Osundare, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Festus Iyayi, Femi Osofisan, Ben Okri, John Munonye, D.O. Fagunwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Biyi Bandele and a long list of distinguished writers. Wow, I feel so nostalgic today.
We read all these great authors and most of the older generation were on our school syllabus and available in local bookstores. Many of us spent substantial sums of our annual bursary allowance on acquiring and accumulating books. I was a voracious reader of anything readable including tedious ones, I could hardly understand. It enriched my understanding of Africa and the world at large. Africa paraded many scholars in politics and power at the beginning before a generation of mostly “uneducated” leaders took over and ravaged what the West already described as a “savage continent” especially in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is the background that informs what I look out for whenever I touch down in many African countries.
I have landed in Nairobi a few times, first as transit passenger and subsequently as proper visitor, in nearly twenty years. Somehow, each arrival had its uniqueness to it. On one occasion, I was coming from Mumbai on the defunct Bellview Airlines and we stopped briefly in Nairobi. We were allowed to alight to visit the duty free area only. I saw an airport that was not so impressive despite the hype surrounding tourism but it was still functional. On another occasion I was flying to Seychelles for a wedding. I flew in such a circuitous manner that I was dizzy with the circumlocution. I had flown from Accra to Lagos but missed my connecting flight to Nairobi. I was then advised to return to Accra to catch an evening flight which arrived mercifully the following morning. The woes continued when we were forced to fly through Lagos again for aviation fuel before flying to Nairobi where I had already missed my connecting flight to Seychelles. It was such an Israelites’ journey.
Exactly two years ago, I returned to Kenya, a country that had just been mercilessly whacked and traumatised by some terrorists on rampage and a terrible inferno that had ravaged the Jomo Kenyatta Airport a year earlier. It was not the best of times to visit but I had promised my friend, Jeff Koinange, formerly of CNN, I would attend his book launch and nothing was going to disturb or discourage me. The airport I met was a shadow of itself. We crawled through some holes and drove that night to my temporary abode at the Kempinski, Nairobi. The drive turned out to be one of my longest journeys ever and my heart was almost flying out of my throat because of the palpitating fear I suffered driving through the streets of Nairobi at such an ungodly hour. I couldn’t tell Kolade Elufidiya, the talented fashion designer, who had graciously picked me up from the airport, the ugly thoughts that danced kpalongo in my belly. Thank God, there was no calamitous incident on that occasion and I returned safely home to Nigeria.
As I flew out of Nairobi, I offered a prayer for the good people of that beautiful country and promised all I could modestly arrange to help promote Kenya to the world via the platforms it has pleased God to bless us with.
Another opportunity recently came for me to visit Kenya again when I received a letter of invitation from Mr Arrey Obenson, the Secretary General at Junior Chamber International (JCI) headquarters in the United States of America as follows:
“Please accept warm greetings from JCI World Headquarters in Saint Louis, MO!
On behalf of nearly 200,000 young global citizens, it is with great excitement and enthusiasm that we invite you to speak at the African Youth Development Summit in Nairobi, Kenya from August 24 – 26, 2016. The event is organized by JCI (Junior Chamber International, Inc.) in collaboration with Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD VI).
Taking place the days prior to TICAD VI at the Southern Sun Mayfair Nairobi Hotel, the African Youth Development Summit intends to connect young leaders from across the continent of Africa. United in common purpose they will articulate young people’s commitment to the development of their region and the important role they can play in mobilizing Africans to take ownership of their continent and its future. The event will provide the commitment of African youth to the Tokyo Conference of Africa’s Development (TICAD VI).
Youth representatives from the 54 nations of Africa will be selected to attend the Summit. They will use the experience to work toward organizing grassroots actions in their local communities, fostering participation of young people in policy making and empowering the next generation of African change-makers to lead in the development of their region.
JCI is an international non-profit organization that provides its members — 18 to 40- year-old active citizens – with development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change. Through projects in more than 5000 communities across nearly 120 countries, members seek targeted solutions to local problems, creating a global impact.
In summary, we invite you to serve as a Keynote Speaker at the African Youth Development Summit. Further details will be provided upon your acceptance of availability.
We look forward to your positive response.”
Of course, I wasted no time in accepting the invitation as someone who believes so much in the abilities of African youths to excel if given the right tutelage, mentorship and opportunities. We exchanged series of emails thereafter until we agreed on modalities for my visit to Kenya.
I flew out of Accra last Tuesday, August 23 and arrived Nairobi just before 6.00am local time on August 24, 2016. If I expected to crawl through the hole of an airport again like I did two years ago, a pleasant surprise awaited me. The burnt terminal had been rebuilt and airport formalities reduced to the barest minimum. I was able to get assistance in every part of the airport from friendly officers. My “visa on arrival” formalities took less than ten minutes to process and conclude, at a cost of $50. My baggage came out promptly on the conveyor belts that looked like what I always see always in the UK or America. I passed smoothly through Customs and straight into the chilly weather of Nairobi. I didn’t spend more than 20 minutes in total at the airport. Driving from the airport to Kempinski Hotel was even more pleasant. The roads had been generously rehabilitated since my last trip. I couldn’t stop singing the praise of President Uhuru Kenyatta. To most visitors, what concerns us is not so much the local politics of a country but the palpable development on ground.
Definitely, President Kenyatta has started re-directing Kenya from its old ways and striving to establish a very modern State. I saw several skyscrapers dotting the landscape of Nairobi. What I saw first-hand was a nation on forward march and I hope that ugly politics would not destroy Kenya again.
I was happy to deliver my speech yesterday and contribute and answer questions in well organised interactive sessions alongside two great journalists Eric Chinje and Henry Bonsu, who moderated our segment titled “Mobilizing youths through Media. I truly enjoyed myself and gained some fresh insights from different countries. I was delighted as always to meet many Nigerians doing our country proud. I have serious conviction that the challenges being faced by our country won’t last forever. The examples of Ghana, and now Kenya, persuaded me that developing a nation won’t take centuries to achieve. Before our very eyes, nations are transforming from rascality to responsibility.
As I was concluding this, African leaders started flying or landing in Nairobi including our own President Muhammadu Buhari and Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama who landed earlier and went straight into talks with the Japanese leadership.
I must thank the Japanese government for the decision to host the Tokyo Conference on African Development in Nairobi. I really admire how the Japanese stressed the fact that what Africa needs today is not aid and beggarly donations but partnership. Yes, that is the honest truth. Our continent is richly endowed although we have somehow failed to use what this for positive good for the continent and its people. We just need to harness the talents and resources that God has blessed us with and we will become phenomenal in world affairs. We have let ourselves down and have become the laughing stock of the world because of our failure to realise and fulfil our potential. We have chosen a slave mentality over a leadership mentality because of the mediocrity that we have allowed ourselves to enthrone as our leaders. The Japanese know we have promise. Unlike the West, they believe that, as partners, we can make the world a better place rather than make our continent a dumping ground for the dregs of the West.
Let us look within ourselves, search our souls and get down to serious business. May God bless us.