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Biafra Sets the Alarm Clock at Midnight, Time to Wake Up

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Over the years, high profiled politicians, academics and human rights groups have been talking about the armed attacks with its devastating effects on the economy in the Igbo-dominated South-Eastern States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nigeria gained its independence in October 1960. Since then it has strongly witnessed the sharp division of Nigeria into three regions – North, West and East – and this factor has further exacerbated the well-developed economic, political, and social differences among ethnic groups. The Igbo-dominated Eastern States have been struggling for peace and freedom necessary for development since the Civil War ended in 1970. 

That was fought between the Government of Nigeria and the State of Biafra from July 1967 to January 1970. The Igbo leadership could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated Federal Government. The Eastern River States are devastated, millions of the population deeply impoverished while resources remained untapped.

In this interview, for instance, Professor Nathaniel Aniekwu, Secretary at the Alaigho Development Foundation [ADF] in Nigeria, vehemently argues that 50 years after the civil war, the growing threats and frequent attacks by northern ethnic groups and the deepening pitfalls in the federal governance system have negatively affected the development of the Biafra. The Alaigho Development Foundation is a registered NGO with the key aims of addressing development issues in Igboland, and further fight for justice, civil rights and good governance in Nigeria.

How would you argue that 50years after the Civil War [1967 to 1970], growing threats and frequent attacks by ethnic groups have affected the development, particularly in the Eastern States of Nigeria?

It is not rocket science that capital [money] is a coward and therefore does not go where there is insecurity. The Biafra/Nigeria Civil war never really ended. What happened 50 years ago was a transition of the war from open shooting battles to economic strangulation war which has translated into asymmetric herdsmen/terrorist-based war. 

The initial morphed face of the war started in 1970, and was aimed at strangulating the region through infrastructural/economic deprivation. The federal government policy of offering 20 pounds in return for any amount of wealth deposits an Igbo person had in the bank, especially in the face of the 3Rs [Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction] program of reestablishing the region was not accidental. This was quickly followed by the Nigeria Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972, which had as one of its main objectives to promote Nigerian indigenous enterprises with a view to increasing indigenous equity participation in the national economy. We were supposed to acquire this equity with the balance of the 20 pounds after feeding.

The current phase of the war is the herdsmen/terrorist-based war, which is aimed at destroying our agricultural base and make us completely dependent and then overrun and take over our ancestral lands. These are all orchestrated by the same people who could not wipe us out on the battle fields. The world community continuously watches the large-scale atrocities committed in the country. 

As long as these wars are going on, Nigeria cannot know peace and therefore no real progress. The Eastern region is totally out of the equation from the evidences of our realities. Any progress in the Eastern region must be home grown and organic. This is the real essence of the ADF’s “Aku ruo’ulo” program. Only the desperate and degenerate Chinese will have the temerity to want to invest in Nigeria, but with conditions that makes it better for you to live without their investments.

How would you assess the overall economic development of the Biafra States?

The Biafra States are faring very well given the numerous and insurmountable challenges thrown at them. We have almost no federal presence in the region, no infrastructure, receive the least budget allocations and have the least representation in all the arms of the federal government. This is what has accounted for this current phase of the war. Ndigbo have indomitable spirits and cannot be rendered null and void economically, as long as they are alive.

The Government is, therefore, on their Plan C, which is physical annihilation and possessing their homelands. All economic indices show that in spite of the war against them, marginalization and exclusion from participation in the governance of Nigeria, the Biafra States continue to be very competitive and are very far from being worse off among the Nigerian States.

Do you think it could have been different if the Southeast or the River States were not under the administration of the Federal Government of Nigeria?

I don’t think so, I know it. If they will let us be, even with all the deprivations and infrastructural neglect in place, Ndigbo will grow very quickly to become the go-to place for business. Our detractors know this much and that is what bothers them the most.

What are the economic potentials, especially for foreign investment?

The prognosis is very poor. Nobody goes for a swim in the desert. Only desperate investors still consider Nigeria as an investment destination for the earlier mentioned reasons. Although Nigeria is very richly endowed with natural and human resources, but it has quickly lost all its shining advantages. Moreover, whatever remains had been made in the past, has been squandered, especially as they seek to exclude Biafras from participation in political governance. They failed to deploy the appropriate resources, especially manpower, the broad-minded people who can guide and manage the development of the country, simply because most of them come from the Biafra States. 

Under the current circumstances, how can the government make it easier to attract foreign investment to the region?

The bus has already left the station. The trust has been breached and the center cannot no longer hold. As a Christian, I believe that nothing is impossible with God. But we are not God. We have squandered a lot of goodwill, which all developmental programs required.

Frankly speaking, only a dedicated team of experts can possibly do a lot, if all the impediments on our paths are removed, the trust deficit reversed, religion seizes to be so dominant in our decision making process, the herdsmen/terrorists are reigned in, ethnicity seizes to be a criteria for appointments and recognitions.

Furthermore, if the ethnic nationalities will come together and decide on the form and degree of association they will have in a restructured Nigeria, and the level of authority that should reside at the center: if we shall confess and repent from our sins and seek forgiveness, then perhaps, we stand a chance of reversing the damage.

There are still a lot of challenges in achieving all that you have said above, but do you see any possibilities for national integration and a new leadership paradigm?

National integration is a very clear possibility, especially for The Biafra States. In fact, it is our only hope. Remember that Nigeria is made of many unwilling nations fused into the entity called Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN). These nations have their inalienable right of association and with whomsoever they chose. These nations must choose their paths of integration.

For Ndigbo, not only that internal cohesion is imperative but also integrating in a union of the agreed is paramount. Leadership is very critical in attaining these objectives and this is where the paradigm shift is called for. Leadership must be looked from the point of view of the governed, at the micro-level of the society. A leadership that is organic and evolves from the people. Not a leadership foisted on the people by a band of degenerates. 

Leadership paradigm shift is needed to look at the Igbo man as he is, what his essence is and then, try and appeal to that essence. Being republican in his core essence means that you cannot lead him the same way you lead the Yorubas nor Hausas. A leadership that achieves this will have a followership similar to what we had with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the first republic or the followership General Odumegwu Ojukwu had during the war.

Note that the followership was so strong that during the war. Professor M. A. C. Odu and Ishiozo Mbu Amohuru went into the Nigerian territory, hijacked an aircraft and flew it down to Biafra. Such were the level of risks and sacrifices they could make. Please note carefully that when the same General Ojukwu joined the NPN upon his return from exile, Ndigbo unfollowed him, because he no longer represented their aspirations. That is the Igbo man. Seen from this perspective, the Igbo man is very easy to lead as long as you the leader is ready to be transparent and represent their aspirations.          

Does that mean there are weaknesses in the Federal System of Governance?

I am usually very wary of stereotyping. By my professional training, I seek for solutions where there are problems. I do not believe in looking for problems to fit into pre-existing solutions. I don’t really care too much what you call the system that works: federal system, unitary system, monarchical system, et cetera.

I don’t know if there is anything wrong with the federal system, but problems can arise as a result of application of systems that are not suitable to the Nigerian environment. Obviously, the federal system of government is not working in Nigerian given the unique nature of the Nigerian political space. We must therefore return to the solution domain, seek long-term solutions that are organic [homegrown] and suitable to our environment.

What do you have to say about the next elections of the State Governors and the President?

I believe the forthcoming elections will be business as usual. There is nothing in the horizon that makes me think it will be different. The problems with election is part of the structuring problems bedeviling Nigeria, and unless Nigeria restructures, nothing will change. However, we are waiting when Nigeria will hit “Ground Zero”, then restructuring will become inevitable.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

Mozambique’s Crisis and its Humanitarian Aid

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Escalating conflict and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado has left communities completely reliant on humanitarian assistance. According to the Government, attacks by non-state groups have forced more than 565,000 people to flee their homes and villages, abandoning their crops and livelihoods.

Last December, the United Nations Regional Directors for Eastern and Southern Africa visited Mozambique to assess the plight and needs of displaced populations as well as of host communities in northern Cabo Delgado province, and met government officials in Maputo.

They expressed their deep concerns about the unfolding humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado where violence has exposed people to human rights violations and left people with very limited access to food and livelihoods. The growing insecurity and poor infrastructure have meant that reaching out to people in need has become harder and coupled with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has become even more complex.

“We need to urgently increase our presence in Cabo Delgado in order to help those in need, especially women and children,” said Lola Castro, WFP Regional Director for southern Africa.

The joint mission with Regional Directors of FAO, IFAD, IOM, UNFPA, UNHCR and WFP, as well as by the UNDP Resilience Hub Manager and members of the UN Country Team, allowed participants to witness firsthand the impact of continuing violence in Cabo Delgado and to show support for affected communities and the Mozambican people.

They heard extremely moving accounts from displaced men, women and children in the city of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, and in the districts of Ancuabe and Chiúre, whose lives have been upended by conflict and insecurity. They also met communities accommodating the displaced, visited planned resettlement areas and held discussions with the provincial governor and Secretary of State, as well as with religious leaders and representatives of civic organisations.

The crisis in the north of the country is a complex security, human rights, humanitarian and development emergency, underscoring the imperative of continuing to provide life-saving assistance while collectively supporting government-led long-term resilience building.

While acknowledging that much has been done to help victims of the crisis, the Regional Directors stressed that with displacement increasing daily, the lack of adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, health, protection and education was exacerbating an already dire situation – one set to be further compounded by the imminent rainy season in a country particularly prone to climate extremes, as cyclones Idai and Kenneth devastatingly illustrated in 2019.

Most recently, tropical storm Chalane, which hit the same populations last December, as cyclone Idai did less than two years ago, was a harsh reminder of the climate threat Mozambicans are facing and of the urgency to massively scale up investments in recovery and resilience

With COVID-19 keeping most schools closed, the importance of robust investment in education to build Mozambique’s social and human capital is a growing concern.

There is an urgent need to expand protection, health, food and nutrition programmes for vulnerable children and women, and vaccination and immunisation interventions and psycho-social counselling, and of working to enable displaced farming and fishing families re-establish sustainable livelihoods.

The Regional Directors urged support for the adequate resettlement of uprooted families straining the already limited resources of impoverished host communities and slowing government efforts to effectively register and assist the displaced.

They noted that urgent investments in development and resilience-building are required to not only promote human rights and social justice, but also to limit the impact of current crises and help prevent future ones.

To curb violent extremism, they called for development initiatives to be transnational in approach and to prioritise the economic empowerment and social and political inclusion of women and young people.

They urged the Government of Mozambique and the international community to step up efforts to end all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence and child marriage, and to invest more in women and girls as agents of progress and change.

The Regional Directors expressed gratitude to the government for its role in helping to meet the humanitarian needs of people in the north of the country and re-affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to upholding human rights and promoting peace and sustainable development for all Mozambicans.

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What Social Movements Mean for African Politics

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Africa’s transition from a continent of colonial protectorates to independent states has been met with developmental and political challenges. From the 1960s, the political trajectory of Africa witnessed many regimes, regimes that have made their mark on the continent. The struggle for the legitimacy of state power between the African people and the regimes whose policies have shaped the political history of the continent oscillated between nationalistic interest and arbitrariness, at a time when the newly independent states needed a definite political direction.

For instance by 2002, the nationalistic government of Robert Mugabe had left Zimbabwe groveling in the drought stricken velds from bad economic policies. Today, Uganda is still reeling from the administrative recklessness of the Idi Amin regime. Considering the dark regimes that have been etched into the history of some states in Africa, democracy was a light that was to lead into a new dawn.

With democracy, came promises that would ensure the emancipation of dissident voices. The promises that democracy bore for African states were the development of state institutions and the improvement of state responses to the general will. For the people of Africa, the advent of democracy signified that a leader had to prove themselves, while for the leaders, it proved a paradigm shift in the management of power; a loss of the insularity of state politics. It meant that leaders had to show accountability, not only to their people, but also to external powers that existed as international institutions and hegemonic states with pro-democratic foreign policies.

Many issues with the African conception of democracy remain unresolved even despite many years of political transitioning for Africa’s largest economies. One of the issues that have remained unresolved in the African democracy is the perception of institutions by the individuals occupying them, another of these issues is the sensitivity of the African democracy to vibrant social movements where the protection of human rights is concerned.

In contemporary African democracies, there exists a new democratic space where social movements have engaged the political realities. One of the most empowering facts for social movements in Africa is the globalized effect of the social media and its pivotal role in ensuring government accountability.

In safe-guarding human rights and ensuring the protection of the rule of law in Africa, social movements have a huge role to play, as they are essential to achieving governmental accountability through a sustained engagement and with the power of collective insistence. In African states where the government is autocratic, social movements are a threat to state power and are thus met with violent resistance.

According to a study by Guillermo A O’Donnell, state repression have proven to be the constant response to social movements. This is because the greatest strategy of autocratic governments in stifling resistance that could lead to an explosive demonstration of popular discontent, is in the use of threats, intimidation and persecution. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2016, there was a violent suppression of peaceful protests in East Africa. In Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, the governments responded to peaceful protesters with deadly force which led to the death and the injury of many protesters. In 2020, the Nigerian government engaged protesters and activists during the EndSARS protests with the state security forces, which led to the deaths of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The aftermath of the protests saw the Nigerian government intimidating activists that were thought to have been at the forefront of the End SARS protests and attempting to muzzle the media.

One of the greatest challenges of democracy in Africa is the imbalance of power in the governmental structure. The imbalance in the allocation of power between arms of government or in the monolithic representation of power has resulted in the overexploitation of power. This has made it difficult for the African states that are yet to transit to democratic status to do so, and for those that have transited, to perfect their democratic act.

The power imbalance which could be attributed in some African countries like Nigeria to constitutional deficiencies was demonstrated when Obasanjo who became Nigeria’s president in 1999, tried to adjust constitutional term limits so that he could contest elections for a third term.  Social movements in Africa have toppled regimes in Africa and they have tremendous capacity to change the political course of a state.

 This could be achieved when social movements are popular and when they represent a general interest, then the interest which a government might claim it represents become invalidated by the shift in the alliance of the people. This is usually the case when there is a common agreement that the government in power no longer serves the interest of the people who elected such government.

The fear that spurs an autocratic government into attempting to repress social movement is that it might become popular. Social movements are powerful and could be harnessed for political change since they signal the activation of the collective power. At the level of the social movement, it is not a call to negotiation, but a call to swift action which both the government and the people recognize as it becomes insistent.

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Review: As Coronavirus Rise Past Three million, Africa Hopes for Vaccine

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Migrant women and their children quarantine at a site in Niamey, Niger. © UNICEF/Juan Haro

With its large population and fragile health systems, Africa has recorded more than three million Covid-19 cases, still less deadly as compared to other regions in the world, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). According to Africa CDC, Africa’s coronavirus tally was 3,021,769 as of January 10. The death toll was 72,121 and the number of recoveries was 2,450,492. The biggest number of coronavirus cases were reported from South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.

South Africa, with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths, accounts for more than 30% of the total for the continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. The high proportion of cases identified in South Africa, were attributed to more tests carried out than many other African countries.

African countries are expecting to get medical equipment, most especially vaccine, to help them out of the pandemic. These they expect from external sources. During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Wang Yi emphasized that China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse spheres with Africa. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-European Union Cooperation in vaccine.

Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good.

Last December, during his annual media conference, President Vladimir Putin made it known that Russia’s readiness to help foreign countries including Africa. With regard to cooperation with other countries, it would boost the technological capabilities, enterprises to produce the vaccine, foreign countries would invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment, he explained.

Foreign countries would be investing in these projects: the enlargement of production facilities and the purchase of equipment. “As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation in any way,” Putin said.

According to January report from the Tass News Agency, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has only registered the first Russian vaccine Sputnik V in Africa. “Russian Direct Investment Fund announces the first registration of Sputnik V in Africa. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on January 10th,” as follows from a post on their official Twitter account.

According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the registration was done under the accelerated Emergency Use Authorization procedure. This procedure was also used to register this vaccine in Argentina, Bolivia, and Serbia. The Fund said that supplies to Algeria would be possible thanks to its international partners in India, China, South Korea and other countries.

Writing under the headline “Africa’s Road to Recovery in 2021 Is a Fresh Start” published originally by Chatham House, Dr Alex Vines, the Director for the Africa Program at Chatham House, said many African countries would be much more seriously affected by the socioeconomic consequences of the global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic. Even before Covid-19 hit, an increasing number of African countries were indebted and financially stressed.

He wrote that African debt would become a greater global concern in 2021 as many African states remain the world’s poorest and most fragile and have been hard hit by the economic and financial costs imposed by the pandemic.

In his analysis, Dr Vines further pointed out that 2021 will also see increased geopolitical rivalry for influence in Africa. This will include competition over generosity, ranging from positioning over debt cancellation to providing Covid-19 vaccines. China has its Sinopharm vaccine and has already signed up to Covax, the international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access. The Russians have their Sputnik V vaccine, the UK has its AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine, and the US the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (with Germany) vaccines.

Reports from Quartz also said Africa appears not part of the supply priorities of the Pharmaceutical companies producing the foremost Covid-19 vaccines. While Pfizer-BioNTech has offered to supply just 50 million Covid-19 vaccines to Africa starting from March to the end of this year, Moderna and AstraZeneca have not yet allocated supplies for Africa. AstraZeneca directed the African Union (AU) to negotiate with the Serum Institute of India for its vaccine to see if they can get a deal. Serum Institute of India has earlier obtained the license to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Quartz report said most African countries mainly relied on the COVAX co-financing public-private facility backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to enable rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for lower income countries. The facility promised access to vaccines for up to 20% of participating countries’ population with an initial supply beginning in the first quarter of the year to immunize 3% of their population. However, COVAX is underfunded, and these countries must look for other avenues to access more doses to vaccinate the 50% of their population in order to reach immunity.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, several countries around the world have been making efforts to facilitate local vaccine development, clinical trials, and some had made upfront payments for vaccines to encourage early production. Outside of South Africa, most African economies have played too little or no role at all in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and had likewise made little or effort to secure vaccines while other economies around the world were doing so.

For instance, a globally respected genomic and infectious disease laboratory in Nigeria announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in September that is 90% effective against the virus in the preclinical trial but it has not been able to carry out clinical trials due to lack of support and funding.

While Kenya recently announced that through the COVAX facility, it ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with supply expected to start arriving in the second week of next month, several African countries are opting for vaccines from India, Russia, and China. This is despite skepticism about the vaccines from Russia and China in particular. Both countries rolled out their vaccines without phase 3 clinical trial results that confirm the vaccine effectiveness.

South Africa said it made a deal with Serum Institute India and will be getting 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for its health workers starting this month. The country, which is going is also in talks with Russia and China to procure vaccines. Currently, Guinea is testing the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V and has ordered 2 million doses.

Morocco has ordered 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, and AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute India. Egypt plans to buy 40 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, has already received 50,000 doses of the vaccine in December, and expecting another 50,000 in the second or third week of this month when vaccination will commence. Nigeria says vaccine access was in its discussions this week with the Chinese foreign minister during his visit to the county, according to the report from Quartz.

Besides the fact that Africa has registered its three million cases, Africa still behind the United States and European countries, and Asian countries such as China and India when it comes to the Covid-19 outbreak. For many African countries, it is still the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to Covid-19. Although it has abundant resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), regional organizations and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable development and integration. It sets as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significant tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

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