Sunday, 15 December 2013

Much ado about South Africa's snub

Nigeria was the first African country the late Nelson Mandela visited after his release from prison in 1990. The front-line states apart, which had no choice in the matter, Nigeria was far and away his most generous supporter, a fact he was merely acknowledging. On his previous visit three decades earlier, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, had given him £10,000 to help prosecute the armed struggle that would land him 27 years. Only Tunisia, with half that amount, along with Liberia and Guinea, put their hands in their pockets. He never even got to meet Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, the self-styled pan-Africanist. In the years that followed, Nigeria worked tirelessly to isolate the ‘racist regime’, even nationalising two British concerns – Barclays Bank and British Petroleum – for trading with them. Countless black South Africans were given scholarships to come and study here. By all accounts, they lived well.
The fairy tale happened. Four years after his second visit, Mandela became president of a free, democratic South Africa. Now he is dead and his Nigerian counterpart was snubbed at his memorial service which netted the most heads of state and government in the history of the world. Pride of place was given to America, whose CIA provided the intelligence that led to his capture, and our former ‘colonial master’, whose concerns we are now frantically un-nationalising, wasn’t far behind. Nigeria didn’t figure, which is to say that nobody even noticed us amid the celebrations of a life well lived. America shook hands with Cuba, which everybody agreed was in the spirit of the great man’s legacy; America, Britain and Denmark took a ‘selfie’ which went viral as everyone wondered whether Michelle was pouting or smiling, Denmark being very pretty; and Israel and Iran didn’t attend for all sorts of complicated reasons to do with the real politick that had condemned Mandela to a long stretch in the first place.
Shortly before his death, having ‘stepped aside’ after just one term (Jonathan, please note), Mandela professed himself disappointed with us in an interview he granted one of our diplomats: ‘You know I am not very happy with Nigeria. I have made that very clear on many occasions,’ he fumed, before launching into a broadside (of which the following is only part):
Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people. They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not more angry than they are… What do young Nigerians think about your leaders and their country and Africa? Do you teach them history? Do you have lessons on how your past leaders stood by us and gave us large amounts of money? You know I hear from Angolans and Mozambicans and Zimbabweans how your people opened their hearts and their homes to them. I was in prison then, but we know how your leaders punished western companies who supported Apartheid.
As our very own IBB said (as who should know?), ‘Mandela had a moral conviction and his moral conducts was very, very high and powerful,’ only a pity that he himself failed to exhibit these fine qualities when he truncated the very democracy for which his hero had endured the unspeakable; had, indeed, looted ‘people’s resources’ which he had turned ‘into personal wealth’, for instance the missing N12.2bn oil windfall when America invaded Iraq, a war which Mandela called them on: ‘Why does the United States behave so arrogantly... Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction but because its [sic] their ally they won't ask the UN to get rid of it. They just want the (Iraqi) oil... We must expose this as much as possible.’
But this is the world of real politick where presidents do not willingly step aside, which was what made Mandela unique, and not only in Africa, and why so many wanted to be counted (even taking photos of each other), including Nigeria, which had opened its heart and home – and its bank account – to the cause this man was ready to die for, the same man who told our intrepid diplomat what we all know: ‘The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence. Nigerians love freedom and hate oppression. Why do you do it to yourselves?’ Why indeed? And what are we going to do about it? The obvious answer would seem to be to do what Mandela himself did when faced with a minority regime which was just as blind, as deaf and as dumb to the majority they were oppressing but which, when all said and done, at least built an economy that now gives the country mouth to talk anyhow to Nigeria. Would that we had done the same with the wherewithal we distributed so generously.
Nor is South Africa alone in its contempt for the ‘giant of Africa’. Another much-quoted article pointed out that Liberia had earlier done the same when they elected the first woman president in the continent at the expense of ‘Nigerian limbs’, before letting rip against the ‘fifty something other ungrateful lepers across the continent’ who ‘have been beneficiaries of the bottomless pit of petrobillions of Abuja...only to run to Washington, give thanks’. And how they shone! America kept ‘Madiba’ on the terrorist list until after his presidency. These days, they water-board ‘terrorists’ without due process – ‘We, too, must act on behalf of justice’ – and drone children in Pakistan every Tuesday – ‘We, too, must act on behalf of peace’.
Maybe one day we will wake up to the world of real politick, just like Mandela asked us to, being himself not like that.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. Kolomemtality! No be dem fault! We like suffering & smiling! 2nd bass jare!

  2. Yes, second base jare. Fela done talk am.

    1. I am very impressed sir Adewale Maja Pearce, what an interesting read. Thanks a lot.