On this day 26 years ago, Nigeria’s military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida resigned and handed over governing responsibility to an interim National Government led by businessman Ernest Shonekan.
I had the privilege of speaking to the renowned Zeinab Badawi last week. She is working on an exciting sequel to her documentary series on the History of Africa. You can watch the first series here. The great news is that she is currently doing preparatory work for the next series which will feature Nigeria! She will interview a lot of prominent people in Nigeria and give insight on pre-Colonial Nigeria.
Ms Bedawi is rather busy these days. I first came across her when she was a news reader on Channel 4. These days she is the chair of the Royal African Society and works with UNESCO. I am very much looking forward to her next series and highly encourage you to watch her first series above.
An oldie but a goodie. This is a documentary series narrated by the late great Professor of African history Dr Ali Mazrui. He jointly produced the series in conjunction with the BBC and PBS. Mazrui also published a book of the same title.
The series was in 9 parts and covered different themes about the African continent as follows:
This is a recent article in the Financial Times about African development. It makes a point that I often do as well: that development in Africa has to be measured on a long-term evolutionary (not short-term revolutionary) basis. It took Europe and North America centuries to become the advanced economies they are today, so it is unrealistic to expect African countries to do it in only a few years.
Opinion African economy
Reasons to be optimistic about Africa’s future
Important changes are taking place in the region that confound the ‘destiny instinct’
Lagos, Nigeria: Statistician Hans Rosling saw the locus of world trade shifting from the Atlantic and the Pacific to the Indian Ocean as first Asia and then Africa escaped from poverty © Bloomberg
In the early 1980s, Hans Rosling, the late great Swedish physician and statistician, worked as a district medical officer in Nacala, a remote part of northern Mozambique. Three decades later he returned to see what had changed.
He was amazed. Where first-time visitors saw only poverty and lack of development, Rosling noticed improvements everywhere. In the hospital, he saw that the wards had lightbulbs and that the nurses had glasses and could read and write.
For him it was evidence that — barring a catastrophic setback — Mozambique was on a path that would eventually lead its people out of poverty and towards dignity and prosperity. Rosling fought against what he called the “destiny instinct”. This was, in his words, “the idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions or cultures”.
At its worst, the destiny instinct is a form of racism, attributing certain qualities to certain races. Saying Africans are inherently corrupt or inherently “tribal” comes under this category. Even in its less egregious form, the destiny instinct is a sort of fatalism. This would have it that because of a country’s historic or cultural trajectory it is doomed to be stuck that way forever.
Quite rightly, Rosling had no time for such ideas. After all, half a century ago, people were saying much the same thing about Asia. It was commonly thought that the likes of Malaysia, South Korea, China and India were culturally and institutionally incapable of ever catching up. That proved nonsense.
In Nacala, Rosling saw important signs Mozambique could make it too. The country had been torn apart by war in the run-up to independence in 1975 and for nearly two decades afterwards. As a result, some indicators do not look good. With a nominal gross domestic product per capita in 2017 of $429, it is one of the poorest economies on earth.
Yet since 2000, life expectancy has risen more than 10 years to 61. Child mortality has fallen dramatically from 176 per 1,000 to 71. That is still high. It compares with 49 in Kenya, 7 in the US and 2.7 in Japan. But the direction of travel is clear. As he pointed out, all 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have brought down child mortality faster than his native Sweden ever did.
In Factfulness, a book he co-wrote with his son and daughter-in-law, Rosling wrote about the importance of monitoring steady progress: “Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades.”
Ola Rosling, his son, says our inability to log incremental change is what prevented people from understanding the emergence of China. Few people noticed the enormous progress China was making in the 1980s and 1990s — and even, in terms of literacy and basic health, under Mao Zedong from the 1950s. They saw China’s emergence around the turn of the century as coming from nowhere. In reality, it had been decades in the unglamorous making.
Take schools in Africa. Across the continent, governments have put greater effort into basic education. From 1990 to 2012, primary school enrolment more than doubled to nearly 150m, according to a 2015 Unesco report.
I put it to Ola Rosling that, still, one had to be realistic. Teachers were often absent or illiterate and in many schools very little in the way of meaningful teaching went on. Mr Rosling said I was missing the point. The children were in school and not in the fields. The precedent of education had been set. Some children would learn to read and teachers would get better.
“You have to realise that development takes 100 years. You want it to happen in 10,” he said.
Are the Roslings being naive? Perhaps Africa really does have fundamental problems that make it difficult to emulate Asia’s miracle. Maybe its brutal colonial experience has left its states too fragile to foster development.
Perhaps robots mean it has missed out on the manufacturing age that enabled Asian countries to transform their economies. Perhaps the expected explosion of Africa’s population — from 1bn today to 4bn by the end of the century — will overwhelm the incremental gains highlighted by the Roslings.
Some of these doubts smack of the destiny instinct. True naïveté may be believing that things stay the same — or failing to notice the important changes that are already taking place.
Rosling Snr saw the locus of world trade shifting from the Atlantic and the Pacific to the Indian Ocean as first Asia and then Africa escaped from poverty. His top investment tip — made only half-jokingly — was beachfront property in Somalia.
At least it was a view based on facts, and not prejudice.
This is an interesting article in Forbes Africa, about Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos which it describes as “one of the world’s greatest party capitals” where people do not blink at spending $50,000 (US!) on a night out on the town.
Contrary to images of poverty and insurgency in Nigeria’s northwest, Lagos feels like a different planet. The wealth in Lagos is eye popping and the city is well known for its non-stop party scene. It is well known that Nigeria has the second fastest growing rate of champagne consumption in the world (second only to #France).
Feel free to read for an alternative view of Africa.
My book Soldiers of Fortune is now available as an e-book on mobile devices via Okadabooks. I will do a live Twitter interview on Nigeria with OkadaBooks this Friday, May 27, at 1.30am (8:30am USA Eastern Time).
You can download the book here and get a N2000 Naira Okadabooks credit.
You can follow the interview on Twitter via the hashtag #OkadaRideWithMax
Today is the 26th anniversary of the April 1990 coup attempt against General Babangida in Nigeria. Rather than rehash the events (which I have written about before) in this post, I have instead included links where you can read all about the coup in an account by one of its plotters, and another view of the coup by General Babangida’s former Chief Security Officer.
That coup was a watershed in Nigeria, and accelerated the turn of events that led to the insurgency in the Niger Delta, and indirectly to the controversy that followed the June 12, 1993 election annulment, and the “power shift” to the south in 1999.
If you want to read more about the Orkar coup and these tumultuous years, you can of course do so in my book “Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)“.
Have a great weekend everyone.