Jo’anna, beware the fire next time!


was watching a rerun of the 2009 closing ceremony of the Indian Premier League T20 cricket tournament some three weeks back. And right there on the screen was Eddy Grant. Followers of reggae music and those who were alive before the “Rainbow Nation” came into being will remember Eddy Grant as the guy who sang the inspirational “Gimme Hope Jo’anna”.

It is the very same song he sang at the closing of the 2009 IPL tournament, though with slight modifications here and there. Fans would also know him for songs like “Say Hello to Fidel” and “Living on the Frontline”. But it is “Jo’anna” that is, perhaps naturally, the most popular of his songs.

It is a critique of apartheid with “Jo’anna” being Johannesburg. Eddy Grant deals with the use of force, the role of the media and the emasculation of the native. While it is primarily about South Africa and apartheid, it really is about power relations across the world.

The song was originally sung in the 1980s. That Eddy Grant found it still relevant in 2009 is telling about how far (or maybe how near) we have gone as Africans in the quest to regain control of our spaces, minds and bodies.

For some reason I cannot fully explain, Eddy Grant’s performance in India came back to my mind this past week as I pondered events in Kenya. Of course, I am speaking of the Westgate Mall attacks and the subsequent interpretations and reactions both in Kenya and across Africa.

Kenya is the “power” in East Africa. It has a fairly sophisticated economy, an intelligent and hardworking populace, a military that cannot be taken lightly, and a President who has a very appropriate name for the times – Uhuru – and enough charisma and oratorical skill to mask pro-American feelings behind Pan-African rhetoric.

The events in that “powerful” country in East Africa have shaken a “powerful” country in Southern Africa. Yes, I’m talking about the land of Jo’anna. South Africa has the continent’s biggest economy, its best-financed military and … not much else, I’m afraid.

Across the continent, down the Atlantic coast, another “powerful” country has taken notice of events in Kenya. Big Brother Nigeria feels that its repeated calls for a harder line to be taken against Islamic fundamentalist fighters have been vindicated.

Boko Haram has been terrorising Nigeria long before Al-Shabaab planned to cross over from Somalia into Kenya. Thousands have been killed and many more thousands are sure to die at the hands of those who want an Islamic state in Nigeria. Africa’s other “powers” are – or were – Egypt and Libya.

Both are in flames, both have no immediate or medium-term prospects of recovering and once again strutting across the continent with the pretensions at dominance that they once exuded before succumbing to Western bombs and pens.

In between Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Libya and Egypt, Africa has an odd assortment of small, fractured and broken states that cower in the shadow of empire (like Botswana), advance the interests of empire (like Rwanda), dream of the big time (like Angola) or are happy-go-lucky (like Malawi). Africa’s genuine would-be power, the DRC, has never got onto its feet and it is unlikely to any time soon.

So that leaves Africa to look to crippled “powers” to provide leadership to a continent that is in desperate need of real heroes, real champions and real pioneers. Interestingly, these are the same countries that are at the forefront of campaigning to benefit most from the 2005 Ezulwini Consensus.

The Ezulwini Consensus carries Africa’s demand that the continent has at least two permanent seats with veto power and five non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council has replaced the General Assembly as the most powerful organ of the UN, and Africa is the only region not represented on this body.

It is in the public domain that South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Libya and Egypt have been jockeying for those two veto power seats.

They see – or at some point saw – themselves as Africa’s natural leaders by virtue of their economic and military power. But there is a tragedy. None of them is actually providing leadership to Africa. None of them has been able to confront AFRICOM and the resource-control interests that the American military represents in Africa and which is inextricably linked to the activities of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.

They are not interested in the real issues affecting Africa, and for that reason, they do not yet understand what power is, how it is projected and how it is exercised. Eddy Grant asks: “I wanna know if you're blind Jo'anna?”

The simple fact is Africa’s “powers” are not yet awake to the realities of what the continent is facing. They remain blind to the root cause of our troubles: resource control.

The sooner we come alive to this simple reality, the quicker we will be able to avert the anger of ordinary peoples who don’t understand why foreign corporations should take their oil, diamonds, gold, copper, timber and land while they live in poverty. Appreciating the simple reality of resource control will make it possible to confront issues such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.

Because believe me, without that understanding Africa will surely burn. It reminds me of James Baldwin’s admonition: “If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, fire next time!”

October 2013
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