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Making Peace with Nigeria – Sanyade Okoli

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Sanyade Okoli, Chief Executive Officer of Alpha African Advisory Limited.

Sometimes countries hurt us, whether we are conscious of it or not. And we, in our own way,
respond accordingly. We respond from a place of hurt. Usually unconsciously.

Let me use myself as an example to explain what I mean. I “have” three countries – Sierra Leone, the UK, and now Nigeria. As at today, I have spent approximately a third of my life in each of these countries in the order listed. And each, in their own way, has hurt me. To varying extents, but hurt me nevertheless.

For now, I would say that Sierra Leone has hurt me the least. I left as a teenager and have such wonderful memories of my growing up there that the pain it caused me is not as evident. Having said this, as I write this, painful memories of experiences post leaving home (e.g. family members having to leave as refugees in the 1997 troubles) are slowly bubbling to the top. Hmmmm….. A story for another day.

If I am honest with myself, I think that there are also some walls I have built around my heart concerning Sierra Leone (See Just As I Am). As I said to my mum a few years ago, I only have enough emotional bandwidth for one set of West African politics and intrigues and so I have chosen to “face” that of where I live today – Nigeria. As we say here, “I beg, I can’t come and die!”

Then, there is the UK, where I finished my education and started my professional and family lives. Again, in the spirit of honesty, I think I only appreciated the extent to which the UK had become “my home” when I moved to Nigeria . But it hurt me. Because I was older when I lived there its wounds are more obvious to me. I was saying to a close friend just the other day how I didn’t miss that feeling of “Is it because I am black?” when a random stranger does something to upset you. Sometimes the question is founded, sometimes it is completely unfounded. It stems from that low-level lingering angst as a result of feeling that you don’t fully belong and knowing that there are many others who also see you that way – “a foreigner”.

And last, but no means least, there is Nigeria. I will camp on Nigeria to illustrate my point, but I invite you to swap Nigeria for the country that is most relevant to you as you read my reflections.

Nigeria, my new home! Hmmm… I call Lagos, where I live, an “acquired taste” and I acquired
the taste many years ago. Let’s just say that I can now “say with my chest”, “Naija for life!”
But oh how “Naija” has hurt me! The cuts of Nigeria run deep and have felt unrelenting.

As much as I have come to love Nigeria, it often feels like it has been a one-sided relationship; unrequited love. As some people put it in a WhatsApp group I am on, “Nigeria feels like an abusive husband. He keeps hurting you, but you stay nevertheless.” Sigh….

After years of frustrations, disappointments, discouragements, and unmet expectations I
concluded that “Nigeria does not yield its fruit easily”.

But then again, why should he? Though I say I love Nigeria, have I always treated him with love.

Do I forgive him quickly and easily when I feel he has “let me down again” or do I hold on to
grudges? Do I harbour feelings of low-level resentment that colour how I see the country? Do I speak about Nigeria with positive uplifting words or do I pull the country down with my
mouth?

Are my day to day actions part of the solution or part of the problem?

Could it be that Nigeria is a wounded giant? Wounded by his past experiences; not least
colonisation, civil war and successive military governments. Could it be that how I continue to treat Nigeria rubs salt on his wounds instead of the much-needed healing balm? Could it be that, like any wounded giant would, Nigeria lashes out to protect himself?

So, if I say I love Nigeria, I had to ask myself the question, “What would love do?” I could think of no better standard to use to reflect on this than the biblical scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand
its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

When I look at God’s standard of love, I realise that Nigeria has failed me no more than I have failed him. I haven’t loved him the way I should, and in turn, he too has not shown me the love that I desire.

A few years ago, as I joined a group to pray for Nigeria the Lord showed me that I was holding unforgiveness towards the country. As a result, my bitterness towards the country was hindering me in many ways, not least my prayers for the country.

I repented at that time and forgave Nigeria for all the ways he had hurt me. Unfortunately, despite me forgiving the country, he is still “grappling with some issues” and has hurt me a bit more since then . But guess what, I am sure that I too have hurt him in that time as well.

What to do? I must forgive Nigeria again and make peace with him. I must keep forgiving Nigeria and making peace with him until we stop hurting each other or I go to be with the Lord – whichever is soonest . You see, I know that I am called to be in Nigeria at this time. I therefore have no desire to step out of my call and leave because if I do so, I not only leave Nigeria, but I step out of my destiny. God forbid!!

If you too feel like you need to go through the process of “making peace” with whatever country you are in, some suggested steps are outlined below. It’s a combination of reflections and actions. Like so many healing processes, it is a journey and not an event. Take your time through this. Don’t rush the process, and keep revisiting it as, sadly, you are bound to hurt each other again . There is a Krio saying that speaks to this: “teet en tongue mus jam”. That is to say, by virtue of the fact that the teeth and tongue are permanently in such close proximity, from time to time the teeth will hurt the tongue.

Also Read Close The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

As you go through the suggested process, I need you to remember that a nation is the sum total of its parts – you and me and the structures, systems and policies we institute and implement – explicitly or implicitly.

Happy Reconciliation!

Reconciliation process

1. Forgive your nation

Reflections

Ask yourself the following questions:

• What lies have I believed about my nation?

• How do I really feel about my nation? When I think of the country, what feelings are
evoked?

• Why do I feel like this about my nation? What have been the negative experiences that
have brought about these feelings?

• In what other ways do I feel my nation has let me down or hurt me?

Action

• Forgive your nation for all the ways He has hurt you.

• Let go of all the lies you have believed about Him and the negative emotions you’ve held
towards him.

2. Seek your nation’s forgiveness

Reflections

• What seeds have I sown into my nation through my thoughts, words, and actions?

• How does my nation feel about the way I have treated him?

• What are the fruits of the seeds that I have sown into my nation?

• What are the fruits in my life and in the lives of others?

Action

• Apologies to your nation for all the ways you have hurt him and ask him to forgive you.

3. Move forward together

Reflections

• What do I need to do differently with respect to my nation – in thoughts, words, and deeds?

Action

• Ask God for a picture of how He sees your nation and write down the vision that comes
to your mind.

• Draw up a SMART* action plan for how you will better engage with your nation going
forward.

• Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.

Postscript

My reference to some people feeling like Nigeria is an abusive husband that they choose to stay with by no means suggests that I subscribe to the view that those who find themselves in abusive marriages should “forgive and forget”. Absolutely not! That, is a story for another day. It merely expresses the depth of pain some people feel with reference to Nigeria.

Author: Sanyade Okoli is a senior finance professional and the Chief Executive Officer of Alpha African Advisory Limited based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is also an Analyst on Arise TV’s Global Business Report show and recently started an inspirational blog, Just As I Am.

Instagram @sanyadeokoli

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Africa speaks

What’s Happening To Democracy In Africa?

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Yoweri Museveni and Bobi Wine (Source: PML Daily)

Nobody was genuinely surprised that Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared the incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) the winner of the country’s violent Presidential ballot. It was a forgone conclusion. The victory is Museveni’s sixth since fighting his way to power in 1986. Although his 35-year rule has been extended, this time around the desperate groans for change were felt across the entire world.

African leaders have a long history of using violence and fear against political opponents. At the time of writing, Bobi Wine, Uganda’s 38-year-old musician turned formidable political opponent, is under house arrest. Wine insists that the election was rigged against him and his life is under threat. Many of his supporters and close political allies have been tortured and detained by the country’s security forces. After his arrest in November at least 54 people died following protests. This is taking place all under the watchful gaze of the media, the United Nations and the African Union. At one point Museveni ordered the shutdown of the internet. 

2021 will be a busy political season for the African continent with more than 13 countries heading to the polls to elect new leaders. The invasion of the Capitol and the legacy of President Donald Trump is proof that Africa can no longer look outside of its borders for positive influence. Constitutional change, fair elections, independent courts and free media is fundamental if Africa is to truly govern itself. Without these basic pillars of a democracy, civil war is the inevitable outcome.

Somalia 

Presidential Election
February 8th 

Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will face former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The threat of political violence still lingers as the tensions among key parties remain high and electoral preparations are lagging.

Niger

Presidential Election
February 21st 

Former prime minister Mohammed Bazoum of the ruling party will go head-to-head with former president Mahamane Ousmane. Niger is attempting its first peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from France 60 years ago.

Republic of Congo

Presidential Election
March 21st 

The President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders is seeking a fourth term. His challengers include Mathias Dzon, who is the former Minister of Finance between 1997-2002 and Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, who came second in the highly contested 2016 presidential election that Sassou Nguesso won. Congo is an oil-rich but impoverished country. It is in the grip of a deep economic crisis, triggered by the slump in oil prices but worsened by long-standing debt and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cabo Verde

Legislative Election, March
Presidential Election, October

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca is stepping down in 2021 following the conclusion of his second and constitutionally limited five-year term.

Chad

Presidential Election, April 1
Legislative Election, October 24

President Idriss Déby is seeking his sixth term in office, having previously overseen the removal of term limits in 2005 and then their restoration in 2018—though they are not to be applied retroactively. The 68-year-old former military leader came to power in 1990 following the toppling of the despotic Hissan Habré. 

Djibouti

Presidential Election, April

Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of the small but strategically vital country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, announced in late December he would be running for a fifth term in presidential elections this April.

Benin

Presidential Election, April 11

Benin will hold its presidential election on April 11, 2021, the country’s election commission announced Tuesday. The first round of the election will take place on April 11 in the West African nation, the Independent Election Commission said in a statement. A second round will be held on May 9 if none of the candidates passed the 50% threshold, the commission added. Although current President Patrice Talon said that when he was elected for the first time in 2016, he would remain in the government for only one term, his candidacy for a second term is seen as almost certain.

Ethiopia

Parliamentary Elections, June 5

Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5 as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions. Abiy’s Prosperity Party, a pan-Ethiopian movement he founded a year ago, faces challenges from increasingly strident ethnically based parties seeking more power for their regions. Africa’s second most populous nation has a federal system with 10 regional governments, many of which have boundary disputes with neighbouring areas or face low-level unrest.

São Tomé and Príncipe

Presidential Election, July 31

President Evaristo Carvalho is seeking his second 5-year term in presidential elections in July. Carvalho was previously prime minister, president of the national assembly, and minister of defence. São Tomé and Príncipe enjoys a competitive multiparty democracy and a history of peaceful transfer of power between parties. The 2021 elections are expected to be freely contested and transparent.

Zambia

Presidential and Legislative Elections, August 12

Presidential elections will be held in August 2021. The election will be the sixth (and, he says, last) attempt by opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development to win the presidency. Hichilema was the business-friendly candidate in 2016 who campaigned on fixing the then struggling economy.

The Gambia

Presidential Election, December 4

The Gambia’s upcoming elections will be the first since Yahya Jammeh lost power in 2017. President Adama Barrow’s first term has largely been about rebuilding after more than 20 years of Jammeh’s rule. This mammoth task requires reforming every sector of the country, not least of which the economy and the security sector and finding avenues for the country’s youthful population. 

Libya

Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, December 24

In November 2020, Libyan politicians convened by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to sketch out a plan to reunify the country agreed that Libya would have elections on December 24, 2021—the 70th anniversary of Libyan independence in 1951.

By: Juliana Olayinka (Broadcast Journalist)

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Africa speaks

Coronavirus and Societal Inequality- Nonny Ugboma

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Coronavirus image: credit politico

In reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, there is a huge realisation that  the world has reached a critical juncture and  there is a harsh wake-up call of the impact of in-country inequality both in  advanced and developing nations.

The massive gap between the haves and  have-nots may  have exacerbated  the havoc caused by  the spread of the coronavirus! This means that we can no longer ignore, what is arguably, the worst global crisis–societal inequality.

Interestingly, inequality is not a problem found in the global south alone as it has also been growing in advanced countries like the UK and USA since the 1980s. In the USA in 2018, the total income of the top 10% is 1.8 times more than the total income of the bottom 40%, according to the Palma ratios published in the OECD report on inequality.  The figure for the UK was  1.6 in 2018.

The inequality statistics is even more alarming in the global south with the total income of South Africa’s top 10% being 7 times more than the bottom 40% as at 2015. It will be interesting to know what the 2020 figures would be across the globe.

So, solving the inequality crisis should be governments’ priority in 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has already shown that the state of our collective health can only be as strong as the weakest link– the very low income group – and that this monstrous virus does not care about income brackets or status as everyone is a qualified host.

When it comes to exposure to the virus, the fact is, in addition to front-line health workers, low-income earners are also exposed and are more likely to be transmission vectors because they are key to the provision of essential services as cleaners, cashiers, waiters, couriers, and drivers to name a few.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable because these essential members of our society come into contact with people at different levels of society and they are faced with choices that touch every stratum!  For instance, whilst the extremely rich and middle-income professionals are able to take time off, to work from home or self-isolate, the lower income group, usually hourly-paid or zero-hour workers, cannot afford to stay home because without work they will not be paid, and without pay they cannot provide for themselves or their families. The implication is that they are more likely to put themselves and others at risk.

However, we note that the level of devastation of this virus in Sub-Saharan Africa has not been as pundits had expected with these countries’ high poverty rates and poor health systems. Experts are speculating that, paradoxically, it appears that these harsh conditions may have helped insulate the mostly young population from dying from Covid-19. Nevertheless, this does not mean that inequality in Africa is not negatively affecting the transmission in the poorer countries.

On the contrary. Residents of developing countries like Nigeria should be a lot more concerned because they live in extremely connected and linked societies. The more resilient and asymptomatic poor  are often in close contact with the working class and affluent as they are employed as cooks, domestic workers, drivers and artisans. Also, no matter how isolated people keep their domestic workers, they eventually have to come in contact with others in the markets ,the over-crowded public transportation systems or poor housing facilities.

The resultant effect of the inter-connectedness of the different levels of the society is that the elderly, as well as those who lead more insulated lifestyles with various underlying health matters are more vulnerable and more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. Furthermore, the number of existing public health facilities are not adequate to handle the treatment and private facilities are too expensive thereby resulting in more deaths for this group of the society. 

Therefore, it can no longer be business as usual because the more unequal the society continues to be, the more unsafe it will be for the rich in all aspects! Governments, especially in developing countries, should see this as a wake-up call to rethink policies to address inequality in the long-term,  not just by providing short-term reliefs. Instead of focusing on growth indices, governments would need to work collaboratively with the private sector and other sectors in a mission-oriented approach to build public infrastructure and to ensure the establishment of more inclusive institutions and systems that sustainably create social value.

Author: Nonny Ugboma – Executive Secretary at MTN Foundation

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Africa speaks

Changing the African narrative

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In a recent controversial tweet on the internet, it was argued that Africans have failed to become successful producers except in the area of reproduction. To cement the argument, the writer observed that, while scholars around the world are cracking their heads in an attempt to find the COVID vaccine, Africa is on the sidelines waiting to receive whatever shall be produced and possibly have it freely donated. The statement has some elements of truth which point to the narrative that Africa has created for itself for so many years despite being a continent blessed with an abundance of resources that the entire world longs for.

In fact, Africa suffers from a paradox of plenty in that, despite the huge endowment of both human and natural resources and attaining political independence from colonial masters, it still remains highly underdeveloped. How possible is it that the continent with the most of the worlds’ natural resources, hardworking labour force and favourable climate conditions could have earned the title of being labelled poor and be reduced to beggars than those that have less resources?  The scenario that Africa has created of being rich but not prosperous has presented a paradox whose puzzle needs a careful consideration to spot the missing link to enable Africa retain its rightful title, “The prosperous land of opportunity.”

Free Trade Area

Tired of being considered a third world continent and dependence on the western world on increased trade, African leaders from 44 nations gathered at the African Union Summit in March 2018 and signed a treaty to create what will be considered the world’s largest single market called the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The aim of this treaty is boost intra-African trade by making Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people and a cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion.

Actually the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has estimated that the implementation of this treaty has capacity to increase intra-Africa trade by 52% by 2022 and even double the share of intra-Africa trade in a decade. In addition, the AfCFTA is expected to enhance competitiveness for various firms through the exploration of opportunities for high production, access to larger continental markets and better allocation and usage of resources in the nations.

What is worrying about Africa is the fact that it trades more with countries outside the continent more than among member countries.  The share of exports from Africa with the rest of the world ranged from 80 – 90 percent for the period 2000 to 2017 (Economic Development in Africa Report, 2019) while intra Africa exports averaged only 16.6 percent. Worse still, the report indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest cost to export compared with other regions and this implies the benefits from trade are lessened.  

The question that begs an answer is, why doesn’t Africa trade more with itself? What is puzzling more is the fact that Africa exports materials in their raw form and imports the commodities after they are processed by highly industrialised countries at a higher cost. It is a wonder why Africa is still poor despite being the major supplier of raw materials that are highly demanded around the globe, where does Africa get it wrong? The lack of effective collaboration has been a major hindrance to the progress of Africa.

African countries can develop better if they begin to collaborate in diverse areas of development by each analysing their comparative advantage and combining synergies to achieve a common goal. Industrialisation can best be achieved when the current existing market within the continent is harnessed and tariff policies that increase the cost of trade are dealt with. Africa needs to define what it would want to achieve, identify opportunities within, create policies that harness the potentials from different countries for the benefit of all and work together because a united Africa with concentrated efforts will achieve much than a divided one working in Isolation.

Entitlement syndrome

It is interesting to note the underdevelopment statistics that Africans are ever posting in a bid to get support from developed countries. At times, it seems leaders are competing to show that their countries suffers more and needs more donations but this has created a dependence syndrome that is eventually becoming perpetual. Africa needs to come to terms with the fact that, we are not entitled to the help rendered and the more we act as beggars, the more likely we fail to progress. Whenever negotiating, Africans must never go to the table as beggars but partners in the achievement of common goals.

Africa’s overdependence on the west on basically everything makes it vulnerable to exploitation and thereafter, inability to develop. But to overcome the entitlement syndrome, there is need for the collaboration and efforts of individuals, countries, leaders and basically all who want to see a better Africa. Some of the most accomplished people in developed countries are originally from Africa but have been offered opportunities in these countries and are making an impact. Africa should not think it is the duty of anyone to help it overcome the diverse challenges it suffers but it needs home grown solutions and the contribution of various stakeholders.

The world is currently faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and while others are working to mitigate the impact and create the vaccine, Africa is waiting to receive but what if the west refuses to share with Africa, what is the next step. To change the narrative, Africa needs to realize that no one owes it a living and as such, self-reliance techniques must now be put to practice.

While it is true that Africa is not yet advanced and has challenges to overcome, the sooner it begins to believe in its capabilities to change the narrative and harness its potential, the quicker it shall be to develop. The continent is indeed a force to reckon with but only needs a push which must begin now because it’s time to think and Act Smart.

Aurthor: Nchimunya Muvwende is an Economist

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