I attended the ‘Africa Rising: Who Benefits’ BBC Africa debate, and was able to listen to different perspectives about what Africa Rising meant to Nigerians. There were myriads of opinions and ideas and certain significant thoughts stood out, which link me to my consistent blog theme of building ‘Our Story’.The most significant phrase of the day by the audience was that we “return ourselves to a path of rediscovery”. The statement has so much depth and I will explore this from certain angles.
REDISCOVERY THROUGH EDUCATION
The first step to a nations rediscovery is via education, and most specifically the tertiary institutions which through the research of ‘lived experiences’ (Spivak), can determine the ‘Story of our future’. What we were all able to agree on during the BBC Africa debate was the paucity of the institutions in churning out an employable workforce, however this got me thinking, that surely there is a paucity of thinkers to drive growth and ideas in Nigeria.
Equipping the youth who make up over 44% of our population to think right should be our first step for our ‘rediscovery’ and rewriting our story. The thrust of the government presence at the debate was the emphasis on the infrastructural leaps the government had taken and the criticism from the non-governmental audience was the disconnect between GDP increase in economic terms versus the actual development and social impact. We all look forward to the Mega City of Lagos with skyscrapers, 24hours electricity and roads paved with structural prowess. Africa and Nigeria may be rising, however “the Growth is not translating into our living rooms” (Morka, Felix), which is why the available economic figures are disputed and there is discontent with the government. What we are failing to imagine is the inhabitants of this mega city and what they might ‘resemble’.
REDISCOVERY OF THE MARGINALISED
So how do we effectively rediscover the ideal citizenry? In building a mega city, the tendency is to maltreat those of the periphery of the city as we sacrifice their identity for the ‘greater good’. Lagos is composed of 100 slums which account for over 70 percent of the population in the next dubbed mega city in Africa. I was given the opportunity to speak with Felix Morka who heads a social advocacy group which represents the interests of those who do not have a ‘VOICE’ in the mega city redesign. The Story of Lagos and Nigeria cannot be complete without an improvement of the lives of those who have been systematically disadvantaged. As a nation we need to understand that there is not ‘one’ interest, but a myriad of desires that contribute to our cohabitation within a city. Paraphrased by a debate participant Okiki Marinho ‘poverty has no ethnic identity, let’s build a nation’.
REDISCOVERY THROUGH THEORY
The best way to understand the creation of ‘Our Story’ is via the illustration of the Foucault triangle.
As it stands, those with ‘Power’ in the Nigerian state are the government: they control knowledge, which determines the truth and what ‘Our Story’ should resemble. However, it is our responsibility as citizens to infiltrate this nexus of power and foster civil society so that we represent an alternative version of Power based on the cultivation of our knowledge and truth.
REDISCOVERY OF CIVIL SOCIETY
It is the function of Civil society to create an alternative, authentic voice which will influence political policies and represent our real interests.
Each country has a Story and we cannot ‘import’ ours, the focus of our story should be:
– Celebration of Differences;
– Cohabitation between Ethnic groups;
– Collaboration across social classes;
– Collective Accountability.
REDISOVERY VIA POWER
We have seemingly moved from a political dictatorship to a ministerial/technocractic dictatorship. Imagine a situation where ministers had to pitch for projects to a randomly selected panel from Civil society, as mused by Uwana Esang a participant of the BBC debate. In this scenario, there would be a more structured approach to projects, there would be less duplication of resources, and this would lead to efficiency and accountability.
REDISCOVERY THROUGH ACTION
The resounding question at the end of the debate was what are the actionable steps or policies we can put in place today to bring us closer to a success story, where inhabitants match the infrastructural utopia. My steps have been outlined in this piece theoretically, starting with Education, embracing the marginalised documenting their needs and building a sustainable future for those on the periphery of society and building an responsible civil society that powers to be are accountable to. How can these steps be translated into actionable and achievable goals:
STEP ONE EDUCATION – Felix Morka reminisced about a well respected Education Board which sent out inspectors to primary education units. If this idea can be replicated to the secondary and tertiary education space it will result in adherence to base standards of education which will translate into a well equipped workforce suitable for a mega city.
STEP TWO MARGINALISED INCLUSION – When the story of Nigeria includes those who have been strategically left out of the ‘conversation’, by interacting, documenting and understanding the interests of those at the ‘bottom’, is the only way the ‘top’ can exist. We aim for a happy coexistence, and the only way is through policies which are beneficial for all, which will lead to a shared state of societal development.
STEP THREE CIVIL SOCIETY – We have to rely on the media to generate an enlightened intelligentsia who remain outside political space, but influence it from a distance through structured debates and strategic output, and potentially think tanks that will influence policy changes.
POWER – Unbundling power will come only after we get step one, two and three right
These three steps will take time, so on the path to Africa Rising, it is the responsibility of governments to provide a social net to ensure that we all RISE together to the economical haven predicated by all indicators.