Statesman and late President of Senegal from 1960 to 1981, Leopold Sedar Senghor, through his philosophy of negritude, believed that Africa and its culture had manifest contributions they can make to European thought. Same for Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who fought vigorously to build an ideology he labeled “a New Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism.” In the same vein, musical colossus, Robert Nesta Marley, sang for the actualization of “Africa for Africans” and Tanzanian politician, political theorist and anti-colonial activist, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, promoted a political philosophy he called Ujamaa. A Swahili word for ‘extended family’ or ‘brotherhood,’ the Ujamaa philosophy is predicated on the belief that one can only become a person by being a member of the community. It thrives on the phrase, “I am because we are” and values the spirit of cohesion, service to community and love.
Now, what, if I may ask, is the philosophy of Africa today? No, I am not asking about African philosophy. We know that already. What can be said to be the body of knowledge or thoughts which constitutes how Africa thinks of herself in today’s post-modern world?
John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, late President of Tanzania, tried to re-situate the philosophy of Africa, long after any attempt was made by any African in that regard. Magufuli’s philosophy was close to Marley’s and even Senghor’s and central to his thesis was raising and cultivating “Black consciousness,” reciprocal relationship with other continents as equal partners in the global project, as well as “an inclusive humanism,” all of which would open doors for Africa to integrate with and into “a civilization of the universal.”
But as you jolly well know, Magufuli went down the way of all mortals about two weeks ago, precisely on March 17, 2021. As the fifth president of Tanzania, from 2015 – the same year Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigerian president – to the time of his death, Magufuli walked the talk of the philosophy he espoused for Africa. Campaigning as candidate of Chama Cha Mapinduzi political party before election, Magufuli promised that he would significantly reduce the pandemic of government corruption and waste in office.
As president, Magufuli took drastic and resolute measures in favouring housing for the Tanzanian poorest, bulldozing virgin lands to construct houses and earning in the process the Swahili nickname, Tingatinga – the Bulldozer. He plugged loopholes of tax frauds and corruption and invested saved funds in education and measures to combat poverty. His first major action as president was to cut his salary by a fourth, from $15,000 to $4,000 per month and thus became one of the lowest-paid African heads of state. He was renowned for having cut public spending drastically, frowning at lavish ostentation in government social spending and baring unnecessary foreign travels by self and government officials. He used self as an example by driving cheaper vehicles and once shrunk a delegation touring the Commonwealth to a ridiculous four, all the way from 50 people.
At a World AIDS Day exhibition, Magufuli cancelled the ancient showmanship associated with such and diverted money meant to be spent into purchase of AIDS drugs. The same 2015 when he was sworn in, he unilaterally cancelled the klieg rituals of flowery celebration of Tanzania’s Independence Day and instead ploughed the funds into an upgrade of hospitals. He then turned the day into a national sanitization exercise day, geared towards exterminating the scourge of cholera. Personally holding shovel to dig sewages and sweeping the streets of Dar es Salam to show an example, he was quoted to have said that it was “so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera.”
Magufuli introduced free education in all government schools and, bothered by the moral slide in Tanzania, banned shisha smoking for its health effects on teeming youths. Tanzania under him became one with about the highest economic growth rate in Africa, even as he smoked out corrupt multinationals from the country.
Magufuli was however very cynical of the west and its modernism. In spite of a doctorate degree in Chemistry from the University of Dar es Salaam in 2009, he disdained science in the mould of America’s Donald Trump. He also literally barked at women who frequented family planning centers, urging them to “set your ovaries free.” He was also a leading light in cynicism against COVID-19. For instance, he was one of the few African leaders to go Madagascar, a euphemism for his embrace of curative herbs against COVID-19, with Tanzania becoming one of the first countries in Africa to pay for the herb. Through Gerald Chamii, a spokesman in the country’s Ministry of Health, Magufuli told the world that Tanzania was not ready to take any Covid-19 vaccine but would explore local herbs as shield against the pandemic. A major contradiction in all these is that he was accused of being a democratic dictator, running a repressive government against opposition elements and flagrantly stomped on media rights. A devout Catholic, he believed that God had cleared Tanzania of COVID-19.
All in all, Magufuli believed in Africa and lived his belief. Like Nkrumah, he espoused a New Africa genuinely independent and absolutely free from western imperialism. He might have taken his battle against imperialist powers beyond measure but he could not be accused of being a stooge, nor a leader with vacuous mind like Muhammadu Buhari.
Magufuli’s exploits as Tanzanian president were not in the Nigerian public domain until his unfortunate demise. And when they did, not only did they go viral, Nigerians went comparative about what they have and what Tanzania lost. Except the pre and immediate post-colonial Nigeria when leadership was committed to and worked assiduously for Nigeria, the only Nigerian leadership that can be compared to Magufuli’s was Murtala Muhammed’s. The others were a potpourri of self-serving leaderships which invariably begot a despondent following. The worst ever is Buhari’s.
Let me ask you at this juncture: What is Buhari’s philosophy for Africa? If you ask me, does Buhari even know anything of that magnitude? This and others have prompted people to ask repeatedly why the worst of us rule the best of us; why, for instance, a Buhari, with his multiple failings and failures, should be Nigerian president and why Nigeria, as it is constituted at present, may never have a Magufuli-kind as leader. The reasons are not far-fetched. Chief among these is that same incubus called the 1914 mistake. Other manifestations now began to follow in tow. Our 350+ ethnic components, which should be a diversity arsenal, began to show their disadvantages.
Magufuli’s Tanzania has almost similar challenge. With over 100 distinct ethnic groups and tribes, excluding refugees residing in Tanzania due to conflicts in neighbouring countries, most Tanzanians are Bantu-speaking and a few speak Nilotic. Unlike Nigeria, however, none of the ethnicities constitutes clear-cut majority dominance as the Hausa Fulani does in Nigeria. Even the Sukuma, which is Tanzania’s largest ethnic group, boasts of merely about 16 percent of the country’s total population. The country has nevertheless never faced any major ethnic conflict due principally to the soldering influence of the Swahili language which they all speak.
Using the 1914 mistake as canon-fodder, there has been a rat race to deploy ethnicity as weaponry and confer ethnic advantage on holders of offices. Falsification of population census figures, favouritism in appointments by ethnic holders of office and conferring undue advantages on one’s ethnicity have made these divides to widen by the day. With it, mutual acrimonies are all over the place. With the introduction of federalism as system of administration, leading to the 1952 regional governments, ethnicity momentarily became a diversity advantage. Since 1966 when Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi unitarized the country, however, the ethnic contours have become more manifestly destructive.
Until the last two decades or so, Nigerians could feel Nigeria and saw it manifest in their lives. Gradually, Nigeria began to disappear from Nigerians. Today, Nigeria has totally evaporated from Nigerians. With a combination of an acute, unexampled ethnic bigotry manifested by Buhari and his governmental hirelings, the die became cast for Nigeria. Every step is seen from ethnic prism and Nigerians’ allegiance to Nigeria vamoosed. That is why, as I have cited elsewhere, Rotimi Amaechi can be constructing railway lines and people are going there to calibrate its steel components. It is also why North-Easterners can act as informants to Boko Haram insurgents who daily kill them, as against being friends to Nigerian soldiers. This is because Nigeria has ostracized itself from its people’s lives. It is also why Buhari can claim to be constructing rail lines from Heaven’s Gate to Hell and purportedly building infrastructure that no government had ever done and yet, no one reckons with him. Conversely, they submit, and rightly so too, that his’ is the worst government in the history of Nigeria. Garba Shehu and other Buhari lickspittles are too analytically circumspect or too lost in the maze of governmental servitude to realize these complexities when they naively make a show of this so-called lame infrastructure.
The truth is, at this juncture, what should have been Buhari’s greatest achievement is if he possesses or makes pretension to demonstrating capacity to unify Nigeria. However, he is too far lost inside the oeuvres of his bigotry to be capable to show this capacity to engender citizenship. The lack of trust in the Nigerian system and the dearth of core national values have destroyed and eaten deep into the fabrics of Nigeria like the metastasis of cancer. That is why anyone who is able to “liberate” enough billions from the non-existent Nigeria, through corruption, is considered a man of valour. To worsen matters, unlike the Babangida era when governmental attempts were made to refill sagging values through the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Buhari is just running an auto-pilot government with him busy sleeping at the center of the periphery.
The long and short of this epistle is that anyone who looks forward to any redemption for Nigeria in a leadership that will cater for Nigerians as a collective, even at the expiration of this lack-luster administration, must be living in Alice’s Wonderland. It can never come from the PDP or APC or anywhere. Nigeria is not wired to be administered by qualified or Magufuli-kind leaders, but the Buhari type caste. If there is still Nigeria by 2023, it will be administered by another charlatan and ethnic bigot. And like the myth of Sisyphus, the country will roll its boulders ad-infinitum. Until thy kingdom comes, unless, of course, by a definite act of divine intervention.