Every year since 1963, Africa has celebrated May 25 as the founding day of the Organisation of African Unity. This year’s celebrations also mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Rahim, one of Africa Day’s most passionate supporters. How has the continent changed in the last decade since that tragic road accident along Mombasa road?
Taju as he was known to citizens, generals and presidents alike, was born into a humble Nigerian family. He often referred to his mother as “the original Nigerian mama mboga”. He was intellectually brilliant, sharp and very funny. It was these qualities that steered him towards a Rhodes scholarship funded PHD from the prestigious Oxford University. Taju was also passionately anti-exploitation and pro-unification of the African continent.
Over the 48-years of his life, he formed and strengthened several Pan-African organisations like the Journal of African Marxists, African Research and Information Bureau, the Centre for Democratic Development and Justice Africa among others. Probably his greatest platform was as Secretary General of the Pan African Movement and convenor of the Seventh Pan African Congress in 1994. His Thursday Postcards, a series of weekly opinion pieces shared across several African newspapers, inspires this column to this day.
Still available online on Pambazuka News, the Thursday Postcards consistently dissected the challenges of African unification and the dangers of corrupt and incompetent political leadership. All the postcards would end with a call to organise and waste no time agonising. His very last Postcard was published on the day he died. In it, he asked of our city-planners, what use is a beautiful city peopled by citizens who have lost their livelihoods and homes in the name of modernisation and motorways?
Sadly, the corruption and incompetence of our leadership in the first decade of the century has not disappeared in the second. 25 per cent of development financing is still lost to corruption. External indebtedness is slowly returning to the continent. Fourteen African countries are now either in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress from external and domestic creditors.
While 3 out of 4 Africans now live in countries that respect the rule of law and have regular elections, freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain under threat, most notably in East Africa. Many of the leaders Taju rallied to the Kampala Congress have gone from agents of change to obstacles of change. Left with an increasingly impotent African Union, it is the youth of Tunisia, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan that are the source of democratic change.
While much remains unchanged, much has changed since his death. Inequalities, information digitisation and global warming is fundamentally changing our world. Twenty of the fastest growing economies and ten of the most unequal countries in the world are African. While many countries are now regularly achieving 4% GDP growth rates, this growth is neither shared evenly nor is it generating jobs for the millions who need them. Excessive wealth accumulation for the few and outright economic exclusion for most threatens the stability of several countries.
Having initially struggled with the early smart-phone, Taju would have been amused to see the internet enabled mobile phones in most of our hands today. In under a decade, eight technology companies have expanded to become some of the biggest economies in the world. Facebook has gone from a youthful social network to a US$55 billion advertisement company for 2.3 billion active users.
Although the risks of rain failure and water scarcity would have been clear to the son of Funtua, a village in the semi-arid Nigerian state of Katsina, the urgency at which the continent needs to address global warming has also increased dramatically since 2009.
Safe maternal healthcare was also one of Taju’s consistent concerns. “Why should mothers die giving birth to children in a world where we fly people to the moon?”, he would often ask. While maternal mortality rates are slowing coming down, we can never be proud of our continent when we still produce half of the world’s maternal deaths.
Look out for Binyavanga Wainaina, Taju. He will be checking in some time soon. He also wrote of an Africa that accepted, loved and protected all its children regardless of their class, gender or sexuality. Until we too head in your direction, rest assured we too shall do less agonising and more organising. Happy Africa Liberation Day all.
First published Saturday Standard, May 25, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group