Friday, 15 March 2013


We all know fungi. They grow out of soil, plants or decaying organisms; when they develop in our bodies we call them parasites.  Fungus can be a symbolic way of describing what is going on around our beloved continent today.

I was watching African news via the French international channel – TV 5- beaming last weekend’s slaughter of hostages in Nigeria by Ansaru. A French terrorism expert was asked whether Africa is too risky to work for foreigners.
Without flinching the expert said yes, certainly, some regions are getting dangerous.
 Later I listened to a Nigerian guy on a London street, who said he was  Igbo.  Alongside Yorubas and Hausas, Igbos are considered the main tribes of this very interesting West African nation.
“You Tanzanians,” the soft spoken, articulate man started, “supported us during the Biafra war. We shall never forget that. Nyerere’s type of leadership is rare these days. General Ojukwu died around a year ago. Did you know that?” His eyes were shining.

For those too young to remember (I was only twelve) Lieutenant Chukwuemeka Ojukwu (pictured above) led the region of predominantly Igbo people in East Nigeria to form Biafra in 1967. A three year civil war, followed.

 After he fled to Ivory Coast in 1970- Biafra was re integrated into Nigeria. At least one million people died from bullets, displacement and starvation.  During and after the crisis Ojukwu became really famous. Throughout 1970s Tanzania, there was even mimicry of his physical appearance; it was common to refer to very dark males with a certain look and a large beard as “Ojukwu.”
True to his internationalist spirit, Nyerere openly supported Biafra. Ironically, we regard Nyerere’s assistance to rebel Ugandans against Dictator Idi Amin as the main historical landmark, while Biafra has been forgotten. Fact is the colonial set up of nations with dissimilar tribes being huddled together is to blame. Hausas, Yorubas and Igbos had different ways of governance which would eventually explode after independence. So were Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda.
Award winning writer, Chimamanda Adichie, gifted Igbo storyteller...pic by AP

Recently, forgotten Biafra has been rejuvenated by a young 35 year old, Igbo writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie . I found her 2006 novel (“Half of a Yellow Sun”- which won the Orange Broadband Prize) really funny and informative. This year the book has become a film with a full star cast.
Page 275 describes a song by Igbos during the 1967 carnage:
“Biafra win the war
Armoured car, shelling machine
Fighter and bomber
Ha enweghi ike imeri Biafra!”
While Biafra is history, Boko Haram is the reality. A reality that is worrying expatriates and foreigners. Last year when a few churches were being torched in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, one of my Swahili students asked if it was alright to visit Tanzania.
Anything that promises bloodshed halts the process of tourism, trade and international relations. And this is not just Africa. When Africans got beaten up by Fascists in Greece a few months ago- I chatted to someone on Facebook who was really concerned about continuing living and working in this Mediterranean country.

I asked the Igbo guy about Boko Haram. His face was suddenly twisted, his tone furious: “Because I am Nigerian, everyone is asking me about them. They are mostly from the North east side. In Hausa Boko Haram means Western education is not allowed. They don’t like Euro-American culture, good or bad. They are religious extremists. You see, my bradda, religion is now an excuse. Those who brought us these foreign religions many years ago do not even believe in the stuff anymore. Look at the whites. They don’t believe in religion or God. All they want is money and business. It us who are still left in this fantasy world.”
So we have Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Ansar Dine in Mali; main groups that are destabilising Africa and guests.
Like mushrooms and fungus, such gangs have not grown out of nothing. A recent blog by veteran writer and journalist, Jenerali Ulimwengu says whenever there is lack of good leadership people turn to escapist means, ditto: religion, drugs, and gluttony.
Jenerali Ulimwengu, thinker and brilliant analyst,  has been writing in the Tanzania media for over 40 years now. Pic from Mwenye Macho Blog...

Ulimwengu: “Such a society has hypocritical leaders, with no time to commit to their people because they are too busy collecting as much wealth as possible for themselves.”
This week the UK government is due to allocate a budget of 11 billion pounds to developing nations in what has been described as a “radical move” by International Development Minister, Justine Greening. The money, says conservative paper, Daily Mail shall be used to win infrastructure contracts. However, they don’t want the cash to fall into the hands of “corrupt and wasteful regimes.”
According to the African Attractive Survey in 2012 investors prefer working in countries that have political stability, smooth transport routes and steady economic growth. Inefficient, “corrupt, wasteful regimes” equal fungi. It is indeed, a gloomy situation at a time that our continent really needs better education, trading and general progress.
Published in Citizen Tanzania Friday 15th March, 2013.

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