…Says Africa Must Redefine Democracy Her Own Way
By Femi Oyeweso, Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday disclosed that outbreak of the dreaded Coronavirus compelled organisers of his 83rd birthday celebration to adjust programmes of event for the celebration.
Speaking in a special remark at the event held at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, OOPL, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, the former President explained that international personalities, including: former President of Sierra Leone, Bai Koroma, who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address on Pan Africanism; his Liberian counterpart, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; as well as the two Asian envoys to Nigeria (China and India), who were all invited for the event, could not make it due to the on-going prevalence of the virus globally.
Lamenting the absence of these eminent African and global personalities, Obasanjo however, enjoined members of the audience to acquaint themselves with inherent knowledge which discussions on objectives and visions Pan Africanism would present at the event, which has always been used as platform for evolving and developing agendas relevant to the growth and advancement of African continent since year 2007 when he left office as President.
He said, “One of the thing in the programme is to spend the day before yesterday and yesterday to examine how they came up from where they were and what lessons have we learnt from them, but because of Coronavirus, that programme was shelved.
“I do hope that sometimes in the future we would be able to bring it up again, because there is a lot to learn about what they have done and how they have done it.”
Commenting on the rationale behind chosing Pan Africanism as the high-level symposium for his 83rd birthday celebration, Obasanjo emphatically declared that the topic was carefully arrived at by a body of Professors having realised that the topic would have substantially addressed the matter of neglect of fate of Africans in the Diaspora as well as positions of the African economy as it relates to the whims and caprices of the global economic players.
Explaining that transformation of the African Union, AU, from Organization of African Union, OAU), established in 1963 was deficient at addressing and incorporating interests of the Africans in diaspora, Chief Obasanjo said, “Some people will be saying that ‘what has Pan Africanism got to do with us in Nigeria? We have the problem of insecurity; we have the problem of restructuring and all other problems, so what has Pan Africanism got to do with us?
“But I am saying that Pan Africanism is different from African unity. It goes beyond African unity and to prove that, when our leader in 1963 established the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, they did not reckon with Pan Africanism as such to the extent that no body outside the continent of Africa was considered to be part of the OAU.
“When at the end of 20th century, we decided to re – establish or transform OAU to AU. We decided that instead of five regions which made up of OAU: West Africa, North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa, we created the sixth region which is the Diaspora Africa.
“Therefore, we made AU to go beyond the continent of Africa and to embrace the Africans in diaspora. So, we moved from African Unity to African Union, which means we are not only talking about Africans on the continent of Africa, but also Africans outside the continent of Africa.
“I think that’s very important and that’s why we should talk about Pan – Africanism; what it means and what it can do.”
On the African economy as it relates to other global economic players, Obasanjo advocated that African countries at this period, must redefine democracy in such a way that would adequately address and suit the peculiarities of the continent, stressing that the global market economy was not designed for us in African continent.
He added, “The second point is the Liberal Democracy. The point we must all agree about like a friend of mine told me is that “market economy was not designed for us in Africa.”
He said, “Late Emo Smith, who was very close to me: anytime we were relaxing, there was nothing we could not discuss. One day I said to him, ‘Emo, you know you people are very wicked?’ And he said what do I mean by that. I said ‘you don’t even think of us (Africa) in everything you do. Everything is weighted against us’.
“He asked what’s it that was weighted against you? I said the economic situation in the world. He said ‘mind you, we created market economy for ourselves. We didn’t create it for you’.
“Now, he won’t say that publicly, but between me and him he said that. And he meant it. He said ‘you’re complaining, give me three reasons why I should buy your cocoa for $200 while I can buy it for $100. Bring it to Hamburg, turn it into chocolate and send it back to you and you pay $1,000 for it. Give me three reasons why I should not do that’.
“I said the first reason is common humanity. He said ‘show me in your economic book where common humanity is factor of production’. Of course, there is nothing like that in any of the economic books.
“The point is this, whether it is liberal democracy or globalization or even democracy, as they practise it, even with them, no two democracies are the same.
“Now, whether we should redefine our democracy or not, I don’t know. But can we have a democracy that satisfies our needs? I think that is the point.
“It can be defined in our own way to satisfy ourselves and we must be careful when we are doing that.
“Whatever we define for ourselves, when we are doing that, there will be hues and cry. They will call us names. They will do all sorts of things.
“Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore was a good friend of mine. When Lee Kuan Yew was moving in the mid – 1970s, I was in Singapore in 1974. There was no name they didn’t call him and he was worried. When Singapore now moved from third world to the first world, Lee Kuan Yew wrote a book titled ‘From Third World to First World’. They all shared and basked in the success of Singapore.
“Now, if we do something not too far away but radical enough to meet our needs and we succeed, they will grudgingly accept us. But if we do and fail, we will be on our own.
“What we must realise is that the world will not wait for us. They will not want us to succeed because if we succeed, then we have taken something away.”