Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

West Africa - a region in turmoil (part 1)

by Dr. A. B. Assensoh

Do African leaders use the facts and lessons of history as a yardstick to measure their actions and faults? Dr A.B. Assensoh of the Post Graduate School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, England in this two part piece presents a catalogue of events which provides a negative answer to the question.
West Africa, as a sub-Saharan region of the African continent, has seen many changes in varied ways. By the mid-1960s, the area seemed to be a jewel in African politics and, to an extent, West Africa also played a viable leadership role in other aspects of the continent's events, including the unflinching support of the various liberation movements.

Again, the mid-1960s happened to be the period in which Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the ceremonial President of Nigeria - saw his political circumstances to be similar to those of a bird in a gilded cage. Yet, it was still the very era in which ex-President Azikiwe - in his glorious days as 'Zik of Africa' had the chance, although limitedly, to exhibit what was left of his Zikism, while Ghana's late Presi- dent Kwame Nkrumah, too, had the opportunity to display his Nkrumaism in a very commanding manner.

In retrospect, however, one wonders if West Africa of the 1960s really existed only two decades ago. For, the sad spectacle of the region's economic, political and social events, comparatively, makes things seem as if its existence was either a mere dream or only a speculation.

A typical example from this recent past was the fact that the thought, or notion, of either a policeman or a sol- dier abandoning his traditional jeep for a saloon car - including Mercedes Benz and Peugeot cars was far- fetched; Yet, today, such a near- impossible socio-political spectacle is part of the daily norms and routine events of West African nations.

Many of us saw and even enjoyed the seemingly glorious aspects of the events of the 1960s in West Africa, but it never dawned upon some of us that the 'good old days' were gone, and that past as well.

One could recall many past issues and events which made West Africa and up proudly in African politics in the 1960s: the Azikiwes, the Nkrumahs, the Modibo Keitas, the Sekou Toures, the Houphouet- Boignys, the Senghors, the Tubmans, terms of leadership, the Black Stars and Green Eagles soccer teams, among others!

But then a lot more had happened negatively in West Africa to change the political equation very much. The list was endless: assassinations, coups d'etat and counter-coups, political detentions without trial, all forms of repression, press coverage of corruption, summary executions and a lot more, all in line with René Dumont's prophetic book, False Start In Africa. Did independence in West African nations mean a perpetual curse characterised by the various bleak and extravagant economic and political experiments catalogued in the book by the French agronomist which, in the long run, distorted the progress of the new African nations?

The national motto of Liberia, in the official seal was, "The love of liberty brought us here", obviously alluding to the arrival of the freed slaves in the nation, yet the Americo-Liberian rulers were so ruthless that their actions made a mockery of the words of the motto.

In Dumont's deduction, the attainment of independence by the various African countries - this time not only in West Africa - seemed to be like the circumstances of a rich but naive person who, out of affluence, buys a vehicle to be used as a taxi-cab, gives it to Driver "A" to operate it; then, out of frustration and anger, the rich owner takes the vehicle away and gives it to Driver "B" to try his luck as the new taxi-driver. In the end, it is the same vehicle which has seen two different drivers.

Of course, many past West African countries have faced such a quandary for many years. Yet, one wonders how and why the newly independent nations in the region have not learnt from the past mistakes of the older ones, includ- ing Ethiopia and Liberia, even if their independence happened to be a façade. In Revolutionary Path, Ghana's late President Kwame Nkrumah lamented the fact that the country he inherited in 1957 was of a colonialist- make, but it was not very easy to modify it. Since the 532-page book was published posthumously in 1973, a year after his death in Bucharest Roumania, it is not possible for anyone to predict today what Nkrumah would have done to the civil service he took over from the British, although from 1957 to 1966 was ample time enough for the Osagyefo to have made a lot of modifications, even if at a tortoise pace.

Liberia and Ethiopia, rightly, boast of over a century of self-governance, apart from the brief invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1935 by Mussolini's Italian forces. To discuss West Africa aptly, it is only very relevant for the circumstances of Liberia to be used as a yardstick to measure events in that region. On the historical plane, therefore, the story of Liberian independence is a curious one.

However, a careful scrutiny of the 1770 missionary programme of the American Colonization Society which spearheaded the return of freed slaves, called Americo-Liberians, from the United States to Liberia - would confirm Dr John Scott Goffa's recent assertion in his 25 page monograph, The Truth Behind the Liberian Revolution of April 12, 1980 that "Government was established between 1818 and 1839" in Liberia by Americo- Liberians from whose ranks the late President William V.S. Tubman, Sr. and assassinated President William R. Tolbert, Jr. originated.

In terms of political leadership in Liberia, it is known that the first President of the country, Joseph Jenkins Roberts Roberts - after whom the International Airport of Liberia, often called Robertsfield, is named - was inaugurated on 3 January, 1848 at the youthful age of 39 year after his death in Bucharest, I was attained in 1847. The late President Roberts was, reportedly, elected six consecutive times to the presidency.

talking drums 1984-07-23 Nigeria the Dikko kidnap affair Africa Olympic hopes in Los Angeles