Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting for Africa's Fifth Estate

Civil War.
Rigged Elections.

Sounds like the Africa of old, right? The Africa that you grew up learning about in elementary school history classes. The Africa that you were inspired to change as a teenager in a classroom where there were more students than desks/chairs for them. The Africa that as a young adult, you experienced in your daily struggle…pardon me, hustle…to make it.

Actually, that is the Africa of today as events over the last few years have shown. In the midst of an economic growth (estimated 5.8% in 2012 according to the African Development Bank) that is the envy of the developed world, we are still finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot - sometimes literally. At a time when we should be shining on the global stage, we are the mockery of a world that cannot wait for us to mess up this period of - potentially - exponential growth and high commodity revenues.

Who can blame the West for their pessimism given the situation on the ground in various countries from Angola to Zimbabwe, Egypt to Nigeria?

We have our excuses: western-imposed religion (although countries like Turkey, India and China haven't let that affect them), tribal differences (even though Switzerland, Luxembourg and India have major language breakdowns as well) and poverty-induced greed and corruption (although that didn't stop India, Malaysia or Indonesia).

So what are we waiting for?

We are waiting for Africa's largest resource - it's people - to rise up and take charge of their continent. If there's been one positive on the African landscape over the last few years, it has been the awakening of what I'll call the "Fifth Estate". This group has taken over social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Kliqy (Nigeria's own) and other such outlets. They have largely escaped the shadow of their parents' generation and have become a voice in their own right.

It's not enough to own the social media, however.

In light of the decay of our First, Second and Third Estates (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary) and the increased sectionalism and nepotism of our Fourth Estate (Media), it is up to us to decide for ourselves what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and to move beyond speaking about it to doing something about it.

It's easy to hide behind the cover and relative anonymity of a write-up (as I'm doing and as many political commentators do), but how many are willing to defend their comments if called to do so by security agencies? How many are willing to march on the streets? How many more don't care if they end up in prison? Or lose their means of livelihood?

Getting to this point - to the point where citizen-inspired movements can replace autocracies and demagogues as seen in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya - will require a close look at ourselves and the answering of some pertinent questions because as the famous latin maxim says: "He (or she) who comes to equity must come with clean hands".

- Is it acceptable for a university graduate in the sciences who has a Second Class Upper (or better) to leave school and become a trader in the market or a bus conductor simply because there are no jobs in his/her field?

- Is it acceptable for someone with a barely standard high school education, poor grammar and who hasn't achieved anything professionally (outside of being a hairstylist) to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

- Is it acceptable to pay a bribe so that a passport application can be processed quicker?

- Is it acceptable to give a technical job to someone who studied social sciences simply because their parent owns the company?

- Is it acceptable for you to spout off on twitter on facebook about political reform when you were part and parcel of a government that contributed to the decline of your country?

- Is it acceptable for you to jostle for political and corporate jobs on the basis of who you know despite campaigning fervently for meritocracy to be enthroned?

- Is it acceptable for you to point fingers at corrupt elements in government and industry when your parents can't explain how they can afford to send a family of six to London or Dubai for the summer on a combined monthly salary of $1000 equivalent?

For the disadvantaged folks in the scenarios I listed (jobless graduates, overqualified workers), why are you sitting down tweeting and facebooking instead of organizing rallies and demonstrating? Or is that only meant for the election season?

For those who are on the other end of the spectrum - the ones whose parents (or themselves) are part of the corrupt system and the ones who have been given advantage on the basis of who they know - are you being honest in your social media commentary or are you just part of the crowd?

The full awakening of the Fifth Estate - not the half-baked semi-slumber seen so far - will require more than my words and more than the hashtags, wall posts, blog posts and tweets that my generation puts out at an extremely prolific rate. It will require us to ensure that our hands are clean and that we are beyond reproach. What has often derailed the progressive movement in Africa has been the lifestyle or past antecedents of its proponents - from Laurent Gbagbo to Robert Mugabe, Daniel arap Moi to Nuhu Ribadu. The downfall or loss of faith in these men has been caused by their "talking the talk", not "walking the walk".

Our continent's future is bright because of the stance that the African Fifth Estate is taking and because the daily activities of our governments show that they can hear us and are wary of our reaction to their activities, if not afraid of us. Let us not squander this opportunity. Let us be the generation that finally answered the call of our great continent.

As the elders often say: a word to the wise is enough.


  1. You admit yourself that you "hide behind the cover and relative anonymity of a write-up", I would love to see you 'walk the walk' and not simply 'talk the talk'. You have the passion, so what is stopping you from being the change that you write about so fervently and consistently in your blog? When will all the plans you have brewing come to fruition? That I would love to see, and that I think would make a much larger impact than a blog, as thought-provoking and beautifully written as it is, ever could :)

  2. I love anonymous comments. Well-said, though. This blog post isn't about pointing the finger (hopefully) at any group specifically. It's about getting the social media generation to ask themselves the tough questions - much as you did to me.
    What's stopping me? Other than geography and the life I've built in another land - nothing, really. Perhaps the feeling that there aren't enough people on "my side" and I think most young Nigerians will admit to the same 'concern', but I speak for myself. I am working towards the plan I have to make a difference in my own way, but as with a plan, it must be well executed. It makes no sense to go into this sort of battle without the right ammunition, so to speak. I appreciate your honest comments, even if they were anonymous :-)

  3. I can see the parallel issues between the younger generation in some African countries, as well as in America. I believe it’s just a generational thing. The Gen Y/Millennials are a true social media generation and unfortunately are too quick to act. Sometimes this generation lacks substance, desires instance gratification and does not understand value. We have a generation that lacks the endurance to form true revolutions and sacrifice to see a larger movement sustained (i.e. unlike Martin Luther King for the Civil Rights Movement and Nelson Mandela for the Anti-Apartheid movement. Despite the generalizations of this generation, there are some that are making an impact.

    However history sometimes has a way of repeating itself, but in different forms. People seem to only fight when there is an undue physical/violent injustice. However today's injustices come in the forms of laws, policies and discriminatory practices. There seems to be some consensus that the next generation after Gen Y, (and somewhat apart of Gen Y), will be known as the Depression babies, because they have grown-up in a world of instability.... therefore maybe being the generation to turn it all around. Thanks for your time and thoughts. They are wise and motivational for change. - Ms. Delicate08 :)

  4. Great comments :-). I don't think I can add more quality to your post. In terms of when people choose to fight, I have to agree. Until humans are pushed to their extremity, they don't fight back. Many of the social media generation have lived lives of relative comfort - it's easy to sit back and criticize, but many aren't willing to sacrifice their lifestyle to enforce change.