Sulayman Saul Saidykhan
I was never really into the night club thing. But in my early years in college here in the Washington DC metro area where I still live, I would occasionally go along with friends to an African club called Kilimanjaro in the 18th Street/Adams Morgan neighborhood of the city. Now, this is over twenty years ago, and my memory isn’t how it used to be, but if it serves me right, the owner and operator of the club was a Kenyan brother name Victor … something. He was to be later railroaded (set-up) by his competitors and their law enforcement collaborators, on some “sales-to minors” regulation violations which ALL Washington clubs do just to get his license revoked and club shut down in the late 90s (1997 or 1998) by the District Government.
Anyhow, I didn’t realize this at the time, but Kilimanjaro was more than a night club. The spot was in fact a very special place. It was a mecca for Africans from all walks of life and from all over the continent in Washington: diaspora professionals; diplomats; African governments’ functionaries or military personnel passing through or undergoing some sort of U.S. government-sponsored training programs at the Pentagon or various FBI sites near DC; African business people; diaspora free-agent expats working for multilateral agencies; students like myself; African migrants and or undocumented workers in the underground economy of the city and region; and so on.
There were always two things one could count on at Kilimanjaro especially on busy nights like weekends:
- a uniquely African ambience and music from an audience that deeply appreciates it. You see, while Kilimanjaro was open to all, its primary target was the African market in DC– as in non-native Negro. Consequently, a typical Kilimanjaro crowd was predominantly home-sick African emigres, passionate Africanists, African nationalists or Pan-Africanists, not-a-few sprinkling of white liberals, many with very fun memories of their Peace Corp days in various parts of Africa, and American women who ‘want to discover the African man (this is a story for another day.)
- You’re sure to meet someone from an African country that until that day was only a name on Africa’s map for you. Before Kilimanjaro, the only Africans I was familiar with were mostly English-speaking West-Africans and Senegalese and the new African family I was discovering through my college courses. College was introducing me to my brethren from countries like Cameroon, Togo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Zaire (back then,) Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kilimanjaro would expand that frontier to include Chad, Uganda, Gabon, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Djibouti, South Africa, and so on. Over the five years’ period that I would stop by that club, I literally formed kinship with (mostly) brothers from over two dozen countries around Africa. Sometimes in a one-hour period at the place, one would run into kin from half a dozen different African countries – literally. I now know this is a powerful network that would probably take a lifelong diplomat a lifetime to build in Africa. Because of the setting -” enabling environment”, one can accomplished this in a year in Washington DC especially if this is all one is determined to do.
Come to think of it, the place was a perfect recruiting ground for Intelligence Agencies, and who knows, maybe it was. Makes me wonder how many Kilimanjaro there are outside of Africa being utilized by others for those purposes.
In many ways, this is a sad commentary on Africa because in order for one to know Africa as in my case, I had to come to America to meet and get to know my own brothers and sisters! But then again in many African countries, traveling to another African country only hundreds of miles away in the same region which ordinarily should only take a few hours by direct flight instead takes more than three or four times that amount of time because the flights are routed through Europe. And the ordinary African traveler gets charged exorbitant amounts of money for the journey in addition to the senseless waste of time! And this daylight robbery has been going on for the past fifty plus years in many so-called independent African countries! What type of leader will allow this type of wickedness on his own people? This is precisely why we need a new kind of leadership in Africa that will save us from the leeches killing us while parading themselves as our leaders. Thankfully, we seem to be at a turning point in more and more states.
Anyhow, my circle of African friends or network from my earlier years in college which I jocularly refer to as my “Kilimanjaro Connection” (though most of my friendships have nothing to do with Kilimanjaro,) is particularly useful to me when I want to get a feel for how Africans from various regions of the continent view mutual issues. I just call, catch up on life and family and ask questions. And I’ve had reason to sound out some of my friends these past six months on what they think is happening back home in Africa.
See, the death of apartheid and the emergence of the new hi-tech global economy combined to end the false debate that detractors of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah started from the late 1950s onwards just to thwart his avowed goal of uniting Africa. Dr. Nkrumah ‘s argument and logic was: Africa as dozens of fragmented mini states is and will remain weak, meaningless, and untenable. To paraphrase the genius’ main argument, he believes unless we Africans pool our resources together, build up a strong base in agriculture, industry, defense, education, health and infrastructure that will take care of our needs, we’ll remain vulnerable to being pawns of outsiders and we’ll never get anywhere. Decades later, his sermons have turned out to be prophetic.
The new African Union championed by former president Mbeki of South Africa validated Dr. Nkrumah’s argument, but for political expediency, came up with the idea of a quad-pegged model that would rely on the four key economic players in each cardinal region of the continent to carry their respective areas in the near term while a long term strategy regarding an eventual union is being graduated toward: Egypt for the North, Nigeria for the West, Kenya for the East, and South Africa for the South. This is the status quo officially. It’s a sort of gradual African union plan, the first of its kind at least in terms of how non-committal the initial arrangements seem to be. Anyhow, it is to remain so barring any unforeseen circumstances or to borrow the Latin caveat ceteris paribus – “all things remaining the same.” Well, things have changed significantly in one key country: Nigeria
Now, this may be a surprise to most Africans on the continent because of the mini-state bubbles they live in, but It’s heartening to note that there seems to be a growing consensus among African professionals who are close followers of continental events in the diaspora that Africa may have finally found the leader it’s been waiting for to act as the catalyst to spur the continent on to the next level. And if the sparks being set off catch fire in Nigeria, this could be a real game changer for the continent.
I acknowledge the great work being done by several other leaders around Africa in terms of the kind of leadership we currently need to get to where others are. This is happening in such countries like: Benin, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, and Tanzania. However, while each of these are laudable, they can only compliment the changes happening in Nigeria. The change in none of these countries will amount to much in and of themselves in isolation. Impact-wise, none of the countries cited has the capacity to effect any significant change in the African condition precisely because they cannot influence much outside their borders. Only Nigeria has the power of triggering transformative change on the destiny of the African! No other country does. This is just a simple fact. Those that are desperate to prop up South Africa on the same pedestal as Nigeria had Nigeria’s own previous corrupt and morally bankrupt leaders for allies. If the emerging and welcome trend in Nigeria continues – and I pray that it does, we won’t be hearing of any such nonsense ten years from now. Given the talent of the average Nigerian relative to the South African, these two states shouldn’t be on any comparative level if not for the tragic disease of bad leadership Nigeria has been afflicted with. Nigeria ought to be to Africa what the U.S. is to the Americas- as explicitly stated in the policy of Manifest Destiny. The only thing that most of us progressives and Pan-Africanists insist on is good clean leadership base on one’s record of impeccable personal character!
And for the record, I’m NOT from Nigeria, I’m from Gambia.
In Part2, we shall look at the man leading the change in Nigeria and why he is inspiring so many African professionals in the diaspora with a rekindled hope in an African renaissance after all.