An Open Letter to Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group

by Ade Adewolu

Dear Sir Branson,

I have just finished reading ‘The Autobiography – Losing My Virginity: Richard Branson’ – I would like to confess that I am overwhelmed by the detail, scale and depth to which your honest desires, drive and convictions are expressly stated. If the world has any desire to survive the turbulent times, people like you should be studied as part of academic curriculum in schools and universities. Your philosophy – although you modestly stated that you have none – should become a key element in the curriculum of general studies and especially in the graduate schools of business and economic programmes. Your efforts are noteworthy and have started inspiring people like me. I am writing this letter to point out that you ‘Elders’ have already identified the root cause of the problem of Global Warming and human catastrophes in Africa. The bit that is left is the negotiation to modify the existing institutional framework to enable the action-plan you have suggested to be implemented.

In The Autobiography, the various thoughts and action-plans of the ‘Elders’ as part of resolving the on-going threats to world peace and global warming are encouraging. The failure of the United Nations to establish peace and equity is quite unfortunate. These are not contestable facts. You and other Elders have already laid out the needed alternative route to resolving the most serious problems. What is necessary is the ! enabling system that would facilitate a process whereby the dreams and aspirations of the common people are actualised. This, alongside the competition on ‘Climate Prize – Virgin Earth Challenge’ is the subject of this letter. The approach towards solving global greenhouse crisis in Africa is the focus of this submission.

I would like to state that in The Autobiography, everything that needs to be done is already outlined. What is missing from the strategies is the context in which they should be applied. In Africa, specifically, efforts (by Elders) are now in place to ensure ‘Trans-frontier Conservation Area’ (TFCA), and the ‘Peace Parks’ (pp 554-555). This, no doubt is a valid, ecologically sound effort which should simply be extended to Africans themselves.

The history of modern civilizations shows that Africa had modest and comparable growth with the rest of the known world up till as recent as the 16th – 17th Century AD. In a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of London in 1956, Kenneth Dike stated that Benin Kingdom was exchanging ambassadorial envoys with Portugal as far back as the 12th – 15th centuries. In the Old Oyo Empire, the ancestral home of the ancient Benin Kingdom, history has it that Benin Kingdom was not the most powerful kingdom in the empire. The substance of this argument is that pre-colonial and pre-slave trade Africa had a stable urbanisation. The dearth of able-bodied African men and women crippled any meaningful growth thereafter. Coupled with this is the artificially imposed geo-political boundaries that in turn divided the historically founded kingdoms and empires for the economic benefits of the colonial initiators. The implication of the 1884 – 1887 Scramble for Africa/Berlin Conference is still the major defining role in the economic growth and political structure of the African continent till the present time. Without undoing the legacy of the Berlin Conference, it would be difficult to address the fundamental issues on which progress and economic development in Africa rests. Stated mildly, the divided kingdoms and the resultant ecological imbalance resultant from the unfortunate process of partitioning a wholesome entity is till staring the world in the face to this day.

You would agree with me, Sir Branson, that the 1887 Berlin Conference on ‘Partitioning of Africa’ as well as the need for oil and other mineral resources in the evolving (industrialising) economies that participated in the partitioning process finally ‘nailed’ coffin of any hopes of an authentic African civilisation. The examples are many. Why most African countries would never imbibe democracy in the true sense of the word is because they (the countries) exist and are based only on the agenda of their colonial masters.

In 1998, in the conduct of a research assignment for the UN-Habitat, I had the unusual privilege to visit the poorest country on the surface of the earth: Guinea Bissau. Bissau, the capital city had no tarred road: mode of transportation was just a number of overused, old Mercedes Benz cars bought by an individual. There were no secondary schools in the capital city: mode of education was simply a primary school structure, complemented by a three year vocational system. As early as 10am any working day, the schools are informally closed for the day as the male students engage in football games and the girls are almost too ‘ready’ for ‘whoever cares’. Can anyone then wonder if there is any scourge of HIV/AIDS in such a society? We may never hear of it as the country has no oil, is not rich in diamond, and worse still, does not speak English, therefore, ‘smart ones’ would not easily emigrate to Europe or the Americas.

As I read through your books – ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life and Business’, and ‘The Autobiography – Losing My Virginity: Richard Branson’, at times, I weep uncontrollably, and, at times, I laugh aloud alone. My conviction had always been that only Africans can and would solve African problems, and that the conglomerates all over the world are the same, caring only for themselves. I am pleased to state that you – Sir Richard Branson – have convinced me to the contrary. There is a lot of work to be done especially in Africa, and globally in general. The positive thing is that there is a workable road map. Tedious and challenging the terrain may be, but surely and slowly, we would get there. The world needs people like Richard to make the necessary impact and change for the difference that humanity – and, indeed – Africa truly deserves.

Deductions from the resolution of the Elders forum show clearly two major feasible but complementary routes at this point and I would summarise them under these sub-headings:

• Remove the Geopolitical Boundaries: The geopolitical boundaries of countries of Africa are artificial and should be removed. Before the ‘Scramble for Africa/Berlin Conference’ of 1884/1887, most of the entities existed as city-states, kingdoms and empires. Their lifestyles, ecological balance and urban morphology were based on valid, place-specific lifestyle. There were cities. The urbanization was comparable to that of the reigning world powers. As recent as the 1970s, India, China and Africa (except Apartheid South Africa and probably Rhodesia) were categorised as ‘Third World Economies’. But because of African opportunists on the corridors of political power – military and civilians alike – Africa has remained backward while the rest of the world is advancing. If the political boundaries are removed, most corrupt practices and insincerity of countries and injustices would disappear. If it is beneficial to African Lions and Kenyan Leopards, it is equally beneficial to African people.

• Restructure the Political Institutions: A restructured political institution – especially in Africa would be beneficial to all. Strange as it may sound, it would take the collective resolve and decision of the economic powers of the world to bring this change about. Fortunately, the key players in Africa – Presidents Mouamar Ghaddaffi (Libya), Umar Yar’Adua (Nigeria) and Thabo Mbeki (Republic of South Africa) are (to different degrees) eager to see the change. A clear recognition of the regional bodies like African Union (AU), NEPAD and other similar organizations – and working through them would transform African Region into a viable entity. The role of the AU Chairman would be similar to that of the American president and there would be mayors of the existing cities to coordinate their activities – similar to the American Congress, the Kremlin or the European Union.

In conclusion, it is clear that there is hope for Africa in spite of all the odds. A former Director General of the UNICEF stated that poor African countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea produce enough food for the annual consumption of their people. The only problem is storage for a year-round preservation between the time of harvest of one year and the following year’s harvest. The UNDP (c.2000) clearly stated in Nigeria that there is abundance of manpower in all the advertised posts throughout their programmes. Obviously, human capital and natural resources are in place. What is needed in Africa is the direction and effective management of the abundant human and material resources. Surely, the Elders forum can help facilitate this – if only to get Africa out of the depth of man-made and organised disaster. It is important to state that in spite of the huge populations of China and India, central government structures in place and unrestricted movements of the people have helped to liberate them and Africa can borrow from their experience. Like every c! confederacy in the world, emulating such examples would do Africa a great deal of good. What is needed now is a detailed agenda for a positive change

If implemented, this simultaneous approach would cripple the excesses of the likes of President Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) as well as other dictators and oppressive regimes in Africa. With goodwill, there is hope for Africa. If African problems are solved, it would reduce the social pressures in other parts of the world.

Thank you.
Yours sincerely


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Henry, Kimeng October 16, 2010 - 9:56 am

I did not quite get the message in Richard Branson Autobiography that you tried to highlight. but in any case if the west stops exploiting Africa and our goods are valued correctly we may catch up. All the woes plaguing Africa plague the west but the good thing is the west are not still being colonised as we are and their resources are not be stolen as we have in DRC, Chad, Cameroun and Nigeria among others whose resources have been plundered by the west.

ozav ukonga June 18, 2008 - 2:54 pm

is this ade adewolu. the architect. sounds so much like him. he was my lecturer in ahmadu bello university, zaria, nigeria. would really like to get in touch. its been a decade.


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