The Africans Of My Youth

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade” (Chinese Proverb)

During my formative years in Lagos, Ilorin, and Jos, people, places, culture and politics were all part of my everyday existence. Especially people. And so people are at the center of this treatise. Forgive me if I profusely effuse over the Africans of my youth. Forgive me if I sound too nostalgic. Forgive me I idolize them and idealize a time that once was, but now seem to be on the passing. I grew up at a time when giants roamed the African continent. I grew up at a time when — to borrow a popular parlance — “men were men.”

These were persons of high intellect and strong persona. And even those lacking formal schooling walked and spoke as though they were products of Makerere, Ibadan, Harvard Cambridge, Ife, and other great institutions. Most were charismatic, introspective. And most were large, and in some cases, larger than life. Comparing then and now, one could say “nature and nurture” no longer create such men (and their female counterparts) in great numbers. Although a few of such personalities are still around, their numbers are dwindling. My guess is that most Africans, of admirable standing, now live in the West.

Ronald Wilson Reagan it was who said “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation.” Forgive my sense of disillusionment, and hyperbolic language; I am inclined to think Africa of the last fifteen years will be hard-pressed to name two hundred Africans, living in Africa, who are of the same or comparable in status to those of yesteryears. The newer generations seem not to have measured up to the previous ones. Perhaps the values and priorities are different; perhaps times are different. That said; it is not lost on me that every generation has its own heroes and heroines, bastards, beacons, crooks and vagabonds. And indeed, every generation has its distinctive culture and value system.

Let me say, here and now, that the Africans I have in mind were not gods or saints. In fact, most made very bad political mistakes. But that’s not what I am after; this is not about their failings and shorts comings. I’ll leave that to others to write and talk about. This is about a group of people who stirred my soul and made me think and wonder; this is about a group of people I was fond of: a group of men and women, scattered all over the continent, whose deeds, talents, courage and pronouncements gave me the impetus to imagine life’s endless possibilities. In spite of its follies and foibles, the Africa of my youth was a nourishing estate.

This is about a group of men and women who secured our independence. This is about Africans who were proud to be Africans. This is about men and women who walked the unknown path despite its challenges, and who crossed stormy seas and spiked tributaries in search of our liberty. These are Africans who gave their lives just so we may live, go forth, and prosper. Others were singers and song writers, painters, lawyers, members of the armed forces, and of various vocation and avocation. They touched my life and the lives of my friends, my equals, and the public.

In the Nigeria of my youth, we read about these men in the pages of the dailies, books and magazines; and were also told about them by the grownups. I don’t remember them all now, but I do now remember Amílcar Cabral, Adu Boahen, Agostinho Neto, Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Sam Nujoma, Moses Olaiya, Tunde Nightingale, Camara Laye, Oginga Odinga, Julius Nyerere, Dennis Brutus, Mariam Makeba, Kenneth Kaunda, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Joshua Nkomo, Obafemi Awolowo, Benjamin Adekunle, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Salim Ahmed Salim, Tai Solarin, and Ibrahim Adetunji Taiwo. The list goes on and on and on. And really, one could create a Nigerian-only list comprising more than seven dozen of such group of people.

Sadly, the life and times of these and other men are not properly documented in books or in movies. Africans are not very good at writing biographies and autobiographies. When our leaders, intellectuals, artists, and heroes die, we mourn their passing for a week or so and then go about our daily lives. There are hardly any monuments or institutions named after them. Streets may be. But there are hardly ever books and movies dedicated to their lives and accomplishments. What a shame! It is my hope that this essay will nudge a reader or two into looking into, document, and then celebrate the life of Africans who lived for us. At the very least, I am hoping that some readers will develop interest in the life and times of these giants, and be thankful of their struggles and sacrifices.

Somehow, one gets the feeling that the younger generation does not care about a time and a place that was once. It is almost as if they have no sense of self and of history; as if they have no sense of the society they are growing up in, and as if they have no sense of the men and women on whose shoulders we rest. If Nigeria is any sign, the African continent is in peril: she faces the dearth of unique talents. Where are our orators and philosophers, economists, and scientists, and especially artists in the mode of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Haruna Ishola, E.T Mensah, Dan Maraya, Bobby Benson, Osibisa, and Rex Lawson? Is that era over? I hope not. Africa has a lot; she still has a lot to offer the world.

Written by
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
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