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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Nigeria-From Tunisia to Egypt to ?:The George Bush Domino Effect?

George W Bush

Just right now,the Arab world seems to be in a ferment.The Tunisians set the ball rolling,when they chased their erstwhile ruler,Ben Ali,into exile,after weeks of popular protests.Now it seems to be the Egyptians’ turn.In the past few days,Egyptian cities have witnessed a series of protests against the government of Hosni Mubarak,the man who has presided over Egyptian affairs for the last 30 years.Although,in a vain attempt to conciliate the protesters,the president has dissolved his government,the protests are still ongoing and have shown no sign of abating.Apparently,only the departure of the president,and his family,into exile,will appease the protesters.It is safe to say,that the other security-states in the region will be paying close attention,to events in Egypt.

No matter how these events play out,eventually,in terms of whether Mubarak is forced to relinquish power or not,citizens of other Arab states,who have been chafing under the dynastic dictatorships,that seem to be the norm in much of the Arab world,will have been emboldened,by the recent turn of events there.It is a sure bet,that Egypt will not be the last country,in the region,to experience this sort of revolutionary political upheaval,in the nearest future.If that proves to be the case,then we can say that the region has experienced the “domino effect”,a chain reaction,whereby an event,say in one country,leads to a chain of similar events.

If the Tunisian revolution is the immediate and direct impetus,for the events in the region,is it not possible that the remote cause might be the democratization push,in the Arab world,by the George W Bush administration?Following the September 11th attacks,the Bush administration,under the sway of neo-conservatives,neo-cons, concluded that failed states posed an unacceptable threat to America’s security,in that they could play host to terrorist groups.A state is regarded as failed,if it cannot fulfill international obligations to which it is signatory or guarantee security throughout it’s territory.The neo-cons concluded that such a state could be taken over by terrorist groups or at the least be in thrall to them.

While conservatives are concerned with small government,free markets and low taxes,neo-cons believe that the exercise or projection of American power can only be  good and positive.Based on their analysis of failed states,and their potential for endangering America,the neo-cons decided that democratization of the Arab world was necessary,to head off the appeal and spread of anti-American terrorism.They believed that representative government,would not only make governments in the region less accommodating of terror groups,but by allowing for more freedom and rights,for the people,would be less radicalizing of it’s citizenry.

Although,contrary to the expectations of the Americans,the war on terror has proved to be a recruiting sergeant,for terrorism,it is not impossible that the vast majority of Arabs,while hating the idea of American troops on Islamic lands,were,quietly,enthused by the prospects of democracy.No matter what anyone thinks of George Bush,it would be unscientific to dismiss the link between the events in the region,today,and the Bush “efforts”,to export democracy to the Arab world,regardless of the fact that,going by the state of the Iraqi and Afghan democracies,those “efforts” could  have benefited from better planning and more commitment.Through it’s policy of regime change,the Bush administration helped to demystify Arab dictators,and that may have helped Arab citizens break through the “barrier of fear.”

Here,in black Africa,we are more constrained,not so much by the “barrier of fear”,but by the “veil of ignorance”.We refuse to see or think.We are so biddable.We insist on being divided and limited,by tribal and religious differences.We are still unable to recognize that we will either swim or sink together.We fail to see that we will never make progress,while working at cross-purposes.By focusing on our differences,we are only feeding our sense of aggrievement,which finds release in ethno-religious conflicts:witness the events in Jos ,Plateau state of Nigeria.We love to play the aggrieved victim,always complaining about being mistreated:if not by other tribes and faiths,then outsiders like the World Bank,IMF,”the international system”

There is always some “bogey”,that can be used to justify our backwardness or inertia.Of course,you would expect this from a people with a legacy of irrationality,who then went on to suffer  colonialism and the slave trade.However,despite the constraints placed on our development,by colonialism and the slave trade on the one hand,and the multi-ethnic nature of our societies on the other,no one is going to give us a free lunch.The challenge posed by ethnic plurality is real,but it is one we should face squarely,and overcome.We have no choice.The focus of popular protests does not have to be regime change.Since we know that people will defend their “brother”,we can focus on issues.And there are many of those.

Nigeria-The Road to Capitalism:Surplus Extraction,the Invention of Money as a Store of Value and the Monetization of the Barn.

Protesters Outside The World Bank Building

Capitalism is the economic system  in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for private profit; the means of production include the instruments of labour such as infrastructure,factories,machines  and other equipment,and the subjects of labour such as raw materials and mineral resources.The running and management of businesses are done by private actors in the free market;profits are shared by the owners  of businesses,while the workers  employed by the businesses are paid wages.A free market is one where government intervention is limited,to the enforcement of private contracts and the protection of property rights.

This is in contrast to socialism,based on common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production, a transitional stage leading to communism, a classless and stateless society,structured upon common ownership of the means of production, free access to articles of consumption, and the end of wage labour and private property in the means of production and real estate;as inspired and envisioned,by Karl Marx’ communist manifesto.The main difference between capitalism and communism,therefore,is that unlike capitalism,communism does not allow for economic freedom.Individuals cannot be independent economic actors,solely driven by the profit-incentive.The lack of economic individualism is a key difference.

In pre-industrial agricultural European society,where most people were engaged in one form of agricultural activity or another,the family barn was the only way to store the surplus,that agriculture had helped man to extract from nature.With the advent of feudalism,and population growth,a large section of society was dispossessed of it’s natural land.That way feudalism played a key role in the drive towards industrialization,and urbanization,as the dispossessed,having lost their lands and homes,migrated from the countryside to the cities,in search of work.Thus feudalism created a large pool of dispossessed people,without any means of support,who were as a result available for wage labour.The availability of wage labour set the stage for the rapid industrialization that the world has witnessed.With help from the entrepreneur or capitalist,who managed,organized and paid labour in order to extract surpluses from nature.

If the dispossessed had to sell their labour to live,the motivation for the capitalist was simply to make profit.The greater the surplus he could extract,the bigger his profit.But,would the drive towards industrialization have become so intensive,if the surpluses extracted from nature ,could not be stored efficiently?Imagine if the surplus had to be stored in some warehouse.How big would the warehouse have to be? Think about giants like General motors or Toyota.They would need cities to store their products.Eventually they would have run out of storage space,and been forced to stop production.The capitalist,unable to store his surpluses efficiently and securely,would have concluded that further entrepreneurial efforts were a complete waste of time,energy and resources.Industrialization would have ground to a halt.The industrial revolution would have been still-born,without an efficient means of storing value.And that efficient storage system is based on money.

Money is any object or record generally used as payment,for goods and services,or for for repayment,of debt. There are two categories:commodity money and fiat money.Commodity money is money whose value comes from a commodity out of which it is made. It has value in itself as well as for use as money.Examples are  gold, silver, copper, salt, peppercorns.Fiat money is money that has value only because of government regulation or law,like modern-day currency.Money can be used as a means of exchange,unit of account and store of value.As a store of value,money made it possible for the surpluses won by man to be safely and efficiently stored.As money evolved from the commodity phase to paper money,it accelerated the process of industrialization,as it made possible the safe storage of increasingly greater profit,the lure of which drove business investment.The point is that as soon as money made it’s appearance,society was placed on an irresistible  trajectory to capitalism.Once it became possible to store almost limitless value as a piece of paper,people became willing to invest time,energy and other resources,in order to create greater value.That is why General motors and Toyota are still producing cars.Capitalism is the natural and logical consequence of the invention of money.

But apparently,African intellectuals of the left disagree,going by their incessant and bitter carping against the Bretton Woods institutions,World Bank,IMF,and their mantra of free markets and  privatization.The main plank of their criticism,is that capitalism is inhumane.and somehow unAfrican.But this is not true.Any society that invented money,would in time have ended up capitalist.African societies already had the key element of capitalist societies:individualism.In most African societies,people enjoyed freedom of action with regard to economic activities.Lands and crops were owned and managed by families,not the public.Consider the Igbo society of southeastern Nigeria,virtually every adult had sufficient land on which to farm,the proceeds of which were stored in the family barn.Given the limitations of the barn,in terms of preservation of produce,and the fact that everybody else farmed,their was very little motivation for anyone to accumulate too much surplus.People produced just enough for their needs:immediate food-need and future seed-need.There would have been some trading with produce used as commodity-money.Imagine what would have happened if people could store excess surplus as a piece of paper.The drive for profit would have led to capitalism,eventually,independently of the western world.

Indeed,following the introduction of colonialism,and paper-money,our people abandoned farming,and embraced schooling.And all in pursuit of money,as the bank replaced the family barn.Even though,unlike Europe,where wage labourers had been dispossessed by feudalism,Africans had not been so dispossessed.Just shows that the pursuit of profit is a human instinct.We should stop seeing capitalism as a foreign ideology.No.It is a human ideology.Agreed that primitive capitalism breeds inequality,it also creates great wealth.It is up to the people to ameliorate inequality,by insisting on democracy,rule of law,education,infrastructural development and social security.With these tools,the poor today can lift themselves to great heights tomorrow.In such a socially-dynamic society,it can be argued that Karl Marx’s dream of the classless society,has been achieved.Capitalism is the way forward,if Africa should develop.The sooner we can achieve a consensus on this,the better off we will be.

Nigeria-The Tunisian Revolution:Because The President Had No “Brother”

On 24th of January 2011,Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali,was forced to flee into exile.This was the culmination of weeks of unrest,as Tunisians massed in popular protests against his leadership.After some 23 years as president,Tunisians had apparently had enough.This successful ousting of  the leader of a country has given a new fillip to “afro-optimism”.The feeling is that this revolution could have a domino-effect across the continent.That other Africans,inspired by the Tunisian example,would embrace the culture of mass-protest,as a vehicle for imposing the will of the people on the government or changing leaders they do not want,where constitutional means are lacking or have been neutered.

Could this be replicated across black Africa?It is not impossible,just very difficult.Take a look at Tunisian society.Tunisian society is largely homogeneous,unlike most black African nations.Held together by the same ethnicity,religion and the Arabic language,it was possible for Tunisians to act in concert against a common enemy,without being undermined by any tribal or religious cleavages.Being one people,it was impossible for the government to divide them,by playing one group against the other,on the basis of tribe or religion.Thus there was no group found,that was willing to defend the president,because he was their kinsman,against those from other tribes.

In much of black Africa,the president would have been able to count on the support of members of his ethnic group.The debate about his performance,or lack thereof,would never have been objective.Charges of incompetence or corruption would have been rebuffed by his “brothers”,as mere witch-hunt.This is a reflection of the multi-tribal and multi-confessional  make-up of most black African countries,in combination with a high level of illiteracy and ignorance.In such an atmosphere of mutual intolerance and suspicion,it is no surprise that most of the unrests in Africa,are of a sectarian or tribal nature.

Though Nigeria boasts many tribes an tongues,three stand out,in terms of size.These three almost-equally-matched-tribes have more-or-less controlled power,economic and political.Until recently,with the Niger Delta insurgency,all political  unrests and agitations in Nigeria have been the result of the mutual suspicions within this tripod.Nigeria has boiled,only when a member of this group has felt cheated by the other members.Political conscientization has been, mostly, limited to defending group rights,with respect to the “national cake”.Every group is exercised by fears of being denied it’s “turn” at the feeding trough.

Zoning,whether implicit or not has been Nigeria’s bane.It is responsible for the very high level of mediocrity and corruption in government.People are placed in power,not for any personal quality or achievement,but because it is their “turn”.And this means they cannot be held to account,since they did not get there,on the basis of personal qualification or abilities.The “it is our turn” mentality cuts across our political parties and underpins,and undermines,our political culture.Take  a look at the presidential flagbearers of these parties:People’s democratic party,PDP;Action congress of Nigeria,ACN;and All Nigeria people’s party,ANPP.With the exception of the PDP,probably because of the incumbency factor,all the presidential nominees of the other parties were Northerners.

This tells you that the political class is organized around  a consensus,on zoning.This mentality will make it near-impossible to enthrone a culture of merit.Wtihout such a culture,incompetence,corruption and such negatives tend to become destigmatized.In combination with the automatic support of ones “group”,such a socio-political climate will make it very difficult,if not impossible,to mobilize people,across tribal and religious divides, to coalesce around an agenda,for interpellating or changing a despotic government.

Nigeria-The Scientific Mind:Intelligibility,Legacy of Irrationality,Education and Planning.

Nigerian Students

The material universe is intelligible.Intelligible because it can be understood or comprehended.This means the world in which we live,in all it’s aspects,can be known.If the world can be understood,if the world is really knowable,then it can be predicted.If the world is predictable,then it’s behaviour must be driven by certain laws.Whether it is in the area finance,economy,health-care,social harmony,security or politics,there are certain laws at work.The universe is law-ordered.In order to dominate his environment,as is man’s duty and ambition,it is necessary for him to discover these laws and understand their operations.

Man is an intelligent being,withthe ability to grasp,learn or understand things.Man’s teachability,not only in his ability to learn,but also in his capacity for teaching others,led to the invention of education.A process for transmitting knowledge,skills and values from one generation to the next,education is man’s great ally,in his task of understanding the world around him.Education is about building predictive capacity.Education is about helping man become scientific:one who believes that the universe is subject to reason.That it is possible to generate accurate predictions about the world from certain premises and assumptions.Education promotes faith and confidence in the competence of reason.

Reason is a faculty that enables man ascribe a causality to physical phenomena.In other words,things do not just happen,they are caused.This allows him to describe and understand the world in terms of cause and effect.The ability to exercise reason is a feature of rationality.Our people(Nigerians) are intelligent,like other human beings.But how rational are we?While intelligence is just a capacity to comprehend,grasp or understand things,rationality goes deeper.Rationality also includes the ability to make decisions on the basis of cost-benefit analysis.This means being able to take decisions that are necessary to achieving goals that are desirable,whether at the individual or group level.

The truth is that the Nigeria we have today is no accident.It is the product of the missteps of the past.By the same token,the Nigeria of the future will reflect the decisions we take today, or fail to take.Whether we acknowledge it or not,one plus one will always give two.Facts cannot be changed by denial.A better Nigeria can only result,if we all make good decisions today.We have to learn to plan.There is no free lunch anywhere.As the saying goes,”those who fail to plan,are planning to fail”.Just like houses which deteriorate physically without proper maintenance,nations are subject to the law of entropy:disorder increases with time.This is an idea we have to get hold of.We have to work to create a better Nigeria.A good education system would be of immense help.

In advocating a scientific mindset,i am not saying that everybody should be a scientist or engineer,though we need plenty of those,no.I am suggesting that our education system be primed to teach the idea of causality.To emphasize the principle that our interventions determine the state of our world.Especially at a social level.The irony is that the least scientific people,socially,are those with science or engineering backgrounds.Our scientists,doctors and engineers are some of the most socially unconscious and narrow-minded people around.And this,because their graduate-education did not include the humanities:history,literature.I studied physics,so i know.This narrow education means they are unable to appreciate society as a social organism,interconnected,which suffers as a whole if any one part hurts.It is a paradox that in order to promote a scientific orientation,we need to teach scientists and engineers the humanities.

See you in the comments.

Nigeria-The Church,The State,Political Activism,”Boko-Haramization” and Majoritarian Bullying.

Faith Tabernacle,Otta Nigeria

The concept of separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. Writing  to the Danbury Baptist Association,in 1802,Thomas Jefferson,one of the founding fathers of the United States of America,declared, “…I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.“TThat wall of separation envisaged by Jefferson,was based on the idea that both the state and the church would better retain their purity and integrity,if separate.

Recently,calls have gone out for Nigerian clerics to become more politically active.Based on the philosophy that there is no contradiction between personal salvation and political conscientization,these calls have urged them to see their privileged positions as bully pulpits,from which to task the authorities,on governance and corruption.While,on the face of it,this sounds like a good idea,on closer inspection it does not look so great.The idea of the church or any organized religion,as a body,becoming entangled in partisan politics could prove disastrous.Three main reasons stand out.

First,if the church were to become closely identified with the state,then if the government proves to be incompetent or corrupt,then by association,the church also would be tainted,leading to loss of it’s moral authority.Second,once  the church gets involved in partisan politics,the potential for religious conflict,which is already high,would be even higher.In a multi-confessional society,the moment the church becomes partisan,you can expect an equivalent degree of  political radicalization of the other faiths,giving further impetus to “boko-haramization”.(The Boko Haram is a sect with islamist ambitions, which,allegedly,claims inspiration from radical islam).With these groups opposed to each other,we would be only a step away from  having armed religious militias.Adding religious conflagration to our many problems could prove fatal.Recent events in the city of Jos should be cautionary.Third,social,cultural and religious minorities already under the cush of majoritarian bullying,would become endangered species,if organized religion were to be allowed even more say than it already enjoys.

As a born-again christian,i sometimes wonder what life would be like in certain non-christian theocracies,where christianity is heavily circumscribed.Imagine being subject to life-style restrictions based on another person’s revelation:what you can eat,drink,wear and confess,being prescribed people of different religious or social orientation.?This is the fate of social and religious minorities wherever the state is under the thumb of organised religioun.Religious leaders,just like their followers,as individual citizens have very right to participate in partisan politics.When they do,however,they have a duty to pursue their goals,using demonstrably and manifestly secular vehicles and methodologies.Partisan use of God’s name has been grievous for mankind.Think Ireland,Yugoslavia,suicide bombings,What do you think.?

The Colonial Economy:The indigenization of Colonialism and Under-development.

Underdevelopment is a term often used to refer to economic underdevelopment.Countries considered as underdeveloped,usually have symptoms such as limited or complete  lack of access to job opportunities, health care, drinkable water, food, education, housing and state  welfare programmes.Underdeveloped nations are characterized by a wide disparity between their rich and poor populations, and an unhealthy balance of trade.In my opinion two main factors drive underdevelopment:(a)corruption and (b)dependence on primary products.Although corruption hinders development because it leads to mis-allocation of resources,which are then not used to their full socio-economic potential,the focus of this article is the dependence on primary products and how it fosters underdevelopment.

50 years after securing independence from Britain,Nigeria remains an underdeveloped pre-industrial nation. And this,because it’s economy has remained colonial,being based on the colonial model of primary products exports.Colonialism,a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders,was founded on a given economic arrangement,whereby produce from the colonized territory,the colony,is exploitatively extracted for exports to the colonizing territory,the metropole.Produce is used to refer to a group of farm products in their natural state.In other words,these natural resources have not undergone any form of value-addition.This includes crude oil.The colony was administered by the colonists,the people from  the metropole,who lived like lords,as befitted conquerors.

Colonial society was thus unequal,consisting of priviledged colonists and poor indigenes providing the labour for the sustainance of the system.After independence,this arrangement did not change,except that the administration of the system was indigenized as educated Nigerians replaced British officials.The colonial education system,which  was designed to produce clerks/bookkeepers rather than productive workers,was now expanded to churn out masses of bookkeeper-graduates.The idea was that educated people would take the place, status and  living standard,of departing colonists.While the Chinese and Indians,with their capacity for deferring gratification,sought to produce productive workers,our school system was engineered to produce black ‘colonists’.While first-generation Chinese and Indian graduates were lucky to own bicycles,Nigerian graduates expected to live like lords.

We failed to see the mathematical limitations of this arrangement.Our resources were finite.The introduction of an army of bookkeeper-graduates into the work-force was not accompanied by relevant value-addition.And we expected resources which had sustained a few hundred colonists,to be sufficient for thousands and then millions of local people being churned out by the universities.It is a cinch that such a system as this will deliver only increasingly diminishing returns.A consequence of this substitution was the fostering of a culture of entitlement.People just want to share the “national cake”.Nobody really wants to work to create a better society.Educated people just want to wave their certificates and secure high-paying jobs.Never mind how those certificates were secured.Just get a bunch of those papers and you are in clover.

The Chinese and Indians have shown that education and training should be about equipping people with skills.With those skills,people can go out there and produce things and create wealth.Only by creating rather than just consuming can any society become wealthy.We should emphasize education that prepares people for a life of creativity,and promotes the work ethic.Our people have to realise that they can create far graeter wealth using their brain and energy,than that under their feet.Any Nation that relies solely on the exports of primary products,without adding value to these products,will remain underdeveloped,a mere trading post.And Nigeria is no different.

“Developing countries  have an unequal trade balance which results from their dependence upon primary products (usually only a handful) for their export receipts. These commodities are often (a) in limited demand in the industrialized countries (for example: tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa, bananas); (b) vulnerable to replacement by synthetic substitutes (jute, cotton, etc); or (c) are experiencing shrinking demand with the evolution of new technologies that require smaller quantities of raw materials (as is the case with many metals). Prices cannot be raised as this simply hastens the use of replacement synthetics or alloys, nor can production be expanded as this rapidly depresses prices. Consequently, the primary commodities upon which most of the developing countries depend are subject to considerable short-term price fluctuation, rendering the foreign exchange receipts of the developing nations unstable and vulnerable. Development thus remains elusive.”

If possible i would have made this post shorter.Sorry.See you in the comments.