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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Poverty, Security and a New Generation

They asked for ID (you need an ID to breathe in America now) and I pulled out my green passports (three stuck together, many visas, as Nigerians we require visa to exist) in resignation. As expected he says, maam, you need to step aside… and so began the second search of my person and possessions in a walled off corner of the security gates. Post 9/11 l know that by virtue of my nationality I am high on the security random profiling list for terrorism (plus drugs, 419, child trafficking and prostitution), why l don't know for sure. All day they had been announcing that the security alert has been raised to orange and last night l had watched reports of the botched terror attacks in the UK. As l endured the indignity of the search, my mind is on this unwinnable war on terror. What will it take to make the developed world a safer place? We on the other hand are used to living in an unsafe world and before someone shouts about lack of parallels, consider the numbers that die daily from malaria, AIDS, TB, childbirth, armed robbery attacks, air and road accidents and such in a country like Nigeria. You might argue that the terrorists (politicians) in most African countries are within but one cannot deny the cumulative effect of colonial legacies, complicit multinationals, unfair trade laws and tacit support for bad governance whose trail leads right back to the developed world. Even if it is to stem mass migration, reduce the inequalities that are the tools of fundamentalists or just create new markets in youthful economies, the west must consider other methods of achieving internal security.

As l flew out of Aspen l noticed that there were even more private jets parked than usual, expected as some of the heavy hitters are flying in for the institute's ideas festival. The likes of Gen Powell, Bill Clinton, Richard Branson and Wyclef Jean. One of the high profile items on the agenda is the concert by jean and the focus on Africa. It would appear these days that you cannot get away from Africa talk.
When my friend Jide downloaded the 20 covers of this month's vanity fair 2 weeks ago, we were both peeved that there we only 3 (2 non resident in Africa) Africans amongst the stellar cast on the covers. Naturally we began talking about who is talking for Africa now and what they really know and this tiring unending image of Africa as one monolithic mass of dejection. I had my copy of the magazine with me during the search and watched as the security officer carefully (with gloved hands and gauze covered spatula) rift through it. My mind is fixated on those gloves and spatula, thinking how it is that doctors don't have these in some hospitals in Nigeria.

During one of my session in ACT II, the conversation was on global business and creating job opportunities to the poor majority of the world. I recall making the point that the tendency to see the poor as a non-viable inferior entity that must be helped is erroneous and is at the heart of the inability of the developed world to engage Africa on terms other than as a homogenous aid needing tragedy. Kimberley, our moderator then raised the issue of the controversy that aroused during the TED conference in Arusha, were some young bright entrepreneurial Turks of African origin had more or less heckled Bono and protested against the aid based approach to solving Africa's problems.

I do admit to a sense of disquiet about this new breed of crusaders and their methodology although l am persuaded of their passion whatever its root and find campaigns such as Bono's ONE Campaign compelling. To think that spending $200 billion a year will only amount to 1% of the budget of the "rich" world seem such a little thing to ask for. Should the money go into aid or investment or a combination of both as well as whom and what the conduits for such monies are is the real thrust of the matter. The West usually talks to the wrong people about Africa, l know this to be true certainly of Nigeria. They may talk the talk but only because they have learnt to do so. Finding and engaging those who actually walk the talk and most probably have no time (too busy trying to fix what usually is a basket case of misery) or the learning to talk it is the real challenge.

As a new generation of Africans insist that they must be engaged with and perhaps spearhead Africa's recovery, l call into question what their moral authority on, commitment to and knowledge of the majority poor. I am constantly faced with the emotional detachment of the new emerging middle, business and intellectual class of Nigeria to the challenge of reducing poverty. This generation may be more exposed and more educated than their forbearers but are they not just as guilty of the lack of understanding that leads to the sort of decisions, which widen class, and opportunities divide? Rampant cronyism, in trading and borderline criminal business collusion with dubious government officials is still the norm in corporate Nigeria. I have many young Turk pals with outstanding degrees from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world who are advisers, consultants and officials in governance and business, what l see frightens me.

This is not to cast aspersion on all because there are those who are genuinely concerned with building truly prosperous economies in their nation but we need to turn this harsh questing light on ourselves to evolve a self sustaining, self policing system which encourages
prosperity and freedom.

As this generation asks such hard questions and make tough demands of herself then we can confidently engage the growing army of external messiahs and leverage their collective star, intellectual and political power to pull ourselves and our people, majority of who are poor out of the abyss. Then the world will be forced to stop reducing us to a single dejected picture. Lets take a cue from Lee Kuan Yew who decades years ago went against the grain of popular ideology of the time and invited western business just so he can start with giving his enterprising people jobs so they can at least feed themselves, whilst he puts in place radical educational and economic policies that were the building blocks of today's prosperity and superior world image. I know it is not as easy as all that but that is the point exactly it is not meant to be easy but never has their been globally a generation more prepared, more virtually connected and more capable of achieving such audacity.


Anonymous said...

"WORD"... You don talk am finish..
Equality is a subject that should be taught in schools the world over, at all levels... 'cos we all need to understand that we came into this world as equals...
until then we are stuck with poverty...

Anonymous said...

I share ur sentiments. Per security searches on grounds of terrorism, I have not dealt with the humiliating searches by virtue of being and having an American passport. But, I promised myself I would cover extensively the treatment of Africans especially Nigerian males when it comes to so called searches based on terrorism. It is ridiculous and very humiliating! When I confronted particular airline officials for such humiliating searches in Amsterdam after preliminary searches had been done and all that was left was to board the planes, they told me Nigerian males had a reputation for dealing drugs. As to the new hybrid of young intellectuals and middle class and their disconnect with the poor, your points are well taken. While I do not expect these well intended persons to kick it in the "ghetto" for lack of a better word, I expect a dialogue with both the poor and elite decision makers to really get a full sense of how decisions are made at the top in behalf of the poor and their effetcs. Per Bono, I think trade and aid can co-exist. I am all for his efforts and continued campaign but there is always room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Funmi again you have eloquently identified the varied issues affecting Africa.
The million dollar question is how do we go about achieving these.What should be the first issue to address and the approach to adopt.Questions abi ?
I think we should have an organised forum where we set out objectives of rescuing Nigeria, and ways of going about it. Maybe just maybe we could agree on fundamental steps we could take as citizens and with oneness agree on the steps.Sounds optimist but hey i`m a Naija !
Something as to be done, and we are the generation that can do it.
God willing.Amen

Chude! said...

Oh, FI, Oh FI, Oh FI, your incomparable depth precedes you!! I have been for days now looking for the words to wrap my round around this VERY same issue, andyou have done it perfectly!

Every line, every phrase in thsi post deserves to be underlines, but this I will particularly highlight:

"As a new generation of Africans insist that they must be engaged with and perhaps spearhead Africa's recovery, l call into question what their moral authority on, commitment to and knowledge of the majority poor."

Indeed I find that this new generation that so 'insists' do so only for reasons of ego rather than any genuine desire to power change nay any viable alternatives for same. You do not want to talked down to, so you would rather people died?

This misguided agitation is in fact a million times more dangerous for the continent than the megalomania or messaianic complex with which they accuse the Bonos and Jeffrey Sachs.

Anonymous said...

We all are living with the traumas of extra-judicial security and overzealous attitude of defending the "homeland"...rightly so, Africa has now become a poster child for all wannabes charity campaigner celebrities in the western world; but are they engaging the right people in this discourse or using these grandiose events to refurbish their own battered image while aligning with the crook African politicians(terrorists) at the detriment of the rest of us and our continent?!
Great post as always!!

Afolabi said...

I am personally tired of seeing Africa as these peoples source of pity and the failed country(yes, some think Africa is a country) they have to aid. It is appalling the way the African continent is exploited. But, I believe if young people in Nigeria(the growing intellectuals and professionals) put to use their skills, a whole lot would be achieved. Hey, but most people who make up the above mentioned group are running away from the country.

Anonymous said...

i like this entry. a few thoughts:

i see nationality as a flimsy construct in matters of 'deliverance'. i think a huge chunk of the problem is that we have this smug "i'm from (insert country)" air about us and we hold on to it so tightly that we can't see past the smoke. take me, for instance - i'm nigerian, i go to college abroad, most of what i know about my country is from nigeriaworld.com, i was taught more about western culture and history when i was in school in nigeria than i was about what it means to be nigerian. so how do i go about discovering this "nigerianness"? how am i that much more nigerian than bono? what are the streams of apathetic residents of nigeria (not all, but enough) doing or planning on doing about their "own" country? they are the ones that live without light, bad roads, fear, etc. and somehow, that hasn't been enough to generate any mass hysteria in the direction of change. when is this change going to come?

granted, i know too little about a country i can only take in doses of 10 days at a time...yet, however curious this may seem, i DO love this country and i DO want to be part of the solution. spending time abroad has not robbed me of that privilege. it's going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to fix this nation and whatever my hands can do, they will. i do my little bit, Oprah does her big bit, the world is a better place for it.

God bless the people who are toiling day and night behind-the-scenes - there will always be people who are too consumed with their calling to worry about publicity. still, God bless the Oprahs, the Bonos, the Gateses; everyone who is color-blind enough to see gaping holes in developing economies (*cough* africa) & toil day and night to fix them as best they can.

we are human, we err. it'd be great to have an idiot's guide to nation-fixing where everything is laid out in black and white. it'd be great to devise a foolproof way of doing several of the things you've mentioned...but in the absence of all the answers, i respect and admire the people who are possessed enough to jump into the deep end without floaters or standby helicopters. thank God there are people who don't have philosophies of "e go beta", "we go manage am", "God go do am", "na so we see am" hampering their progress...

burdens for change need not be so color-coded. we are all fundamentally human and that is about all that is required. i share your views on the "new generation" with our suspect charity events et al...but i'd much rather be doing something to improve someone's situation than leave things as they are. we pray for a new breed of visionary young people who can direct our resources for maximum benefit. until they make themselves known, we do what we can, as we can.

africa should take it upon herself to lift herself up. i'm all for that, too. however, as she makes up her mind on the whens and hows, she might like to use the crutches the west have ever so kindly thrown her way.

p.s. i think you're fantastic and i'm dying to meet you!

snazzy said...

with regards to security in the developed world, this is the best piece I've read on the subject


As to whether the new generation is committed to poverty reduction, only time will tell. Cos words matter not a thing. Still I will say that free markets are better than the alternative and at least these guys are for the most part committed to it (though i suppose they also wouldn't mind cartels and oligopolies) Later

Anonymous said...

Dear Funmi,

Well written, well analysed. I like your style

Funmi Iyanda said...

@all, please tell jeremy to organize that online forum on our generation and the challenge of poverty eradication. l know the seeds are in his mind.
@blue, eri mi wu!
@chude ;)
N.B where is catwalq, no reply to my email, did l get the add wrong. looking forward to meeting you.

Chxta said...

Catch 22 situation really. Need I elaborate further?

Anonymous said...

I quote Funmi: "This generation may be more exposed and more educated than their forbearers but are they not just as guilty of the lack of understanding that leads to the sort of decisions, which widen class, and opportunities divide?"
Leave the big global picture aside for a moment. Observe how most privileged Nigerians handle their domestic staff, etc, in fact anyone who counts as their "underling" (including wives for the men and children for the women!) and it will shed light on how ruthless ego and contempt for others has totally ruined our society. As a nation, we do not believe in equality, hence do not practice it, or even aspire to it.

Femi Adeyemi said...

a nice read...as Nigerians and Africans, we have to look inwards in our quest for change....no amount of help from the outside world can better our lot as a nation...until we all strive to want to achieve the best for ourselves and our fellow man (or woman)in the interests of society and the common good, im afraid we'd remain caught up in the vicious cycle that is under-achievement and under-development...God bless Nigeria and Nigerians...Amen!

Ms. Catwalq said...

naija is making me all peeved.
if u see my post on banibaraje.blogspot.com, u will understand why