You may have my bag but not my friends.
An exhortation on not allowing circumstances and people who know no better rob you of the wealth of intercultural relationships in our diverse, complex and globalized world.
MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BAG–WHY ME?
I was the last one to walk out of the airport arrival hall at Gold Coast in Australia. I had all the customs and immigration officers to myself, nearly a dozen, yet I gave them absolutely nothing to do. I not only had nothing to declare, I had no bag! Apparently, my only checked-in bag on the three-and-a-half hour NZ 179 flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Gold Coast, Australia had never been loaded onto the plane in the first place. I had waited and waited in vain for it until when nearly everyone on this very full flight had left the baggage hall and Carousel 6 was literally bare, I approached the Baggage Counter to complain about my missing travel companion.
The chap at the Air New Zealand counter was very nice but his assumption that I was going to be in Gold Coast ‘forever’ fascinated me (I’m surprised I wasn’t annoyed).
“Oh sorry sir but your bag will be delivered to you at home tomorrow,” said he.
“Tomorrow? Who told you I’ll still be here tomorrow,” I quizzically retorted.
It was obvious he felt he was doing me a great favour by offering me special at-your-door delivery but I was not amused. Not only did I need the items in my bag today; I was not going to be in Gold Coast in the morrow. This was a 24-hour meet and greet and off to Adelaide, another two-and-a-half hour flight to the western half of the Australian subcontinent.
By now my mind had begun to formulate various plausible permutations why I alone (for I saw no one else approaching the Baggage Counter to lodge a complaint) had my bag delayed. Why me? What was so unique about me that my bag would be singled out for NOT delivery? The only other thing I knew made me different was that I was the only Black African on the flight. Did this have to do with anything?
Interestingly, as I passed through the Auckland airport earlier I had taken a photo in front of the All Blacks memorabilia shop and tweeted “I wonder why I feel so #welcome. #AllBlacks vs #WhitesOnly. How the times have changed–this one, for the better. #NewZealand rocking it!” Did someone spot that and nab me? Was I too quick to praise New Zealand for progressive race relations? Did this bag saga really have anything to do with my Black skin at all? It is easy to read racism into nearly everything once you’ve been a victim of that dehumanizing attitude and act, I must admit. I resist that. I resent that, even.
MYSTERY OF INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS–SO WORTH IT
All those thoughts and feelings totally dissipated once I set eyes on the last two people left in the welcome area: Julia and Billy-Jo, two of my special friends from the 1997 cohort of the World Vision Youth Ambassadors! Sooo worth the hustle! I had had the privilege of being a World Vision Youth Ambassador for Ghana in 1996 and had the additional honour of returning in Julia and Billy-Jo’s year as a staff intern, together with Claudia from Colombia.
Julia had represented Canada back then and for her, this was our third in-person meeting since 1997 (Prague 2015, Ottawa 2021 and now Gold Coast 2023). But Billy, I had not seen in-person at all since our teenage years! Billy-Jo (yes, she was the first lady I met called Billy–she was way ahead of the gender conversations today!) was the Youth Ambassador from New Zealand. Again, the first Pacific Aboriginal I had ever met, a beautiful Maori, inside and out. Billy’s since become a senior nurse, married to Matt (great guy!) with whom she has three children and migrated to Australia. Interestingly, both Julia and Billy-Jo’s husbands are called Matt. Julia’s Matt is American while Billy’s Western Samoan.
What an incredible day of food, fellowship and fun we had all day, at home and at the Burleigh Beach. The unadulterated love, the open-hearted learning, the deep laughter… What a precious gift we received from Dr. Jerry and Mama Ruth Chang of World Vision Taiwan a quarter-of-a-century ago, a gift that keeps giving, even today.
Now I’m glad our children are getting to know each other as well. The gift ripples on. Just before my family permanently headed to Ghana after a dozen years of being resident in Canada, Julia’s two girls and my brood had a whole day together at their home, right outside of Ottawa, Ontario. In fact, even in the midst of the jamboree we made a WhatsApp video call to Ghana for my older girls to say “hi” to their Canadian sisters. And now that I’ve met Bella and Asher, Billy’s last two (the oldest is away playing rugby and doing school in New Zealand), we have already started conversations about getting them to visit Ghana!
MYSTERY OF INTERDEPENDENCE
Friends, that’s how it ought to be. People are people, made in the image and likeness of their divine Creator, and made to link up with that source, live, love, learn, and lead, leaving a good legacy. Becoming a World Youth Vision Youth Ambassador was a life changing experience–50 young people from 50 different countries. That opened my mind a lot and opened the world to me. As I’ve said before, “My heart expanded and has never been able to shrink again.”
Back to the mystery of the missing bag. For sure I felt very special, having been singled out for some (or no) reason. For good or ill, that’s a conversation for another day. Suffice it to say, this has been a fascinating week, beginning on Monday March 6 in North America (Toronto, Canada and Houston, Texas, USA) with a celebration of the land of my birth’s Independence Day and her renaming from ‘Gold Coast’ to Ghana. I was now ending the week in another Gold Coast, of Australia. The same chaps christened and colonized both; on either side of the equator. What we really need in this world, from individuals to nations, is interdependence; not dependence or independence per se. We were made for this! And we all ought to live the way we were purposed to in order to flourish personally, as families and communities, in the corporate world and among the commity of nations.
In the mean time, you can have my bag but you won’t rob me of the richness of interdependent, intercultural relationships. Never!
FROM PROFESSOR TO PICKETER: The Lost Generation and the Missing Money
Ghana is neither worth living for nor dying for. That’s how many feel at the moment. Honestly. Think about this: I’ve known Uncle Kweku since his graduate student days on the University of Ghana campus. I was only a lad then. He would later complete his graduate studies, an MPhil in linguistics, and top it up with a PhD from Oregon, USA.
After an illustrious career as an academic (see his brief bio here on the University of Ghana website) he not only retired as a full professor but even served as Pro Vice-Chancellor of Ghana’s premier university. What do we find the illustrious son of Ghana doing these days? Picketing on the premises of Ghana’s Ministry of Finance to demand that the government exempts his and fellow pensioners’ bonds from being sequestered in the dubious Domestic Debt Exchange (DDE) programme. I know for a fact that virtually all of Prof. Kweku Osam’s pension monies are in these bonds. Ei! A former Chief Justice also picketing alongside the other day is reported to have said, “I am over 70 years now. I am no longer government employed, my mouth has been unguarded, and I am talking, and I am saying that we have failed.”
“BACK TO THE FUTURE”
When Uncle Kweku overtly verbalized to the media in an interview on one of the picketing days that he would dissuade his children from ever investing in the Government of Ghana’s financial instruments because “they are risky,” he seemed to have read my mind. Seriously. For while I agree that it is despicable to draw the aged into this DDE debacle and punish pensioners who have planned well for their future and lent their own monies to government to work with, I have an even greater concern for the young people of the country who might take decades to recover from this rude shock. It has taken years to grow a savings and investment culture in Ghana.
As previously started in an earlier article on this matter, “I am pained that, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Ezekiel 18:2). For over 20 years now, The HuD Group and I have championed a culture of savings and investments in Ghana, and had the JOY of seeing thousands heeding the call, especially young people.” I recently met one of the young men I used to travel the country with to inspire and teach young people to form investment clubs and start investing. He’s currently the managing director of a major investment company in Ghana. He intimated how this whole DDE disaster made him shed several kilograms over a month, being at the receiving end of verbal and other forms of abuse from frustrated and fearful investors. At the time we spoke, people were withdrawing an average of 100 million Ghana Cedis each day from his outfit. He had already dispatched 2.5 billion Ghana Cedis when we held our conversation.
BACK TO THE PENSIONERS
So what exactly are we working for? The calibre of pensioners-turned-picketers is disheartening: doctors, engineers, civil servants… If retired professors and chief justices are protesting, what about the no-namers and the many who are too old or too ill to hit the streets? I am privy to a WhatsApp message Prof. Kweku Osam sent that was meant to be just informational, but ended up being very transformational for me:
The last time I took part in a public demonstration against a government of Ghana was in May 1983, as a fresh graduate student. That was when students in the country rose up against Rawlings and his PNDC. Today, God willing, I’ll join fellow Pensioner Bondholders to protest at the Ministry of Finance. The government should leave Pensioner Bondholders alone. Touch not the Pensioner Bondholders.
Think about it: Uncle Kweku began his working life protesting the government. Forty years later, he is ending his working life with yet another anti-government protest. Virtually all his lifesavings is now being held at ransom by a government that has misled and mismanaged her affairs, Covid-19 and Russia-Ukraine notwithstanding. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness between the 1983 protest and the present one on the eve of our sixty-sixth independence commemoration, Ghana itself is a pensioner by age, without much to show for it. We’ve got to do better for our people, old and young alike. Seriously.
Prof. Osam’s generation–my parents’ generation–is the same one the current Finance Minister, Uncle Ken, belongs to. It is the same crop of people who plotted military coup d’etats a generation ago in their youth. Now they won’t exit quietly either, not without a financial coup de grace. With trepidation, dare I call them the lost generation? And they did not only lose themselves and their way, they lost money–theirs and ours.
But to what will my generation and those following rise, having clearly observed that Ghana is not worth living for and Ghana is not worth dying for? That’s how many feel at the moment. Honestly. Think about it.
O National Cathedral of Ghana: My Hopes and Fears Have Met in Thee.
In the interest of full disclosure, first of all I am a Bible-believing, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled African Christian. Secondly, at the time of writing, I have no membership of any political party—just a citizen who passionately loves his motherland and has served both major political parties when called upon. Finally, I comment on the National Cathedral of Ghana matter primarily as a missiologist and leadership scholar. These thoughts were largely shared on the Cit FM/TV current affairs programme The Big Issue on 21st January, 2022. The crux of my submission, that the project be halted and audited, was also carried on Citi News Room here.
THE THING THAT I FEARED HAS HAPPENED
My first article on the proposed National Cathedral of Ghana in August 2018 was entitled in a manner that exposed the battle that raged within me upon hearing the president of the Republic of Ghana announce his vision to put up a national cathedral. It was an inquiring heading: “National Cathedral: Vulgar or Virtuous Venture?
In it, I confessed “my unwholly holy initial thoughts, honest-to-God,” sharing my initial skepticism about the project, mainly concerned about it being a mere political scheme to siphon monies, only with a nice religious façade. Secondly, I questioned the prudence of it amidst the poverty and sheer lack of basic infrastructure and public services in a developing country (NB. This was before Covid would hit and make everything that was bad, worse). Thirdly, I was wary of the perilous path of Europe where centuries old grand cathedrals now only stand as emblems of a once-upon-a-time vibrant Christendom while the faith itself is dying today, precipitously. Even then, one need not cross the oceans to note the dangers of religious opulence over pragmatic faith. Just look next door, right across the Ghana border to the near-white elephant of the Notre Dame de La Paix in Yamoussoukro, whose proposed community-impacting hospital as an attachment to assuage the papacy’s guilty conscience is till yet to see the light of day, thirty-two years later.
As I studied the cathedral proposal further, especially as an African missiologist, its merits rose above my cynicism and mounting hopes tamed my fears to the extent that I was willing to give the project a chance, even my support. In fact, not only was I present at the foundation stone-laying, I wrote a cogent trilogy about how even the president might not be fully aware of the extent to which Almighty God may be using him to accomplish His glorious purposes in and through Africa, especially considering this unique moment in history where the once derided “dark continent” now has more Christians than any other continent and will double that lead by 2050, with more Christ followers than the next two continents (Latin America and Europe) combined! In fact, a summary of the trilogy even made its way into the Cathedral’s published magazine.
Over the last couple of years since then, I have found my faith in the project on a slippery slope back to where it first began, with supposed scandal after seeming scandal and allegation upon allegation that rival the corporate sins of the Arthur Andersons and Enrons at the turn of this century (if not making them pale in comparison), that do not befit an edifice for the King of kings. The opacity in the project’s financial dealings, including estimated project costs, eye brow-raising fund transfers and amorphous government seed money, make nonsense of the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. The purpose of this rejoinder is not to dive into each of the smudges and spots on the project but to put on record that while I have enumerated prior at least a dozen reasons this could be a virtuous project, like ‘the greatest man in the East’, for me too, “the thing I greatly feared has come upon me” (see Job 3:25-26). I seek to document for posterity my revised position on the National Cathedral of Ghana for not only are my values being violated, the very faith in whose name this edifice is being erected is endangered.
NOODLED & NUANCED
This cathedral matter is a very nuanced one and thus requires the highest levels of leadership competence, care and character to navigate it. What do I mean? Four things. First of all, the president is not a king; he cannot just pronounce edicts, fiats and decrees at an enlightened citizenship. Secondly, we don’t live in a theocracy, but in a fairly vibrant democracy (although admittedly we are a pseudo secular state with our national anthem and pledge referring to ‘God’). Thirdly, private-public partnerships can be a tricky dance. And finally let’s face it, things are hard socioeconomically right now!
As if all of this is not enough, the president in particular hasn’t shown the kind of great leadership in casting vision (constantly, compellingly, creatively) and galvanizing the people from the grassroots. To make matters worse, the government itself has lost the trust of the Ghanaian people with its economic mismanagement, real and imagined, poor emotional intelligence in matters like this and poor consultation culture–from this cathedral issue through the recent e-levy saga and even current Domestic Debt Exchange debacle.
Then the process itself has been fraught with paucity of information and poor communication, poor governance (really governance 101), low accountability and too much opacity. In fact, in my frustration the other day while preaching on an Ephesians chapter five text about leading and living in the light I bellowed, “Stop the Cathedral in the name of the Lord!”
Don’t get me wrong. There are pluses about this project. Many. Between my initial article and the subsequent trilogy you will easily find a dozen cogent reasons why this could be a virtuous venture, including how the cathedral is more than a building (although the Africanization of it, its tourist attractions and income generation nature per se are all something to write about). The fact that the cathedral has a mandate to be a convenor of national conversation and debate warms my heart.
If the government had kept to its initial promise of providing “just the land” and only “seed capital,” I’ll be at peace. It is for the body of Christ to build this cathedral to the glory of the LORD, but considering the nature of Christianity in our Ghanaian public sphere and the prime place of faith for the African this is a nuanced matter. Any good government would have a keen interest in this matter, hence the sense in situating the NCG in the country’s capital city’s ceremonial core to provide “the missing link” (words of the architect) as a final piece of a national puzzle. Apparently, the other national pieces are all already in place: the people’s place (international conference centre, national sports stadium), the people’s representatives’ place (parliament building and State House), the peoples’ heroes’ place honouring the dead (Osu cemetery and adjoining military cemetery).
Granted, it isn’t everyone who is able to appreciate that we are a building a nation here; not just an eclectic collection of utilitarian infrastructure. That’s how come although we still have children learning under trees we still have national stadia and presidential edifices like Jubilee House and Peduase Lodge. To build or not to build this cathedral is really a nuanced and noodled matter that requires a certain high level leadership that I, honestly, haven’t seen on the horizon.
THIS ISN’T A ZERO SUM GAME
As a missiolgist, I believe that even the president does not fully know or understand the magnitude and implications of his vision. His initial vision may have been personal but vision is often progressive and it is possible He is being used by the Sovereign God in ways the man himself cannot fully comprehend, let alone the masses crying out against this vis-à-vis the impoverished state of the state. In order not to repeat the dozen or so cogent reasons why this project can be worthwhile, I will strongly encourage you to take a look at trilogy 1, the second part and the final installation, all from March 2020.
GOING FORWARD: SEVEN STEPS
1. STOP! STOP! STOP!
This may very much sound and look like the ‘STOP WORK’ in red paint on uncompleted building projects by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) yet, I see red flags all over this project that require concomitant red paint markings all over it too. This is not from the AMA this time. Just “we the [Ghanaian] people” saying, “STOP WORK!”
Secondly, let us get any of the so-called ‘Big Four’ global auditing firms in the country to do a thorough audit of the NCG secretariat, board of trustees and other associated names like JNS Talent etc.
Sometimes those AMA signs not only read, “Stop Work” but continue with “Produce Permit.” I would say for this cathedral project, in conjunction with step one, let us also “Stop Work and Produce Audit.” The result of the audit will help clarify our next steps—if even this project should continue at all, and if it should, how.
3. CALL FOR CONVERSATIONS AND DEBATE
Let us on purpose have a broader conversation and debate of the best minds and hearts for the way forward. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” said the wisest man that ever lived. And this is a sagacious king who could’ve easily ignored the counsel of others. Interestingly, he put up the most magnificent temple in the whole world in his day, for YHWH. Even Africans like the Queen of Sheba travelled long distances to come and see. If we want to see the reverse today, others come from elsewhere to behold the magnificence of the NCG, then we had better consider wise, broad-based consultation.
In my humble opinion, this government has been unbelievably militaristic; so non-consultative! Yet the thing is that even if people do not agree, they will support the project, or at least not be as antagonistic, because they have been seen (recognized) and heard. Conversations and debate will cause the significant groundswell needed for such a massive national venture with international ramifications.
4. GIVE OURSELVES TIME
If from the pause, audit, conversations and debates it becomes apparent that this project should continue, then we must give ourselves time. This cathedral doesn’t have to be built by 2024 and ready for a January 2025 swearing-in. That is precisely part of the problem with this project: the fact that the president is in a hurry to put this up while he is in office.
While a sense of urgency is good, undue pressure because of time crunches leads to many mistakes and often unethical behaviour, no matter how hitherto virtuous one’s cause. For example, this strange exchange of over two million Ghana Cedis between a whole national project and a private individual’s company obviously happened because apparently the project couldn’t wait for government funds to clear (this issue is under investigation, and rightly so). Besides, things are über hot in the economy right now, Ghana’s caught up in a socioeconomic inferno. It is wisdom to let both the times and tempers cool off.
If this is truly a national cathedral and not H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo’s pet project, then it should stand the test of time by traversing other administrations—perhaps two or even three terms down the line, including opposition parties—and be owned by all and sundry. If is by the good people of Ghana it for the glory of Almighty God, then we are not in a hurry. When we are not in a hurry we can think properly, do things appropriately, follow due process… Time is money and time will save us a lot of money—and a multitude mistakes.
5. TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Even some corporations have more transparency and better governance than the current supposedly religious project. Anathema! If this is truly an edifice to the Most High God then there cannot be even a hint of inappropriateness and misappropriation. As it stands now, not only has there been too much darkness and opacity surrounding a building that is to be a Lighthouse for the nations; too many allegations and suspected scandals that even some ordinary government projects cannot rival.
My mind goes to another cathedral project’ in ancient times where it was said, “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). I’m afraid we cannot say this of the NCG people or process so far.
6. LET GOD’S PEOPLE BUILD GOD’S BUILDING
The government of Ghana has done more than enough, giving the land. And way more seed than was my impression at the start of the project. If this sanctuary is really for the LORD then let’s let the Body of Christ in the country build it. And yes, we can! Christians have literally put up thousands of edifices strewn across the length and breadth of the country, ‘from Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta.’ Let the Church do this for the glory of Almighty God. We thank the generous government of Ghana for the head start but no more government/tax-payers’ funds, please.
Let God’s people be able to say, like in Nehemiah’s day, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Whenever God gives a vision, He also makes the provision. But if this venture isn’t of God, then we are on our own; it will be hard.
For a number of great cathedrals that have been built, people have felt so privileged to be a part of the history-making that they have voluntarily given, not just of their substance but of their very selves. Carpenters, masons and other artisans and professionals have offered their services for free, and not the case of exorbitant amounts being paid to the current architect and others. In my opinion, the celebrated architect should feel so privileged to do this for God and country that he does this gratis! You tell me how much we paid the designers of our national flag and presidential stool; or composers of our national anthem and pledge.
7. WORK AS PASSIONATELY ABOUT OUR ‘SOFTWARE’ AS WE ARE ABOUT THIS ‘HARDWARE’
By software I mean our values, our paradigms and attitudes etc. The nation is so full of poor work ethic, corruption, filth (environmental and figurative), incompetence, dishonesty, lack of integrity etc. yet we want to build a magnificent cathedral for God. There is so much grievous poverty in the lives of the majority yet we want to put up this ceremonial and celebratory infrastructure at a cost of $400 million in the heart of Accra. The scriptures are replete with what God requires of us, first and foremost, and it is not so much physical buildings as that our spiritual, social, mental and emotional states reflect His glory; also, that our physical bodies will be hallowed as His temple. So as we are excited about the hardware (physical building of a cathedral), o how I pray that we are equally excited to work on our values, attitudes, morality, ethics, true selves, true faith and integrity. We also ought to disciple our sectors and systems of Ghanaian society so that these reflect a people that believe in a righteous and excellent God, the Most High.
Despite the bold vision of the NCG, we haven’t as a people or leadership displayed the kind of competence (eg. vision casting, convincing communication, broad consultation), character (eg. transparency, accountability) and compassion (eg. sensitivity to the present economic plight of the Ghanaian people) that a project of this magnitude demands.
I believe if we took the above seven steps, that should put us in good stead and hopefully lessen the painful memories and bitter aftertaste that this project would otherwise bring us. I do not believe the NCG is an entirely vile venture; but neither will it be entirely virtuous without great leadership in its purpose and process. Repentance and restitution must take place where the audit finds wrong and the best way forward forged as a body politic. The virtues in the idea of a national cathedral can be redeemed and the dead and near-buried hope and glory resurrected. This project can still bring God glory and bestow blessing on not just Ghana but the nations of the world if we would be quick to vanquish the evils that crouch at the foundation and front steps of this edifice. But for now, both my hopes and fears of these past six or so years have come to a head in this embattled National Cathedral of Ghana project.
It was heart-warming to find that a couple of the National Cathedral’s Board of Trustees members, namely Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Rev. Eastwood Anaba, reiterated my January 21 call above to ‘stop work and produce audit’ barely two days later, January 23, 2023. It was soon followed by a formal press release by the chair of the Board, Rev. Prof. Opoku Onyinah the next day, following a January 23, 2023 Board of Trustees meeting at which they agreed to engage Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, to carry out an audit.
The hope expressed in the final paragraph of the said press release is mine too: “It is the hope and trust of the Board of the National Cathedral of Ghana that once these nagging issues are satisfactorily dealt with, the public interest and confidence in the project would be restored and rekindled to enable the citizenry to contribute generously to complete the Cathedral to the glory of God.”
Meet Uncle Ebo, the People’s Uncle.
Everyone calls him “Uncle” without even thinking twice about it. Whether young enough to be their son or old enough to be their grandpa, “Uncle” is everyone’s uncle. A voice of reason, counsel in season, James Ebo Whyte, affectionately known nationwide as “Uncle Ebo” is the people’s uncle, hands down.
Mr. James Ebo Whyte is the CEO, heart and brain behind Roverman Productions. He is nationally acknowledged as an accomplished, award-winning playwright and highly sought-after motivational speaker. James Ebo Whyte constantly challenges Ghanaians to think more about the world they live in and the contribution they make to it. Just the day before the October 7, 2022 Live2Lead conference at which he was speaking, he unveiled to his drama troupe his 51st play in fourteen years! A hearty congratulations to the prolific playwright.
INTEGRITY IN THE ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
At Live2Lead 2022, Uncle Ebo was the only gentleman among three distinguished leading ladies from the corporate and entrepreneurship spaces as well as the public sector. Their first job was to respond to the submissions on “Leading with Integrity for the Common Good” made in the earlier hour by Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ashesi University. Uncle Ebo held our attention as he raised issues of integrity in the arts & entertainment segment of Ghanaian society that he had with intentionality decided to counter, like giving kickbacks from corporate sponsorship. He uttered with conviction, “there are sponsorships we know we’ll never get for our plays because of this.” And he’s fine with it, as he knows that integrity comes at a cost.
One of the most amazing feats of Roverman Productions has been putting up a new play every quarter for the last decade-and-a-half and resolving to always start on time, also a matter of integrity. In fact, one of the participants at Live2Lead, a corporate governance expert, interjected that one reason she chooses to go and see Ebo Whyte’s plays is that she can guarantee they would commence on time. Again, Roverman has gone against the tide by ensuring pristine toilet facilities at their play venues and three levels of security at events to ensure patrons have a heavenly experience and leave with no bitter taste in their mouths. To the people’s uncle, excellence in these areas is a matter of integrity.
OF TEENAGE FOLLY AND GAMBLING
We intentionally wanted to leave the Live2Lead conferees on a note of hope, especially hope in Ghana, and Uncle Ebo did not disappoint. While admitting we have mega challenges in the nation he reminds us that we’ve not only been in worse times but also that in the annals of nation building globally, at 60 years Ghana is only a teenager. The national happenings that leave us in consternation are akin to teenage tantrums and this too shall pass. We do have quite a degree of national folly though, which we need to be cured of, he confesses.
Uncle Ebo’s belief in Ghana is so solid that his parting words were the following: “Whoever bets against Ghana will lose.” For a full buffet of this scintillating conversation look out for a recording of the hitherto livestreamed video (currently only available to paid participants) or invite Live2Lead to rebroadcast in your context (company, community, church etc). You don’t want to miss Live2Lead 2023 on October 6, next year, Deo volonte. Pinned on the first Friday of each October, National Leader Day after National Leader Day, building a leader at a time and one centre of excellence at a time, we shall surely get to the Ghana we want. And who knows? Perhaps sooner than other nations have.
Meet Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential Historian Extraordinaire
Doris Helen Kearns Goodwin is an American biographer, historian, former sports journalist, and political commentator. In 1964 Kearns received a bachelor’s degree from Colby College, Waterville, Maine, and in 1968 she earned a doctorate in government from Harvard University, where she later taught government.
Goodwin won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in history for her No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (1994), and in 2005 she published Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which focused on Lincoln’s management of his presidential cabinet. The book served as the primary source for Steven Spielberg’s biographical film Lincoln (2012). She later wrote The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013) and Leadership in Turbulent Times (2018). In addition to her works of presidential scholarship, Goodwin wrote Wait till Next Year: A Memoir (1997), about growing up in the 1950s and her love for the Brooklyn Dodgers. She also served as a news analyst for NBC and as a consultant for Ken Burns’s documentary Baseball (1994).
TO LEARN OR NOT TO LEARN
It breaks my heart when I hear a famous statement like, “The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history” (Georg Hegel, German philosopher). Yet of a truth, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” That quote is most likely writer and philosopher George Santayana’s, and its original form read, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While leaders must not live the past, they certainly must leverage its lessons for today and tomorrow.
Consequently, in a fireside chat with John C. Maxwell at Live2Lead on October 7 this year, Doris will share key leadership insights gleaned from her decades of experience as a presidential historian, public speaker and Pulitzer-Prize winning author. The leadership lessons learned from some of the greatest leaders in our history provide timely clues on how to navigate the current condition of the leadership deficit we are experiencing today.
Come and up your personal, professional and leadership game at this year’s Live2Lead conference. Register now through this link. Nag your organization until they join this rising movement of learning leaders that will transform society by becoming a Patron of Live2Lead. A Patron company or individual is one that sends at least 10 leaders to Live2Lead. There’s no way we can have at least 100 such Patron organizations and companies in Ghana and not transform it, one centre of excellence at a time. Together we can change our country and continent for the better! Let’s do this! Register HERE, NOW.
From One Legendary Leader in the Evening to Another One in the Morning–a Tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I was emailed this incredible tribute by a mentor of mine in the Lausanne Movement, Dr. Michael Cassidy, to his late friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that I just had to share as a student of leadership. What impresses you most? May many Cassidies and Tutus be raised in our generation!
Tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Founder, African Enterprise
Honorary Chair, The Lausanne Movement
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of South Africa’s greatest ever luminaries, both ecclesiastical & national, has gone to be with His Lord. People from every race, sector & background will mourn his passing, because he was a man for all who stood without fear or favour for the human rights of all.
Perhaps it is as an almost unequalled African champion for human rights that he will be most fondly & universally remembered. And it was for this that he justly became a Nobel Laureate.
In South Africa his immensely courageous fight against Apartheid earned him the fearsome opprobrium of the National Party Government, the settled hostility of most whites, but the thankful adoration of all people of colour, as well as more liberal whites. In fact, from the church, his voice during those dread years, was by far the most audible, & his persona by far the most visible. This audibility & visibility constituted a true achievement of note & contributed powerfully to the final fall of Apartheid.
As far as we were concerned in African Enterprise, Desmond was a friend to our work & contributed powerfully to conferences we organized or helped organize such as SACLA (South African Christian Leadership Assembly), the NIR (National Initiative for Reconciliation), & The Rustenburg Conference which represented the whole church spectrum & spoke to the whole range of political leadership from far left to far right.
At a personal level I also counted Desmond a good friend. He commended numbers of my books, including my recent Memoirs, & wrote the Foreword to my book The Politics of Love. We also shared in significant ministry together in African Enterprise’s city-wide mission to Kigali, Rwanda, a year after the genocide. That was very moving. I especially remember ministering with him in terrifying cells of pitifully jammed together prisoners. And then being with him as he collapsed in tears in one church filled with skeletal remains of murdered victims. There I saw his profound compassion poured out. Even as we tried to hold him up. Such shared moments one can never forget, culminating in our sharing the evangelistic preaching to a packed stadium in our final service.
And all this Desmond could do in spite of the fact that we had strong theological differences on certain issues such as Universalism & Gay Marriage. But he never allowed those to damage our friendship. And neither did I.
Thankfully in our recently produced documentary, The Threatened Miracle of South Africa’s Democracy, Desmond features strongly, both during the Apartheid years, but even afterwards when he severely scolded the ANC of Zuma’s time saying, “I’m warning you; I’m WARNING you; you are a disgrace!” No one else had that truly prophetic courage, credibility & ability to speak to all sides, all the time, AND be heard!
Yes, we will miss him… “the Arch”, as he was affectionately known, even by the media. But his legacy of prophetic witness will live on wherever South Africa’s story is told, & wherever racial justice & the Human Rights struggle are in purview.
To his dear, always supportive wife Leah, to his family, to his ministry colleagues, especially in the Anglican Church, we in African Enterprise world-wide extend our deepest sympathies, & assurances of heart-felt prayers at this time.
Dear Desmond — Beloved Arch — thank you for blessing us with your life. Au revoir. We will see you in the Morning.
Founder of African Enterprise
What #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself Both Got Wrong
Earlier this year, my homeland Ghana was in the news again, trending on social media for all the wrong reasons. Citizens were tired of apparently failed campaign promises and mounting socioeconomic challenges from illegal mining destroying our ecology to pot holes, no, man holes, in our streets. All of these complaints were bundled together in a #FixTheCountry campaign that made a dent in Twittersphere. Some ill-advised government sympathizers then began a #FixYourself counter-tweet, which only added insult to injury. A much more compassionate and smarter response, which might’ve calmed nerves, would’ve been #LetUsFixItTogether but be that as it may, as a student of leadership let me show you how both sides got it wrong in the first place.
There are officially over 360 definitions of leadership. The simplest yet most profound one that makes the point I seek is this: a leader is a Person who influences People to achieve a shared noble Purpose. Although there are three ‘P’ players in this equation, the tendency for most, and not just Ghanaians, is to focus on the third ‘P’ (Purpose), in this case the country that needs fixing. That makes sense because it is often what pinches and the thing we would’ve been sweet-talked about during the animated political campaigning prior to elections. So the citizenry said #FixThePurpose and what some government functionaries did was to then shift what needed fixing to the second ‘P,’ the people i.e. #FixThePeople.
As I prepared to speak to alumni of the Central Leadership Programme a couple of weeks ago on ‘The Impact a Transformed Leader Can Make‘ it dawned upon me heavily that while both sides of the hashtags might bee sincere, they are both sincerely wrong. The most important ‘P’ that fixes the other two ‘Ps’ is the Person of a leader! We can cry #FixTheCountry all year long and hear a minor counter-chorus of #FixYourself all year round but until the primary hashtag and passionate focus becomes #FixTheLeaders, it’s all a waste of time, energy and a whole lot of other scarce resources!
PRINCIPLES AT WORK
You might not like what I’m saying, or even not believe in it, but the thing with principles is that they are timeless, universal truths that don’t care a hoot what you and I value. As the famous director of the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments said, we cannot break commandments, we can only break ourselves against them. Until our leaders are transformed, the people will not be transformed, neither will the situations that need transformation. In other words, until and unless the leaders are fixed, the people will not be fixed and the problems will not be fixed. It doesn’t matter how sincere and passionate we are about the latter two, we would ironically only be breaking ourselves against leadership principles, rather than fixing anything.
In transformational leadership, the following principles hold true:
Principle #1: Transformational Leaders are transformed first, then their community (from family to town/city to district to region to country and continent)
Principle #2: The Person (of a Leader) gets fixed first, then the People, before the Purpose
Principle #3: Only deeply transformed leaders can deeply transform society.
PORTRAITS OF THE POINT
In my talk, I shared examples of the impact transformed leaders have had on society, irrespective of the era, whether 2,000 years ago like Zacchaeus, 200 years ago like William Wilberforce or barely 20 years ago like Nelson Mandela. When Zacchaeus, the short and filthy rich chief tax collector, encountered the rabbi Jesus Christ, he was transformed. That’s what led to his unforced famous declaration: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
What do you suppose was Zacchaeus’ impact as a transformed tax leader (say, as the head of the Ghana Revenue Authority)? If every African politician since 1957 said and did similarly, not only will we hardly have the poor amongst us, our socioeconomic indicators will drastically improve overnight as Swiss banks and vaults are emptied swiftly! That’s the impact a transformed leader (#FixedLeader) can make in transforming a people and a context. This brings to the freedom two more faith-based transformational principles: #4 No one can truly encounter the transformational Jesus and not be transformed and #5 No one can be truly transformed by the transformational Jesus and not transform society.
These principles are again exhibited in the modern story of William Wilberforce and the contemporary biography of Nelson Mandela. You might want to check out the video of the said talk to appreciate how the transformative societal impact of both, also came from the fountain of their personal transformation as leaders. For Mandela, see the quote below that summarizes well his transformation and transformative leadership:
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki makes the point for me about fixing leaders first to get the product in society we want in this video. He challenges incumbent African presidents as follows: for whatever kind of Africa we want, the question is, “what sort of leadership do you produce to get that kind of result?”
It’s easy to be impressed by Wilberforce’s purpose, which he influenced thousands to share in: ““God almighty has set before me two great objects: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” But what you might not know is that his wasn’t always a noble story. Although young and gifted, his biographer Eric Metaxas wondered, “But to what would he rise? For beyond making it to Parliament and succeeding there …he had no dreams. He was ambitious and he was talented, but he was also directionless.” Years later Wilberforce himself remarked, “The first years I was in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.” What changed everything and began a life-long pursuit of the abolition of the slave trade and emancipation was how all that pre-occupation with himself, his status and ‘success’ began to change in 1784 (at 25) when he started to explore the religious faith of his youth. Again, the transformed Person he became, influenced a People to transform, and together they transformed and reformed the world!
Citizens are powerful. “Power to the people,” was the mantra in the revolutionary days of the 1980s in Ghana. I was a only a lad but I still remember. And it is true. But leadership is incredibly important, as everything rises and falls on it. True, citizens (People) can use their thumbs to vote leaders (Persons) in and out of office and press their demands on them. True, citizens can campaign ad nauseam about the plights and dreams (Purpose) that matter. All I’m asking is that if principles are true and cannot be broken, then our strongest and loudest campaign should be #FixTheLeaders. If we do, the people will be fixed (#FixYourself) and so will the country (#FixTheCountry). There’s no other way around this. If we do not go this route, come 100 years from now, those two #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself hashtags will still be trending. We would only have have successfully recycled unfixed leaders of fixed colours every four years while the country itself remains unfixed. Leaders must fix themselves first, then serve and influence the people to be fixed and together, fix the country.
As someone with an advanced degree in leadership and being a leadership practitioner across various industries and on every continent, I do reckon that this issue is nuanced. It takes an entire ‘leadership ecosystem’ and multi-dimensional, multi-directional processes. Yes, I agree there has to be 360 degree leadership. We can play around with all the possible permutations there are but we fool ourselves without this primary transformed/transformational leader —> transforming people —> transformed society piece. It is akin to what will be referred to in Chemistry as ‘the rate determining step.’ If that (#FixTheLeaders) doesn’t happen and in ample time and measure, we will still be arguing about #FixTheCountry and #FixYourself 100 years hence. We’re in a fix (pun intended).
Born in the Month Ghana was Birthed, Nii Ajorwor Ampa Perbi is here!
It is always an honour to get to name someone or something, especially a seventh biological child. The historic and prophet names of the other children have been explained in the past here.
Our seventh, and final, child was born on March 2, 2021 at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Canada. In accordance with our Akan (Yaw’s) and Ga (Anyele’s) traditions of Ghana, we named him on the eighth day, the same day of his birth, Tuesday, a week later. Like all his siblings before, the 3.895kg champion, whose 54cm height excited the obstetric staff because it’s over the 97th percentile, has been given a name pregnant with historic and prophetic meaning. And his name shall be called NII AJORWOR AMPA PERBI. Here’s what each given name means:
All the older six siblings are called Nana, an Akan title meaning prince(ss) and also signifying God as King. Nii is the Ga equivalent of Nana.
Over a dozen years ago, with inspiration from the life of the patriarch Abraham we felt called out of Ghana: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” So we did, leaving a great life in Ghana to start from scratch in Canada. The commission came with a commiserate blessing though: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
It’s been nearly a decade-and-a-half since our being called and sent forth and we feel we’ve really and truly been blessed by the LORD in every sphere of life–physically, spiritually, socially and academically (which was the original door open in Canada). Ajorwor means “we’ve been blessed” or in context, “God has blessed us!”
And we are blessed not just qualitatively but quantitatively too! We had one child at the time of the promise, now we have seven times the number of children! Every child is a blessing, a reward, a heritage from the LORD and an arrow for waging life’s battles and extending the glory of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Indeed our quiver is full, and the Psalmist says we are blessed for having a quiver full of arrows!
Ampa is the baby’s maternal grandfather. When we felt it would be appropriate to name our last child after this noble man we didn’t know Nii Ajorwor would be born so close to Ghana’s Independence Day, March 6. You will soon understand the significance of this. Initially called Kwame Patterson, great grandpa changed his name to Nii Ampa Sowa. He left to study Industrial Management at Leeds Polytechnic, United Kingdom, in 1958, a year after Ghana’s independence from British colonial rule.
Asked by his cousin Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, one of the ‘Big Six‘ founders of Ghana, to come back to help him run his Ministry (Foreign Affairs), he returned to Ghana and became his Personal Assistant in 1960. In 1963 when Ako-Adjei was arrested in a political frame-up, Anyele’s grandfather was arrested too. He was released from Usher Fort and Nsawam prisons after six months detention. He left the civil service.
In 1965, he joined Parkinson Heward (builders of the Tema industrial municipaity) as a bookkeeper. In February 1966, when there was the coup d’etat by the National Liberation Council that ousted Kwame Nkrumah’s government, Parkinson Heward was asked to leave the country. He vowed never to join politics again… hence Anyele’s dad’s aversion to politics! Nii Ampa Sowa passed away in 1980, while Anyele’s dad was pursuing his graduate studies in Canada, where Anyele was born.
Interestingly, Ajorwor (“we are blessed”/”we’ve been blessed” in Ga) combined with Ampa (“true” in Akan), Ajorwor Ampa means “truly blessed!” So we have been blessed indeed; but blessing is a mountain with no peak. There’s so much more where these blessings came from and we trust that Nii Ajorwor not only represents blessings past but is a divine sign and a symbol for many more blessings to come to our Perbi family and through us, to all nations! Welcome, Nii Ajorwor Ampa Perbi! Akwaaba!
Black History Month | Africa Leads the World
There is no talk of Black History without faith, especially the Christian faith. PBS recently released a fascinating Henry Louis Gates Jr. documentary on the Black Church. What some dubious people tried to oppress and suppress black people with became the very thing that liberated us and is now giving us a global leading edge.
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. The year 2018 was the first in history where there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world! (Johnson 2018) THIS IS A BIG DEAL!—this is a one-thousand year record held by Europe that has been broken by Africa in our lifetime. That makes me super excited about Black History Month this year because history is being made right now. As you read this, a number of continental Africans and those of African descent in the diaspora have synergized to birth a new network known as Send Africa to promote further faith formation among ‘unreached people groups’ around the world.
At the formal launch of this Send Africa Network online on February 24-25 during this 2021 Black History Month, my Kenyan friend, Sam Ngugi, and I will be launching a ground-breaking book entitled Africa to the Rest to celebrate this huge feat of Africa becoming a leading global force of faith to the rest of the world. This book is to “celebrate this momentous occasion in world history that has been inadequately highlighted by mainstream missions and missions. It traces some of God’s goodness to Africa in the Bible and throughout history until now to make clear that Africa and Africans have been central to God’s missional purposes; not an afterthought.” You may register for the Send Africa Summit here.
CAPTURED & DISTORTED HISTORY
Of course Africa features in the Bible from start to finish. There were actually two black guys (among the five) that played hands on the apostle Paul and commissioned him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13). Africa is the cradle of monasteries and ecumenicsm. The term Trinity came from Tertullian the Tunisian. St. Augustine was from Algeria, and not a European as we were made to believe growing up in Africa.
As Sam and I state in our book, “People consider Christianity as the white man’s religion to oppress the African due to the last 500 years of Euro-American missionary activity mixed with colonialism without realizing that the first 500 years A.D., Africa was so synonymous with Christianity that one of the most common terms for Christians in Arabic sources is afariqa–indicating a significant degree to which “Christian” and “African” were synonymous concepts (Merrills 2004, 303).”
In fact, the subtitle of our book is “from mission field to mission force (again)“ because Africa(ns) as a mission force first impacted Europe with the Gospel! That notion that Africa first evangelized Europe is the essence of Thomas Oden’s book titled How Africa Shaped the European Mind. “My core hypothesis,” Oden himself says, “is that much intellectual history flowed south to north: from Mumidia to Sicily to France and Italy. It flowed from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Danube. It flowed from Pelusium to Gaza to Cappadocia. …There is ample evidence available that the seeds of African orthodoxy have been lifted by high winds to distant northern climes. Only much later have they returned to Africa in a Western guise.”
Only a century ago, at a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, not only was there no continental African there as a delegate, we were described as “heathen” in need of being saved. Today there are more Anglicans in Kenya than in England. At the time, the continent had 9 million Christians while Europe was home to 406 million. Today, Africa has over 630 million Christians, a clear 30 million more than Latin America in second place with Europe in third place with 571 million Christians. And it’s not a nine-day wonder, for by 2050 (Deo volente), there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the next two continents combined! (Johnson 2018)
It is good to know that Africa leads the world in something. There are churches that began in Africa and are in 198 countries now. The largest congregations in Europe are pastored by Africans, like Sunday Adelaja’s in Kieve, Ukraine. The most multinational congregation in the world—108 nationalities—was founded by and pastored by my good friend and mentor in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Sam Owusu. I could give you a list of about 10 global mission organizations–including the Navigators, SIM, Langham Partners and SIL–currently led by Africans!
Why is all this important? For many reasons but three will suffice for now. First, black people have been part and parcel, even central, to the purpose and mission of God unlike others have tried to make us think. We are equally made in the image and likeness of God as anyone else. We ought to rejoice and while not bragging about ourselves, ‘make our boast in the LORD.’
Secondly, the Christian faith is authentically African. As one scholar put it, Christianity is a beggar looking for clothes in whatever culture it goes into. The fact that it was captured by Europeans and Americans and tailored as a tool of oppression of blacks in slavery, colonialism etc. is simply not right (not the authentic Christian faith) and doesn’t make the faith the preserve of the white man either.
Finally, the business world and other sectors in Africa that are trying to make a mark on the world stage could learn a thing or two from the African Church that leads the world in faith today, hands down.
THE FUTURE HAS COME
I come from a long and rich family history of black (hi)story tellers. My grandfather was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology and my mother is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade. I feel privileged to take my turn to tell stories of African leadership, and in this particular case, leadership in faith, church and missiology.
The assassinated Congolese nationalist leader, luminary and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, must be smiling in his grave that the day he prophesied is here: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations… Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.” The day has come!
For those of no faith and saying to themselves “who cares if Africa is the most Christian continent?” because we’re yet to see it tell on our socioeconomic indicators or the millennium development goals, just you wait. Works soon follow faith. Unless it’s not true faith; because faith without works is dead.
Johnson, Todd M., Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing. “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs.” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2018): 20. doi:10.1177/2396939317739833.
Merrills, A. (Ed.). (2004). Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (1st ed.). Routledge, 303. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315235127
Oden, Thomas. 2007. How Africa Shaped the European Mind, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p.71.
Perbi, Yaw & Sam Ngugi. 2021. Africa to the Rest: from mission field to mission force (again). Forthcoming. Xulon Press.
Black History Month | Why the Protests of 2020 Had a Sense Déjà Vu About Them
Here is the entire preface to the 2020 version of YouthPower! in Soweto for your enjoyment and edification. This book was first written 15 years ago upon a life-transforming visit to South Africa in 2005. The anti-racial protests in 2020 were like a 1976 déjà vu and inspired me to get this re-release going for today’s generation to remember and soldier on.
“It is better to die for an idea that will live,
than to live for an idea that will die.”
The Definition of Black Consciousness, I Write What I Like, 1978
It is 2020. The pandemic year. The epochal events of this year, on both sides of the Atlantic, have had such significant parallels with the youth uprisings and protests in apartheid South Africa in 1976 that after procrastinating the republishing of this book for years I finally got the umph to do it.
“Police brutality.” “Systematic racism.” “Peaceful protests turned violent.” “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks.” “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” Do any of these phrases and sentences sound familiar? Yet these are not from 2020; these are all 1976 words and phrases!
With the world slowed down, even locked down, we all had the time and bandwidth to take in the slow slaughter of an American young man, George Floyd, by those paid “to serve and protect” him. The aftermath of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States and around the world seemed like a coordinated tsunami. Perhaps no other year has there been more concerted protests against police brutality, systematic racism and no-nonsense towards anything or anyone glorifying an apartheid, segregationist, slavery or colonial past.
At a point, the confluence of 400th year anniversary of the first slave setting foot in America, a plague (COVID-19) and protests by the oppressed made me wonder if this was not a modern replay of the biblical Exodus, the liberation of Israel from Egypt.
Then just when things seemed to be settling down, #endSARS happened. Nigerian youth wouldn’t take the brutalization of their kith and kin anymore either. The well-organized air war (via social media) and on-the-ground protests did result in the dissolution of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that had been unleashing untold mayhem on the Nigerian people, especially youth, for years. Some paid the ultimate price for daring to express their Youth Power! May they rest in peace. May their death bring life.
In all the standing up to, shouting out and marching against, the core demographic has of course been Young People. Youth Power! at work again; just as in 1976. In fact, my favourite picture of the 2020 protests in the U.S. so strongly correlates with a scene from 1976 although both events are seas and decades apart. On the streets of America in 2020 the youth held placards that read, “We are not our ancestors. We will fuck you up.” In Soweto, 44 years earlier, the youth had asserted similarly, “Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”
It seems to me that like the Boomer generation of 1976, the Millennial, Gen Y and Gen Z generations alive and kicking in 2020 have also taken seriously their mandate to leave the world better than they found it. “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”” [said a certain wise man]. I believe that was the Youth Power! mindset in 1976, replayed in 2020. Here’s to celebrating Youth Power! from Soweto to Minneapolis to Lagos to the ends of the earth.
I am humbled by my very rich family history of Black story-telling. My grandfather, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology whose lifework was dedicated to documenting the songs and drum language of African peoples while my mother, Akosua Adoma Perbi, is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade, indigenous and trans-Atlantic. It seems my turn has come to continue a family tradition.
I can understand those in my generation who feel Black people are too yesterday-focused and are pushing for this month to be Black Future Month instead of Black History Month. A word of caution though: we must know our history well–although not dwell in the past–if we are to be and do today what will make our tomorrow better than yesterday. As a wise man once said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 2020 has proven that history tends to repeat itself.