By Wilson Idahosa Aiwuyor
May 25 every year is dedicated to the commemoration of the struggle for liberation from colonial rule in Africa. Last year at the celebration of African Liberation Day in Accra, Ghana, I came face to face with some living legends of African liberation and heard their narratives of the sacrifices they had paid for Africa’s political freedom. One of these heroes, Kenneth Kaunda – the nonagenarian veteran of Zambian independence and author of the book, Zambia Shall Be Free – was very forthright in capturing the challenges and accomplishments of the decolonization movement. He also illuminated the many contemporary problems which impede the complete emancipation of the continent. The ultimate goal of the decolonization was self determination, dignity and wellbeing of Africans. But more than five decades after the end of colonial rule in most African countries, many problems still militate against these goals.
Across the continent, people are plagued by high rate of unemployment, inadequate access to quality health care and education, over-dependence on foreign aid, low life expectancy rate, brutal dictatorship and pseudo-democratic leaders, gender inequality, and all sorts of threat to the future of the African child. One may even want to question the meaning of African liberation as the continent still does not have enough bargaining power to negotiate a global agreement against the disproportionate threat of global warming to the survival of the continent – a threat so grave that there are concerns that the emission level agreed upon by the powerful states would, as noted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “condemn Africa to incineration.” Against this backdrop, some people ask whether African Liberation Day is worth celebrating.
However, after my experience at the African Liberation Day in Ghana, I gained some clarity that informed my opinion: we must not trivialize the labor of the past heroes of Africa’s liberation struggle; we must celebrate the gains that have been made, while taking inspiration from the old struggles to confront contemporary challenges. This clarity was taken to a higher level after my familiarity with the writings of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem.
In our quest for inspiration, we should not only focus on the achievements of the African liberation heroes of the 20th century. We need to draw on the life and deeds of 21st century Pan Africanists. A symbol of this new brand of Pan Africanists was Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who demonstrated that the younger generation should not agonize about the current state of the continent but stand for what is right and organize to complete the African liberation process.
Dr. Tanjudeen Abdul-Raheem (1961- May 25, 2009)
Dr. Tajudeen was born in Nigeria on January 6, 1961. He was steadfast in his commitment to speaking truth to power and standing for the ordinary people. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Nigeria with first class honors, he studied politics at Oxford University in the UK as a Rhodes Scholar. When he was interviewing for the Rhodes Scholarship, Tajudeen asked the interview committee to explain to him why they thought someone like him would want to be associated with an imperialist such as Cecil Rhodes who committed racist crimes against Africans. This question, however, did not get in his way to becoming a Rhodes Scholar.
He dedicated his life to organizing for Africa’s transformation. He was secretary general of the 7th Pan African Congress held in Kampala, Uganda in 1994. He led the organization Justice Africa (which he helped found in 1999) to engage the African Union on issues that concern the wellbeing of the ordinary African. He was one of those at the forefront of pro-democracy struggle that delegitimized military rule and enthroned democracy in Nigeria. A co-founder of the reputable Center for Democracy and Development in Nigeria, Tajudeen was also the general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement. He was Deputy Director of UN Millennium Campaign for Africa, and also gained a reputation as was a critical commentator and writer who drew attention to what should be the core of African liberation in the 21st century.
Dr. Tajudeen was blunt but nuanced in his critique of African leaders who were once part of the liberation movement but derailed from the goal of emancipation in the course of perpetuating themselves in power. While space will not allow me to analyze all his writings, the titles of many of them were reflective of their theses, and they include: “Corrupt Leaders are Mass Murderers;” “Respect Term Limits for Democratic Change;” “Rule of Law or Law of the Rulers?”; and “Mu’ammer Gaddafi: The Brother Leader is Wrong on Revolutionaries in Power Not Retiring.” The others include: “Zimbabwe: As Good a Place as Any to Draw the Line;” “Justice for Zimbabwe Regardless of the West;” “Does Meles (Zenawi) Think He’s Africa’s George Bush?”; “Africa: The Many Challenges to Human Rights in Africa;” and “Presidency in Perpetuity.”
Tajudeen’s commitment to the emancipation and wellbeing of ordinary people in Africa was nonnegotiable. He displayed this in his encounter President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Museveni once sent Ugandan intelligence operatives to Nigeria to help Tajudeen escape from jail, where he was detained by then Nigeria’s brutal military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha for opposing his military dictatorship. Despite this help, when Museveni manipulated Ugandan laws to perpetuate himself in office, Dr. Tajudeen was the first to lash out against him. The issue of responsible leadership raised by Dr. Tajudeen some years ago has resurfaced today in the midst of growing discontent towards African leaders by their people.
Dr. Tajudeen was also preoccupied with issues affecting women. He wrote about “Ending Violence Against Women;” and affirmed that “Mothers Should Not Die Giving Life.” Recognizing the burden of liberation and transformation borne by women, Dr. Tajudeen wrote that “Everyday Should be a Woman’s Day.” He worked for African Unity and wrote: “Why We Must Struggle Against Xenophobia!” He also wrote about “The Demand for Common Citizenship;” and about “Taking Pan-Africanism to the People.” Dr. Tajudeen mobilized people to “Stand Up Against Poverty,” and cautioned against aid dependency, noting: “Live Aid 2: ‘It’s Like Trying to Shave Someone’s Head in Their Absence.’” He backed up his activism with fervent grassroots mobilization and asked others to do same.
Don’t Agonize, Organize
We lost Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, though not his ideas. In 2009 on Africa Liberation Day, Dr. Tajudeen died in a car accident in Kenya on his way to launch a maternal health campaign in Rwanda. While he was alive, Dr. Tajudeen made us to understand that the struggle for Africa’s liberation continues. He clarified that we must appreciate the sacrifices and achievements of the past and that we must be conscious of the challenges of today. We must never agonize about the problems. We must speak truth to power and organize to confront the challenges. The inherent power of his dictum, “don’t agonize, organize,” is being displayed in Egypt, where people have mobilized to put the society on a new path.
I would recommend that young Africans and aspiring leaders, who seek to put their passion for better society and human dignity above everything else in Africa, read Dr. Tajudeen’s work and seek inspiration from his thoughts on African liberation. His writings have been compiled in a compendium, titled Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcards.
On this 2011 African Liberation Day, we remember Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem as one Pan Africanist and humanist who made a mark by helping us with ideas about the central focus of African liberation and Pan Africanism in the 21st century: the restoration of the human dignity and wellbeing of all Africans from the stranglehold of corrupt and despotic leaders and their foreign accomplices. Yes the celebration of African Liberation Day is still very relevant. Don’t agonize, Organize!
Wilson Idahosa Aiwuyor is a researcher. A graduate of International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, he is also a Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.