Africa Is People, Nigeria Is Nigerians: Provocations On Post-Mendicant Economies Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi
Pius Adesanmi

I guess it is in the character of my friend, Sharif Khalill, CEO of Aga Khan Foundation Canada, to put one on a podium before a distinguished assemblage of guests comprising members of the diplomatic community, Members of Parliament, Directors in the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry, staff of international development agencies, CEOs from corporate Canada, senior academics, and ask one to get the discussion rolling with a ten-minute opening address! As if it wouldn’t take the whole day to thank him, Rishma Thomas, Jennifer Pepall, and the wonderful staff of Aga Khan Foundation Canada for the extraordinary honour of being asked to share my thoughts with you as one of two guests of honour for today’s event!


As if it wouldn’t take the whole day to thank the co-organizers of this event, the High Commission of the Republic of South Africa! How can I possibly thank my sister, Her Excellency Mohau Pheko, the High Commissioner of South Africa in Canada, in just ten minutes? Her service here in Ottawa has been marked, among several remarkable firsts, by robust efforts to harness Africa’s intellectual energies in the capital city. Although I carry a Nigerian passport and a Canadian passport, her leadership and vision are such that I am regularly solicited to be part of an unending run of Africa-focused intellectual initiatives emanating from her table. If you feel Africa constantly vibrating intellectually here in Ottawa, you need not look beyond the leadership provided by the South African High Commission. I must add, though, that her Excellency is a bad businesswoman! You see, the first rule of business is to discourage competition. The South Africans are very huge players in the Nigerian economy. She should keep that a secret from Canadian competition, no? Now she’s given me an opportunity to tell all the Canadian CEOs present here to go to Nigeria and compete with the South Africans!

And how can I thank my dear brother, Anesh Maistry, Deputy Head of Mission at the South African High Commission, in just ten minutes? If I am going to be talking about “Africa’s hope” here today, it is precisely because I have been privileged to encounter the future of that continent in intellectuals like Anesh Maistry! Don’t be fooled by the cool diplomat! I always have to ensure that my Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are in good shape before every encounter with Anesh. Yet, I am supposed to be the literary theorist! I won’t tell you that this great son of Africa hosts the most extensive collection of Cuban cigars I have ever seen at his home. Every time Anesh runs the latest collaborative effort on Africa by me, I always wish he would rent out a room to me in the library, winery, and Cuban cigar museum he calls home here in Ottawa.

I must confess that the advertised theme of today’s event, “Africa’s Promise, Canada’s Opportunity: A Conversation with Pius Adesanmi and David Creighton” unsettled me a bit. I could understand my fellow guest of honour, David Creighton, being at home in this environment. He is a powerful Canadian CEO whose empire is active more than fifty countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world; he is a top player in Nigeria’s mouka foam and Diamond Bank. That makes him a prime candidate for the hardware language of business and international investment. He is going to be able to break Africa down to figures and statistics and speak the language of investment opportunities, risks, returns, dividends, and profit. Where is the place for my software language of literature, culture, and the imagination in all this? When, for instance, I saw the name of the President and CEO of Bombardier on your guest list, I wondered if it wouldn’t be more appropriate to have Nigerian state governors, prosperity Pentecostal pastors, or even President Jonathan, who keeps a harem of presidential jets and feels morally obliged to buy new ones every now and then, address him instead of a poor teacher like me.

Rishma allayed my fears during our telephone conversations in the build-up to this event. I saw a lot of sense in the fact that the organizers wanted my own historical-culturalist perspective to serve as context for David Creighton’s statistical and empirical CEO-speak. I took solace in the fact that Chinua Achebe, long before me, also had the same experience in Paris. In his essay, “Africa is People” –now you know where my title comes from! – Achebe narrates his bewilderment at being invited to address a parley of the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD). Lets listen to Achebe in some detail:

“I believe it was in the first weeks of 1989 that I received an invitation to an anniversary meeting—the-twenty-fifth year, or something like that—of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. I accepted without quite figuring out what I could possibly contribute to such a meeting/celebration. My initial puzzlement continued right into the meeting itself. In fact it grew as the proceedings got under way. Here was I, an African novelist among predominantly European and American bankers and economists; a guest, as it were, from the world's poverty-stricken provinces to a gathering of the rich and powerful in the metropolis. As I listened to them—Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Australians—I was left in no doubt by the assurance they displayed that these were the masters of our world savoring the benefits of their success. They read and discussed papers on economic and development matters in different regions of the world. They talked in particular about the magic bullet of the 1980s, structural adjustment, specially designed for those parts of the world where economies had gone completely haywire. The matter was really simple, the experts seemed to be saying; the only reason for failure to develop was indiscipline of all kinds, and the remedy was a quick, sharp administration of shock treatment that would yank the sufferer ad of free market economy.”

Achebe could have been describing you, my audience here today! Almost ten years later, in 1998, Achebe delivered a Presidential Fellows Lecture at the World Bank in Washington and expressed pretty much the same apprehension. On both occasions, my famous compatriot appealed to “the masters of our world” to think of Africa as people and not just resources and the promise of profit, hence his topic, “Africa is People”. Since you have asked David and I to lay out broad parameters and provocations that would guide our day-long conversations and interactions in the morning and evening schedules of this event, my first provocation of the day is to ask you to seriously consider Achebe’s plea to the OECD and the World Bank. I know that you are precisely the kind of actors that African states have in mind – especially Nigeria – when they mouth the endless rhetoric of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). I know that you have been invited here to listen to new insights about where resources and profit abound in Africa and how to reach those in the context of new global dynamics. But I say to you that there needs to be a shift from the paradigm that always privileges Africa (resources) over Africans (people). If the model of

Africa before Africans worked, we wouldn’t be here today essaying a rethink, would we?
When I ask you to think of Africa as people, I am not asking you to see one billion people and immediately begin to dream of a market that now rivals the economies of the BRIC and the Asian Tigers and is even now more positively discoursed in global geopolitics than those two players are. Therein lies my second provocation of the day: if Africa is people, she is also history and culture. You cannot get at our resources by ignoring those two elements. When you try it, there are guys out there in the field waiting to teach you that their history and culture constitute who they are; and who they are is more important than copper, crude oil, and coltan. Go and study Ken Saro-Wiwa’s rhetoric and praxis.

So, what is the history of this one billion people? How have we arrived at a situation where that talented one billion is now whetting appetites here in the West as the market of the present and the future? Well, you must understand that they moved from four centuries of the trans-atlantic slave trade to one momentous century that my friend, Okwui Enwezor, has famously described as “the short century”. The short century extends from the Berlin conference in 1884 to the independence of South Africa in 1994. In other words, it is the century of colonialism. At the end of all these experiences, this one billion people became humanity’s byword for poverty, disease, famine, malnutrition, civil wars, corruption, illiteracy, and a million other registers of negativity and underdevelopment that are trafficked ceaselessly by the western media. In May 2000, the verdict on Africa came in: “The Hopeless Continent”, screamed The Economist in a famous edition of the magazine.

Fast forward to 2010 and we arrive at my third provocation. The McKinsey Global Institute released its famous report on Africa entitled, “Lions on the Move: The Progress and Potential of African Economies”. I implore you to google and read that rigorously researched and exhilarating report. It’s eighty-two pages brim with sweet music for the ears of an African public intellectual like me. What detains me here, though, is the cognitive and descriptive shift of the report. African Lions versus Asian Tigers! How did we move from a summation of Africa as a “hopeless continent” in 2000 to a situation where we now speak of viable “economic lions” that would have surpassed the BRIC and the Asian Tigers by 2040? What happened in just ten years in Africa? That is something I want us to ponder seriously as we get down to business today.

However, we should not discuss the rise of what I call Africa’s post-mendicant economies in a vacuum. Here, I am almost tempted to gloat! We should discuss Africa against the background of what is happening on the economic front in your own home continent: Europe. Fate and irony have a way of playing funny games. The continent that enslaved and colonized us, the continent that proceeded to describe us as the hopeless antithesis to civilization and modernity, is now home to the world’s mendicant economies. From Greece to Britain via Italy and Ireland, the spectre of a beggarly Europe cannot be divorced from the spectre of a rising Africa, what with prosperous Angola now even considering giving financial aid prostrate Portugal. Ah, life! One must however warn our brothers in Angola to learn from the tragedy of Nigeria, whose charity always begins abroad, before shipping bucket loads of dollars to aid poor Portugal.

But I ask again: how did Africa achieve this extraordinary reversal of fortunes? Specialists speak of the expansion and consolidation of democratic ethos across the continent. From South Africa, to Ghana, Botswana to Zambia, Rwanda to Benin Republic, elections and other signposts of democracy are getting better, never mind the persistence of election basket cases like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. Other factors suggested for the rise of Africa as a global economic player include the emergence of a vibrant civil society, the rise of the Africa middleclass, and the expansion of options of international competition and viability with China and Brazil becoming major players in the continent’s economies. I have no problems with all these explanations proposed by relevant literature but I want us to reflect further particularly on just one – the middle class.

I do not want to bore you with a rehash of the historical role of the middle classes in the rise of the modern nation-state. It is history too well-known. Suffice it to say that one of the tragedies of postcolonial Africa is precisely the systematic destruction of that class in the period known as post-independence disillusionment. My own country bears testimony to this tragedy. The military, especially, Ibrahim Babangida, destroyed Nigeria’s middle class. The highpoint of the destruction of Africa’s middle class also coincides with the era of the wholesale application of the moronic prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank. The structural adjustment programmes prescribed by your people really ruined us in Africa.

Today, we speak of a billion people. We say that sixty-five percent of that billion people is under the age of forty-five. Some figures even put it at thirty-five! That’s a lot of people in a very youthful middleclass. They are the ones who have risen from the ashes of structural adjustment to build the Africa that we encounter in the McKinsey report. They are educated, urbanized, resourceful, adventurous and very cosmopolitan. In Nigeria, they wield two or three blackberries per head. They are all over Facebook and twitter. They are changing the modes and content of urbanization in Africa. In a number of cases, they are even in charge of the state. Their tastes and cultural habits represent the opportunities that you, Canadian investors, are going to meet on the ground in Africa. But it should be clear from my submissions thus far that you cannot go and engage them on the terms of yesterday.

I must end these provocations by saying that a huge chunk of this vibrant African middle class is domiciled in Nigeria. We’ve got the population and we tend to remind people of it as a mark of our importance. You will also have noticed my reluctance to talk about Nigeria when talking about the positive indices from the continent. That is due to my low opinion of the political class in Nigeria. I hold the rulers of Nigeria in utter contempt. They are corrupt and intellectually inferior.

They run a moribund state. They have nothing to offer Nigerians and the rest of the world. In my own intellectual praxis, I discourse Nigeria as a case of 160 million good people strangely held hostage by the worst characters among them. If you are looking for an example of their intellectual impecuniosity, think of President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposed solution to the security challenge posed by Boko Haram: ignore it! Yes, you heard me right. You just go into Nigeria, invest your billions, ignore Boko Haram, and every other thing shall be added unto you.
My challenge here, as we go on to discuss and reflect on issues after David’s opening remarks, will be to get you to look beyond these characters and see the Nigerian people. If Africa is people, Nigeria is Nigerians. And the reality on the ground is that the contribution of the Nigerian people, especially the Nigerian middle class, to Africa’s economic rebirth, has happened in spite of and not because of the Nigerian state. Despite insecurity, despite corruption, despite unimaginative rulership, there is no speaking of Africa’s promise without the Nigerian people. You are going to have to cut through the challenges to deal with us because all 160 million of us are a people before we are a market. I look forward to fruitful deliberations for the rest of the day.
Thank you for your time.

(Keynote Remarks at Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s Parley. Monday, November 28, 2011)


31 comment(s)
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My partner and I stumbled

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Coonery and Buffonery

Surely you don't believe your own fantastic confabulation on Africa's near or far term prospects.Africa has no real chance against the BRIC economies.The poisoned seeds of waste and economic desolation planted in the last three decades are just now bearing blighted and infected fruits.The burgeoning middle class you so blatantly misrepresented here are a pitiable bunch of pantomime robots brought up in the sepulchre of consumerism.

The economic cancer that has begun to afflict a developed Europe and USA has infected the very seed of any African renaissance while the continent remains largely underdeveloped.
We make nothing,like to use everything and will borrow just to keep up with the Jones'.

Wake up.

Thank you!At least someone is

Thank you!At least someone is thinking!!Respect to you for not getting carried away with Pius' literary gerrymandering.

Well,what a bulls eye?!

Well,what a bulls eye?!

No, Deri

I've discovered how easy it is to ignore or discredit anyone who moiunts the podium with fixed prejudices. Unfortunately, this is Deri's stock in trade. I must confess the admirability of predictability but the flip side is that after a while, you become immuned to intellectual stimulus. Deri, I know you feel obligated to defend Jonathan. On a number of ocassions, I've had to rise to his defence. But any discerning person will readily confess that the president is making that job increasingly tough for his friends and allies. Pius didn't lie. You simply do not agree with what he's saying and how he's saying it.

It is arguable IBB single handedly destroyed our middle class.

"Suffice it to say that one of the tragedies of postcolonial Africa is precisely the systematic destruction of that class in the period known as post-independence disillusionment. My own country bears testimony to this tragedy. The military, especially, Ibrahim Babangida, destroyed Nigeria’s middle class. The highpoint of the destruction of Africa’s middle class also coincides with the era of the wholesale appli.."

It is arguable if IBB single handedly caused the near demise of Nigerian middle class. Check other factors in these articles:



Wonderful presentat.ions. God bless

The man is pathological kogi state liar

If he wants to write 51 books per hr, So be it. Let Prof Pius go ahead and do it. Before him were the Achebes and Soyinkas. So he will not be the first and last in Nigeria and Africa. Only debt he owes his generation, is to speak truth to power. And not weave a web of lies for us that the president of his country, loves to purchase locally manufactured jets every minute and use pilots from Kogi state fly them to Uganda for him. His age mates are also the presidents of America. Armed with nothing but their foreign passports. Not all of us can be presidos of the white mans globe in Cananda and the White House of the Native Americas.

@Anonymous at 16:25

He has already written books; poetry and non-fiction. Did you mean that he should write more books? If so, why not? Book writing is not as easy as it looks. Try it...

Pius, Haba mallam. What are

Haba mallam. What are you talking about? Do you have to drag my brother Jonathan's name in the mud in order to impress your foreign spectators? Though you are from the Islamic Republic of Arewa, I am from the Republic of Biafra, my brother Jona is from Niger Delta Republic, we are all Africans from what used to be Nigeria. We are all one.

In order to tarnish the good name of my brother you went on to say "President Jonathan, who keeps a harem of presidential jets and feels morally obliged to buy new ones every now and then..." Say better. Don't misuse words here now. When you say harem what comes to mind is a band of concubines kept by President Obasanjo. You can say a fleet of planes not a harem of planes. Did you get any applauds from your spectators when you said harem of planes? I doubt it.

Another masterpiece from Professor Adesanmi!!!!!

Another masterpiece from the master! Ride on, Prof Pius Adesanmi. You are on top of your game. We are really proud of you. As usual, the idiots who are envious of you but cannot stop reading you are here running their filthy mouths. Like you said in one of your lectures, we should pity these poor products of the Nigerian educational system. They are as stupid as they are illiterate. Just look at the quality of their comments! Sometimes I feel that you are casting pearls before swine here. They can't even think. Idiots who do not qualify to clean your shoes come to Sahara Reporters to talk rubbish. Do these stupid guys even qualify to be in your live audience? There must be something you are doing right to be invited to all the places you deliver these lectures. Ride on brother Prof. We are proud of you. Continue to ignore the detractors like I am sure they are doing. If they want to abuse you, let them be bold enough to come out in their real names. Cowards all!

Thanks Prof.! I have always

Thanks Prof.! I have always known that you have the wherewithal to bring an unthinking generation to reason. With someone like you around, who needs to read some 18th century, under-developed, bigoted white-supremacist philosopher.

On the other hand, you and I know that on the day the exploitation of African people stops, that would be the day that Europe and America would fade into oblivion. It would be the beginning of intense pangs of hardship for these people. Would one then be compelled to believe that they would voluntarily stop the subjugation and exploitation? With all due respect, all such gatherings as the one above is a charade! Without stealing the resources in Africa, America and Europe will cease to exist!


The Black and White Minstrel Show was a US-UK entertainment show that was popular in the 1950s. I found it hilarious to watch as a kid in 1978 until I realized it was derogatory portrayal of black stereotypes.
Today, in the US, you dare not portray any black negatively for white entertainment. Perhaps they still do in Lilly-white Canada. If they could not, they probably could bring their favorite Pope Pius Adesanmi to come paint his African face white in lavish jockey costumes to sing, dance, and clap for them as they were used to seeing his kind back in the slave days, short of saying Nigger.
A craft Pius learned so well from another Minstrel Achebe. Only a man from Kogi could do that, for a fee fit for a Judas, 30 pieces of silver and a chance to call Sharif Khalill, CEO of Aga Khan Foundation my friend. A black-Minstrel has arrived. Let us give him a round of applause. Shior!

please go and write a

please go and write a book,this talk is too much read for one.i lost the very essence of what you are talking about midway through because its too long.please save this for you book.


It's always a delight reading Prof. Adesanmi. This one is a masterpiece. I have bookmarked the page for further reading.



Kudos brother Pius. This is straight to the point, blunt and clear. Omo akin. The knock on Nigeria leadership is in order. Ewo ni ki a pon gege ni akisa.

Nigeria's Irony

Nigeria is such an irony. The people are very willing to work their socks off. The politicians are determined to stop them.

Prof Pius Gov of Kogi state in waiting

Your criticism of Pius appears cogent, but it is not difficult to see how jealous you must be of this industrious and intellectual Nigerian doing the best for his country.

My question for you is, If you are as intelligent as you would have us believe, why were you not invited to this august occassion to make a presentation?

This article is a prime example of why Africa is doomed

If such empty brow beating is what passes for african intellectuallism then we are really in trouble. The author bases all his expectations for the future on what Mckinsey global institute said.
If they tell you the sky is green will you believe them. Why he is not confident to offer his own assesment. What economic renaissance is he talking about. Because people are carrying cellphones and posting to facebook. We have no industrial or technological capacity, no real economy, our universities have crumbled, our elites have opted out of our healt and educational systems, no ability to compete in any strategic industry but we place all our self esteem in our ability to consume what others produce. We talk endlessly about natural resources in the 21st century, The prime resource of the 21st century is knowledge and human capital not oil or copper.

Patriotic stunt.....

A master piece. We are a people.We are suppose to be a people. We need to believe we are a people. If you call your cloth a rag, other will use it to clean their shoes. We are condescended because belittle our people before other races. Leadership has a;ways been our bane since coming into contact with other races. From those who sold their people as merchandise in slavery era to now who sold us to poverty to earn peanuts while other races scorn us. We must break free from vicious circle. It has to start by humanising our people. We are a people, then a culture and we should guide this jealously at all time.


Deri, you need not complain. Afterall, all GEJ's policies are pro-West and anti-Nigerians. Jona prefers to be praised by Obama and Cameron than from Nigerians because he is just a mumu serving the purpose of his Western masters.
Please leave Pius alone. Na freedom of speech. Let him say what he likes. That is thesame way you come to SR and blab rubbish all the time.

hope they are not related

An expose by a youth group in Kogi State that the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in tomorrow’s governorship election has a questionable mental status has triggered worries in the state about possible violation of Section 182 (2) a & b of the 1999 Constitution.
The expose by the Kogi Youth Liberation Movement in one of the national dailies contained medical records which detailed the mental history of PDP’s candidate, Idris Wada. It lists schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusion as some of the conditions the governorship candidate was diagnosed with over three decades ago

Prof Pius Gov of Kogi state in waiting-african mentality

Europe and the Americas, are the cultural home of a people who are often identified as one race; regardless of the color of the Obamas in the USA xi.e., banding together for survival and destruction of others in Africa and Asia. They would destroy each other if there were not others to destroy. So its sad to have Pius lie his way through his white audience that Jonathan buys jets every now and then in Nigeria-if that assertion is not madness of the highest order, then tell me what it is!? Hear the Kogi state Prof, who yearns daily to be governor and President of Kogi state at the same time-(I wondered if it wouldn’t be more appropriate to have Nigerian state governors, prosperity Pentecostal pastors, or even President Jonathan, who keeps a harem of presidential jets and feels morally obliged to buy (new ones every now and then) haba malam Pius. What a boko haramic lie!

Nigeria Is Nigerians

Simply brilliant!

must Pius insult GEJ to enable him get along with the white man

Marimba Ani, in her seminal work, Yurugu, An Afrikan-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, offers an incisive analysis of the European mindset. In her words: 'All modes of European behavior and dominant styles of action act to increase and ensure material control…The power ideology that defines the total culture keeps it off- balance. The culture itself – always 'progressing', never 'progressed' – is unidirectional, one dimensional, fanatical, and atrophied; a culture that must consume others. But ultimately this ideology is incoherent; it literally lacks human meaning. It is the compulsiveness, the drive, the insatiable appetite of the culture that are its distinguishing features…it is as well-constructed as a power machine can be…For success it has sacrificed 'soul'. What is left is profane. Aesthetically, and in terms of self-image, it identifies as white. The black man in a white mans skin and coat in Cananda.

canada and our arses


Captalist and her trans-national thieving elites in the americas

Capitalism, White supremacy's socio-economic system, has entered a period of unprecedented crisis – it is on its last legs and the system is turning in on itself. The vampires of empire do indeed 'suck the blood of the sufferer'. They are desperate now and quite literally don't care if they are seen to be dripping in our blood. Their global economic arrangement is crumbling faster than they can hold their next summit with the likes of Pius, and we cannot be caught off guard with their oyibo antics. We have watched Europe and the US forestall their collapse for a number of years, to the point where they are frantic and fast running out of ideas. As fast as they share the spoils of one war in Africa – they need another to quench their insatiable appetite to plunder our resources with the new educated african elites in europe and america.

Is Jonathan now the problem of africa!

Gone are the days when we had visionary, principled and courageous African leaders such as- Shaka Zulu, Queen Nzingha, Cetshwayo, Dedan Kimathi, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Marien Ngouabi, Ahmed Ben Bella, Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara, Murtala Muhammad, Laurent Kabila to name but a few. Had leaders such as these been in power today, NATO could not have gotten away with invading Libya. The fact is, with few exceptions, the current bunch of African leaders, many of them put in place by the forces of white supremacy, were just not up to the job.

GEJ to buy another jet for Pius

As an African, I remember Nelson Mandela's now famous speech, when on the world stage he called Muammar Qaddafi 'one of the great freedom fighters of the 20th century' and he publicly thanked the Brother Leader and the people of Libya for the material and moral support provided to the ANC when, as Mandela put it – their 'backs were up against the wall'. The half hearted attempts by the AU to take the necessary action to defend Libya was shameful and demoralizing to say the least. With minds like Pius in the continent, its clear we are in some trouble. Some big, big, big African trouble with his Canadian passport

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