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The Ontology of the African II: The Youth by Grimot Nane

August 30, 2014

The derisory ontology of the African has not gone unchallenged. At the forefront, artists, intellectuals, academics, civil society leaders, freedom fighters, politicians etc. particularly of African descent have chosen innumerable paths and approaches to reversing or negating the derisory ontology of the African in order to produce a more if not thoroughly positive one. Students, synonymous with youth, appear to be most overwhelming group of Africans that are most willing, able, qualified and equipped to challenge the African ontology in the mainstream.

Looking at the African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American experience, the historic challengers of the African ontology in its political, economic and social forms were under-40s (or peaked before 40). These men and women embraced the dreadful state of the ontology of the African with hope, intelligence, intellectualism, faith, dynamism, courage, martyrdom, idealism, realism etc. They were all willing to pay the price challenging White Supremacy which was mostly a violent and / or painful death.

The over 40s tend to be not less energetic, less determined or less dynamic, they simply tend to be more reward seeking, more security conscious and more pragmatic. It appears as if with increasing age the derisory ontology of the African becomes more acceptable and tolerable to the Black Man especially if he has much to gain from complying with the mainstream. As the Black Man grows older he, as a general rule-of-thumb, becomes more self-seeking and more conservative. Therefore, the challenge by standing and fighting the derisory ontology of the Black Man by default is (supposedly) a thing best handled by the Black youth. Or can they?

The Nigerian experience youth activism and intellectual life has not been self-determined or orientated towards the understanding and implications of the consciousness of an African ontology. The Nigerian youth by observation are keen on “consciousness of money, power and pragmatism”. Politically we have seen some expression of a commercialised youth adventurer in search of profit at the expense of a youth identity. In the attempt for Nigeria to revert to and sustain democratic politics we have seen “neo-patrimonial” youth groups take on the role of rent-seekers from political patrons and clients. Variations of the names of patron youth groups such as “Youths for Abacha”, “Youths for Obasanjo”, “Youths for Jonathan”, “Youth for Ibori”, Youths for Tinubu” etc. were youth groups formed to seek rents and relevance from the eponymous patron supported; and there are and were multitudes of these groups leading competitive ugliness in many case. Check these political youth groups out on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. It is as if they are determined to obliterate the existing nanograms of the dignity of the African politics and Africans. They attack and insult one another and opponents untiringly only to look good to their political elders; eye service drama. These are coincidentally the best financed and politically supported groups within and without Nigeria; the ontology of the African has no place in their agendas whatsoever.

In the politics of resistance, say in the Niger Delta, we saw the consciousness of money rapaciously take over a very genuine and necessary struggle against oil extraction pollution, environmental damage, economic and political neglect, social decay and a silent holocaust. These youthful groups started out with sincerity to protect the land, livelihoods, well-being of the Niger Delta and its peoples, and to overcome the negligence of the government and oil companies in the region that produces most of Nigeria’s wealth. Nevertheless, the practice of engaging in and seeking extortion, ransoms, “settlements”, bribes, contracts, impunity for bunkering, murder became more important than political and intellectual activities. As Ben Amunwa (formerly of Platform London) once said the Niger Delta crisis has produced youthful leaders who are (a) human rights cum anti-pollution activists, (b) oil services contractors, (c) oil bunkering kingpins and (d) youth leaders, all rolled into one individual. One may seriously blame the hyper corrupt political economy of oil in Nigeria for creating such “multiplicitous youthful characters”. Politically active youths at the micro-local level extort fees for house building and project development in their areas “of origin”. The groups are die-hard unpaid political supporter of patrons who in turn grant them impunity in any criminal or violent activity they undertake. For instance, in Warri, Delta State, there are separate fees extorted by youth groups for various different stages of house building. Fees for building house foundations, building perimeter walls, build a house to roofing level, roofing the house, sinking a borehole / well etc. are charged with upward sticky inflation. Even when the house is thoroughly completed fees are further extorted by youth groups for the installation of satellite dishes or electricity generators.

In academics we have the indigenous and overseas educated youth. The majority of the Nigerian youth study at tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Others study overseas mainly in the USA and the UK, some attending top universities. One would expect that they would have the capacity and skills to develop a positive ontology of the African. To be disappointed in such an education and educated individual is to understate the case. The “consciousness of pragmatism” is where their intellectual energies are narrowly directed to. Their personalised pragmatism is far more important to them than the plight of the African except in cases where it is pragmatic to do so. Their pragmatism is based on job security, political and economic opportunism, social and professional recognition etc. They forget previous Africans had fought very hard for the ontology of the educated and professional African; it did not fall from heaven like manna. It is more pragmatic to support free markets than any of its alternatives regardless of its disastrous effects of the African economy. It is more pragmatic to believe that an overly focus on science and technology will solve Africa’s problems not social or political approaches; social systems come first and technological systems follow according to history. It is more pragmatic to articulate poverty than abundance, why rock the boat? It is more pragmatic to profess peace and unity even though there is no substantive peace or unity in the continental African reality. It is more pragmatic to blame African leaders and their policies for Africa’s endless debacles while Africa’s economic and social policies have always been decided and enforced by the West. The educated African youth are not blind or stupid, they are simply too pragmatic to waste their time on the ontology of the African. They have houses to buy, cars to men, a job to bag, children to educate etc. and that is what is important. The educated African youth is oblivious to the virtues of the Socratic 2aphorism “Know Thyself”.

There are the campus grown university fraternities (CGUFs) in Nigeria that all originated as “elite groups” to pursue the establishment and fostering of a positive ontology of the African. As expected from young men in the process of acquiring a university education pro-Africanism, pro-Independence (African), pro-Black Power (American), pro-youth, pro-intellectualism, anti-colonialism, anti-convention, anti-injustice, anti-classism, anti-elitism (other than their own) were the raison d’etre for the founding of these groups. Fraternity members saw themselves as fighters for freedom, fighters for justice, fighters against the ills of society, fighters against oppression. They were good physical fighters too. The “consciousness of power” emerged and intoxicated these fraternities endlessly. Within, the leaders inflicted heinous brutality and exacted acts irrefutably worthy of conviction in human rights courts on their “brothers” in the name of discipline. Without, it was not long before these fraternities, every single one of them, wilfully if not gleefully abused the “power” of their fear-inspiring mystique and took to inflicting violence and intimidation on often defenseless students and even staff. The rivalries and clashes between university fraternities have claimed thousands of lives and maimed thousands more over the years. Unsurprisingly, the fraternities today heavily are involved in financial extortion schemes, mail fraud, charity-projects-for-self-enrichment, immigration fraud, recruitment profiteering, money laundering and several other untoward activities. The university sororities that came into existence went through same processes as the fraternities and are today well-known to be engaged in black-mail, prostitution rings, human trafficking etc. Behind the thin, self-righteous and hypocritical veil of fraternities being “fighters-of-all-things-bad” lie multitudes of perpetual and amoral transgressions. The ontology of the African did not survive as a concern, serious or trivial, for the fraternities and sororities for more than a few years post foundation.

There are also the “entrepreneurial youth” full of bright ideas for short cuts to making a vast fortune increasingly using the rhetoric of job creation, empowerment, growth but only after they have made their billions. There are the religious youths that are hooked on “material spiritualism” i.e. Christ or Mohammed came to make us rich, successful, prosperous, healthy, happy, productive etc. righteousness does not count because man cannot attain it anyway. The ontologies of the market, Christianity, Islam are not African ontologies; there is no cause for alarm or surprise in that.

All in all there are some members of the Nigeria youth that are sincere in their quest for establishing a positive ontology of the African without the hunger for power, greed or a personalised pragmatism vehemently registered in the eyes and hearts. However, their position is fraught with insuperable difficulties. Instinctively and experientially, they are aware they will never obtain any significant (lasting) support from other youths who are sold on the consciousness of self-benefit and never self-sacrifice. The establishment have no incentives to support them either. So, they are usually on their own fighting for the positive ontology of their people. On the long haul only few are left standing to fight the cause. Hunger, poverty, arrests, unemployment and isolation either break them or “wise” them up. Many are forced into diaspora with painful regrets and bottomless bitterness. Suicides and early deaths also occur. It would appear the establishment of a positive ontology of the African is very costly indeed.

Alas, amongst those who stand and fight are traitors. A reading of Julien Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals informs us that intellectuals have a choice between embracing privilege and power on the one hand and truth and justice on the other; the traitors choose the former. How many times have we seen some of the best youthful minds in Nigeria fight for truth and justice against the government, political parties, aristocrats, oligarchs and corporations but only with the intention of attaining privilege and power someday? Crapious treachery and perhaps divide and rule tactics on the part of the establishment. The result is that even fewer are left standing.

Are the youth of today (in Nigeria and elsewhere) any good at providing a positive ontology of the African?
Grimot Nane
Grimot Nane is a political economist based in the United Kingdom. His main field of expertise is the political economy of development while his specialist areas are corruption, institutions, energy and research methods. Grimot has a background in energy engineering and has worked extensively as an energy management and policy professional in the electric power sector and oil & gas, particularly the performance of energy institutions, both in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. Commenting on various social issues, ecocide, the Niger Delta and belief systems is a side passion of his. Grimot is a Fellow at the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, London South Bank University and holds a doctorate degree in development economics.

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