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Africa ... States of Independence
Seun Kuti
The popular musician discusses what it means to be Nigerian.
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2010 13:17 GMT

Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti, known as Seun Kuti, is a popular Nigerian musician, and the youngest son of legendary afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. He leads his father's former band Egypt 80.

When he was nine years old Seun expressed the wish to sing to his father. He became a sort of mascot and would sing a few songs backed by Egypt 80 before his father took to the stage.

Since then, Seun has followed the political and social ethos of his father, and when Fela died of Aids in 1997, 14-year-old Seun became the lead singer of Egypt 80.

After Al Jazeera joined him and his band at a rehearsal session, he talked to Yvonne Ndege about identity and 50 years of Nigeria's independence.

Al Jazeera: Nigeria is about to mark 50 years of independence. As a young musician who was born after independence, what does it mean to you celebrating 50 years?

Kuti: Africa has been really underachieved in terms of self-ruling. But Africa has not really been given the chance to rule Africa. Africa has been ruled with strings from the West, controlling puppet leaders here in Africa for last six decades. That's how it is.

In terms of what they have achieved being an independent nation I have to say the governments of Africa have to be criticised a lot. Because it's a shame that now that we have democracy some people say that life under military dictatorship was better. That there was money for everyone and jobs. And before then they said under the colonial masters it was better. At least we had light and water and food. So you see that's how it is in Africa, that's how it's always going to be.

So therefore do you think Nigeria should be celebrating? Has it fulfilled its promise after 50 years of freedom?

In Africa we always have something to celebrate so we will celebrate this. But they shouldn't be celebrating much. Maybe there should be a remembrance because our independence is like a lost opportunity. A lost sacrifice, because a lot of people gave a lot for the vision of Nigeria, this vibrant independent nation with all these resources, that has unity among so many different cultures. Many people bhad the vision that this nation is going to be so powerful that it's going to make everyone from their different culture drop their identity and identify with this place and love it and work on its progress.

But none of that has ever been achieved in Nigeria. We've never had peace, our economic standards have been in decline steadily since the 1960s, except the oil boom in the 1970s came up shot up and then we continued our rapid descent again.

What do you think are the reasons, what is the problem in Nigeria?

The problem is an African problem. Although we have independence we are still not free from indirect rule of the West. In Africa in the 50s and 60s African leaders were fighting for independence, getting their first leaders who were nationalists and who believed Africa should be for Africans run by Africans, and that Africa must develop Africa without the aid or influence of foreign power.

All these leaders were killed or removed from power by some political manipulation of the West. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria's first prime minister, was put there by the British for example. So this has really harmed Africa. We had these government officials who worked for the West and used Africa to develop the West.

From what you are saying I feel that you are absolving African leaders from their responsibilities, but you can't just blame the West.

No, I'm not absolving them. The fact that I called them puppets is indictment enough. The fact that you are puppets of another man, and you don't even belong to him, you belong to a different group of people, and you sell all these people to please someone that is not even you, an African. 

I don't blame the Western leaders for their influence. They [the African leaders] have the choice to be African men, and to say 'no, wen don't want this for our people, we want change for our people, we want to use our resources for ourselves, and we are not happy with these trade agreements. No matter what aid you donate to my government, I am not going to sign this trade agreement becauese it's not good for our people.'

So how could Nigeria, Africa overcome these problems?

With education and information. More Africans are becoming educated today, so we are harder to trick. That's why today in Africa there are less and less military dictatorships because it is getting harder to control educated people. You have to be educated to be free.

What do you think you family, you father, your grandmother, would have made of Nigeria today if they were here with us?

My dad will feel vindicated, people would say he was saying things because he was high all the time and a crazy man. Most people were employed, were middle class and there were only a few people who weren't employed, in the ghettos. But now 40 years on there are more poor people than middle class. We don't have middle class any more, either you are comfortable or you're not.

My grandmother would be disappointed because she fought for this country's independence. People who gave their blood and sweat, who marched ... she would be disappointed that what they had fought for as the founding fathers and mothers of this nation has been lost in a few people's greed.

Corruption is a big problem in Nigeria ...

It's not just in Nigeria it's all over Africa. I was in South Africa and I felt that corruption was more aggressive. I know this is funny for a Nigerian to say that, that corruption somewhere is aggressive. They have technology in South Africa. In Nigeria our corruption is very crude, whereas in South Africa, it is sophisticated, and you have a fixed price for everything.

Looking at the future, paint a picture of the Nigeria you want to see and how it is going to get there.

Hopefully the best I can wish for is that more young men and women consider the situation of their politics, and social understanding of their country more important. Not important like spare time - 'There is a rally today, I'm gonna go and for the next month I don't have to do anything'... Fighting for people's emancipation is not like going to church, it's not like religious devotion. It's fighting for the essence. And what's our essence today in the world? Our essence is what we do. If you're a fashion designer you begin put your whole essence all about fashion, you try to become the fashion. So that is what I feel like in Africa today people have to believe that whatever they're doing is what's going to make Africa free. If you're making shoes, you have to make shoes with the principal of emancipation and revolution. How to make your shoes represent freedom for your people, or how are you going to make your bank represent freedom for your people?

Is it possible to do that?

Yes, with more education people will realise that wealth is secondary to national pride, to self-recognition. I still don't see myself as a Nigerian, and calling ourselves these names like Nigerians, Ivorians, South Africa, Congolese ... I think we lose our identity. All these countries are cut up not up to cultural similarities or social similarities, they are cut up by the financial agenda of the colonial masters. They all had a meeting in Vienna where they all sat down and carved up Africa. According to the way they saw it, not according to the benefit for Africans. I don't see why my brothers are nationals of different countries. People share the same culture: Spanish are Spanish people sharing the same culture, German people are German people, Chinese people are Chinese people ... In Africa we don't have that luxury. We are all carved up differently.

As a Nigerian I can trace my history to 50 years ago. But I am a Yoruba man and if I see myself as a Yoruba man I can trace myself to thousands of years of history. I am able to have more pride in who I am from a long time ago, knowing that I didn't just drop in this world in 1960 by the award of some white man. It will give us more pride. We need to learn our history. Even in our schools we don't learn anything about Nigerian history, in highschool you learn small African history and plenty European and world history. Education and this understanding of ourself is what we need in Africa.

What makes up your identity? Do you see yourself as a Nigerian, African, Yoruba, Christian?

I see myself as first as an African then as a Yoruba man, I don't see myself as a Nigerian. I hardly see myself as a Nigerian unless I'm going to travel and they say "Nigerian passport this way". I see myself mainly as a Yoruba man. I'm not being tribalist because I respect all cultures in Africa, seeing myself as an African man first means that I see the Igbo man as my brothers. All these cultures and tribes, we all have histories from hundreds of centuries away that still cause frictions today ... in Nigeria, in Congo, in Rwanda, even in South Africa - ethnic clashes because of people who are forced to live together.

At independence day, what should people be focussing on?

I hope people are really patiotic, and what it means is doing the best for your country. People need to think where they want to be and how to influence their country. In Nigeria nobody really believes in going out and fighting for change like they did in Thailand.

It's easy to understand: When you don't have leaders people don't follow. You have to have leaders, and in Africa we don't have leaders, we just have rulers. Everybody is a ruler. Nobody is leading anybody anywhere.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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