Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African Postcards
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsKenyantraveller's Blog - Stories from the road
Jan 12, 2011
The first thing that crossed my mind when I read this book was: wow! Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is one of those brilliant African minds that was once again cut short far too early, sadly on the streets of Nairobi. What a great loss for anyone who believes in the dream of African mental and physical freedom. The book itself is a collection of short pieces that he wrote under the banner headline "Pan-African Postcards" for the Pambazuka website. The topics vary from discussions on the vision of Pan-Africanism, to critiques of individual African nations and leaders, to criticism of the Aid Establishment (which some would argue he eventually became a part of, but more on that later). Abdul-Raheem was clearly a passionate and eloquent activist and he knew his stuff. He inspires me so much – I only wish that I can eventually be the kind of activist that he was.
There's really something for everyone who has an interest in Africa in this book, and he writes with an approachable sincerity that draws you in and keeps you hooked. The book is never condescending or overly academic, just knowledgable and acerbic enough to get you thinking things through twice. My favourite are his observations on Pan-Africanism – the machinations of Brother Gaddaffi, the continually lacklustre performance of Obasanjo in Nigeria, the hypocrisy and greed of the Kenyan political establishment, the eventual betrayal of Nyerere’s Pan-African dreams by subsequent Tanzanian leaders, and Museveni. I don’t think there’s a phrase short enough to cover just how much Abdul-Raheem is disappointed with the former rebel and visionary that is today Museveni. And he’s right on all scores. Museveni believed his own hype and sold out, like Macy’s on Black Friday (I just made that up – how clever am I?)
All in all, thoroughly recommended reading for anyone who has even a remote interest in understanding what Africa looks like for Africans. That is to say, we know it’s messed up, we know what’s wrong with it, we don’t need you breathing down our necks reminding us, just help us fix it with honesty and sincerity.
Awesome book! WOW!
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsNewsAfrica
Mar 31, 2011
Taju told it like it was- Desmond Davies
Those who knew Tajudeen Abdul Raheem (Taju to all and sundry) were well aware that he never minced his words. At conferences he never shied away from telling Africa's "big men" like it was. Of course, for the more diplomatic members of the audience it was always a roller-coaster ride for them when Taju was speaking passionately about Africa. But for him certain home truths had to be told – no matter how unpalatable they may be.
Taju died in a road accident in Nairobi on African Liberation Day, May 25, 2009. For those who never saw Taju in his element while debating the whys and wherefores of Africa's problems, they had the chance to savour what they had missed by reading his trenchant weekly column, Pan-African Postcards. His comments and perspectives on African issues were quite incisive indeed.
For those who never had the privilege of reading Taju's column, Pambazuka Press, which published Taju’s writings, has published a compilation of his Pan-African Postcards. It must have been an arduous task for Ama Biney and Adebayo Olukoshi who selected the Postcards because every column of Taju’s was a gem.
He could rub people up the wrong way by what he said – but in the end, he was always right. He did not spare the "African revolutionaries" who were mired in the past. These were the ones who felt that it was wrong to admonish "progressive" leaders even though they were driving their countries inexorably to the precipice.
Taju felt no such compunction in talking straight about African issues – to the point where he was even accused of being an agent of the West. He wrote in September 27, 2007 in yet another critical piece about the debacle in Zimbabwe: “One of my critics, a veteran of black struggles in the diaspora, even went as far as to suggest that my columns are syndicatedly written my MI5 and the CIA. My response to such lurid accusations is that if the CIA and MI5 could recruit me without my knowledge, then we must give them credit for good judgement.”
That was Taju in full flow – swatting criticisms left, right and centre while speaking truth to power. He will be sorely missed. But this compilation will keep his indomitable pan-African spirit alive.
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsRed Pepper
Sep 1, 2010
Speaking Truth to Power brings together leading Pan-Africanist Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem's thoughts on a number of critical issues, including the empowerment of women, the dynamics of global politics and domestic political contestations within Africa.- Fatima Mujtaba
Abdul-Raheem, a Nigerian, was a journalist and a prolific columnist in newspapers across Africa. He later became one of the founding editors of Africa Review and a member of the seventh Pan-African Congress held in Uganda in 1994. He lost his life as a United Nations Millennium Campaign deputy director for Africa during a maternal health campaign trail last May in an ambush in Nairobi.
Abdul-Raheem began writing a series of 'Pan-African Postcards' in 1997, around the time of the overthrow of the Mobutu government in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These have been brought together in this thought-provoking collection published by Pambazuka Press with the support of African Women's Development fund.
Through his keen wit, Abdul-Raheem presents his vision of a free Africa at a time when global power structures continue to hold the continent in a subordinate position. He also juxtaposes the persistent inequalities in African society, including in healthcare access, with global advances in technology. Despite more than half a million women in the global South dying in pregnancy and childbirth, all too often the African response has been to accept 'God's will’ rather than questioning the will of those in power.
From urging the women of Africa 'to make noise’ as part of the Piga Debe campaign on women’s rights to poking fun at the free market as a 'dressed up’ imperialism, Abdul-Raheem’s was a radical voice both within Africa and for Africa. He condemned the Wall Street $700 billion bailout plan pushed by the Bush administration by pointing out how far it superseded the $72 billion fund set aside to meet UN millennium development goals by 2015.
The Pan-African movement has been criticised by a range of commentators, who have charged it as playing a role in maintaining repressive regimes in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Yet despite these criticisms, for Abdul-Raheem the value of Pan-Africanism remains the dignity and solidarity it encapsulates, not only for citizens of Africa but the world.
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsJournal of African and Asian Studies
Aug 23, 2010
From this book, readers will learn a great deal about University of Oxford-educated Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (popularly called Taju, for short, by friends and colleagues) as a person, a public intellectual, and a convinced activist as well as his positions about change and progress, coupled with his thoughts about Africa and her diverse peoples and political leaders within the imperatives of the global system. However, the 253-page book is neither Tajudeen's biography, nor is it his autobiography, a self-contained narrative or a self- described manual. Rather, this very useful publication is an anthology with topics and topical themes that, holistically, represent Tajudeen's political worldview through a very sharp Pan-African lens.- Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo, Ph.D. Cornell University and Wells College, USA
In some serious book reviews and even in some review essays, it is often expected that an author's methodological and theoretical perspectives, his/her unit of analysis, the quality of his/her hypothesis and consistency or inconsistency of his/her arguments and views, and so forth, are very often scrutinized. Yet, since the contents of this book are not dis- tinctively a disciplinary classical social science book – and the author is not around to revise it for future editions – certain required nuances can be relaxed. Instead, it is very useful to underscore that all the above-listed dimensions are synthesized in a coherent manner. This book, indeed, is a compilation of Tajudeen's essays made available by Ama Biney and Adebayo Olukoshi, who have also provided an introduction, with the preface written by Salim Ahmed Salim, and a foreword "on restoring the centrality of the African peoples in the struggles for freedom" provided by Horace G. Campbell. In sum, the publication is a critical reflection about where Africa is localized in the world system, how to understand her dynamics and how to change the current situation. Despite sharp attacks on poverty, human rights problems, gender inequality, dehumanization of Africa, etc., Tajudeen did not project any Afro-pessimism that is strongly associated with some African and Western scholars.
On the onset, it is also important to point out unambiguously that this is not a book about African metaphysics or any particular disciplinary-based science. It is more about an effort toward an understanding of the complex reality of contemporary Africa as it is, rather than an interpretation of the reality in a political vacuum. The essays are organized into 10 topical parts, namely: (1) Taking a stand for gender equality and justice; (2) Speaking truth to power; (3) Africa must unite – now; (4) Transforming cultural thought and values; (5) the African Diaspora and Africa; (6) Building democratic institutions; (7) Impe- rialism at work; (8) Africa and the World; (9) Fighting for Millennium Development Goals; and (10) For an Africa of free, equal and dignified citizens. These various parts were neither hierarchically arranged nor ranked through any chronology. Perhaps, the quality of the logical relationship between them was taken into account in the arrangement. Thus, "taking a stand for gender equality and justice" becomes the primary as well as central bridge in relationship with other topics.
Tajudeen's work, as published, does not have any separate sections on methodology, analysis and conclusion. However, these items are incorporated into the political pragmatism of Tajudeen's monistic thoughts, including the clear-cut expression that Africa is not an abstraction. Perusing the book, one can agree unequivocally that such issues as dictatorships, poverty, wars, violence against women, corruption, terrorism, etc., are a real part of Africa's dilemmas and ultimate degradation. Every item is focused on a problem, followed by an analysis or a description, and ends with policy or political recommendations. Without equivocation, Tajudeen claims the authorship by emphasizing the "I."
These weekly postcards were written between 2003 and 2009 as sharp responses to spe- cific issues that occurred in an African country or any sub-region of Africa or in the African Diaspora, or within the world system, which would have an impact on Africa. They were not written from any determining dominant intellectualistic position. As he said himself: "One of the hazards of being a self-opinionated columnist is that you get all kinds of unsolicited answers, requests, and invitations. Not all of them will be complimentary or flattering. Some may expect you to have answers for all kinds of issues and scenarios that you may not have even thought about or that are unlikely to be your cup of tea" (p. 117).
The compilation was meticulously done to preserve Tajudeen's distinctive voice and language (p. xx). As Biney and Olukoshi, inter alia, stated: "These essays collectively comprise a Pan-African legacy of Taju’s political, social and cultural thought" (p. xx). "He had a superb intellectual ability – some might even say gift – to express complex ideas and issues in an engaging manner, simultaneously erasing ideological cobwebs and instilling laughter and hope in his audience. Taju’s tomahawk tongue pierced reality" (p. xx).
Who was Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (or by his 'African’ names) as he said: "Abayomi, Amao" (p. 118) – the names that most people did not know about him? And what approaches and strategies did he use to advance his ideas? Among other laudable details, Biney and Olukoshi stated: "He was a discerning observer of social, political, economic and cultural developments in the global and pan-African world. This is because, without ever consciously defining himself as such, he was a public intellectual who was constantly reflecting, breathing, living, dreaming of how to solve the problems of African continent, and contemplating Africa’s engagement with the world via the so-called benign face of globalization, which he considered to be recolonization in disguise" (p. xix). Professor Campbell, in his very useful foreword, stated that Tajudeen “was operating as a writer and a diplomat for Pan-Africanism,” (p. xv). Subsequently, Campbell added: “Tajudeen worked for the United Nations as the African director in the Millennium Development Goals Campaign. But he did not allow his service as an international diplomat to silence him in relation to the exploitation and impoverishment of the poor. He used his position as another platform to be an advocate for the oppressed” (p. xviii). Former Ambassador Salim Ahmed Salim described his approach as follows: “Tajudeen tackled issues head-on, had no sacred cows, and could be a fierce critic, even of his closest friends and comrades” (p. x). He was also equally critical to himself (pp. 117-119), as reflected in his decision to join 'UNOcracy.’ He described himself as “a servant of lost causes, who believes that he can make stones hear!” (p. 167).
As depicted in this book, the world knows Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem through what he did and in his logos. He was influenced in his upbringing by the deepness of maternal love, the brilliance of his formal education in Nigeria (with a first class degree) and England (where he held a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford), and his enriched closeness to African culture. His career in Africa started firmly when he was appointed in 1992 as the general secretary for organizing the 7th Pan-African Congress in Kampala (Uganda), and at the time of his tragic death in a car accident in Nairobi, he had been serving as the deputy director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign since 2006. Thus, the dynamics of Pan-Africanism and internationalism are two dominant ideological elements that shaped his political positions.
A brief explanation about the content of the book reveals the depth in both its intellectual and political analyses. The essays were written for all those who are seriously interested in genuine peace and development: ordinary people, academics, intellectuals, political leaders, and international agencies. However, the interface between what Africans can do for themselves and what the institutions, both local and international, can do to support their initiatives is vital.
The first part of the book focuses on the issues related to gender inequality. Why is it that African countries have higher levels of mothers dying in pregnancy than in many other countries? Yet, many of these deaths are preventable (p. 4), as some countries have invested in provision of basic healthcare (p. 4). But privatization of the public facilities has been a problem. This issue is also linked to the conditions of women in Africa at large such as social class conflict and other sociological discriminatory practices and policies. He recognized the progress that has been made in the various political appointments of women in countries such as Liberia, Rwanda and South Africa. However, “the world cannot be a better place if women’s conditions are not better in it. Everyday should be a Woman’s day” (p. 10). Women should be judged by their own rights and actions (p. 13).
Concerning the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, and her connection to the United Nations, for example, Tajudeen characteristically wrote: “Liberia needs an effective, responsible and responsive State that will protect and defend its peoples, create jobs and empower people to transform their lives. It does not need a state that has a hands-off approach to social and economic development, trusting the ghosts of unfree market. She has to unlearn all her IMF/World Bank doctrines if she wants to success as an agent of change rather than merely acting as an agent of the bank and the fund. As for the UN background I have only one question: Is Africa now effectively a UN mandate territory so that previous experience of the UN is now required for aspirations of public office,” (p. 17).
On Speaking Truth generally, the author (Tajudeen) emphasized on the need to eradicate corruption in Africa, as he identifies corrupt leaders to be 'mass murderers’ and African society to be, essentially, corrupt although there is nothing particular cultural or African about corruption (p. 21). Yet, it is destroying African society and severe sanctions, in his view, are needed to change it. The issues concerning lack of democracies, American- ization of Nigeria, Somalia and terrorism, Charles Taylor’s supporters, etc., are described as anti-developmental or as anti-peace. Apart from lamenting the lack of term limits and the manipulation of constitutions, he suggests that they should neither be tolerated nor accepted. He wrote, for instance: “Zimbabwe and President Mugabe are in a situation we cannot in all good conscience continue to pussyfoot about any more. It is indefensible that one man, no matter his contribution to the country, should be holding the people ransom.” (p. 31).
On “Africa Must Unite – now”, which includes the sub-topics of Africa without borders and the quest for an effective functioning Pan-African Parliament (PAP), Tajudeen discussed the nature of the ridiculously-existing borders and the slowness with which the ratification of the African Union Charter was done due to the lack of political will (p. 76). Subsequently, he stated: “Many of our leaders sign international instruments and conti- nental ones for political correctness – often donor-driven – but at the back of their minds, they hope that their citizens will never know about them and if they do they are sure that they will never be implemented as long as they are in power,” (p. 76). Despite the slowness and cynicism of many, he recognized that the political landscape of Africa is generally changing for the better, even if the challenges of democratization and development continue. It is a work in progress (p. 91). We cannot have an effective PAP without offer- ing Pan-African citizenship and full participation to all Africans, wherever they may be (p. 103).
On transforming cultural thought and values, he wrote about the struggle against xeno- phobia, the claim of the Africanness and that of Africa for Africans that should be part of the liberation struggle without which the unification of Africa from Cape to Cairo would not be realized. Many Ethiopians, Egyptians, and South Africans, for instance, still talk of Africans as others (p. 106). There are so many prejudices, insults and stereotypes between different peoples, race, religions, nationalities and other social groups in the world that lead to violence. On the African Diaspora and Africa, the discussion on Obama as an American President and Obamamania, and the African politics, is a reflection of the bizarre or retrograde African politics concerning the citizenship issue (p. 130). Building democratic institutions in Africa is a must – a topic that Tajudeen examined with strong emotion and empiricism. Subtopics include the need of political parties, democracy without democrats, the state of the African universities, and the challenge of leadership.
On imperialism at work, he discussed how it has dressed up of new technology and the market, the triumphalism of neoliberalism (p. 164), the slavery, the British and Western NGOs, and the G8 which dominate global trade, commerce, finance, global institutions, corporations, and disproportionately use, misuse and abuse global resources (p. 167). He raised the issue of how the richer countries treat the overwhelming majority of the poorer peoples of the world as illegal tenants (p. 169). Africans must find solutions to their prob- lems by themselves, as he stated: “We are not even experts on our poverty. Africans are the only people doomed to be perpetual students of their own conditions and further con- demned to be perpetually taught by outsider experts, consultants, activist, defenders or spokespersons” (p. 202).
Then, on Africa and the world, the issue of imperialist behaviors of Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the tragedy of Palestinians, Israel’s unjust war of the destruction and campaign of annihilation in Lebanon (p. 212), and China in Africa. On the topic of fighting for the Millennium Development Goals, he raised the issue of whether or not Africa would be able to meet these prescribed goals in 2015. With a high level of optimism, he describes these goals like dreams (p. 226). He talks about some progresses that have been achieved in education, for instance, (p. 212) and roadblocks that African citizens should deal with toward the advancement of the MDGs. In the last part, the call was for an Africa of free, equal and dignified citizens, with the need to “take Pan-Africanism to the people,” “the restoration to us what is naturally ours,” “the demand for common citizenship,” and “Tajudeen’s last Pan-African Postcard: city beautification that is destroying livelihoods” (p. 246).
Written with an extraordinary energy, these essays focus on Africa in the contemporary world with its contradictions and its possibilities. African conditions are not natural and permanently static. In his writings, one also discovers the mind of someone who made many references to God. He also used comparative perspectives on what Africans could learn from others. And yet, apart from his clear penchant for Nyerere’s socialism and nationalism associated with national liberation movements, Tajudeen, known for his intellectual rigor precision, did not vigorously project how Africa could also learn from other past and new ideologies such as Marxism-Leninism, Social Democracy, Maoism, and Socialism with the Market Economy.
His powerful writings were intended to educate, to influence and to change. They reflect an individual who is principled with a claim of high level of moral integrity. Pan-Africanism does not mean autarkism. Tajudeen was also an institutional builder, not a prophet. His messages are essentially those of peace, social progress, respect and dignity for humanity, all of which make this book encyclopedic and political.
Speaking Truth to Power is a testimony of a committed individual’s contribution to Africa and the world. I highly recommend the excellent book to all those, who would like to learn more about contemporary Africa as well as national and international institutions and political leaders from an un-apologetic critical perspective. Purposefully, Tajudeen’s e-mail messages sign off: “Don’t agonise! Organise!”
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsThe East African
May 31, 2010
May 25 was Africa Liberation Day. It was also the first anniversary of the untimely death of Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, former secretary general of the Pan African Movement, in a road accident in Nairobi.- L. Muthoni Wanyeki
Across the continent and beyond, events were held to commemorate Abdul-Raheem's passing. From Abuja to Harare, Kano, London and Nairobi, questions were asked about the African Union's role in the slow march to full regional integration as a means of addressing Africa’s standing in the world today — and the freedom and economic wellbeing of its peoples.
The consensus was that despite the normative progress on integration, realisation of its potential is not just yet to come — but seems to be drifting farther away.
The pendulum of progress witnessed from the mid 1990s to the start of this millennium is now swinging the other way. At the state level, the optimism spawned by the coming into power of governments claimed as successes of the pan-African left has turned into cynicism as each of those governments, without exception, has gone bad.
Conflicts believed resolved have proven not to be — think the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan.
Simmering internal conflicts have come to the boil. Unconstitutional changes of government are back and, as ever more devious ways of thwarting the democratic process are devised, "negotiated democracies" are gathering steam.
And, while Africa’s growth is still on the upward trajectory overall — despite the global financial shocks of 2008 — this growth has done little to address sustainable livelihoods at the base or to absorb the ever growing mass of Africa’s un- and underemployed.
This fragility, politically and economically, feeds the xenophobia expressed both within and without Africa’s states — particularly those who feel they have already had to cope with more than their fair share of internal migrants, genuine refugees and economic migrants.
Ironically thus, at the very time that Africa’s normative frameworks for the integration project are advancing, fragmentation within Africa’s states is increasing.
So much for a free, united Africa.
That said, more cheerfully, across the continent and beyond, it was also clear that Abdul-Raheem’s passing had, in fact, renewed commitment to that very vision — of a free and united Africa.
Two books were launched during events commemorating his death. The Centre for Development and Democracy launched Don’t Agonise, Organise, a compilation of the thousands of tributes received following his death from Africans both lowly and otherwise.
These tributes were, of course, a testament to the force of personality that he was. But they were also, in totality, a reflection on the state of Africa, the state of its integration project, the players therein — a history in short of the third phase of pan-Africanism that Abdul-Raheem was a critical player in.
And Fahamu launched Speaking Truth to Power, a collection of "Tajudeen’s Postcards," Abdul-Raheem’s weekly missives published by newspapers across the continent and online (See Magazine, Page III).
As a student commenting during the first commemorative symposium at Bayero University Kano said: “He had sincerity of heart, purpose and action.”
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsBlack Power Media
May 24, 2010
While the world celebrated the first anniversary of the life and legacy of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem at London's Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, Africanists on the Continent have taken a moment to reflect on the impact of a man who was for many the flag-bearer of Global Pan-African thought. I sat this weekend to read the latest compilation book of Tajudeen’s postcards, Speaking Truth to Power, in order to appreciate the essence of the man who dedicated his adult life to African liberation. The former United Nations Millennium Campaign Deputy Director for Africa and Director of Justice Africa lost his life 25 May 2009 in Nairobi en route to launch a maternal health campaign in Kigali.- Amir Demeke
Speaking Truth to Power is a well-balanced meal for the novice to expert Pan-Africanist, and reads with the pace and tone of a man committed to African people over political alignment. From urging African leaders to hasten toward continental unity to charging men to play critical roles in ending violence against women, Tajudeen illustrates his acute awareness of the most pressing issues in contemporary African affairs. Of particular relevance today are the articles, "Every day should be a woman’s day," “Africa without borders,” and “Africa Day: who says slavery is dead?” The first article mentioned reminds readers that “the world cannot be a better place if women’s conditions are not better in it” and calls for true liberation and equality across gender. The second postcard applauds the efforts made within East Africa to drive socio-political and economic integration, particularly with Rwanda and Burundi joining the East African Community. In the third, which posted exactly four years ago today, Tajudeen, does not fail to bring our attention to the essential question for every person moving toward a better Africa. Speaking from the land of the greats, Tajudeen returns repeatedly on his day, Africa Day, with a clear demand: “You need to ask yourself whether by your action or inaction you are part of the problem or part of the solution. Happy Africa Day!”
Speaking Truth to Power is a good book for those who want a broad-spanning look into the mind of a true Pan-African leader. For those who read for enlightenment, find a copy of the book and turn on the light. For those with differing views, grow more committed in your stance onlty after giving Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem your time and your ear. The man who simply said “Don’t agonise! Organise!” becomes clearer through the compilation. A copy of Speaking Truth to Power is available at the National Library in Gikondo, but you may also find this FAHAMU book at Libraire Ikirezi in Kigali, Storymoja in Nairobi, Fountain Publishers in Kampala, Novel Idea Bookshop in Dar es Salaam, or online at http://fahamubooks.org. Pambazuka Press, dubbed the progressive Pan-African publisher, disseminates analysis and debate on the struggle for freedom and justice in Africa through the voices of the peoples of Africa and global South.
Amir Demeke is an international correspondent with Black Power Media ("Nothing More, Nothing Less"), an independent media group that centers on the experiences and liberation of African people.
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsDaily Trust
May 24, 2010
Come rain come sun shine, as Nigerians would say, whether in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Nuba Mountains, Funtua or Cape Town, Tajudeen Abdulraheem, always looked for an opportunity to write down his thoughts of the week. In an African continent that is only recently getting wired, sending these thoughts out as " post cards" was usually a major challenge. Taju helped many of us to discover the nearest cyber café to our homes! I always patiently endured his late night adventures in a"Taju Sheraton" as he typed out a post card.- Kole Shettima
His thought-provoking pieces appeared regularly across the continent in the print media: Weekly Trust in Nigeria and New Vision in Uganda among others. Pambazuka, the publishers of this collection - which is advertised as “a platform for progressive Pan-African perspectives on politics, development and global affairs”- ensured a world wide audience for these pieces from its website. Ama Biney and Adebayo Olukoshi meticulously compiled the book.
I can only imagine the difficulty faced by Ama and Bayo in selecting the materials which appeared in the book. Taju's weekly thoughts run over several years which, among other laurels, earned him the title of being longest columnist of the Media Trust newspapers. Don't ask how much he earned as a columnist for it was yet to be computed when he died.
Taju also wrote on every imaginable issue relevant to the continent ranging from culture, politics, football, corruption and gender. Being relevant to the continent meant any issue that affects people of African descendent living or outside the continent. He had a clear perspective that Africans are people of any color or tribal mark who live in the continent, “Andrewed” or found themselves forcefully removed from the continent either through slave trade or because of other forms of difficulties.
Taju is baki abin magana or “a wordsmith” as the English people put it. It is impossible to kure him. In whatever argument or debate, you can’t defeat him. He has a gifted memory and incomparable capacity of story telling. He must have grown up with his grandmother! He followed the historical trajectory of NEPU/PRP activists, notably: Mallam Aminu Kano, Mudi Speaking, Lawal Danbazzau, Sabo Bakin Zuwo, Bala Mohammed and Abubakar Rimi, and Najatu Mohammed in the current version.
The book is in 10 parts, namely: gender equality and justice, speaking truth to power, Africa must unite-now, transforming cultural thought and values, the African Diaspora and Africa, building democratic institutions in Africa, imperialism at work, Africa and the world, fighting for the millennium Development Goals and for an Africa of free, equal and dignified citizens. I am not sure the reason for making gender equality and justice as the first part. Taju jokingly talked about his minority status at home: struggling for space between his wife Mounira, daughters Aida, Ayesha, and his eight sisters. In spite of being a male minority- which may or may not come with privileges- or because of it, Taju was conscious of the systemic discrimination against women in our societies. Contrast that with the supporters of Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima whose daughters get married after completing tertiary education in London, Malaysia, Dubai, Turkey or Cyprus and yet do not see anything wrong with daughters of less privileged persons including drivers, farmers and the unemployed dragged into marriage uneducated at the age of 13 to persons old enough to be their grand fathers.
Our departed friend, brother, comrade and uncle, died on May 25th; a date of much historical significance. It is “Africa Day” designated to mark the founding of the Organization of African Union. It is also a day marked in Nigeria and other countries as “Safe Motherhood Day.” Indeed Taju was on his way to Rwanda, a country whose liberation he significantly contributed to , on a Millennium Development Goal campaign event. The themes of safe motherhood, gender justice and equality and women featured prominently in several parts of the book. He was unapologetic in sympathizing with Winnie Mandela during her tribulations of separation and divorce from Nelson Mandela. Hear him: “In the case of Winnie I doubt if anyone below the age of 50 years today would have known Nelson Mandela but for Winnie. She is the Mandela that kept Nelson in our consciousness. She did marry him young but she grew up politically mostly outside his reach”. Taju must have been beaming with smiles in his grave on the occasion of his conferment as the “African of the Year 2009 Award” on January 20th, 2010 by the management of MediaTrust Limited as Winnie handed over the plaque to his daughter Ayesha. Of course he was not an uncritical supporter of women as shown in two chapters: “Every day should be a woman’s day” and “Can Mama Ellen deliver liberty to Liberia”.
The section “Speaking Truth to Power”, which is also the title of the collection, is one of my favorites. Taju’s wit and courage is displayed in abundance according to the Nigerian parlance. He referred to General Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan as “Internationally Displaced President” in reference to his indictment by the International Criminal Court. Khartoum is “a city full of African symbols whose rulers insist is Arab”. In referring to Muammar Gaddafi he observed that: “unfortunately, the huge-ego, razzmatazz and showmanship brother leader…clouded the real issues feeding the prejudices of all Ghaddafi-phobic, Arab-phobic Sub-saharan obscurantists”. His caustic wit rent out: “Bye-bye to Blair, Brown, Bob and Bono, the B stars in poverty pornography”.
In his capacity as the Secretary General of the Pan-Africanist Movement, Taju came into contact who most African leaders and was close especially to the so-called 'new generation’ of Prime Minister Meles Zenawe, Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Mbeki and others. They were supportive of his activities; and indeed he nearly lost his life in the struggle for the liberation of Rwanda. However, Taju also fell apart with many of them because he didn’t spare them the bite of pen! Many of the so-called second generation of leaders turned out to be corrupt dictators, “who can’t negotiate without having their AK47s cocked”. He was called several names and his column was alleged to be syndicated by M15 and the CIA. Ironically, Taju couldn’t travel to the United States for many years because of his political views. His response to these innuendoes was: “if the CIA and M15 could recruit me without my knowledge, then we must give them credit for good judgment”.
The unity of the continent was the main preoccupation of Taju. He was a Pan-Africanist par excellance. There may not be an African capital where Taju doesn’t have friends, political or social. Many people came to know of his nationality after his death. Not surprisingly his death was marked all over the continent and among the African Diaspora.
He drew our attention to the absurdities in Africa including his remark about dividing Africans into categories of: Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone despite the “fact that the majority of the people don’t have access to any phone”. “Why not Africaphone?” he asked with rage. How about meals in African hotels? According to him, if you request for that, “they will tell you they need 24 to 48 notice yet they can almost instantly offer you all kinds of so-called “international” cuisine”. In some of the Francophone countries, cheese and wine from particular regions of France are available on demand! What about his experiences with wearing hats in African hotels. He was stopped entering into hotels or eating in Zambia and Zimbabwe because “gentlemen are required to take off hats for supper”. The irony was that the bouncers were also wearing hats but, according to them, those were part of their uniforms! African languages were referred to as “vernaculars” and existed as “tribes” whereas the Welsh - who are not up to half the population of Yorubas- were considered as living as a nation. How about Africans treated as second class citizens in Africa? Taju reminded us of his two daughters who are British citizens are by birth and enjoy equal rights like every other British citizen even though none of their parents are British. Try that in Africa!
The humanity of Taju comes up in his discussion of the death of his sister Asmau and the narrative which led to his quitting smoking. One wintry morning in London, his first daughter, Aida, who was then 10 years old said to him “Baba do you know that you will not live to see me graduate”. As expected he was taken aback that a teenager was talking about death early in the morning and asked why. Her response was to the point “because you are smoking”. Taju didn’t need to go to any medical doctor to convince him to stop smoking. Unfortunately, Aida lost her Baba not to smoking but to a motor accident while driving himself on Nairobi’s Airport Road to catch a flight to Rwanda.
He was full of stories about Aida and Ayesha. I remember his story about how he used to trick them when they were kids. Whenever he was going out of the house, like all kids, they asked for candy or toys. Every time he responded “InshaAllah”. Taju didn’t come back with what they requested. One day when they asked for candy and he responded in his usual way, they replied “Baba we don’t like InshaAllah”! He was very concerned about our regular travels and being away from the family. He warned me that one day my children will call me “Uncle”!
This great collection of Taju’s postcards is essential reading to enable us learn and understand some of the complexities of our Continent. At last here is a collection that tells the story and politics of the African Continent and its people in simple language. Ama Bing and Adebayo Olukoshi have done us a great favour by putting them together. The preface by Salim Ahmed Salim and foreword by Horace Campbell are historic tributes to Taju’s Pan-Africanism. Thank you Pambazuka. Adieu my friend. Inna lillahi Wa Inna lahir rajiun. May your soul continue to be in Jannatul Firdausi. the first five Pan African Congresses, but how many know the work done in the United States in those days by another South African woman Charlotte Maxeke? Even Dr. Dubois had his long drawn out battles with the Garveyists as detailed in a new book by Colin Grant, 'Negro with a hat, the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey”. In between other forces had endeavoured to steer the Black American, Caribbean and African trade union and nascent nationalist movements into their own agenda such as the Comintern and the Hamburg-based trade union movement, which led to George Patmore’s split with the Communists in the 30’s. Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association is known to have been infiltrated by the FBI. These challenges did not deter the African nationalist movement that led to Independence in the 1960’s.
Yet Independence, the founding of the OAU in 1963 with Kwame Nkrumah’s impassioned plea for African Unity and even his Pan-Africanist policies did not lessen the desire for global Pan Africanism. If anything it spurred a new back-to-Africa movement with Accra as the rallying point. Indeed, African solidarity had come to Sekou Toure’s aid in the late 1950’s when the French threw a tantrum. I know of Tanzanian students who travelled from Liberia to lend a hand in Guinea. By April 1974, the Revolution of the Carnations had brought down the colonial Caetano regime in Portugal ushering in the independence Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau (which had declared independence at Madina do Boe in September 1973) and Sao Tome e Principe. Shortly thereafter the 6th Congress took place in Dar es Salaam but it was not spared the dissension and boycotts. While a delegation from the New Hebrides islands in the Pacific attended, several Caribbean stalwarts had their differences with the then Government of Guyana which was represented and voted with their feet. . The 7th Pan African Congress took place in Kampala under the same cloud of dissension. High drama was not in short supply! One particularly acrimonious scene took place with Madame Graca Machel in the chair. After the host Uganda, the largest delegation of over 100 was from Sudan divided into Northern Sudan and it southern supporters, the SPLA at the time the split into the Bor and Torit factions. No sooner had Dr.John Garang taken podium than his rivals in the SPLA-United leapt to their feet brandishing banners. The deafening cacophony drowned the hall such that the Chair could barely make her voice heard. It was not until security moved in that order was restored. Ominously on that Thursday afternoon the Rwanda genocide was brewing, a few hours away .It almost overshadowed the South African election. One month, two landmarks, the centrifugal machine had once again kicked into action.
It was in that heady atmosphere that Dr.Tajudeen Abdul Raheem was elected General Secretary of the Global Pan African movement. The Africa of the 1990’s was radically different from the continent of solidarity and support of the 50’s and 60’s. Domestic problems, foreign policy challenges in the shadow of the polarizing Cold War had created a disillusioned populace of disappointed professionals, exiled writers, falling educational standards and nonexistent health systems courtesy of the World Bank /IMF and their SAPs, restive youth, invisible women, impoverished farmers and the onset of the AIDS pandemic all leading to Afro pessimism. How did Taju get to the helm of the movement at a time of such despair? One needs to mention here that the Convenor of the 7th Pan African congress was Prof. Abdulrahman Babu of Tanzania.
A group of African- scholars, activists and Government representatives had met in the early 90s in Libya at the international Mathaba to discuss the state of the world after the end of the Cold war. On the margins of the Mathaba the Pan-Africanists felt that in Africa with all the changes taking place globally, there was need for a secure space in which African citizens, their Governments and the emergent civil society organizations could debate and discuss in all civility. That space proved to be a revived Pan African Movement. Present at the meeting was one Col. Kahinda Otafire of the ruling National Resistance Movement of Uganda and Director of External Security who promised to convince President Yoweri Museveni to host both the Congress and the Secretariat. A further meeting then took place in Entebbe that set up the International Planning Committee with Prof. Babu as Convenor, Col. Kahinda as Chairman, Dr.Tajudeen as General secretary of the Interim Secretariat and President Museveni of Uganda as Patron. The 7th Congress endorsed Taju as substantive General Secretary in 1994, after 2 years of packed organizing that saw him travel all over Africa and the world with his friend and trusted aide, the late Noble Mayombo, to drum up support for the process.
This arrangement was not without its detractors within Uganda itself, in East Africa and abroad, given the political profile of those in charge at the top. Accusations flew back and forth over the locus standi of the Ugandan officials and leaders on the IPC. At a time of heightened tensions, regional dynamics were changing as Cold War certainties went up in smoke and the age of donor accountability arrived, new-look civil society organizations were considered Trojan horses of foreign ideologies ‘. As the multiparty era set in, alternative initiatives were dismissed as opposition political campaign bases or rebel outposts! Many African Governments were uneasy with the idea of a Pan African Movement as it harkened back to a bygone era of triumphalism against Nkrumah’s generation and stance. Ill motives were imputed on persons involved in the organizing and whispers of underground movements with deep war chests did the rounds. Other challenges included, then as now, regional chauvinisms, stereotyping, racial and ethnic prejudices, careerism, gender discrimination, and cultural, linguistic and religious intolerance plus ageism -all revolving around legitimacy. In short Tajudeen and his Secretariat bore the brunt of a multiple transition as the world lurched into a new global dispensation. Change had thrown up anxiety but to Taju’s credit he endeavoured to bridge resentments and cultivate a collegial approach to induct his skeleton staff into doing Pan-Africanism.
Speaking Truth to Power: Selected Pan-African PostcardsNext
Friends and comrades of Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem were at the Yar'Adua Centre on 25th May to celebrate the life and work of this great African. He had made it easy by dying on AFRICA LIBERATION DAY, May 25th 2009 in a motor accident in Nairobi, Kenya. He was enroute to Kigali, Rwanda where he was to drum up support for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). He lived and died for Africa.- Jibrin Ibrahim
I was on election observation duties in Malawi when he died last year. The testimo-ny of his Africanness emerged the moment I announced his death at our review meeting in Blantyre. The Kenyan observer thought he was Kenyan and the Ugandan observer thought he was Ugandan, which he was because when he was in exile and Abacha had refused to renew his Nigerian passport, Musoveni had given him Ugandan nationality so that he could move around and organise the 7th Pan African Con-gress.Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem was born on Janu-ary 6, 1961 in Funtua, Katsina State and saw no contradiction in being an indigene of both Funtua in Katsina State and Ogbomosho.
Taju studied at Bayero University Kano where he graduated with a first class honours degree in Political Science. He then bagged the pres-tigious Rhodes Fellowship and proceeded to Oxford University where he graduated with a D.Phil.At the Yar'Adua Centre celebration, Labaran Maku, Minister of State for Information and Communication and co-chair of the event captured the mood of the moment by recalling the greatness of the African past bequeathed to the world in the magnificent pyramids and the tragedy of continuous bondage from the times of the Romans to the contemporary infiltration and takeover of the continent by the Chinese. The greatest Africans he declared are those who engage in the struggle to unite and liber-ate Africans.The other co-chair, Amina az Zubair, Senior Special Adviser to the President on the Millennium Develop-ment Goals who worked with Taju when he was Afri-ca Director of the Millen-nium campaign stressed his commitment to defending the com-mon person and promoting people centered development.
For Muthono Wanyeki, Executive Director of the Ken-yan Human Rights Commission who rep-resented the Kenyan comrades at the event, her emphasis was on why we should all strive to emulate Taju's dogged, non-judgmental and self-tasking approach to popular struggles.Other speakers at the symposium were Abu-bakar Momoh of Lagos State University who spoke on the philosophy of Pan Africanism, the Director of Political Affairs of ECOW-AS, Musah Abdel-Fatau who focused on the imperative of integration in contemporary Africa, Adele Jinadu who stressed the signifi-cance of Pan Africanism and Tar Ukoh of the Mambisa band fame who both entertained with his orchestra and gave a moving speech on the importance of culture in the struggle for political and economic libera-tion.It was a moving trib-ute to Taju who was appointed General-Sec-retary for the Secretariat organising the 7th Pan African Congress in Kampala, Uganda.
He organised a very successful Congress in 1994 with delegates from 47 countries It turned out to be one of the largest and most vibrant gatherings of Pan Africanists in many years. Though the theme of the Congress was 'Africa: Facing the Future in Unity, Social Progress and Democracy'; the Congress was overshadowed by the unfolding genocide in Rwanda.In response, Tajudeen accompanied a del-egation from the Pan African Movement to Rwanda, for a first hand assessment of what was going on in the country, but the delegation fell into an ambush near Kigali from which Tajudeen was lucky to escape unhurt. Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President sent a per-sonal message to the symposium regretting his inability to be personally present at the celebration of someone he knew as a personal friend and a comrade in the struggle for the lib-eration of Africa,Beyond the Pan Africa Congress, Tajudeen remained perhaps the most vocal cru-sader for his dream of a ‘United States of Africa'.What will never cease to amaze those of us who knew this great African was how he found time to write? He ran a regular column, Thursday Postcard, syndicated to many newspapers including Daily Trust and Pambazuka.
We remember Taju for his intel-lect, his loud laughter and his infectious ‘irrev-erent' sense of humour. He was many things to many people, he was a journalist and column-ist, a political scientist, a campaigner and an activist; but perhaps the role for which he will be missed the most, is his support for African institutions especially the civil society.He was the founding chair of the Centre for Democracy and Development where I work, the Director of Justice Africa and the Pan-Afri-can Development Education and Advocacy Programme to name but a few. In recognition of his contributions, the Trust Conglomerate awarded him the post humus award of African of the Year. It is edifying that even in death; Taju still speaks and is recognised for his tre-mendous contributions to the development of the continent. The celebration of his life took place simultaneously in Abuja, London, Nai-robi and Kampala. Taju left behind his widow Mounira and two daughters Aisha and Aida. May his ideas continue to inspire us.