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Talking Arts: Song for Africa

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The song for Africa is very familiar; our lack of development is usually blamed on the West. If it is not about the resources — including our men in form of slaves — that were taken away from Africa to build the white cities, it is certainly about the International Monetary Fund or World Bank’s policies that have dwarfed Africa’s economy.

The most radical of the slavery discourse in music is the Burning Spear. ‘Slavery Days’ is a cry song that tells of the way our people were beaten up and the hard labour in the fields of America.

What could be so symbolic is the shackles around the necks of our men at the time. As history recalls how people suffered during the days of slavery, one would think so much has changed today and people are no longer slaves.

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In development theories, there is justification that Africa should have been far much developed if we had kept our resources and our men too. Although there is an ounce of truth in such kind of thinking but this often comes from African leaders whose ostensible purpose is empathy; claiming that we are suffering from the after-effects of the West’s dominance and abuse during the colonial period.

This thinking unfortunately is used to justify our leaders’ mediocrity and how them, and only them, are deemed capable of transforming Africa. In this continent once lived leaders who meant well for Africa. They saw Africa’s progress with its feet standing on unity. As we celebrate Africa Day this week, what the true African leaders envisaged is far from being realised. What we are living is not Kwame Nkrumah’s dream, not Julius Nyerere’s dream and of course not Haile Selassie I’s dream.

Several years later lived other leaders of similar standing in the continent. Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara was one. He did not live long; he was eliminated. Just like Muammar al Gadaffi, the man who dreamt of United States of Africa. All we have chosen to hear about Muammar is that he was not a good man who killed his own people. Nothing is told about what he dreamt about Africa; a united Africa.

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Today we have leaders who kill too; they use corruption to deprive their own people of medicine. They kill their own people by not fulfilling the promises during elections. But as far as they follow the script written by the West, these are good men.

The framers of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union, were certainly ahead of their time. They foresaw a developed Africa but the continent has stagnated because not many have attempted to live their dream.

Today, a number of artists rightly say what has gone wrong in Africa. One of those is man called Tiken Jah Fakoly who believes there is need for an African revolution. At the centre of this revolution should be the young people since all we need is an intelligent revolution.

It is therefore quite surprising that in most of Africa today, the youth have been used to instigate violence. The beneficiary of this violence is that leader who wants to cling to power, we have too many of them in Africa. Fakoly is one of the fiercest critics of expired leaders who have done more harm to Africa.

Our own Evison Matafale has a different perspective about our under-development. The problems for Africa stem from the mediocre leadership. The majority of the leaders are obsessed with consolidating their power; the next man they see is their enemy therefore nothing good comes from that next man.

The nationalists’ justification in fighting for Africa’s freedom was that a free Africa would be a catalyst for development. The Africa today is contrary to the dreams of the OAU’s architects.

At his best, Matafale expressed his wish to go to Africa summit in Adis Ababa because the delegates had abdicated. His frustrations are summed up in his song Freedom: I and I stand to the mountain top/ Watching Africa from far and high/ And all I can see is smoke and fire/ They are still fighting in Mamaland/ And all I can smell is bomb and blood/I can hear them cry voices of sorrow.

Sadly, Africa cannot govern itself. The war in some African countries is a clear sign that we are yet to embrace unity as the foundation of development. In the continent, there is still no free movement between countries.

As we celebrate Africa Day, there are a number of songs to reflect on. Matafale stands out because he is our own yet his vision, through his music, was not confined to Malawi. Someone must stop this bomb and blood, unity is what the great leaders of Africa preached.

Since politicians rarely talk about unity, our hope rests in artists who preach unity in their songs.

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