Recently, while on an official visit to the United Kingdom, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi delivered a lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs popularly known as ‘Chatham House’ London.
Governor Fayemi, a globally recognised leading resource on matters relating to governance, democratisation, security and economic development had in recent times honoured a number of speaking engagements focusing on socio- political developments in Nigeria and internationally.
At the Chatham House, he spoke on the topic ‘The Challenge of Change: Democracy and Development in Ekiti State, Nigeria’. He started his lecture by relating a striking personal experience. He narrated that the elders of his “small but scenic hometown, Isan-Ekiti,” had come to see him to express certain displeasure with him shortly after he was sworn-in as the Governor of Ekiti State in late 2010.
“At this point,” he recounted further, “while the Government House in the state capital was being renovated, I was driving to the Governor’s office from my hometown daily. The elders told me that they found it disappointing and sorely disconcerting that the people in the town were hardly aware of when I drove out of, and back into town every day.”
Why was this a problem, Fayemi said he was forced to ask them?
Reporting their response, the governor said: “Well, they understood my credentials as a scholar, they were also aware that I had been an activist for many years. But now I was the Governor of the Ekiti State, and this would be the first and, perhaps, the only time in a long while, that the Governor would come from their hometown.
“Why then was I denying them the opportunity of enjoying the pomp and circumstance of power by driving in and out of town without using the siren – if only to remind the people of the adjoining towns that their own son is the Governor of the state?”
Fayemi said he gave the narration to illustrate both the challenges and the opportunities for change in the ethos and practices of power and governance in Nigeria.
He then proceeded to lay out the key issues, including the fundaments, the ethos and the practices which he believed were significant in examining the challenges facing state, governance, democratisation and development in Nigeria.
He avowed that “change is central in all these, because social transformation is an indispensable factor in any society – even in the most developed ones. Because society is a permanent work-in- progress, continuity and change must be in a constant struggle so as to find the best direction and methods of social progress. However, no lasting social change starts outside the minds of human beings.”
To buttress his argument, he cited Albert Einstein’s statement that “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Based on his narrated personal experience, Fayemi observed: “If a political culture encourages people to think that a state governor is not “governor enough” if he does not announce his going and coming with blaring sirens, even when there is no obstructing traffic, then we have to realise that the challenges of change is multi-dimensional.
Expatiating more on ‘The Fundaments of the African State’, he looked back at the last two decades of democratisation in Africa, which he declared, has brought to bear significant social, economic and political changes on the African continent. He said with several years he had spent in the civil society, working with social forces in Africa and development agencies across the world to encourage change in the continent, he could confirm that Africa is changing for the better.
He, however, made an allusion to “a lot” of that had been “written by Western scholars on the African predicament which oscillates between hope and despair and described in various dark grammars – failed states, collapsed states, incapable states, proforma democracies to mention but a few of such epithets.”
He added that some African scholars have equally responded to many of the dark prognoses on the African State by describing them as “collapse thesis.” Some Western scholars, he said, have even gone further, adept at what they consider to be the most sinister manifestations of the State in Africa since it fits a convenient and popular narrative, to announce that, despite all its “illogicality,” “Africa [actually] Works” – because as they conclude, “Disorder [acts] as Political Instrument” in the continent.
While avoiding, as he said, to indulge in philosophical and/or theoretical postulations about the continent, Fayemi turned to a Marxian dictum to react to what he termed “the (prevailing) restrictive and (popular) constraining attitude both in the academy and the international development community toward the African State.”
Karl Mark, in The German Ideology, had said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it.” Governor Fayemi argued that the same view can be extended to the African situation.
Not many, I believe, will contend with Fayemi’s argument, as he put it, that: “The philosophers have only interpreted Africa, the point, however, is to change it.”
As Fayemi has constantly postulated in many of his talks, we all need a typology of Africa’s democratization that further interrogates the broad categories away from the Manichean divide – of success and failure, pessimism and optimism, sub-optimal performance and unprecedented progress – which is possible and indeed, necessary because of its practical implications for policy choices by African citizens, their governments and development partners.
As accurate as this typology is, it remains incomplete in its inadequate analyses of the process and dynamics of change and in its focus on outcomes. As Fayemi would always argue: “Both optimists and pessimists of the African condition focus on outcomes, linking these outcomes in a linear relationship with particular reforms and assuming static environments.”
I agree with him that what is needed – is an understanding of the relationship between evolving economic and political contexts of reform – of how and why reforms proceed. I equally believe with him, as he argued further, that we must move away from a focus on judgments pegged on macro- reforms, that is country level analyses and big ticket issues – democratisation, privatisation, anti-corruption, insecurity – that are often measured by large, dramatic shifts – technically appropriate but often lacking in political fit.
Opportunities to accelerate change and strengthen governance structures, as he said, are often missed in the context of this exclusive focus, or worse they may accelerate the challenges, inherent in the process of change, by withdrawing, for example, in the wake of partial reform. Rather than focus on short term gains, it is important to understand social change in Africa in a longer term perspective rather than through the typical binaries of success and failure.
It is in this way, along the line of Fayemi’s postulation, that it would become clear that societal transformation in Africa in the past two decades of democratisation has led to the emergence of new social forces, changed the importance of others and consequently altered the relationships among various social and political actors whilst fostering new coalitions between the state and society.
Dare Omobude wrote from Ibadan, Oyo State.
Last modified: December 18, 2012