Ok, so earlier this year (and we are just now entering the month of March), a newly inaugurated President’s speech was shot down because a few of the phrases seem to have been taken from another speech without the right academic recognition (aka plagiarism). One good thing that came out of this bruhaha is the now popular phrase #citizens-not-subjects. Without holding brief for this newly inaugurated President (by the way, congratulations, Mr. New President!), as I know he has the arduous task of re-engineering a broken economy, I would like to discuss the concept of citizenship within the context of the new Africa, Agenda 2063. This is more significant to me because Ghana, the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence will be celebrating this milestone soon. Indeed, many other African countries will be celebrating their sixtieth independence anniversary in the next few years.
JJ Rousseau postulates that the social contract is the third and highest form of society. In fact, this social contract transports man from a state of nature where life is, as described by Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The three stages described by Rousseau, are (a) the state of nature, where man is free and independent, (b) society, in which man is oppressed and dependent on others, and (c) the state under the Social Contract, in which, ironically, man becomes free through obligation; he is only independent through dependence on law.
Inherent in a society under social contract is the active role of man in ensuring that the State is transparent, responsive and accountable. Democracy becomes the tool that measures the socio-politico intercourse between man and the State. Citizen’s vigilance and their continuous fight for their rights and freedoms keep the State engaged whilst the State is also desirous to keep citizens tame. This conflict continues to this day. To balance this equation, citizens needs to continuously play an active role in ensuring that hard earned tax payers monies are used to provide social services that go to the core of the social contract.
As Africa moves into sixty years of celebrating independence, I would like to share a few examples of persons who decided to take their citizenship very seriously and are remembered for this.
Nii Kwabena Bonnie III (Kwamla Theodore Taylor)
Nii Kwabena Bonnie III (aka Boycotthene) was a Gold Coast (Ghanaian) radical nationalist and traditional ruler who in 1948 organised the single most successful massive boycott of all time in Ghana’s political history. This boycott ultimately led to Ghana’s independence nine years later in 1957.
The significance of Nii Bonnie’s action is the process of inclusiveness and the advocacy he employed to make independence a reality. Nii Bonnie travelled the entire country explaining the reason for the proposed boycott. He further engaged the colonial government to reduce the cost of European goods on the market. The state’s lack of response led to two key events in Ghana’s history. The 28th February road incident and the Accra riots. For going beyond what was required of him as an individual, I elevate Nii Kwabena Bonnie to the status Citizen Extraordinaire.
Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, as he called himself, is the ultimate independent struggle nonconformist. A leading figure in the Mau Mau revolution, he was viewed with disdain by his fellow Kikuyu, Jomo Kenyatta. Kimathi is known for taking a more militant approach to the deprivation of Kikuyu lands by British colonialists in the 1950s. Kimathi rallied his tribesmen to the cause of independence and freedom and was a thorn in the flesh of the British colonialists. It is believed that the MauMau movement was a key contributor to the hastening of independence for Kenya.
Amilcar Cabral was an agronomist and freedom fighter in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Cabral led the PAIGC's guerrilla movement against the Portuguese government, which evolved into one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau. Cabral had a unique system of guerilla warfare in which his fighters, also tilled the fields and operated a barter system where goods were sold at a lower price than European goods and a mobile hospital that took care of soldiers and the elderly in the Cape Verdian and Guinea countryside. Interestingly, the assassination of Cabral did not demoralize the PIAGC as the Portuguese had expected. Cabral’s death rather energized the revolutionary movement and once again, hastened the path to independence of both Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.
The call for Africans to be citizens and not subjects is therefore inherent and has been played out in many instances in Africa’s call for independence.
The future of citizenship
As we move into the future of Africa, we must embrace a new Social Contract. In the words of Carlos Lopes, ‘just as Rousseau’s Social Contract did, we need to create a new Social Contract that is based on the original principles but goes beyond them. It needs to address current challenges, such as creating a redistributive system that is “solidaristic” and helps to enhance both intra-generational and inter-generational equity as well as create new institutions that can lift people out of poverty’.
One of my favourite quotes is from the American Anthropologist Margaret Mead. She states that ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has’. This quote is deeply significant as Africa moves to achieving Agenda 2063. Everyone matters, and anyone who is willing to, can become a #citizen-not-a-subject. We all have what it takes. Accountability to the masses should be deeply ingrained in the state machinery, it is our right, not a request.
Agenda 2063 speaks to the indomitable spirit of the African as a person whose rights will not be trampled upon easily. Aspiration 2 speaks to the ideals of pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance.
As we celebrate the sixth decade of Africa’s independence, I repeat the words of President Nana Akufo Addo/Woodrow Wilson/George W. Bush/Bill Clinton
"I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens building your communities and our nation. Let us work until the work is done,"