- Our youth are drowning in their thousands at the Atlantic Ocean not trying to rebel against slavery.
- But sadly voluntarily offering themselves for enslavement.
Recently, I joined notable youth leaders across Africa and the diaspora under the auspices of Africa Youth and Governance Convergence in Mankessim, Ghana.
The Convergence brought together iconic youth leaders from diverse sectors of human interests to discourse on the theme; Advancing Youth Inclusive Governance, Peace and Security in Africa; The digital innovation factor.
We had the honour of hosting AYGC Eminent Fellow and former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo as the keynote speaker flanked by the Executive Director of ECOSSOC an organ of the African Union amongst other distinguished guests.
Yours truly, was honoured to serve as the Chairman of the Governance and Leadership Committee.
The convergence happening against the backdrop of the wave of coups blowing across West Africa ironically legitimized by the citizenry buttressed by challenges brought about by the youth bulge immediately found itself at the centre of discussion and inadvertently setting the mood of the conference.
Obasanjo in his keynote speech admonished the unconstitutional regime changes being witnessed in Western Africa, a region that in the last decade had made tremendous strides to shed its reputation as a ‘coup belt.’
On the flip side of this, he took a swipe at the current government’s unresponsiveness to the needs of the youth and seemingly elucidating no concrete plans and programs to harness the dividends of the huge youth bulge in the continent.
This to him has disenfranchised, disenchanted and disillusioned the youth, and left them vulnerable to cling to anything including supporting extra-constitutional means of regime changes in the hope of a solution out of their predicament.
Brave as always, without mincing his words, he called out external interference specifically that occasioned by the Wagner Group and its functionaries in their role of instigating, fueling and wrecking conflict in Africa.
“So where and when did Africa and her governments drop the guard?’’ paused Obasanjo in the open dialogue session with the leaders.
The African founding father's dream of independence that of her people dwelling in peace, love and unity, and that of ensuring plenty is generated in the continent to march our needs has remained a mirage and instead, corruption, impunity and bad governance taking centre stage.
Before the official opening of the conference, the delegates visited the Last Bath River where slaves kidnapped, trapped or bought from the wider West Africa were assembled in what would be a wholesale market, took their last bath and sold through an open auction at the banks of the river.
Dotting the walls at the river bank, are pictures of Pan-African leaders including Malcom X, W.B Dubois, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King among other notable Black figures and ironically descendants of the slaves who made it across the mighty Atlantic.
In a dehumanizing and heart-wrenching process, after the last bath and subsequent sale, the slaves were branded with a hot iron with the logo of the merchants before embarking on a seven-day treacherous journey to the Elmina Castle awaiting shipment to America, Europe and the Caribbean.
The not-so-lucky to be sold were declared dead capital, killed and their bodies disposed of.
I took time off at the bank of the silently flowing river to reconnect and meditate on the torture and retribution that our ancestors went through.
As we made the journey to Elmina, my thoughts wandered far and wide to the story of the Igbo landing in 1803.
In the pernicious slave trade error, history documents an occasion where approximately 75 Igbo slaves captured on the present-day Nigerian Coast and transported across the Atlantic to St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia in the US, rose in rebellion, took control of the ship, drowned their captors, and in the process caused the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek.
It is documented that the slaves then marched ashore, singing, led by their high chief, and walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, committing mass suicide.
In Black Consciousness corridors, the deaths signalled a powerful story of resistance as these captives few as they were, overwhelmed their captors in a strange land, and many took their own lives rather than remain enslaved in the New World.
Today, we have lost the pride of belonging. Our youth are drowning in their thousands at the Atlantic Ocean not trying to rebel against slavery but sadly voluntarily offering themselves for enslavement.
To the Igbo slaves, there was no better place than Africa but to our youth today, anywhere else but Africa. Of urgent concern to African governments is the surging high youth bulge in the world with about 70 per cent of the population below the age of 35 years.
Such a youthful population calls for an increase in investment in economic and social development and meaningful participation in governance and development.
There needs to be deliberate and strategic interventions towards baking a bigger continental cake to meet the needs of the population while putting in place policies to harness the dividends of this high youth bulge least it turns into a course for Africa.
This is the sad reality of the continent, with a dark cloud hanging over us and seemingly no hope for enlightenment or mitigation of the impending storm.
The African youth is too poor to even afford a rope to hang himself. He has nothing to lose and albeit if he is offered any alternative out of his destitution, like a drowning man he will gladly clutch on it.
This is one of the reasons that from Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Niger and of late Gabon, coups are being supported by the masses.
As a respected African statesman with a bird’s eye view of the continent, Obasanjo posited in his closing remarks that unless current African governments are responsive to the plight of the African people, are respectful to institutions and abide by term limits, coup d'états will be as predictable as the rising of the tropical sun.
Alex Matere is a youth policy expert serving as the Executive Director of Youth Bridge Kenya