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AMERICANS ON AFRICA:HOW KNOWLEDGABLE?

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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In 1988 when I enrolled in the Catholic Senior Seminary in Owerri, Imo State for my philosophy course, I had the singular honour to have been couched by some of the finest scholars/priests most of whom have had extensive contacts with White scholars/priests in the United States and Europe. One intersting fact I was privileged to have learnt from these intellectuals who spent several years of post graduate studies in the United States of America and parts of Europe including Germany, Italy and Spain just to mention but a few of those places, was the unbelievably limited knowledge of Nigeria and parts of Africa by citizens of the United States of America and Europe about Africa as a continent and about some of the nations that make up the black continent of Africa. A particular doctorate degree holder in Sociology who taught us Sociology and Anthropology shocked most of us in the lecture hall when he disclosed that in the early eighties when he emigrated to the United States for his graduate and post graduate courses that a Child walked up to him demanding to see his tail because the said child was indoctrinated with the racist idea that black people are the closest to wild monkeys and therefore still go about with tails in their buttocks. He also told us that he met some high school students in a part of the United States of America who stridently asked him to prove or disprove the fact that Africans still live on top of trees. Some of those children attributed their weird belief in the story they watched in one of their national/local electronic media that showed pictures of heavy floods in parts of Southern Africa whereby some persons were rescued from trees by some foreign aid workers from Europe. This warped thinking dominant among Westerners about Africa as a dark continent is further reinforced by the coordinated fashion that the foreign media colour the stories that emanate from Africa and have consistently depicted Afrca as a never-do-well and God-forsaken continent where only civil wars, famine, diseases, war, political instability, military coups have become persistent so much so that the western media carefully promoted the idea that the political elite in Africa instigate wars so as to corner the 'blood dimonds' that abound in most of these African countries to themselves. The Western media that cover Africa concentrate on reporting conflicts as if to say that Africa is a theatre of warfare. These credibility deficit in virtually all segments of the society that are played up in the western media about Africa has generated a stereotypical misconception of Africa as a continent ravaged by all the negative indices that abound in a typical dark continent. This is the foundation they have laid for most of their younger ones so much so that not too many of the American citizens or Europeans have quality knowledge about Africa.

In 2005 when I participated in a Chinese government's funded tour of some provincial cities and villages in China by selected African journalists, I also had the misfortune of interacting with some Chinese Villagers who confided in me that we were the first set of black persons to have visited their part of China and that they rarely see black people. These revelations never constituted any surprise discovery to me because I am aware that greater interaction and diplomatic contacts between African nations and China became more consolidated only in the turn of the twenty first century or rather the 1990's when the quest for solid mineral and crude oil resources compelled the Government of China to become much more involved in the international scramble for African mineral and crude oil resources to satisfy their increasingly domestic demands for these essential commodities because of the tremenous expansion of their economy. But for me, the firts time I learnt of the limited and very poor knowledge of Africa by some Europeans and Americans, I was shocked because of the fact that Nigeria's interaction with the West predates the pre-independence era of the 1960s' and so one would have expected that most Americans and Europeans ought to be profoundly rich in the information and knowledge of Africa and especuially Nigeria but I was wrong to hold this perception.

Reason- only few days back, the United States of America issued a statement from the States Department whereby the Government of the United States headed by a Black man Mr. Barrack Obama exhibited large scale poor knowledge of the Nigerian society and especially about the ongoing terrorism that have swept across parts of the North East, Nort West, North Central and parts of the Federal Capital Territory which took international dimension some months back with the devastating and cruel attack of the United Nations building in the heart of the Nigerian Federal Capital Territory. The United States Government was reported as issuing a statement whereby the United States' political administration stated that the boko haram related bloody campaign of targeted killings and bomb attacks were motivated by the poverty-related situation in the North and that since those responsible for the insurgency are capitalizing on the widespread poverty in parts of the North, the FederalGovernment headed for the first time in more than fifty years of Nigeria's independence, by a President that hails from the Ethnic minority, should create a commission or minsitry to cater for the North.

It is unbelievable that in these age and time that the United States/Nigeria's diplomatic relationship has blossomed that some important Government officials in the United States of America still show some poor sense of judgment that potray them as being completely bereft of sound and quality information and knowledge about Nigeria and Nigerians. Why for instance will a powerful unit of the United States Government reach this half baked conclusion that economic adversity which in their thinking is predominant in the North is to be blamed for the upsurge in targeted attacks of places of Christian worship most especially and selected Government institutions in the North? How can any diplomat or official connected to intelligence gathering in the United States of America build this false premise about a serious and deadly issue as the widespread terrorism in parts of Northern Nigeria and hurriedly locate the foundation in the so-called poverty that is predominant in that region in the estimation of the United States Government officials as if other parts of the Nigerian society are insulated from poverty? Well, if any one is in doubt about the poor quality of knowledge of Nigeria by some officials of the United States Government, the revelations in the wikileaks cables concerning how the then United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Robbin Sanders relied heavily on gossips from some politcians as the sources of her intelligence whereby she spoonfeeds her nation's States Department with as the basis for formulating policies on United States relationship with Nigeria, should change the wrong impression or clear any lingering doubts. The question to be asked is whether the United States government has consistently failed to invest heavily in getting quality and accurate information and knowledge about Nigeria so that their foreign policy direction towards Nigeria would be properly guided and become knowledge-based rather than hearsay and gossips picked up from some doubtful sources? How can the United States Assistant Secreatry of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson sworn in on May 7th 2009 and who indeed reportedly served as United States Ambassador to several African Nations not make concerted effort to gather intelligence and knowledge-based information before writing the most recent report concerning the terrorism that rear its ugly head in Northern Nigeria? Ambassador Carson's report on the Boko haram's insurgency is substantially bereft in accuracy and facts? Is Ambassador Carson unaware of the origin of the Boko Haram insurgency which has its root in Islamic religious fundamentalism which was in the considered findings of a reputable historian Professor Takena N. Tamuno, facilitated the growth and development of religious sects?

Professor Tamuno in his well researched book titled; 'STAKEHOLDERS AT WAR IN NIGERIA' published in 2012 gave a concise history of the Boko Haram-related terrorism in Northern Nigeria thus; "...despite security searchlights mounted by interested parties, at home and abroad, this frontiers in Nigeria facilitated the growth and devlopment of religious sects whose members received training in Mauritania, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other hot Islamic spots in the middle East since 2001".

Quoting Shehu Sani's research, Professor Tamuno explained that Taliban infiltration from Afghanistan into Nigeria was known to the Federal Government since 1979-1989 and that the contact point was Katsina. How come that Ambassador Carson reached this faulty conclusion that Boko Haram terrorism was motivated by widespread poverty even when respectable scholars with considerable kowledge of Northern Nigeria have written to prove that religious extremism is to be blamed for the resurgence in terrorism-related killings in the North claimed by armed relgious extremists known as Boko Haram? Is Ambassador Carson and other officials of the United States Embassay in Nigeria not make effort to conduct thorough research to even discover that poverty is never a factor in the formation of Boko Haram but rather Islamic religious ideology as preached by the then 'Sahaba' group that was embraced by Mohammed Yusuf the founder of the Boko Haram fundamentalist sect? Shehu Sani recorded that "in Bauchi, Yobe and Borno States, many young people dropped out of school, including University students to join them, workers including highly placed administrators and Tertiary Institutions lecturers also joined them [Boko Haram]".


But why has the Western powers continue to overlook the important issue of gathering good enough information about Nigeria and the African continent even when the mineral and crude oil resources of these African nations are part of what sustains their economy?

During the period that British Colonial masters adminsitered Nigeria, they also made use of indirect rulers to administer parts of Nigeria. Professor Tamuno recorded thus; "Non-Nigerians, in law and fact, were the rulers on behalf of their imperial taskmasters in Britain. Opportuism and sound common sense, however, dictated the need to associate Nigerians of their choice to help them admnister a large Estate for the proper management of which they lacked local knowledge, particularly, language and resources in cash and kind".

The United States of America's State Department must invest meaningful in their quest to gather correct information and knowledge about the Nigerian society before drawing any conclusion especially if such statements are meant to form parts of the general policy framework of the United States forign policy guidelines. If they must be told in black and white, then the United States administration must be told that Boko Haram terrorism is not caused by poverty because waging such relentless warfare against the Nigerian state and to have sustained the conflicts that have lasted over two years that involved deployment of several foot soldiers on the side of the insurgents including the purchase of improvised explosive devices [IEDs], could not have been achieved by poor people. Far from it, poverty is not a factor in the unprecedented rise in terrorism in the North which have claimed several innocent lives of the very poorest of the poor among the civil populace.

As if this gross display of poor knowledge of Africa and Nigerian affairs was not enough, the Times magazine of the United States in its recent edition, also came up with a frivolous publication whereby it listed the current under-achieving President of Nigeria, Dr. Good Luck Jonathan as one of the one hundred most influential citizens of the global community and even reached the ridiculous conclusion that the Government of Jontahn was waging relentless war against corruption. I ask-where is the war against corruption in Nigeria now when poverty among the populace due to lack of good governance has afflicted over eighty percent of the populace in the last two years? Where is the anti-graft fight for which President Jonathan is over-rated by Times Magazine when cases after cases have collapsed in the Nigerian courts especially those involving high profile political functionaies and rogue bankers with wide network of contact with officials in the Federal governmant? My conclusion is that the United States politicians or researchers including publishers of the Times magazine are either up for some mischief or they have been compromised with some heavy financial inducement from God- knows- where to reach these unbelievable conclusions about the Boko haram's terrorism and about the World rating of President of Nigeria that has failed to contain the unprecedented insecurity, impunity and lack of transparency and good governance in Nigeria.

+Emmanuel Onwubiko, head, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria wrote in from www.huriwa,blogspot.com.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."