All Quiet on Non-Aligned Front




The first time I heard that Africa Cup of Nations [AFCON 2024] was about to start was when I saw a photo of the Super Eagles national football team at the airport, about to depart for the tournament. It was three days later that I asked a young boy, who was watching one of the matches with the keenest interest, in which country the tournament is taking place. He was taken aback; how could I not know that AFCON is taking place in Ivory Coast, which countries are represented there, how many matches the Eagles have played already and the progress they are making [or not making] in the tournament?

I quietly asked the boy where the 19th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement is taking place right now, at the same time as AFCON. He looked at me in amazement; he has apparently never heard of the Non Aligned Movement. Or for that matter of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where it is currently taking place. I didn’t blame him very much because three decades ago when, in the course of teaching a university class of over 200 students, I mentioned Mount Kilimanjaro, they said they never heard of it. One of the students said, “Sir, we are biologists, not geographers.” I was a biologist too, so how come that I ever heard of Olduvai Gorge, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Bosumtwi, Awbari Sand Sea, Mariana Trench, Manchuria, Lake Titicaca, Death Valley, Niagara Falls and Galapagos Island?

Anyway, it was my turn to be amazed that any Nigerian will know about the score tables at AFCON but did not know that the Non-Aligned Movement, the largest bloc of nations in the world after the United Nations, with 120 members, twenty observer nations, ten international organisations and 55% of the world’s population, is meeting at the same time, right here on the African continent, but he never heard of it.

Really, things have changed so much on the communications front that important things are happening without most Nigerians not knowing about them. In the 1970s, at the height of African liberation struggles, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman chided Nigerian newspapers for “regurgitating the standard imperialist line of Moscow-backed, Luanda-based MPLA government in Angola.” At least they copiously reported foreign events. As a member of the old generation who completely lost interest in football 30 years ago, I forgive myself for not knowing that AFCON was at hand, but the newspapers of today also failed to give it saturation publicity, as was done in the past.

Before the 2nd All Africa Games was held in Lagos in 1973, everybody in this country heard about it, even though there was neither internet nor social media then and relatively few people had tv sets. When FESTAC was taking place here in January 1977, every Nigerian heard about it at least three years in advance, including in General Murtala Mohammed’s first speech as Head of State in July 1975 when he announced a two years’ postponement to allow more time for preparation. In the 1970s we used to have the Nigeria-Ghana Games, and the newspapers made sure everyone heard about it. We heard about the  powerful male Ghanaian sprinter Ohene Karikari and his equally powerful female counterpart Alice Anum. They became as well known in Nigeria as the Egyptian female swimmer Faten Afifi, who bagged the largest number of medals at the 1973 All Africa Games in Lagos.

So you see, it was not that I was not a sports fan before. Two years ago we hosted a visiting delegation of Frenchmen and their leader asked me which is my English Premier League team. I told him I don’t have any.  Come and see disappointment in his face. He said they heard in Europe that every Nigerian has a Premier League team that he supports. I said well, maybe many do, but the last football teams I ever supported were Mighty Jets of Jos, Sahara Storms of Sokoto, Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin, Ranchers Bees of Kaduna, BCC Lions of Gboko, Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri and P&T Vasco Da Gama of Lagos. If any European never heard of them, that is his own headache.

But how can any Nigerian not have heard of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was formed in 1961 as a counterweight to the then two superpower world blocs, the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact of communist nations? Ok, young Nigerian, have you ever heard of Josip Broz Tito, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Fidel Castro, Kwame Nkrumah or Suharto? If you say you did, they were the respective leaders of which countries?

Just to verify your claim, where is Tito’s country today? His father was a Croat and his mother was a Slovene; if he were alive, he will be a citizen of two different countries today. If you claim that you ever heard of Nehru, what is the name of his daughter as well as his grandson who all became prime ministers of India? You say you once heard of Nasser; but have you ever heard of Arab League and of one Egyptian called Mahmoud Riad, who was its secretary general throughout the 1970s?

I doubt if many young Nigerians ever heard of Fidel Castro. You should thank your stars because when Apartheid South African troops burst out from South West Africa and deep into Angola, it was Fidel Castro’s 50,000-man intervention force that stopped them at Cubango river, otherwise they would have reached Nigeria through Bakassi Peninsula and Nigerian school children would be listening to Afrikaans music by now.

For nearly two decades after its founding, there was some confusion among member states as to real mission of Non-Aligned Movement. Even though none of its members belonged to either NATO or Warsaw Pact, some member countries such as Cuba and Yugoslavia were Communist, while others such as Iran under the Shah, South Korea and majority of South American countries were visibly in the American orbit, as were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states. Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, India and many African countries on the other hand were loosely oriented towards USSR, which heavily supported liberation struggles with weapons and training.  

It was at the movement’s highly publicized 1979 conference in Havana that Fidel Castro provided a definition that brought clarity to the movement’s mission. He said NAM’s aim should be to “ensure the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries in their struggle against imperialismcolonialismneo-colonialismracism and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.” No wonder that one of the first resolutions adopted at NAM’s Kampala conference was to condemn Israel’s brutal attacks in Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire. Israel falls foul of at least four of those aims stated by Castro: racism [being a Jewish state in which other citizens are second class citizens], aggression [in Gaza], occupation [of the West Bank of the River Jordan, Syria’s Golan Heights and Lebanon’s Sheba Farms] and aligning with great power politics [in this case, being an American client state].

In years gone by, before NAM faded from newspaper headlines, it thrust many statesmen onto the world stage and they made important contributions to world peace. In January 1991 when US troops were poised to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the world frantically shopped around for anyone who could talk to Saddam Hussein. It was agreed that then President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda was close to him and might be able to convince Saddam to withdraw his troops from Kuwait and avert a war. Oldman KK went to Baghdad, but he came back empty handed. Saddam was living in a world of fantasy. He pointed out to Kaunda an anti-war protest that took place in New York that morning, and said US will never go to war as a result. I thought of the demonstration that took place on the Lafia to Akwanga highway last Friday against the Supreme Court ruling that upheld Governor Abdullahi Sule’s election. How  can a demonstration, however noisy, upturn a Supreme Court ruling?

Since the passing of Nelson Mandela, who do we have in Africa today that we can send to talk sense to Benjamin Netanyahu, to Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, or if need be, to talk to Kim Jong Un to stop firing long-range missile over the heads of Japanese, into the Pacific Ocean? Even the skirmishes in Ethiopia’s Amhara region and the war between Generals Abdelfattah Burhan and General Hamdan Dagalo in Sudan, which African statesman can we send to talk to them?

You young fellow who never heard that NAM was meeting in Kampala, have you ever heard of Yoweri Museveni? Maybe you have because he has been ruling Uganda since 1986. He is only a few years short of overtaking Muammar Gaddafi’s longevity of rule record in Libya. If you heard of Museveni, have you ever heard of Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Professor Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa, Paulo Muwanga or General Tito Okello? You heard of AFCON, but you never heard of these African rulers? You know all the strikers, goalkeepers, midfielders, wingers, defenders, coaches, referees and even linesmen at AFCON but you don’t know Ahmed Sekou Toure, Goukouni Waddeye, Siaka Stevens, Modibbo Keita, N’garta Tombalbaye, Emperor Haile Selassie, Diori Hamani, Sam Nujoma, Julius Nyerere or Samora Machel?  At student and labour union rallies in Nigeria you are shouting Aluta Continua. Do you know it was Samora Machel that brought that battle cry to Nigeria when he spoke at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in 1977, with our military Head of State General Obasanjo sitting there and looking askance?

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