What Would Fela Think of Today’s Africa?

The Afrobeat legend might have been inspired by Nigeria's recent presidential elections, as well as Africa's outburst of democracy.

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His music turned him into an enemy of the state in Nigeria. He was harassed by the government and even jailed. For a period, Fela fled the country and sought refuge in Ghana, until the government here, which was growing increasingly uneasy with the rebellious nature of his music, ordered him to return to Nigeria.

That stretch of time from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, which the entire body of Fela’s music documents and critiques, is often referred to as Africa’s “lost decades.” During those years, the continent experienced absolutely no discernible growth in any arena. Whereas once blacks in the Diaspora were clamoring to come to Africa, there was now a mass exodus, one that crippled the continent by claiming many of its most promising minds.

And then came the HIV/AIDS epidemic that further ravaged its people and, with the fear and stigma that accompanied the illness, cast a shadow on Africa’s image and reputation. An unfathomable number of lives were lost to AIDS and AIDS-related complications, including the life of the man we affectionately referred to as the Black President, Fela Kuti.

Throughout history, Africa’s strength has always been its ability to recover and prove to the rest of the international community that it cannot be counted out. That’s precisely what is happening now. A number of the situations against which Fela raged no longer exist. Coups and military dictatorships anchored by the sort of henchmen whom Fela famously called zombies are becoming a thing of the past.

Democracy and the rule of law have taken hold. In the past year alone, at least a dozen African countries have held elections. Ghana held its last presidential election in 2008. Our economies are becoming more stable.

As a result of all of these improvements, large numbers of Africans who had fled to seek political and economic shelter in foreign lands are repatriating. This influx of educated professionals and skilled laborers is hastening the pace of development on the continent.

Nigeria, in particular, appears to be in the midst of a significant rebound. With approximately 154,729,000 residents, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and, therefore, one of its most important. It is also one of the top 10 oil-producing nations in the world and one of Africa’s largest economic hubs.