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.
Because of corruption, poor governance and ethnic and religious tensions, Nigeria has also been one of Africa's most troubled nations. However, for a little over a decade, Nigeria's political progress was steady. When Gen. Sani Abacha, its last military ruler, died suddenly in 1998, the country slowly found its way back to democracy. An interim government was put in place, elections were held and power was handed over to the winner, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo.
A former soldier, Obasanjo had previously been head of state. This time, however, he served not as a military ruler but as a popularly elected president. He served two terms and then handed over power to Mr. Umaru Yar'Adua, who won in an election that was widely criticized by independent observers and political opponents, who alleged voter irregularities.
In 2010, when health problems led to Yar'Adua's death, with a year of his term in office remaining, his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, had to step into the role of president. It was an unforeseen occurrence, and there was speculation as to what might happen next. There was a lot of uncertainty.
Everybody wondered what the next election might bring and whether Jonathan could truly stand -- and win -- on the weight of his own strength and leadership. The fact that he did, with nearly 60 percent of the vote, was a sign of hope. Nigeria was indeed moving forward.
One of the biggest challenges to recovery that Nigeria and most other African nations have had to face has been the battle with HIV/AIDS. But even there, statistics show that Africans are winning. Jonathan and I are both in the United States this week, as are more than a dozen other African heads of state, to attend sessions at the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS to figure out what additional steps we can take to further reduce the prevalence of the disease in our respective countries. The incidence of the disease and its related illnesses is relatively low in both Ghana and Nigeria, at less than 4 percent of their populations. But we can do better, and I believe that we will.
As I watched the immense talent that Sahr Ngaujah and the other cast members of Fela! displayed that evening in Lagos and was reminded of Fela's outspokenness, I had to concede that if he were alive, he would still find plenty to sing about.
One of my favorite songs in Fela's repertoire is "No Agreement." It is about the importance of speaking up in the face of injustice, something that all Africans have been doing of late, without the fear of consequence, by raising our voices and by casting our votes. And this, I am sure, would surely have made the Black President proud! "No agreement today, no agreement tomorrow/I no go agree make my brother hungry/Make I no talk."
John Dramani Mahama, the vice president of the Republic of Ghana, is writing a nonfiction book about Africa.
In a previous version of this article the year of Ghana's last presidential election was misstated, due to an editor's error.