Story of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti – How the African political system kills genius

Fela on stage

Growing up in the 70s, I listened to Fela. He was very popular in Ghana, indeed, as he also performed in the country, came into exile at a time he was escaping from the brutality of the Obasanjo regime, and was deported by the Acheampong regime. The Obasanjo and Acheampong regimes were all military juntas borne out of coups.

It was therefore, not surprising that Fela expressed immeasurable joy when the Acheampong regime was overthrown.

I’m almost done reading his authorized biography, Fela – This bitch of a life, by Carlos Moore.

I have made some critical observations of the literary weaknesses, inconsistencies, and some inaccuracies in the book. I might talk about those some day. But let me state one inaccuracy – the book indicates that Ghana gained independence from colonial rule on February 28, 1957. Ghana obtained independence from the British on March 6, 1957.

I have also gone back to listening to his songs and playing back some of the interviews he gave, including some by his children and other people who knew him personally and closely. His music is still relevant and irresistible. The Afrobeat creator went through stages to discover himself and fashion out his music, and boy! Did he do great!

Fela, according to the book became deeply involved in spiritism out of his fear of death. He wanted to protect himself from dying – a mindset he might have developed as a result of the death of his mother, which itself he believes was caused by the military when they threw her from a storey building and she died later in hospital. The constant assault on him by the forces of the State also left an indelible mark on him. Reading Fela’s own words about the attacks reveals a man in constant physical pain and emotional turmoil from the brutalities. The fact that he couldn’t do anything about it, couldn’t get help from State institutions including the courts, and the eventual burning down of his house and everything he had at that time, left him feeling such a great loss, exposed and vulnerable. Those acts of violence had an immeasurable effect on his psychological well-being.

Overall, while the book is entertaining, revealing and even breathlessly riveting, it also exudes lots of depressing darkness, a darkness about Africa that most probably drove Fela to his agonizing last days as he became paranoid and fell victim to charlatans, including the Ghanaian magician known as Professor Hindu in his search for meaning and protection.

The darkness about Africa is the uncontrollably dangerous appetite of power wielders to control everything and everyone, including people’s personal lives. It appears in Africa, people exercising political power, either having obtained it by force or through elections do not appreciate the uniqueness of some citizens. They seem to abhor genius. They can’t seem to be able to stand nor tolerate divergent views or any trace of opposition or resistance – traits that are unavoidable in any society.

That’s why in Africa, people with extra-ordinary abilities are largely seen as evil and dangerous, because they don’t conform.They must therefore be crushed, by any means necessary.

Recently, a church leader in Ghana called people who disagree with a programme launched by the president to build hospitals, witches; and witches, by the way, are not supposed to be allowed to live, according to the Bible. So people who are different aren’t allowed to thrive, even if they are contributing to the good of the society in some way.

It appears the political system in Nigeria was too brutal on Fela. It savagely used a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.

I have heard about the relentless raids on Fela’s Kalakuta Republic, but didn’t know the details – the levels of brutality visited on the household by the Nigerian police and military as I read from the book, was unconscionable. But it’s even more depressing that no one ever paid for the obvious crimes.

The throwing of his old mother from the storey building, rape of his wives and the level of violence meted out to people in the residency was unbelievably cruel – and to think that it was State-sanctioned, makes it even more appalling. How Fela thrived through those horrible experiences is testimony to his tenacity, grit, resilience and character, very much driven by the desire to see a just and fair society.

It appears the political system in Nigeria was too brutal on Fela. It savagely used a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.

Fela may have his issues, and so does everyone. But to bring the power of the State so heavily on him the way in which the Nigerian government did, was irrefutably evil.

They overlooked his talent, creativity and contributions to music, the arts and society, and focused on what they felt he was doing wrong, and then applied unnecessary excessive force to control him and bring him to ‘order’. But evidently, the State was abusive – that itself was wrong. Two wrongs do not make one right. But it appears stifling and killing of geniuses who don’t tow the official line is an African thing. And that explains why Africa is still struggling, in spite of all the human and natural resources at her disposal. Incompetent, greedy and corrupt leaders who don’t want to be checked or held to account, find people cast in the mold of Fela to be a nuisance.

These powerful people break the rules they set, but can’t stand people who are anti-establishment, people who oppose and challenge them legitimately, and whose differentness, adds value to the society.

In Ghana the former IGP, James Oppong-Boanuh consistently refused to allow the #FixTheCountry protest to be held, going to court more than once to try and stop it, even though it was a legitimate constitutional act. While doing so, he allowed other groups to protest. But just like any good thing, many people, even though, silent have identified with the movement, and it’s catching on. For example, the Ghanaian who told the president in Germany while he was visiting, to fix the country might not even be an active member of the movement.

The ferocious manner in which the Nigerian government treated Fela was disgustingly inhumane, even though, it could have done so within the law if it found him to have broken the laws of the country, it didn’t. The government by its actions against Fela, might have itself broken the laws of the country, including that of natural justice.

Powerful people break the rules they set, but can’t stand people who are anti-establishment, people whose differentness, adds value to the society.

And that’s how African political leaders continue to kill off creativity, because they want to control. For them to exercise power is not to allow people to be themselves, but to get them to fit into their mold of orderliness, even if that orderliness destroys the individual and robs the wider society of the benefits that the genius offers.

What happened to Fela was some 40 odd years ago. But it does appear that the African political class hasn’t learned anything over the period. They continue to stifle their people’s creativity in their inordinate desire to foster what in their view is an orderly society. But the slow pace of Africa’s development shows that has not worked to the benefit of the citizens.

Being in power doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or competence, that’s why political systems have checks and balances. But more often than not, the checks and balances are neutralized, just to satisfy the inordinate greed of the few occupying office.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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