Volume 18 Number 1
What Hope for a Clean Africa?
01 February 2005
Amina Dikedi tells Mary Lean about the people who give her hope for Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa might seem a daunting prospect for anyone who wants to bring change from within. But Amina Dikedi and her colleagues in the Clean Africa Campaign (CAC) are not easy to daunt. They are determined to play a part in shaping a better future by training tomorrow’s leaders in values of service, integrity and conflict-resolution.
For, they maintain, there is another reality which runs parallel to the wars, poverty and corruption for which the continent has become notorious: the thousands of Africans, on all levels of society, who are working to make a difference. It is these people that the CAC aims to find, celebrate, encourage and multiply.
Dikedi, a Nigerian based in London, has visited Africa some 20 times in the last five years, travelling all over the continent. Each time she returns with mixed feelings, suspended between the two realities.
On the one side, she is inspired by the ‘fantastic people’ she meets, and encouraged by the ‘new crop of leadership’ in Africa. ‘There are some people of integrity, who are determined to move things in the right direction’. She believes that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) launched by the African Union in 2001 is a positive step, and welcomes the fact that countries are submitting themselves to its peer review mechanism and beginning to take the fight against corruption seriously.
On the other hand, she is ‘haunted’ by the faces of poverty, need and deprivation, such as the ‘brilliant’ children who cannot go to school. ‘You think, “Oh my God, just give this child a chance!” You want to do something practical: just get their school fees together; or basic food, better nutrition to help their bodies and minds develop.’
Sometimes she finds a way to do just that, in spite of living on a minimal income herself. But she and her colleagues have set themselves a larger task: to create a new style of leadership for their continent.
The CAC was launched by Initiatives of Change (IofC) two years ago. Its core is a leadership training programme, which draws its faculty from all over Africa, and its participants from NGOs, universities and faith groups in different regions. So far there have been courses in Kenya, for the East African region, in 2003; and in South Africa, for Southern Africa, in 2004 (see box). This year it’s West Africa’s turn, with a course planned in Ghana for October.
‘Eventually it’s the decision of leaders which determines whether you go to war or not,’ says Dikedi. By leaders, she explains, she means people at all levels of society, not just politicians: by decisions, she means what people do with their tribal affiliations, how they relate to other groups, ‘the statements you make, your attitudes and perceptions’. The change she and her colleagues are working for starts in the individual.
The CAC was partly inspired by the success of the Clean Election Campaign in Kenya, which since 1995 has been encouraging voters to refuse to take bribes or to support those who offer bribes. The campaign was one of many groups which played a part in bringing to an end the 24-year one-party rule of Daniel Arap Moi.
‘It showed the power of ordinary people,’ says Dikedi. ‘If they are given a sense of direction, which they know from their own conscience is right, they latch on. We want to encourage people to take social responsibility, to be aware and take a stand, rather than just complaining and coping.’
To encourage people to do this, the campaign promotes stories of Africans making a difference. ‘Story-telling is part of our tradition and our art in Africa,’ she says. ‘Stories awaken your imagination. They make you think, if this person can do that, wow, what am I sitting down doing?’
Such stories help to ‘restore our dignity as a people’, as does a look at the achievements of the African empires, kingdoms and cities of the past—such as the mediaeval Timbuktu, with its scholars and university.
Modern days stories abound, as spending a couple of hours with Dikedi makes clear. Top of her list at the moment is Wangari Maathai, the courageous Kenyan environmentalist who suffered beatings and house arrest under the Moi government and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last autumn.
Next, Dikedi shows me a photo of an elderly Kenyan woman standing beside a plastic sack of earth bursting with vegetable leaves. ‘Her name is Peris Wambui, but most people refer to her as “Enemy of Hunger”. She’s 85 now. She has a tiny patch of land and she learnt how to grow vegetables in sacks to sell in the market. In our culture, a woman her age would be depending on her children and grandchildren for every meal. But she is independent and has trained other women in her community. They’ve formed a cooperative, and there’s been a TV documentary about her.’
Then she regales me with the story of Sabina Khoza, a South African woman whose first venture into poultry farming failed because she did not realize that the chicks she had bought were all cocks. ‘She tried again, with better advice and now has a successful poultry farm, where she also grows vegetables and trains local people.’ The farm provides food and work for the squatters she found in residence when she first bought the land.
Mrs Khoza is also an outspoken campaigner for Aids awareness. ‘She lost two sons to the HIV/Aids pandemic,’ says Dikedi. ‘For us it’s a hush hush thing, families hide it, otherwise they are stigmatized. But she decided to go about, speak about it—and she says she saved other people.’
And then there is the young Ethiopian who returned home to Addis Ababa with her Masters from the UK, and set up a ‘safe haven’ for street children in a slum area. ‘Somehow she managed to put in two showers, some games, a reading room,’ Dikedi says. ‘Now when they are not selling things, they have somewhere to come. These kids are often the breadwinners for their families and they have nothing at home. When she asked them to draw the thing that means most to them, many of the kids drew the showers.
‘You see these children on the streets all over Africa, and you think what’s needed is a big project. But this woman—who is unemployed herself—just felt a vocation to do what she could to respond to their needs.’
The stories come thick and fast. There’s Lillian Cingo, who manages the Phelophepa train which travels through South Africa bringing medical and dental treatment to rural communities; a group in Ghana, who organized celebrations for the UN Day of Peace in a conflict-ridden village and found themselves helping to resolve its longrunning dispute; and Dora Akunyili, the Director General of Nigeria’s food and drug administration agency. Akunyili’s fight against unsafe medicines and food has led to attempts on her life—and to an award from the anti-corruption group, Transparency International.
Spurred by the tragedies of conflict and the HIV/Aids pandemic, women are taking a stand, says Dikedi. ‘Women who have suffered so much, seen husbands and sons killed, are saying “Never again”.’ They play a leading role in NGOs and in microfinancing groups, which provide ‘a source of survival for families’. There was even, she says triumphantly, talk of a woman candidate in the presidential election in Somalia. And in April Dikedi will travel to Uganda to help organize a conference for ‘Creators of Peace’ which will draw women—and men—from all over the continent and the world.
Dikedi’s travels have only increased her passion for Africa. ‘I would urge every African to explore the continent, there’s so much to discover,’ she says. ‘Yet if we have the money, we tend to travel outside—and the expense of fares between African countries doesn’t help!’
Dikedi grew up in Lagos, in a family with wide horizons. Her parents, Ibo-speaking southerners, had met in the North of Nigeria, and retained warm links there. Her father’s work in the administration of Nigeria’s railways took him across the continent, and brought people from many countries and tribal groups to their home.
When the south-eastern Ibo-speaking region seceded in 1967 and called itself Biafra, plunging Nigeria into civil war, Dikedi was a child. Her father moved the family to their ancestral village, on the edge of Biafra. On his return to Lagos he was imprisoned, after neighbours informed the authorities of his ethnicity. He was released in time to get his family away from the village just before the Federal troops arrived.
Even before that, terrible things had begun to happen. Dikedi remembers her ‘very beautiful cousins’ being assaulted by soldiers and the family crying because they had been taken away.
Famine followed the conflict, and some million Ibo people died. Years after the civil war ended in 1970, on a visit to Kenya, Dikedi met a general who told her how they used to urge their children to eat up, or they would look like the Biafran children. ‘People used to refer to us like that.’ In spite of all Nigeria’s problems since, there is nothing as bad as a war, she says.
These memories inform Dikedi’s interest in African issues, her search for alternatives to conflict and her rejection of ethnic divisions.
She speaks with warmth of her association with the Emir of Kano, one of Nigeria’s most trusted traditional rulers. His palace has stood at the hub of the ancient city state for 500 years: until recently there were no phones. ‘You couldn’t warn them you were coming, you just picked up your bag and went.’
The Emir, and most of his people, are Muslims: Dikedi is Christian. Kano has seen rioting between the two communities. Southerners, she says, often disparage the Northerners, and some of her Christian friends would be horrified to hear that she has prayed with the Emir’s wife.
‘I don’t feel threatened by her Muslim faith, and she does not feel threatened by my Christianity. And that’s how it used to be in the past: we had Muslim neighbours, and we used to celebrate all the Christian and Muslim festivals together. I don’t make sense of this religious conflict.’ The history component of the CAC course reminds participants that even in a country like Rwanda, there was once peaceful coexistence between different tribes.
If her family formed her openness to other communities, it was her father who taught her the power of forgiveness. She is the second-born of seven children, only the youngest of whom is a boy. ‘I grew up seeing my mother tormented because she was not bringing forth sons. When the boy was born we had the first birthday party I can remember. My spirit could not take the anger, and the knowledge that I was second or third best.’
When Dikedi met Initiatives of Change (then Moral Re-Armament) as a student in the 1980s, she wrote to her father apologizing for her hatred and rebellion. ‘He later told me that he thought I had malaria, because I’d never been good to him at all!’
She made a decision never to speak to him in anger again: a vow often put to the test when she spent seven years at home in the 1990s, supporting the family after it lost its resources in a financial crash.
‘When my father did something wrong I kept away. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed and I would always be reminded of that thought, not to speak to him in anger. One time I kept away for two weeks.’ When she eventually went to see him, she was able to speak frankly, and ‘to make sense’. Over the years before he died in 1998, they became ‘the best of friends’. When she returned to Britain to take up her work with IofC in 1996, he encouraged her.
The positive contribution of the African diaspora is underestimated, Dikedi believes. The vast majority of the 10 million Africanborn people living in the West send money home to their families: the International Monetary Fund rates them as the biggest group of foreign investors in Africa.
‘There is so much energy, wealth of knowledge and goodwill in the diaspora,’ says Dikedi. ‘If we eventually get peace, they will contribute greatly to the development of the continent. Because when you have seen the way things work out here, you go back with a certain assertiveness.’
Africa’s negative image overseas can also be a spur. ‘For me, it’s been a motivation, to resolve that this should not be.’ Of course there will have to be a partnership with the rest of the world: ‘When it comes to the financial wherewithal many of our countries can’t bear it.’ And there are huge international structural injustices to be addressed. But ultimately, Dikedi believes, Africa’s future is in the hands of Africans themselves: and they are up to the task. ‘Nobody is going to do it for us.’
And, she bursts out, ‘if you see the people who are suffering, for instance in Darfur, you can’t think of daring to give up! You have to keep at it.’
I would like to know a lot more about the history and work of the IofC in Kenya.
Simon Harris, 29 March 2007
Perhaps you could direct me to relevant websites.
Do you have an office in Nairobi?
With many thanks,