Africa used to have real great men. Men, who changed the course of history, shaped our reasoning and made life worth living. Almost every facet of human endeavour threw up men of timber and stature.
In politics, sports, sciences, humanities, media, business, religion and entertainment there were personalities who made our hearts beat, made us feel like borrowing wings, kept us on our toes, made us wonder and dream (the dream of kings), and made us marvel at the way they unravelled knotty issues.
Indeed, there was once an Africa of great ideological debates, of big men who personalized ideologies, of unfettered scientific ideas, of imagination, of diplomacy in its subtlest form and as showmanship, of benevolent bullies, of bloody dictators, and of souls that made us see the grace of God through their words and deeds.
Africa once had its share of real women. Big women! Women who made us proud of our triple heritage (dixit Ali A. Mazrui). Amazons with a power of their own. A power that the inimitable Onwuchekwa Chinwezu highlighted in a treatise entitled: Anatomy of Female Power.
Is it not proper and fitting that only a big man like the late Leopold Sedar Senghor could describe the African woman, the authentic one, in the most glorious and magnificent of terms? A magnificat of sorts to the African Woman:
Naked woman, black woman/Clothed with your colour which is life, with your form which is beauty! In your shadow I have grown up; the gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes. And now, high up on the sun-baked pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon/ I come upon you, my Promised Land/ And your beauty strikes me to the heart like the flash of an eagle. Naked woman, dark woman/ Firm-fleshed ripe fruit, sombre raptures of black wine, mouth making lyrical my mouth/Savannah stretching to clear horizons, savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind’s eager caresses/ Carved tom-tom, taut tom-tom, muttering under the Conqueror’s fingers/ Your solemn contralto voice is the spiritual song of the Beloved. Naked woman, dark woman/ Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the athlete’s flanks, on the flanks of the Princes of Mali/Gazelle limbed in Paradise, pearls are stars on the night of your skin/Delights of the mind, the glinting of red gold against your watered skin/Under the shadow of your hair, my care is lightened by the neighbouring suns of your eyes. Naked woman, black woman, I sing your beauty that passes, the form that I fix in the Eternal/ Before jealous fate turn you to ashes to feed the roots of life.
Things political are not the same again as in the days of Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere, Sedar Senghor, Houphouet Boigny, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Houari Boumedienne, Samora Marcel, Agostino Neto, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Idi Amin, King Hassan II, Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Kenneth Kaunda, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, John Garang, Steve Biko, Jomo Kenyatta, Thomas Sankara, Marien Ngouabi, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Mobutu Sese Seko, Ian Smith, Pieter Botha, Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, Joshua Nkomo, Um Nyobe, Felix Moumie, Ernest Ouandie, Ndeh Ntumazah and so on.
Things artistic, literary and scientific are apparently not the same again as in the times of Amos Tutoula, Chinua Achebe, Sedar Senghor, Cheikh Anta Diop, Wole Soyinka, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Mongo Beti, Alioune Diop, Leopold Ferdinand Oyono, Bernard Fonlon, Camara Laye, Sembene Ousmane, Pierre Akendengue, Joe Kabasele, Francis Bebey, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Elechi Amadi, Victor Anoma Ngu, Mbella Sonne Dipoko, Christopher Okigbo, Ken Saro Wiwa, Bate Besong, Gabriel Okara, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Bob Marley, Adebayo Adedeji, Manu Dibango, Ali Farka Toure, Myriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Nadine Gordimer, Naguib Mahfouz, Taslim Olawale Elias and so on.
However, the sublime storyteller, Chinua Achebe says this of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun: “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but there is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers…Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (’s)….experimentation with the dual mandate of English and Igbo in perennial discourse is a case in point.” Seemingly, all is not lost for when a Richard Bona strings a bass guitar and hums; the keen listener is taken back into the recesses of time!
Sport is art in the sense of winning in style and not at all cost. Thus, sport is seemingly not like it was in the days of Miruts Yifter, Henry Rono, John Akii Bua, Kipchoge Keino, Ben Jipcho, John Ngugi, Billy Konchellah, Paul Tergat, Juma Ikanga, Abebe Bikila, Gebre Selassie, Said Aouita, Nawal El Moutawakel, Amadou Dia Ba, Francis Obikwelu, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Innocent Egbunike, Roger Milla, Abedi Pele, Yusuf Fofana, Kalusha Bwalya, JayJay Okocha, Thomas Nkono, Aziz Bourdeballa, Abega Theophile, George Weah, Stephen Keshi, Mahmoud El Khatib and so on.
Of course there is apparently no break with the past. But it must be admitted that talented African ball jugglers like Eto’o, Drogba, and Essien send crowds into frenzy in stadia in Europe rather than in Africa.