Tribulations of African Youth: Kemi Seba, the hope in the tumult

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A group of young adults and children. Courtesy of Peace Alberto Iteriteka.

Not much needs to be said to express the state of affairs in which the African youth find themselves today. Some refer to them as a generation of martyrs, others see them as a sacrificed, lost or mortgaged generation because of the complex nature of the woes this group of young people face. They are often blamed for being non-patriotic because their dearest wish is to leave the shores of Africa for Europe and sometimes for America.

Unemployment on the continent is the most poisonous obstacle the African youth face. This is compounded by the high cost of living and unjust treatment. They see a few openly ingurgitating the wealth of the nation, a heart-wrenching phenomenon that former the Burkinabè President decried in these terms, “for so long, the grain of the poor has fattened the cow of the rich”. This has caused some students to drop out of college, since there were no jobs after all. That defeatist attitude overrides the counsel of lecturers who try to convince them to stay in school, get degrees(s) and then look for a job. Of course, not all of them are convinced by such words.

In French-speaking Africa, where private enterprise is less developed than it is among Anglophones, the best brains of most societies resign themselves to the jobs that the IMF and its suicidal SAPs imposed. From the high school graduates to the master’s degree holders, the salvation resided in competing for jobs in teaching, nursing and as clerks. Those who held no degree that could fetch them any of the very few jobs or posts pre-destined to the children of some few rich politicians who sold their conscience to a certain couplet dubbed France-Afrique or African Democracy; those who had nothing to lose would embark on the most dangerous of adventures. Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid opens with the voice of two boys of that class. The extremely pitiful tragedy is presented thus: “To the Excellencies and officials of Europe: We suffer enormously in Africa. Help us. We have problems in Africa. We lack rights as children. We have war and illness, we lack food…We want to study, and we ask you to help us to study so we can be like you, in Africa.” This message was found on the bodies of Guinean teenagers Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara, stowaways, who died attempting to reach Europe in the landing gear of an airliner. The date was 2 August 1999 and the boys aged 14 and 15 had died of cold and lack of oxygen and were trying to escape poverty by relocating to Europe. At an altitude 10,000 Km they had no chance to survive, although they had wrapped themselves up in layers of heavy clothing, clinging onto the landing gear of the Belgian Sabena aircraft. Their choice might have been motivated by a similar attempt carried out previously by a young Senegalese who survived the perilous journey and reached Lyon in France. Although I do not subscribe to the belief of the Euro-American El Dorado, I perfectly understand the choice of these very young boys. The most complex dreams that cross the mind of someone their age is doing what they did. The most painful aspect in this equation is the fact that two decades after that “atrocious event” as the Western media called it, conditions in Africa have obviously worsened. The status of the economy of the average West African country today includes one or several of the following: high inflation, massive unemployment, naked pitiful or gluttonous corruption, famine, diseases, constant insecurity, civil wars, Jihadist attacks, and much more. Everyone has certainly wondered, many times, when the cycle will break.

Kémi Séba

The voice that gives hope to the youth and every politico-social mind in Africa and beyond is Kémi SÉBA, the 31-year-old Frenchman born to immigrants from Benin. Born Stellio Gilles R. C. Chichi, his name Kémi SÉBA is the Egyptian for Black Star. While he was simply referred to as a “French Beninese” some years ago, he is a force to be reckoned with today, and is known as a pan-Africanist political leader and geopolitical journalist, and one would not be wrong to refer to him as one the most prominent (civilian) figures of anti-colonialist resistance in Francophone Africa. His curiosity and rejection of passive conformism was noticed when, at age 18, he joined the US-based Nation of Islam (NOI). In his 20s, he pursued his quest and formulated his own ideology during a visit to Egypt, where he took the nom de guerre Kémi Séba and became the spokesperson of the Kemite Party founded in 2002 by Khalid Muhamad, a prominent African American Muslim Minister and activist, and former leading member of the Nation of Islam (who later joined the New Black Panther Party).

Kémi Séba gives hope to the African youth today and his gestures are grand, brave, selfless and well-calculated. He promotes Black identity on the continent and in the diaspora, bridges the gap of language barriers and confronts racism, intimidation, and subjugation in any form and anywhere. The Pan-African dimension of his gesture led him to implement unforgettable initiatives in almost all corners of Africa and his main concern is a better present and future for Africa, especially for the African youth. A self-described “militant defender of the dignity the Black people”, he was imprisoned a couple of times, especially in France where he trampled over several conservative rules and regulations. That rather revigorated his tenacity and encouraged him to move to Senegal, where he continued his political activism and became a lecturer in African universities and, since 2013, a political critic on various African television channels. That earned him a certain popularity among the French-speaking African youth who saw him as someone committed to the defence of African sovereignty. In 2008, he was a key member of the Movement of the “Wretched” of Imperialism (Mouvement des Damnés de l’Impérialisme) and his most meritorious action so far is his rejection of the CFA franc and the attempt to replace it by the Eco that would be the currency of ECOWAS.  He showed that anti-imperialist position by burning in public in Senegal CFA franc bank notes and that was a slap in the face of all pro-France governments and people. He was jailed for that but continued his crusade once released.

In 2019, he accused France of being partly responsible for terrorism in the Sahel and proposed the involvement of the “Pan-African Civilian Volunteers” in the anti-Jihadist fight and placed himself at the service of the regionalist armies in the anti-Jihadist struggle. He cautions leaders against fraudulent elections and meets (despite the resistance of conservatives) with some of the young military rulers that are currently bourgeoning in West Africa. He has devoted members and partisans all across Africa, is deeply involved in civil society movements and keeps writing and speaking, awakening, fortifying and galvanizing the Black African youth. Some of his most influential publications are the following: Supra-négritude (2013), Black Nihilism (2014) and Obscure Époque (2016). Kémi Séba is the voice that the African youth has to listen to, now. His language is accessible to people of all walks of life, everybody finds comfort and hope in his words and primary concerns. Kémi Séba belongs to the crop of activists that Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara, the deceased Guinean boys were calling for.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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