Two pandemics and one human race

Wale Babalakin @ 60

Tatalo Alamu


There is a touching irony about the slogan, Black Lives Matter. The Black race is the founder and foundational race for the human species. In other words and technically speaking, it should be the Master race from which every other thing flows.

But when it now comes to a point where this same race is pleading for existence, it means that there is a fundamental distortion about global race relations that has to be redressed.

We have been told that Africa is a dark void; a terrible stain on humanity. Its trajectory has been likened to a column of ants going in the wrong direction that must be forcibly turned back.

Those who left the continent a long time ago often return with superior skills and knowledge to terrorize and colonize those who remained. To be Black is to become an endangered species; a criminalised racial category.

But it was not always like this, despite the historic disadvantages. At least we know that when the Portuguese adventurers arrived in the Kongo Kingdom around present day Angola in the middle of the fifteenth century, they met a society much better organized and with a higher standard of living than the one they left at home. Tales abound of pre-colonial African cities that boasted of superior infrastructure.

Yet in five centuries of relentless modernization and industrialization albeit underwritten by slavery and exploitation, Europe and North America have stolen a march on Africa so stunning and incredible that it appears irreversible and divinely ordained.

It is one of the nuclear fallout of that rapid advancement, the problem of Africans taken into slavery in America, that has now erupted on the world stage once again but this time with volcanic fury.

The advent of Donald Trump has not helped matters. At the last count, the American honcho has exacerbated race relations in his country in a way and manner no one had thought possible in post-bellum America. America is beset by a human pandemic potentially more destructive than Covid-19.

Not even the sacred occasion of America’s Independence Anniversary yesterday could persuade him to be less polarizing, less divisive and less confrontational.

Trump has also done his best to undermine and destroy the existing global order which is the fulcrum on which world peace revolves.

Consequently, the International Question has now assumed a more pressing urgency than even the National Question.

With the ravages of this terrible double pandemic—both human and viral—  it is very clear that the implacable and inviolable division of the world into nations, races, religions and civilizations cannot be sustained without the human species embracing the horrid prospects of self-elimination.

Yet it is also clear that as long as human activity is structured around the primacy of economic survival which pits nations, races, religions and civilizations against themselves in a war of all against all, there will always be a tendency to push for a final solution as a fundamental human impulse to ward off threats of extinction.

It should be remembered that the human species itself exterminated other rival hominids on the road to earthly ascendancy.

Whenever he was reminded that the human race is the last person standing, custom-built to withstand all earthly adversities, Sigismund Freud always chuckled to himself while reminding his interlocutors of the fate of the dinosaurs.

The dinosaurs were by far the biggest animals in the jungle that the world has seen. They appeared too big to fail or fall. But an asteroid strike which altered the composition of the environment led to their rapid extinction.

There is an American saying that if knowledge is power, secret knowledge is secret power. No one is absolutely sure for now what actually triggered the pandemic debacle, whether it is due to some natural mutation arising from human-animal interaction or some misbegotten experiment in some rarified laboratory shrouded in stealth and secrecy and the human will to dominate others.

In the era of Artificial Intelligence and robotic engineering the rat race for supremacy among nations if it does not eventuate in a nuclear Armageddon may yet lead to a drastic date with human extinction. In the light of what we are currently witnessing, this cannot be regarded as a hyperbole.

But there is always opportunity in crisis. The current pandemic tragedy may well be a divine adversity; a golden opportunity for the human race to reset its brains.

Even if we wish, there is no way the world can now return to its pre-Covid-19 normality or America to its pre-Trumpian serenity.

The new normal will be so surreal and unusual that we will be forced to embrace abnormality with a cheerful placidity.

Just as nobody foresaw the advent of coronavirus, no pundit could have foreseen the global dimensions of developments in its wake.

The murder in Minneapolis has turned out to be a dramatic game changer for humanity. Of course there is a compelling historic nexus between the ravages of the pandemic and the global revulsion at a murder most foul and loathsome.

But this is not the place or the time to press charges. This is the time to press advantage.

In his brilliant and illuminating critique of Frantz Fanon’s work, Jean-Paul Sartre, the great French Existentialist philosopher, novelist and celebrated cultural icon, dismissed the philosophy of Negritude as an “anti-racist racism”.

It can be argued that it was Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor who set up Negritude for this critical manslaughter by invoking a set of binary polarities which distinguishes the Black race from its occidental oppressors.

The irony of it all is that some of the rigid distinctions were borrowed and taken over from western philosophy.

Yet it is difficult to proceed with the problem of identity in difference without setting up this binary division despite the play of ironic signifiers across rigid differentiations.

It is known as excluding the excluders. But there is a sense in which the excluders can also become exclusivist in their own right.

So in a sense, it can be argued that racism is part of the human condition. But there is defensive racism such as we may see in the philosophy of Negritude and there is offensive racism such as we see in all philosophies of racist supremacy evident in the philosophy of Apartheid, Aryan mythologies of the western superman and all theories of occidental Exceptionalism.

Unlike Negritude which sought to project and protect Black identity in the face of the most savage intellectual, physical, political, cultural, economic and religious assault the world has seen, western racist constructs have sought to rationalize and justify these assaults on the ground that they were done out of historical necessity and the urgent imperative of bringing a civilizing order to a manifestly inferior race.

In other words, the Black person has to be saved from himself and from dragging the rest of the world into perdition by his sheer fecklessness.

It was left to Jean Paul Sartre, the supreme master of dialectical acrobatics, to redeem the argument by turning it on its head.

In the same breath that he had dismissed Negritude as just another instance of racism, the French master holds that as the most oppressed, the most abused and most degraded race on earth, the Black people are also the best placed both emotionally and psychically to champion the redemption of the human race as a whole.

Sartre was enlisting tropes from the Bible which holds that the meek will inherit the earth and that in the order of final succession the first shall be the last.

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More crucially, Sartre was borrowing insights from Marxism and the avant-garde radical writings of the time, particularly History and Class Consciousness by the influential Hungarian Marxist aesthetician Georg Lukacs.

Lukacs advanced the thesis that as the most violently oppressed and degraded segment of humanity, the working class is in the best position to liberate the human race from the shackles of oppression and a manifestly degrading and unjust capitalist order. It was a frank and unapologetic marching order.

Almost sixty years after, everything seems to be coming together. We have finally arrived at the intersection of race and class with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But due to what is known as the cunning of history, it is not as either Sartre or Lukacs would have wished or wanted.

What we have seen in recent weeks across the globe is not a monolithic Black race on the march or a unified working class on international rampage. It is a multi-racial and multi-national underclass in torrid ferment.

First, the advent of globalization has fractured whatever remained of a monolithic working class consciousness either nationally or internationally by insinuating into their ranks a labour aristocracy more interested in perpetuating the hierarchy of labourers than in ending class hierarchies.

Second, the dynamics of globalization has suborned the very notion of a unified Black consciousness. It has  created class divisions within the Black race itself especially in the Diaspora and particularly between the new waves of economic immigrants who are invariably better educated, better focused and less encumbered by the traumatic burden of slavery and those whose ancestors were enslaved.

Those who carry the psychological trauma of slavery tend to view the new African immigrants with smouldering resentment and suspicion of betrayal. Things can degenerate to testy arguments and even nasty brawls among distant siblings.

Consequently as things stand the Black subject as currently constituted and configured either within the post-colonial nation space or at the international level is too enfeebled by adversity, too enervated by historical circumstances and too disoriented by accumulated indignities to act as the sole vanguard and champion of human liberation.

Hence, the Black race needs broad-based alliances and solidarity with equally concerned people across the world irrespective of race, religion or civilization.

This is the lesson of the global solidarity we have witnessed so far in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Those who study the sociology of crowds will confirm that it has been a rainbow coalition of affected and afflicted humankind of all races and creeds. It is affronted humanity heaving forward to arrive at a new telos.

Outside protests matter a lot and can in fact be quite decisive when it comes to changing or rerouting the internal configuration of politics both at the national and international level.

It has been consistently demonstrated that politics is too important to be left to formal politicking and the referendum of crowds can be more impactful than legislative star-gazing.

In western liberal democracies, the most meaningful changes are often initiated outside the precincts and perimeters of formal politics.

It is therefore not surprising that the nation-wide protests that followed the death of Georg Floyd have led to a rash of administrative and police reforms in America.

But before all these considerable gains can be consolidated and an irreversible momentum for the liberation of the Black race is generated there will have to be a galvanizing force emanating from the African continent.

The second phase of the decolonizing and de-stigmatizing of the Black subject is here with us. Just as it did during the first phase, Africa now needs to throw up its most visionary leaders. That may be the tallest order.


Wale Babalakin @ 60


What personally touches us must come last. This has been the abiding refrain of this column. But it is time to celebrate my own.

On Wednesday 1st of July, our dear aburo and kinsman, Bolanle Olawale Babalakin, aka B.O.B, the billionaire entrepreneur, financier, strategic investor, quiet philanthropist and major player in the education sector, turned sixty.

In keeping with the mood of the moment, Wale spent the day quietly in his ancestral birth place, the village-city of a thousand stars, with his beloved father, the revered former jurist of the Supreme Court, Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin away from the glare of publicity and press hoopla.

After returning to base, Wale called to personally inform me that I should note that having clocked sixty, he should be treated as an elder and granted the privileges accruing.

I not only agreed with him but also noted that at his age General Yakubu Gowon had ruled Nigeria for a whopping nine years and had been retired from power by his junior colleagues for another twenty years.

Wale is a bundle of talents, phenomenal energy and irrepressible drive combined with legalistic brilliance almost approaching the extraordinary.

Gifted with a remarkable flair for seeing opportunities where others see only roadblocks, his rise to financial stardom began in rather humble circumstances that no one would actually believe.

As a graduate student in Cambridge, he had converted an apartment left behind in London by his father to a block of flats through free financing and it turned out a very lucrative venture.

After that, there was no looking back for the up and coming whiz kid as he clinched local deals after local deals and international financing ventures one after the other.

There were roadblocks on the way. One of such daredevil ventures brought the hostile attention of the authorities, particularly the menacing glare of the dark-goggled despot who was said to have wondered aloud what kind of Law he thought he read that his own children didn’t.

For his pains and temerity, he was summarily impounded and had to spend almost two years in detention.

But there was no stopping the bulldozer. A man with a gargantuan appetite for business success, Wale once told me that he learnt from Chief Bode Akindele, the recently deceased real estate mogul and Parakoyi of Ibadanland , that in business, the size and scope of success are determined by the size and scope of appetite. It was a lesson he has taken to heart.

The wide ideological gulf and political differences between us have not stopped us from enjoying an intimate and affectionate relationship bristling with bucolic banters and saucy jokes.

He could be an impossible customer, often openly deriding snooper’s political affiliations while yours sincerely often stop him dead in his track by invoking certain village protocols and the possibility of political reprisals.

There was a point he would wake one up in the dead of the night. Whenever snooper complained about his sleep being disrupted, the fellow would retort that yours sincerely was not entitled to any sleep as long as one’s friends i

n high places will not allow him to sleep too. Saying this in the vernacular is more hilarious and entertaining than the English translation.

Apropos of that, snooper once placed B.O.B and a leading politician in the same room with a retired justice of the Supreme Court acting as a Samaritan and do-gooder.

The plan was to hammer out an acceptable solution to a longstanding dispute. After about ten minutes, to my sorrow and chagrin, the meeting ended in a fiasco with the participants heading in different directions.

All in all, Wale has earned his spurs. It is not easy in an environment like Nigeria to combine successful legal practice with top-grade business venturing.

The highly rated Babalakin Law Firm and the iconic NMA2 domestic airport stand as double monument to his exertions.

In all this, Wale has been very lucky in his choice of wife. Gbolahan, the tame and temperate daughter of the heroic late Justice Jinadu, is a formidable pillar of strength and stabilising force in the background. Here is wishing the birthday boy many happy returns.

Original story: The Nation

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