An agrarian revolution
By Tukeni Obasi
I’m always on the prowl for African thought leaders. Last year, upon reading about Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and his plan to make his country self-sufficient through the empowerment of farmers, I was moved. Not content with political independence, Thomas Sankara worked to make Burkina Faso an economically independent nation, thus cutting neo-colonial ties with the West. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in a coup d’état before his vision could become reality, but his theories have continued to inspire many Africans and pan-Africanists the world over.
Indeed, Africa has had her fair share of revolutionaries – from Sankara to Nkrumah to Mandela – many of them espousing ideals of freedom and justice. One leader that is hardly talked about is Amilcar Cabral. Yet his legacy is very important for contemporary Africa.
Cabral was a nationalist, agronomist and writer who led the nationalist movements in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in the 1960s and 1970s. He led the independence war against the Portuguese in former Portuguese colonies, founding the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Upon the completion of his secondary school studies, Cabral went to Portugal where he received education in agronomy at the Institut Superior de Agronomia. Having been trained in Western techniques, he decided to use that education for the good of Cape Verde.
While in Lisbon, he founded students’ movements for the betterment of people on the African continent. So great was his passion for the motherland that rather than focus on some technique or another, he decided to write his dissertation on the conditions of farmers in Cape Verde and the exploitation of farmers by Portuguese administrators. This was a very radical move which could have cost Cabral his degree. Undeterred, Cabral took the chance and presented his paper. Shortly after getting his degree, Cabral answered the call to go back home. And that was how this agronomist became the leader of his people and their freedom fighter. He spent his first weeks touring the countryside and interacting with farmers in order to learn more about their living and working conditions. Having built a strong team committed to the anti-colonial struggle, he launched his war effort against the Portuguese.
This was no small feat, as Cabral soon discovered. He also realised that in order to sustain the war effort, the troops had to depend on food crops. To this end, he forged an alliance between his troops and local country farmers in which the former taught the latter better farming techniques in order to increase their yield. At several times, the troops even tilled the soil with the farmers. Not only were these farmers able to then feed the troops, they were also better able to feed their families.
To subvert the international market, Cabral organised trade by barter bazaars where people could purchase staple foods at prices lower than those fixed by the exploitative Portuguese administrators and merchants. Although Cabral was assassinated before the independence struggle was won, he became a national hero in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.
There are three take-aways from Cabral’s legacy. First and foremost, agricultural economics is a very important part of our national transformation agenda. While civil freedom is important, economic freedom must be sought after, and in societies such as ours, agricultural empowerment (producing what we eat) is central to this agenda.
Secondly, policy cannot be effective if people who are to gain from the policy are not involved or consulted. It is thus very important for every leader who claims to speak for a group of people to have a relationship with them. This will better position him to learn from them and collaborate with them to meet their needs.
Lastly, while an agricultural background is a good incubator for farmers and agro-businessmen, this background can also be a grooming ground for national leaders and revolutionaries. Furthermore, whether in agriculture or in any other sector, leadership and integrity are key. One must always stand up for what one believes in and always uphold the greater good of the nation. And one must leave a legacy that will inspire the next generation.
I continue to wait for the day Nigeria will produce a remarkable agrarian thought leader like Cabral who will not only usher in a mass revolution by sending us back to the farms and agro-allied industries, but will also lead the country into a long-lasting era of economic independence and prosperity.
Via Business Day