“What has Monkey Banana got to do with this?” This is Onome Amawhe’s reply; to a commentary I made to a post by The Africa Archive’s photo on facebook, shared by my friend Latoya Aduke Ekemode. The post was making comparison; between the presumable simplicity of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and Nigeria’s rich. Before talking about the link between the song and the mentioned post, I guess from his name he is a Nigerian and one can pardon people who don’t speak Pidgin English not to understand what Fela sang about because of his choice of language, but it is unpardonable to Nigerians who don’t see the mirror of their lives through Fela’s songs.
Like I previously posted, we should not just remember Fela, we have to make live his legacy which is teaching us historical awareness! 19 years after his demise with so much noise about him: Felabration in Lagos, London, Japan and everywhere, re-edition of his back catalogue, a Broadway musical to his name, one film or more, and “what else” (apology George Clooney), if Nigerians don’t understand what Fela sang about, those of us who profess to be: Fela’s children, Fela’s friends, fathers and mothers of Afrobeat, creator of Afrobeat drum patterns, etc. if motivated, have a great job ahead perpetuating the legacy of this great African phenomenon.
The success of Mark Zuckerberg, can to some extent be attributed to the opportunity made available to him and many like him by his country America. Like Fela explained on his first trip to America in 1969: “My American experience was a turning point in my way of thinking and my general approach to life. America is a great country! It is so great, that it made me jealous that we didn’t have this kind of greatness in our country”. We can have that kind of greatness if we have the right leadership, but to have that kind of leadership we have a great fight ahead. Remember: “Before we all go jeefa-head oh! We must be ready to fight for am now! Fela - Original Sufferhead.
Africa is one of the richest continents in the world, but majority of Africans labour from sun-up to sun-down with nothing to show for the great efforts made to survive. First, we need to realise that we have problems and we have natural and human resources to solve these problems. We have cultural, intellectual, and scientific resources at our disposition to resolve these problems. We have to understand that we are living in a cruel world and we can decide from now on to make what is best in our interest – fight or get trodden upon!
How can we as Africans have a-new, that kind of patriotism flow in our blood? Today; if Africans prefer to serve and give their expert knowledge outside the continent, it is because the necessary conditions are not in place in our respective states. Their competences are not exploited, because they are considered inferior to their Western counterparts and due to the necessity to survive, our experts move to other countries in search of greener-pastures. This is no question of being patriotic or not, it is a question of survival. If the conditions are right, our competent professionals would stay in Africa and work for change on the continent.
MONKEY BANANA is Fela’s advice to those who want to work for the status quo, without social security, health insurance, job security, etc., to think twice before slaving for nothing. In his habitual manner of putting-down the Nigerian elite, he starts this song with the popular English expression: “A fool at forty is a fool forever” - implying that life begins for a man at the age of forty. Fela says he will not advice his brother to wait until forty, before the man realises he has been making a fool of his life. Twenty, for him is the limit to make a fool of one’s life.
After that age, a man is supposed to know how to take his destiny in his hands. He sings: ‘book sense different from belly sense’: meaning the reality of hunger is not always the way the elites like to project it. How can the majority of the people in Nigeria still live below poverty line, despite the much publicised oil-boom? The Nigerian ‘elites’ who profit from the oil-boom, encourage the younger generation to be optimistic hoping the living standards of the average conscientious worker will improve one day. At this rate, the conscientious worker we can say has a long wait if we bear in mind, that even pensioners don’t get paid after all those years of service.
Fela advises the contrary, saying corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian economy is responsible for the poor state of the social order. Calling on the worker to stop slaving for nothing, he compares the worker to a monkey that can only be enticed to dance if you offer it the banana. He concludes by saying: ‘before I jump like monkey, give me banana’ (before slaving for nothing demand to be better paid).
With regards to the presumable simplicity of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and Nigeria’s rich, I can only say that the world is changing. Gone are the days of Chief Executive Officers dressed in suits and ties (Gentleman – apology Fela Kuti), symbol of civilized men as African colonial minded leaders see this mode of dressing. While in the Western world; the debate is raging about ways to improve working conditions in work places, Africans still cling to their colonial work ethics.
Facebook founder’s dressing in T-Shirt should be seen as part of the changing faces of capitalism. Remember; neo-colonialism is the geopolitical practice of using capitalism, business globalization, and cultural imperialism to influence a country, in lieu of either direct military control or indirect political control. Despite the so-called decolonisation that occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–45), “former” colonial powers continue to apply existing and past international economic arrangements with their former colony countries, and so maintain colonial control.
Today multinational corporations continue to exploit the natural resources of the former colony; and we agree that such economic control is inherently neo-colonial. This is the stage with which the African continent is at today – neo-colonialism the last stage of imperialism in Africa. For those not aware, the term was coined by Ghanaian first President Kwame Nkrumah, to describe the socio-economic and political control that can be exercised economically, linguistically, and culturally.
Nkrumah concluded that promotion of the culture of the neo-colonist country facilitates the cultural assimilation, of the colonised people and thus opens the national economy to the multinational corporations of the neo-colonial country.
Yes we can learn from the simple ways of Mark Zuckerberg, but the biggest lesson is to see the advantage of the social network he founded. In the 70’s when we were publishing monthly and distributing for free 80,000 copies of YAP NEWS (Young African Pioneers news letter), we didn’t have all the social networks available today. Maybe if we had, the more than 40,000 civilians standing and watching while 1,000 Nigerian Army soldiers were burning down in broad-day-light Fela’s Kalakuta Republic would have reacted differently.
Fela’s attempt to rally the people watching was prevented by the invading Nigerian Army soldiers. The armed soldiers prevented Fela’s boys from mounting the public address system by throwing stone and sticks at them. Today with a simple tweet or text message on the social network, I am certain that at least ten-thousand of those 40,000 people watching Nigerian Army attack Fela’s Kalakuta would have reacted differently – that is the advantage of social network today. Please dear folks, while we celebrate FELA with all the FELABRATIONS in Lagos, London, Japan, and everywhere, don’t forget: “my music is not for entertainment! My music is to spread a message! Again, listen to Fela Kuti - Monkey Banana a mirror of our lives like most of his songs.