“Global Africa”, a term that was popularised by Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui, refers to the African diasporas of enslavement and colonialism, encompassing Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.
My recently published Global Africa: Profiles in Courage, Creativity and Cruelty contains 100 essays written over the last three post-apartheid decades. They seek to capture the zeitgeist, covering historical and political figures, technocrats, activists, writers, public intellectuals, musical and film artists and sporting superstars.
Three historical figures are examined: Cecil Rhodes, Woodrow Wilson and Mahatma Gandhi, before providing kaleidoscopic profiles of 18 African and nine Western political figures: Nobel laureates Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela, as well as philosopher-kings Kwame Nkrumah and Thabo Mbeki; Kenneth Kaunda and Robert Mugabe, liberation stalwarts who oversaw economically ruinous regimes; and FW de Klerk who governed an undemocratic apartheid state before making peace with Mandela.
Olusegun Obasanjo and Jerry Rawlings were military rulers who became elected civilians. Jacob Zuma suffered widespread allegations of graft, while Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a technocrat-politician. Meles Zenawi and Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed are portrayed as iron-fisted intellectual freedom fighters. Western-backed Mobutu Sese Seko’s 31-year rule brought ruin to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Idi Amin and Daniel arap Moi oversaw tyrannical regimes, mirrored by that of Paul Kagame. Muammar Gaddafi suffered from monarchical delusions of grandeur.
Bill Clinton and Nobel laureate Barack Obama were both intelligent, charismatic but ultimately cynical leaders. Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and Nicolas Sarkozy all exhibited prejudiced thinking towards Global Africa. The legacies of two US secretaries of state – Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright – are also assessed.
The performance of 14 technocrats are then examined: Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Nobel laureate Kofi Annan, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Naledi Pandor, Mamphela Ramphele, Adebayo Adedeji, Raúl Prebisch, Jean Monnet, Ibrahim Gambari, Margaret Vogt, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Lakhdar Brahimi, Augustine Mahiga and Eloho Otobo.
I next analyse the legacies of seven activists from Global Africa: Nobel peace laureate Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights stalwart John Lewis; environmental campaigner Wangari Maathai and her fellow Nobel laureate anti-sexual violence campaigner Denis Mukwege; and martyred activists Ruth First, Solomon Mahlangu and Ken Saro-Wiwa. Tor Sellström and Kaye Whiteman also contributed, to Africa’s political and journalistic struggles respectively.
I then analyse the rich diversity of African literature – influenced by Charles Dickens – involving Chinua Achebe, Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison, Buchi Emecheta, John Pepper Clark, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and Bell Hooks.
Public intellectuals are thereafter showcased as pioneers of, respectively, Africa’s triple heritage (Ali Mazrui), postcolonial studies (Edward Said), Négritude criticism (Abiola Irele), curriculum decolonisation (Chris Wanjala), African rebel movements (Thandika Mkandawire), African rural societies (Raufu Mustapha), America’s prison industrial complex (Angela Davis), and global reparations (Randall Robinson, Hilary Beckles, and Jacob Ade Ajayi). I then examine the legacies of iconoclastic musical rebels Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Bob Marley, pop megastar Michael Jackson, Oscar winner Sidney Poitier, Oscar-nominated Cynthia Erivo, Grammy winner Burna Boy, and songbird Asa.
I conclude by assessing the legacies of some of the greatest sporting figures in history: three-time world boxing heavyweight champion and civil rights campaigner Muhammad Ali; three-time Afro-Brazilian World Cup winner Pelé; Mozambican-born European footballer of the year Eusébio; World Cup-winning Diego Maradona; ballon d’Or victor George Weah; African footballers of the year Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; the all-conquering anti-apartheid West Indian cricket team of Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd; quadruple Olympic gold medal sprinter Jesse Owens; rugby’s first global superstar, Jonah Lomu; tennis phenomenon Rafa Nadal; two-time US league basketball champion Hakeem Olajuwon; and my late businessman-sports administrator father, Israel Adebajo.
With the continued negative stereotyping of the black world still so rife in the Western imagination, it is critical to counter these views through these giants of Global Africa.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo is professor and senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.
This article first appeared in Business Day on 28 August 2023.