Names are fundamental to the identities of human beings. In a way, very few people grow up to change their names and even then, history still traces their original roots through their former names. In all cultures, parents name their children and that goes from generation to generation. The preservation of family names and legacies is one of the valuable aspirations of parents.
For families with leadership history either as aristocrats or elected politicians, generations strive not just to preserve such names but to honour those names through good works in ways that the larger society benefits. The idea of Kings and queens in Africa and their princes and princesses are often meant to preserve the leadership skills of the families. In the United Kingdom for instance, the royal family is an institution that means so much to the country. The Kennedy and Bush families in the United states are renowned for their political history.
In leadership stories across the globe, political batons have been passed on from generation to generation irrespective of gender. Leaderships tend to be learnt at the foot of elders in the family tree. That is why in a country like Nigeria, there are regents who often step into the traditional leadership roles of their royal fathers.
However, modern political structure seems to have made leadership open to all and sundry in ways that some people without an identifiable family legacy in terms of leadership often access leadership and not build any legacy. Make no mistakes about it, leadership qualities are not strictly hereditary but historians seem to have often found a nexus between family leadership legacies and the tendency for generations to walk in the footprints of their forebears through political activities.
The Ransome-Kuti family of Ogun state has produced both male and female leaders of repute. The Rev. Ransome-Kuti was both a religious leader and a community leader. His, wife, the legendary Funmilayo Rasome-Kuti was a political activist whose leadership roles in a pre-and post-colonial Nigeria are documented. She was one of the women who fought for independence and truly contributed in keeping the colonial government in check. She was one of those that organized the famous 1929 Aba Women Riots. She was equally involved in the negotiations for independence from Britain. Both husband and wife sired children whose leadership activism spanned different sectors, medicine, civil society and political/ musical satirical activism as seen in the iconic Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Fela was a great Pan-Africanist who used his life and music to preach the great African ideology. Fela never held a political office but was, during his lifetime and now, more popular at home and abroad with his music, a medium he powerfully used to further the political activism of his mother. He was a master satirist whose lyrics and melody carried with them the poignant message for socio-political emancipation of the people. His brothers, Koye and Beko were doctors who were as active as they were passionate about civil and human rights.
The Roundtable this week sat with Yeni Kuti, Fela’s daughter, a dancer and co-manager of The New African Shrine with her brother Femi. The now popular Felabration, a music festival initiated to celebrate the life and contributions of her legendary father, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has grown into a global music event. They have, through the management of the Africa Shrine continued the family legacy of stirring the political consciousness and socio-political activism of their parents and grandparents. Yeni, at this level is credited with the managerial acumen that has made the Africa Shrine a global entertainment brand.
While her father Fela pioneered the Afrocentric flamboyance and allure of female dancers, Yeni as the first daughter brought finesse and pizzazz to a field that had hitherto been looked at as a lowly form of entertainment for social misfits. A very judgmental society had hitherto tried to socially denigrate dancers especially of the Fela team even if there was a tinge of hypocritical cynicism in the whole thing. The critics loved to watch the dancers, they knew there was beauty and a profound artistry to their performances yet, they were mainly described cynically as prostitutes. Yeni, a graduate of Nigerian institute of Journalism, has maintained an admirable leadership from her times as a dancer in her brother’s band. She now teaches younger ladies choreography and dance. She, as a leader in the entertainment sector has shown that excellent leadership is not gender-sensitive. She has held the Fela/Kuti torch aloft and managed men and material in preaching the gospel of Pan-Africanism and local good governance which are basically driven by ideological sophistry.
Yeni feels empowered by the political ideology of her grandmother and father but feels that other women must not be judged by the successes of her grandmother, the legendary Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti because she lived in a different era that presented different challenges than what the modern women are facing in the present. While her grandmother fought for emancipation, the modern woman is saddled with a lot more than that but must strive to let her voice be heard politically by aspiring for and competing for all elective posts.
She feels that women must begin to aspire to higher offices like governors and even President because women are often better leaders being natural nurturers and home builders. She believes that the African woman has all it takes to be pioneers in any field and excel in it with dedication and focus. An ideological roadmap to her must be charted in ways that Africans would be proud of their heritage and jettison the slave-mentality of copying others and be ready to fight for total freedom of the continent with good introspection on our values.
Asked about how her involvement in entertainment through dance contributes to her heritage, she recalls that the dance was initially looked down on locally but ironically better accepted abroad for its Africanness and aocio-political vibrancy but today the people have come round to embrace the dance industry thereby empowering many youths who would have otherwise been jobless.
As the first child of Fela who just happens to be a girl, Yeni said she grew up listening to and being shaped by her father’s political ideology which was very Afro-centric and spiritual. She is very African to the core and would never give her child any Engish names because African names have their cultural value and meanings. To her, leadership is not gender sensitive. Our Africa is beautiful and must should be free. To her, Fela’s political ideology was to fight for Africa in ways that can usher in progress and development.
She believes that the political space must include women because women have the leadership capabilities as can be seen in some of the women at different leadership levels. An Ibukun Awosika calls the shot at Nigeria’s oldest and biggest bank, First Bank, An Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a global icon that is well sought after for leadership. To Yeni, she is a very admirably African woman leader and role model in her dressing and actions.
Yeni believes a female president would make a big difference in the country because women understand leadership better. She uses herself as an example of a leader that has been able to carry on the Fela legacy by managing the human capital and other resources as the eldest child since Fela passed in 1997. She believes more women should bring their leadership skills to the political space so that the country can move forward.
She admires the young ladies that were at the forefront of the #End SARS movement who did not wait to be handed leadership but made sure their voices were heard and they are still talking and giving leadership and being accountable. Leadership has nothing to do with gender. To her, male politicians in Nigeria would never give up power so women must strive to take up the mantle of leadership at all levels.
She feels that Nigerian women should question political parties about the reason no woman has ever won the party primary and gone ahead to win election as state governor. Why are women only good for deputy governors and other lower positions even when there are qualified and ready women for all positions of power?
She believes that political parties must run on sound ideologies which would eventually guarantee good governance because to her, politicians are not just there to politick. Politics must be an avenue to expand the legacies left by forebears. A person like her can only join a party that would see her maintaining and furthering the legacies of her grandparents and father.
If most politicians are focused on solid and functional ideologies, Nigeria would be a better place. However, the idea that Nigerian politicians can easily oscillate from one party to the other depending on political expediencies is part of the reason development is far from the country. Democracy ought to run on identifiable ideological leanings. Devoid of such political and social leanings, democracy becomes a farce, dysfunctional and expensive in human and financial terms.
If politicians want lasting legacies, it must be worked on from generation to generation in a relay-like manner that batons of advocacy or leadership are handed from generation to generation. Families must, if they operate in any leadership position do well to make the people the focal point of their politics as that is the only means of impacting on the people who are the main mandate givers in a democracy.
One of the tragedies of Nigerian politics seems to be the sad fact that most of the politicians do not try to build any lasting legacies and as such, the people lack good leadership while the politicians fizzle away without having their names in the political hall of fame. With the Ransome-Kutis, their legacies has been centered around people and that means their socio-political relevance in the Nigerian, nay African continent is eternally guaranteed.
For them, the leadership legacy handed from generation to generation is not gender sensitive and it endures. Yesterday, it was Funmilayo Ransome Kuti in the political space, then Fela took over in through music, today, Yeni Kuti is leading in her own sphere of influence – entertainment. Here’s hoping others take a cue for a more lasting legacy built on service to the people in different forms.
- The dialogue continues…