We Should Start Appreciating Ourselves As Africans -Femi Kuti

The Post (Buea)

July 1, 2005

Simon Inou

He seems to follow in the footsteps of his father, the
late Fela Kuti. "Of course, my father is a big
inspiration for me. Whether I like it or not, he is my
father," Femi Kuti tells The Post in this exclusive
interview. Femi talks tough too. His music is cool but
imbued with lines that betoken commitment to change in Africa.

According to him, Africans are suffering today because
"all our leaders have, all over the years, set bad
examples." To him, the way out of Africa's present
predicament is for Africans to see themselves first as
Africans. The artist also talks about his music and
lots more. Excerpts:

Musically, where do you situate yourself? Is your
rhythm a continuation of Afrobeat, the rhythm of your father, the late Fela Kuti?

Of course, my father is a big inspiration for me.
Whether I like it or not, he is my father. By the way,
I don't understand that question! You are asking me
about my father! Would you rather like me to be like
Obasanjo? Or like Mugabe?

Whether I like it or not, you must see my father in
me. Whether I like it or not I must sound like him,
dance like him, and, sometimes, sing like him. I say
"sometimes" - not all the time - because, as you can
see, I am Femi...

The music of Fela Kuti was politically engaged....

In my father's lifetime, when they used to beat him,
nobody did anything. About being politically engaged,
all of us feel sorry when a person is suffering. But,
when the person dies, all of us celebrate. I am
politically engaged but very enlightened! When I am
beaten and arrested, all of you cry.

After his beatings, I was there with him. No one else
was there. His name grew bigger and bigger but he was
still gone beaten. I understand how you feel about my
father but don't forget that you are speaking to his
son, Femi.

Lots of people are actually speaking about
globalisation. How can Africa help itself -
culturally, politically and socially- and get out of problems she is facing?

Musically, Africa is doing a lot; there are a lot of
Africans working in big corporate bodies; we have nice
musicians. We should start thinking about Africa first
before our personal game and Africa will start getting

The more concerned we are, the more we are going to
start thinking about our own society, the more we are
not going to wait for Europe to come and tell us about
our own problems, the more we Africans should
understand that we have problems: hungry, fatherless,
and motherless children.

Our women, too, face so many problems in Africa: no
social security and so on. When we realise all these -
as Africans - Africa will start getting better. The
day we start being careful about one another, our
houses, our neighbours, our friends, then, through
this love, Africa will get better.

How could music help us today by giving Africa its brightness?

Music is already doing this. Perhaps you didn't
realise it. If you were used to listening to the music
of my father, you would agree that it helped a lot.
What music does is even beyond me.

If you are interviewing me now, it is not because I am
Femi Anikulapo Kuti, it's because I have something to
offer. If you are here today it's because you know
that the music of my father has also changed a lot
about the situation of many Africans.... if you are
sitting here today and talking to me, it means music
is doing a lot.

Most Africans living on the continent are young and
are actually facing serious problems the generation
before them never faced. A lot of them are dreaming of
their future in Europe or the USA. What is your view
about this migration?

This is because all our leaders have, all over the
years, set bad examples. When the people were
suffering and constructing a political base for Africa
(Kwame Nkrumah or Lumumba with Pan-Africanism), at the same time, lots of our leaders were dreaming only of
Europe and America as their ideals.

These continents were the models of those African
leaders without a political base in their own
Is the way European countries are trying to help Africa the best way?

Africa should learn how to help itself. Speaking about
help, do you see how America is actually helping Iraq?
Is it good help? Killing them and sending medicine to
them, is that good help? We have to help ourselves.
Europe helps itself.

They even got help from Africa by enslaving Africans.
If they didn't take us as slaves, they wouldn't be
where they are today. History is why we are sitting
here today. When we appreciate history, we begin to
move forward. Africans should appreciate what their
forefathers went through during the Slave Trade. Let
us not abuse ourselves by saying that we sold

What about the education Africans receive?

I once asked a European whether they learn about Mungo Park in school? He told me he knew nothing about Mungo Park. In Africa, we're taught that Mungo Park discovered the Niger River. Somehow, the way we behave arises from the education we get.

Who is controlling that education? Someone is
controlling the education we get in the schools,
fooling the one side and deceiving another side. When
we meet our European friends around the corner, we
have different ideas about our countries because we
are confused.

What advice would you give to Africans in the Diaspora who would like to support Africa?

Keep yourselves in the professions and work hard with
one idea: you are here to fight.... I am based in
Lagos and when I will leave Lagos, it will be only to
come here and fight. Because, I am sure, I'll be able
to change the views of many people on certain things.
For, in Lagos, as elsewhere on this earth, it is not
easy to fight.

Can you describe the living conditions prevailing in your Lagos neighbourhood? What about democracy in Nigeria?

To wake up every morning is difficult. Sometimes, you
don't want to wake up. Some of the inhabitants of my
neighbourhood are so poor that they do not eat for two
days. In short, life is difficult. It should be the
goal of every nation to eradicate people's sorrows.
That's the duty of governments.

Government is not just about a nation, it's also about
how to govern yourself and how to lead yourself as a
person. When this kind of education will start being
taught in schools, the world will be a better place.
It does not require more than that.

Back to Lagos: In Lagos, there are many places without
electricity and, this, after 40 years of independence!
In Lagos, you could be sitting down and the light just
goes off!

How can you talk to those kinds of people about AIDS?
Have you seen the way we live in Lagos? Ten people in
a room - living like cattle. Have you seen the prisons
in Africa?

Africa is neither a city nor a village. There are just
too many dissatisfied people. Look at villages in
Europe. Compare them with those in Africa. You are
here, in Europe, because you know that if you were in
Africa, you could never achieve what you want to

You can never actually fulfil your dreams in Africa.
They will lock you up as soon as the government knows
you want to liberate your mind and express your views
like in many European countries.

When colonial masters divided Africa in 1884, they
knew what they were doing. Do you think it was for
Africa they were playing this game? It was for
them...You can see it in Zimbabwe and Congo.

If the Europeans supported Mugabe and Mobutu for so
many years and, then, tell us afterwards that they are
bad because they were not playing their game anymore,
they want to come and tell me that they didn't know it
was bad in thirty years?

Taking land from the white farmers was bad....
Europeans are enlightening themselves; they are not
enlightening us. When we will start to appreciate
ourselves, Africa and Africans will be better.

Africa has to unite if she wants to resolve its
problems. The whole world is uniting.

Why not Africa? We want the kind of Africa where every
human being is given a chance to express himself
freely, to express his will, his desires, the notion
of freedom. But not the US brand of freedom. American
freedom and justice consist in going and killing
people in the name of freedom.... So, this is not the
kind of freedom we want.

Does Femi Kuti have projects in Africa, specifically
in Nigeria?

My whole life, my dear brother, revolves for the total
independence of the African mind - women, men or
children of the whole continent. Everything I live for
is based on that. My death will be about that.

I have lived it through my father. My son will live it
and his children will live it. It is our goal to
rebuild Africa, to build, for example, hospitals with
our own traditional medicines, our own way of life,
our own health and our culture. We have to start to
appreciate ourselves.

We, Africans, were taken as slaves and didn't even
appreciate it. Millions of Africans died during the
Transatlantic Slave Trade. We appreciate when we see
what happened to the Jews because there is footage.
Concerning African slavery, there is no footage.

During the Second World War, people had the
possibility to film the situation in Nazi camps. Even
if you see the footage today you say yeeeeeee ...you
have to fear. Imagine that millions of Africans went
through that over 500 hundreds years ago.

Let us Africans appreciate our forefathers who died
during the slavery, fighting against the slave masters
to live as human beings. Maybe we should start to see
some appreciation in this life and that's what I do.

There are too many poor children in Africa. I don't
need Europe to come and tell me there are poor people
in Africa. Our TV channels don't tell us about it.
They are still working with colonial views and
perspectives about their own population.

They are only doing what their colonial masters tell
them to do. When we see a white going to Africa and
showing a black child, we blacks will say: Ohhhhhhhhh!
Why don't black people do the same? Do we need a white man to come and show us African realities? We don't need that.

Malaria is killing millions of people. Everyday I hear
about big donations and the more donations the poorer
we get. How can you understand this kind of
mathematics? The biggest scandal was Ethiopia in the
90s. Aid for Ethiopia.

Till now, tell me if the Ethiopians are happy: "We are
the world...we are the children". They got all this
money to help Ethiopia. That money should have been
enough but somebody (black or white or both) just
siphoned the money away.

I know that there are a lot of Europeans who would
like truthfully to invest in Africa. But it depends on
Africans to organise their societies. I am not waiting
for some government to do that. In my position, I know
I am a public servant.

In Africa, we just talk and talk and talk without end.
If Africa is great today it's because of what great
musicians have done; great thinkers like my father,
Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and many others. Even
Charly Parker or Coltrane are Africans who have
changed the face of the world.

My brother, we have all kinds of resources and we are
not able to organise them...we want only to live like
white men do on TV - like watching young Americans
with big cars and we dream only about that without
thinking about the work or the suffering that it

Frankly, Africa should focus on education if she would
like to be something tomorrow. And I mean real
education, not what we are learning today.