By Anote Ajeluorou
In 1968, Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Amah published his classic The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born where the beautiful ones connote Africa’s incorruptible, nation and empire builders. It was the era shortly after a flurry of political independence from colonialism of many African countries and corruption and military coups were rife. Now, a little over four decades later the continent hasn’t fared much better. Africa’s perennial problems persist. It’s exactly why a young African who could pass for Amah’s son, or even grandson, is proposing a counter-narrative: that indeed the beautiful ones have been born, but that they have failed to truly manifest!
Che chidi Chukwumerije’s The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born (Boxwood Publishing House, Germany; 2015) has shifted the logic somewhat. Nigeria, for instance, has travelled 55 years away from her date of independence, but is yet to find the guts to be self-dependent. And so, she is still hopelessly dependent on others for sustenance, from food to clothing to technology and what-not. This is hardly the usual fare for poetry, but Chukwumerije would not tolerate the ostrich posture that has continued to stunt Africa’s development.
In a poetic manifesto, he writes, these are “poems on the activation of the can-do and will-do spirit of self-help in Africa. Gone are the days when we lamented that the beautiful ones are not yet born. The future has left us in the past, and we have no more time to waste”.
Chukwumerije is a futuristic poet who is frustrated by Africa’s inability to measure up to her counterparts in shaping the modern world in development strides, but which has remained a puerile, slavish consumer of what others make. The poet is asking questions about Africa’s geniuses and why they have failed to apply their knowledge. He is asking questions about Africa’s leadership that has led the continent in a backward slide in sharp opposition to the rest of the world. He is asking questions about Africa’s elders that burden their children with shaping the future without tools. He is also asking the youth questions about their vision for their continent’s future.
The first poem in part one ‘Building a car’ tells it all about Africa and Nigeria’s laggard situation among the leading nations. When will Nigeria build a car she will sell to the world? He writes, “Strangers cook the food in your stomach/How can you vomit what/You cannot digest? You cannot even/Build a car, you cannot even/Drive to the future where the world has gone…”
‘Quantum Leap’ also continues in this castigation tone, of Africa’s inability to keep up, “The plane that flew away/You cannot follow with your spear/The air is too far/…They can lend you money/With which to buy from them/What money cannot make -/It comes from the spirit/Awaken, black spirit, and take/The quantum leap/Don’t read it. Think it/Don’t buy it. Make it/Don’t take it. Give it/There is something greater than/Independence. It is called/Self-dependence. Adulthood”.
INDEED, encapsulated in this poem is Chukwumerije’s charge to his continent that has failed the adulthood test and remains infantile. Although he lives in faraway Germany, the poet is disappointed that his continent lacks the spirit of enterprise to match the strides of progress knocking on her doors. Chukwumerije is right to rail at a continent’s slumbering spirit that has failed to awaken to its duties. But it is not so much that the spirit is not there, it is that the galvanizing spirit to propel the can-do spirit forward is lacking. Scattered in many university campuses today are innovations and inventions, like the Shell-sponsored made-in-Nigeria cars from Petroleum University, Efurun, Warri and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria taken to South Africa for exhibition/fair.
What becomes of such technology thereafter? Take Sir (Prof.) Victor Uwaifo, for instance, who invented a car years back, which is parked in his compound in Benin City; it’s technology waiting to be exploited and monetised to give employment to Nigeria’s teeming youth. In fact, there is technology in abundance in the land, but who will transform it into economic asset? What is the role of Ministry of Science and technology in harnessing such potentials into economic gains away from dependence on oil as mono-economy?
For poet Chukwumerije, the beautiful ones have been born, but they willingly give space for the ugly ones to take active possession of the land and naturally ruined it, as is their nature. He sums it up thus in the title poem, “The beautiful one gave birth/To another beautiful child, and said/To it mournfully: the ugly ones/Still rule over our land/And the beautiful ones have not/Been born.”
Also, the poet’s charge is contained in the piece, ‘I Don’t want to be a Trader’ presented in full on this page. Nigeria is one vast sales store of goods made in other people’s countries. Why can’t Nigerians also make these things and sell to self and others? This is Chukwumerije’s lament; it’s what is at the soul of his poetic journey.
Chukwumerije’s The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born is admix of poetry and prose. In fact, it is even prosaic in its simplicity. This is understandable; the poet wants everyone who can read to get the message – that Africa exercises her full potential to be self-dependent otherwise its independence will continue to be vacuous, empty. But, of course, in Chukwumerije’s prosaic style also lies the utilitarian aesthetic of communicating the shared failure that calls to action renewed zeal to forge ahead from debilitating failure to long awaited success. This is poetry of a patriot.