In Praise of 2020, By Issa Aremu



Perhaps no year in our generation has been so smeared like 2020! It can be said that we are all living witnesses to a “Year abuse” as it were. Witness some smear newspapers headlines: “Year of Coronavirus”, “Year of Face-masks” , “2020: What a Year!” , “Year of Deaths”, “Year of Kidnappers”, “Year of Bandits” ad Infinitum. Obviously we all all live in a year of death expectancy compared to life expectancy as envisaged by United Nation Development Programme (UNDP). Possibly no one is immune from the loss of lives (May their souls Rest In Peace) and livelihoods occasioned by the pandemic. But even at that, an additional smear will be one smear too addictive.


As a matter of fact, I see more of “beauty” in the outgoing year than its magnified minuses and wastages. Paradoxically , the serial smears and name callings of this year further point to its significance and uniqueness. Think about it. The 193- Member States United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 on the ruins of World War II. Does any body still remember that the 75th anniversary of the global body is still ongoing as much as we all must dutifully wear the mask against a rampaging Virus in 2020? United Nations in its 75 years is yet to successful rally members states against the scourge of war as contained in its high sounding Charter dealing with global peace and global justice. Far from it. On the contrary, dis(United) Nations (apology to Fela ) has supervised more deadly wars that the WW1 and WW11, inclusive of forgotten wars in Africa. But a single year: (2020) energized entire humanity on preservation of lives and livelihoods on a scale never witnessed with unprecedented sense of urgency, sincerity of purpose. There is certainly opportunities in adversity! A year which diverted scarce resources from the wasteful nuclear weapons of mass destruction to worthy feverishly vaccine production. 2020 is the year of “vaccine sovereignty” as opposed to hitherto “vaccine dependency”. The miracle of the miracle year (which 2020 is) lies in the fact that it beats all predictions of pundits, armed chair soothsayers and forecasters.


Annual Special Edition of the British Economist which closes production every November is my favorite “window” to peep into every new year with respect to trends and scenarios about global political economy. Journalist and Author, Hamish McRae in an article entitled The long view: “Lessons from a past attempt to look far ahead” made a bold attempt at visioning for the next 30 years 2025 last year in Economist’s (THE WORLD IN 2020) edition! Witness his “five predictions”; “There will be 10 billion people in the world”, “China will be clearly the world’s largest economy” though it’s “ ageing and declining population” would make it insular, “Some three-quarters of the world’s population will be middle- class” , “The United States will remain the most vibrant, outward looking and wealthy region in effect winning the tussle with China for global influence”, “Technological advances will enable the world to give s Decent lifestyle to most of its 10bn” .


And I should add, “Africa, and to a lesser extent the Indian subcontinent” the “ relatively young regions – will be fast growing and often chaotic” goes the prediction. Of course in the wake of CIVID: 19 insurgency, these visions appeared more like fictions. Year 2020 has demystified the “visions” of the “The British Economist’s “futurists” and exposed them for what they were: wishful thoughts.! In the entire 142-paged edition, on what 2050 would look like, no single mention of the word: “epidemic” talk-less of a “pandemic” known as Covid: 19 that would infest some 82.1 million humans the world and reset how we would work and eat for many years to come. With 19.4 million infected people and a quarter of global deaths of some 1.79 million humans ( America’s 336 fatalities!), and an outgoing rouge President, (presiding over cemeteries), certainly the United States is far from being the “most vibrant, outward looking and wealthy region” in 2020 no less in 2050, we are made to believe . Which then raises the question of our almost slavish attitudes to received wisdoms. 2020 shows that Africans must be weary of dictatorship of “suggestions”, “predictions” or “visions”.


The latest “prediction” trending is the editorial comment of ““Financial Times of London of 22nd of December ” according to which Nigeria as a country ….” “is plagued with terrorism, illiteracy, poverty, banditry, and kidnapping and risks becoming a failed state if things don’t take a drastic turn”. The UK-based newspaper in an editorial titled, ‘Nigeria at Risk of Becoming a Failed State’ cited abductions and subsequent rescue of over 300 schoolboys in Kankara, Katsina State, which revived memories of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls abducted in Borno State in 2014 as signs of a failing state.


FT was “even academic” with Nigeria. It offered a 101 definition of a failed state:. According to it “the definition of a failed state is one where the government is no longer in control”. “By this yardstick, Africa’s most populous country is teetering on the brink” Really? Pray and let’s see beyound this simplistic smear of a country by FT! There is a new deadly variant of Coronavirus in UK in the last two weeks. This development had spiked the infection rates to some 2.3 millions and as many as almost 72,000 deaths in Britain. If we add to the chaotic Brexit, hasn’t Bori Johnson government not lost control of a Virus which mutates into a deadly variant? Can’t we by FT’s rule of thump say UK is a failed state just as Nigeria lost control over abductions? 2020 has commendably exposed the fallacy of the Eurocentric patronizing selective concept of “a failed state” to explain the challenges of development in Africa. Please don’t get me wrong. I daily live the bitter experiences of insecurity, incoherent and self serving ruling elite, electricity failure, greed and corruption, policy dictatorships of IMF and World Bank. But which country has no citizens watching their backs in the age of a pandemic and scandalous global bad governance ? With all the technological break through and celebrated artificial intelligence, 2020 has exposed the underbelly and gross limitations of our world. If the whole world got locked down and buckled to an ubiquitous Virus, does it make ours a failed world?


As we move into a new year with old baggage, it’s time as Africans we were optimistic about the prospects of good governance, democracy, deeper democracy ( NOT any other forms of unelected governments) and development if the continent would eradicate poverty in the 21st century. The state actors and civil society in Africa must reject pessimistic received wisdom which often declared Africa countries “failed states” through “magnified challenges” of development. 2020 dramatized it all: It’s an open knowledge that the world is ravaged by a Virus pandemic..


But nobody was eager to damn America “a failed state” for the mess it made of the Virus just as it did for its 2020 elections the outcome of which incumbent Donald Trump has rejected. So also nobody was eager to hail African countries which had been adjudged successful relatively to curtain Coronavirus disease better through sensitive and responsible leadership. 2020 was also an independence anniversary year. 60 years after independence. The point cannot be overstated: sustainable development is only possible with optimistic perspective that must be critical of “Euro- centric concept of failed state”.


As a student of social sciences, my lecturers that included late Dr Femi Odekunle, ( who just passed away yesterday)late Dr Bala Usman, late Professor Claude Ake taught (and it’s true ) that social science concepts are not value- free. If Africans say they are making progress, we possibly will work for more progress. But if all we assume is nothing but addictive failures, down loaded smears, then there will be resignation and despair, the unhelpful trade marks of underdevelopment. May year 2021 promise better and obvious opportunities and worthy of praises for the world.


Issa Aremu mni