The Girl-Child Presidents and Africa’s Next Generation of Leaders , By Adagbo Onoja

It is the kind of thing to which many actors in global governance would sign up, coming from a continent in which over 270 school girls would be abducted and ‘married’ or sold off by some insurgents in the 21st century without either Nigeria, the African state concerned or the international community being able to do anything drastic about it for a whole year. The referent is the planned Student Presidents’ programme which Africa 525, the Abuja based non-governmental organisation is scheduling on the wings of this year’s annual summit of the African Union, come next June, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Already, Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission is understood to be excited about it, implying the very likelihood of this year’s summit to be addressed by two sets of African heads of state. One would be an all female student version of African presidents enacting the summit in front of their real counterparts.

The idea which is a re-working of the popular but now defunct ‘OAU Club’ pedagogy at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria in the mid 1980s before it fell victim of ill-tempered military dictatorship entails a set of students selected and groomed to acquire leadership by enacting it on the stage. So, if this occasion holds, the world would behold an all female team of student presidents holding an AU Summit. And what do African leaders do at such summits? They address the summit, take one or two questions from the media at fly-by news conferences before moving into the closed session. The only difference between the ‘fake’ and the ‘real’ presidents is that the fake presidents are secondary school students in Nigeria. But that is how far their Nigerianess goes. Otherwise, their grooming positions any of them to perfectly act as the ‘president’ of any African country, be it in terms of the physical features, mannerisms, carriage and intonation. It is an African unity strategy.

This Nigerian domination would change radically if and when the African Union Commission accepts an impending proposal from Africa 525 for an AU Club across African schools. The AU Club is built around providing a space and a pool from which the student leaders to be groomed across Africa can be president of any country, not necessarily the one in which they were born. In fact, by the plan, no one would be acting as the president of the country of birth. Rather, what would obtain is someone from Nigeria will probably act as the Mozambican president, Algeria for Senegal, Libya for Kenya and so on. It is all part of the larger project of problematising future leadership in Africa, given the popular belief that leadership is a fundamental dimension of the humiliating African condition.

Professor Okello Oculi, the University of Wisconsin, Madison trained Political Scientist and the brain behind the project has two ideas in mind. It is one thing to tell students in general and the girl-child in particular about a great role in the future but another to groom and give her an opportunity to perform such a plausible role by addressing the AU Session in her phantom capacity as the president of some African country. The assumption is that when a young, impressionable girl is exposed to acting as an African head of state, she acquires an exposure that comports her to think beyond locality, act elevated and embody leadership. And who knows, she could end up a real African leader later.  In other words, it is a human resource investment, an investment in the confidence of success that could end up producing success. To that extent, the student presidents’ summit could make a major contribution to an enhanced space for the girl-child across Africa by enhancing her life chance through role playing or ‘the truthful lie’, the conception of the dramatic genre by Biodun Jeyifo, the Nigerian born Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Thank God, there are no class, ethnic, religious or such barriers for existing and potential participants beyond being a female student in one of the purposively selected schools around Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital city, for now, until resources permit expansion.

In the age of the media, the transformative potentials of role playing which Africa 525 is privileging must have tremendous potentials. For, the girl child as an angel is still circumscribed by the problematic of the good girl in much of the continent– the girl whom someone would want as a wife. This might not apply to the CNN gulping, ipad cuddling girl-child in Johannesburg, Lagos or Nairobi but that’s not the fate of million others locked away or trapped in much of rural Africa.

Earlier this year, a version of the summit of student heads of state was staged in Abuja. The UK based Obasanjo Foundation footed the bill with extra support from the Ethiopian Airways, suggesting the actual and potential diversity of patrons of what appears to be the latest phase of the stubborn determination of the Africans to overcome historical adversities. But lack of resources is a real problem for the project even as that is not dampening Oculi’s determination. Africa 525 is a statistical representation of May 25th when the defunct OAU was came to life and which is still celebrated as Africa Day.