The evils of colonialism, imperialism, and corruption in Africa are no longer a secret if they ever were. The three phenomena have emaciated Africa so efficiently that they can be dubbed the “three horsemen of stagnation”. The purveyors of these negative phenomena are both internal and external. The story is the same as it has always been – Africa was on her own until people from different parts of the globe penetrated her shores and robbed her of her resources and stamina, either with force and cunning or with the support of naïve African leaders. It was a long and gruesome process but most of Africa was subdued and somewhat brainwashed.
There was an inoculation of values and understandings, it was only right that the people that own and control you be better than you? Right? Everything was the property of the foreign intruders now and we had to learn what they deemed necessary to be learned and believe what they required us to believe.
It’s been over a century since slavery was legal and sparing South Sudan’s 2011 independence, most of the independence struggles were won by African nations from the 1960s to the 1980s. The point to these dates is that it’s been a long time since these things occurred and while a lot of time has gone by, the effects and the offshoots of colonialism and imperialism (or colonial imperialism) are still prevalent even in 2020.
A popular saying goes “History is written by the victors” and it rings true in the case of Africa and her captors. The ones who came in to plunder, enslave, maim, and in some cases – decimate the people of Africa (as with the case of Leopold II of Belgium) did more than that.
Their power transcended the physical and they went on to change the psychological landscape of Africa. Everything synonymous with blackness and Africa from the cultures to the religions became evil and the savior status was conferred upon the people who invaded. The effect of these events is still bothersome because the change in values and disregard for African culture and even humanity got subtly passed down generation after generation. Even today, a lot of Africans still feel a sense of inferiority to Europeans and Arabs. Even today, to some extent, it’s hard for Africans to find pride in their own affairs, thus making it harder to participate and improve the overall state of affairs. It’s a vicious cycle of psychological crippling but is it really all the fault of colonial imperialism?
Now, what foreigners did to Africans was terrible but when you look inwards, you see an equally if not more painful picture. Greed, injustice, impoverishment all converged to make matters worse. Ask the average African what the biggest hindrance to development is and chances are that you’d get a response in the range of corruption and greed. Constant embezzlement of public funds, underfunding of public projects, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, extortion has become commonplace in so many African countries and the innocent people born into and living this system are the casualties of corruption and her many offspring. The corruption situation in Africa, especially in a country like Nigeria, it is safe to say that in the physical absence of the external oppressors, Africans have been their own biggest problem.
Considering the two major symbols manifestations of oppression for Africans, the next point of action to consider would be to find a way to surmount both. There have been countless accounts of slave rebellions and Africans fighting back to reclaim what is theirs’ and or avoid becoming second-hand citizens on their own soil. Similarly, protests and campaigns demanding the extermination of the culture of corruption are not new but still, progress has been frustratingly difficult to come by considering that the corrupt are seated in places of power.
Burna Boy’s fifth studio album – Twice as Tall is a prodigious continuation of his self-lauding, consciousness inducing streak that started with his previous album African Giant and within Twice as Tall is a track called Monsters You Made and it is a powerful testament to what is possible when a people are pushed to the wall. The track employs the vocals of Chris Martin of the British rock band Coldplay and samples Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana to evoke a militia-like atmosphere of revolution and resurgence. The message in the lyrics of Monsters You Made is unambiguous – If you continue to oppress us, we don’t mind being called monsters when we fight back.
Monsters You Made speaks both to the looting leaders and the corrosive colonizers, flagrantly warning them about the pending repercussions of the rebellion and retaliation of the people they have successfully impoverished. The song starts with the voice of Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Victor-Ben, the former commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). His organization was a militant body established in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria to fight off a number of foreign oil companies who were notorious for exploiting the region’s crude oil while leaving them in poverty and causing extensive degrees of environmental pollution. In that quote, Victor-Ben states:
“If the government refuse to develop the region
And continue the marginalization and injustice
The youths or the next people coming after us
I think will be more brutal than what we have done”
The song continued to echo the sentiment of the disparity in reality when Burna stated that –
“It’s like the heads of the state
Ain’t comprehending the hate
That the oppressed generate
When they’ve been working like slaves
To get some minimum wage
You turn around and you blame
Them for their anger and rage”
Those lines indicate the extent to which the criminals are separated from the victims of these crimes. It’s a wider picture where the wealthy are so far removed from the poor that they don’t understand how fast these feelings of frustration and stagnation can cause revolt necessitated by change. It’s almost like the wealthy oppressors and their disadvantaged counterparts live in separate worlds.
The visuals for Monsters You Made, directed by Meji Alabi for JM productions premiered on YouTube on the 27th of August, 2020 and it did enough to make the message even clearer. In the video, Burna is portrayed as a militant-leader in a dystopian land filled with dark skies and bubbling with frustration-fueled revolt. The video also shows the victims of the systematic oppression learning about the injustice through visual aids, Clips of protests in Ogoni, Rivers State, Nigeria, and anti-apartheid protests are used to evoke an understanding of the extent to which the viewers in the video have been robbed both by their own people and the foreign colonizers. The word “Resistance” is spray-painted on the walls and the continuous message of “We Will Not Back Down, We Will Not Surrender” hovered below Chris Martin’s face as he sang the chorus on the screen.
The song closes with an excerpt from a 1987 interview with Ghanaian author and academic Ama Ata Aidoo where she bemoans the continued cultural and resource-based looting of Africa. Her statement echoes powerful rhetoric stating further in the interview that the whole western world was built on Africa’s resources and Africa got nothing but imported disease for this. As she addressed racism and slavery as well, she also stated that the whole situation is not over. Propaganda to reduce Africans to whatever lowly level they were subjected to is still alive. The blowback of this denigration is what she warns of when she insists that Africans should look out for themselves just as the foreigners who stole their land and resources did, stating that enslavement and corruption are acts of self-interest and a collective feeling of self-interest among Africans as a whole would bring about unprecedented levels of change. The problem is… this change might leave some form of carnage in its wake.
There are many variables and many factors to the process of change but it is certain that great injustices have been done against Africa as a whole and change, reparation, and restoration are severely needed.
Monsters You Made is arguably Burna’s loudest pan-African message yet and it is a declaration of a hurt and anguish that Burna Boy (born Damini Ogulu) knows too well. As an indigene of Rivers state, Nigeria, he understands how activists like Ken Saro-Wiwa have risen and fallen in the struggle for a better life for the common man. Burna clearly feels a sense of responsibility towards his people, at a local level and at a continental level. In explaining Monsters You Made to Apple Music, Burna Boy says:
“People need to understand what’s actually happened in Rivers, which is my home state in Nigeria. It’s like someone digging up under your house, taking what they want that may be valuable to them. But they’ve destroyed your home, and now it’s unsafe and now it’s no longer home to you again. The environmental situation has been going on for years and years and no one is helping, but then people will only hear about the pipe bombings or the kidnappings. They should understand that it’s never just that one side to the story and that everything has a root cause”.
He understands the gravity of the situation in the place where he comes from and furthermore he understands that the narrative being painted against his people as criminals, vandals and monsters is not entirely true. He understands that a lot of the aggressive activities carried out by his people are as a result of decades and centuries of being pushed against the wall by both their leaders and foreigners seeking to plunder their resources for selfish gain.
Monsters You Made can either be seen as a call to action, galvanizing the oppressed to finally take charge and fight their oppressors on both a physical and a mental level or a call for awareness, a means of telling the world the things that transpire in Africa that go under the radar of the world’s attention. However you choose to look at it, Monsters You Made is a powerful message, carried by a powerful man.
Feature Images by Yusuf Sanni