Femi Kuti: Global Citizen Ambassador Against Poverty
By Oreva Akpoborie
Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti, eldest son of late Afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, needs no introduction in this clime. What many perhaps may not know, is that, the four-time Grammy award nominee is an Ambassador of Global Citizen, an organization with
initiative to tackle extreme poverty across the world, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to ravage the globe.
This won’t come as a surprise as activism runs in his lineage. With a grandmother who was a political campaigner and father who suffered military brutality for his activism and uncles who took to the streets to protest all kinds of injustices, following in this tradition comes predictable.
In this encounter, he talks about his work with Global Citizens, the COVID 19 Vaccine and a word of advice for the youths especially those bent on seeking greener pastures overseas.
You’ve been an ambassador for Global Citizen for about 3 years now. What informed this decision?
I was introduced to the organization by Chris Martin in South Africa. I met some of their leaders and they were very down-to-earth people. I’ve been involved in activism with my father; he was active for about six decades and on my own, for about four decades. In all these, I’ve realized that you can’t do things alone. Global Citizen have ground soldiers who can put things into action, even this concert.
Yes, we can organize Felabration, we even organize Felabration world-wide, but Global Citizen have contacts with a lot of people and leaders around the world that they can use to force that change. They have soldiers on the ground, who is who that is working for them that you don’t know except they tell you.
So, when you have an organization as serious as that taking on issues that I largely believe in like the quest to end poverty, I don’t have a problem teaming up with them.
Last year, Nigeria overtook India to become the poverty capital of the world. What do you think needs to change?
Was India ever ahead of Nigeria? It depends on who is looking at the charts; first or second, poor is poor. I don’t even understand those kinds of statistics. People are being killed and kidnapped and there is poverty in the land. The country has been deteriorating since 1970’s when my father started talking about it. There is no one in our history that has not seen Nigeria going downhill. So what has changed? We need a complete overhaul of the entire system. We need to focus inwards, we need leaders who will motivate the young people. We don’t need dictators as this present system shows oppression and dictatorship-minded people who lie and rule for selfish reasons. For example, politicians that partook in the June 12, are still involved in politics and currently have no mission.
Africans need to embrace Pan-Africanism and think inwards. The ruling government need to have an ideology by following the steps of Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Thomas Sankara and Kwame Nkrumah. We should be the envy of the world. I’m telling you how we have mismanaged ourselves and that mismanagement, comes from slavery.
The colonialists have confused our minds. We are not looking to improving on the right things; our culture should be our priority and way of life. We are having this interview in English, it should be in an African language. We still think in English when we should make our African language a priority. Our tradition should be our attitude. We don’t even like our names. That’s how slavery made us think.
Could you elaborate more?
We belittle our system so much so that even our President would go to a foreign land to get adequate care. Whereas, he can build a good hospital here and employ Nigerian doctors from all over the world, provide them with the appropriate equipment and pay them well so that they can stay and work well. Let’s look at the Queen of England; she would prefer to die in the hands of British doctors, even the French president would rather die in the hands of French doctors. That is the way it should be. In our own system, we don’t trust our lives in the hands of our nationals, yet, our doctors are working in all of these lands. We don’t equip them here rather, we ridicule them here and pay them peanuts.
Global Citizen has set a target for 2030, to end poverty in the World. Do you think this is feasible in Nigeria?
I remain optimistic. But if I go by the standard of what I have seen in my 59 years in this life, and from my intelligence of 54 years as I recall things from age 5, I don’t think this is feasible. Like I said before, we need a complete overhaul in the system both in mind and attitude. Everything has to completely change. Every youth today is eager to leave the country in search of greener pastures because, none of them believe in the system.
We weren’t trained to believe in the system., . As Africans, we were educated by the colonial masters to look lowly on ourselves and highly on them. We celebrate failure without realizing that failure is failure.
Let me tell you a story. A long time back, somebody threatened my son that he was going to harm him. So, I quickly adopted several other children from poor families. Long story cut short, these adopted children were doing better than my son academically. My son, Made, struggled academically and these children were doing better than him in school and proved really smart. If I were a bad father, I would have frowned on this situation. But looking into the future, I realized that maybe, someday, one of these children would become a Surgeon and perform a life-threatening surgery that would save my life, or be there for Made in the future.
So, it is important that in order to eradicate poverty, we need to help educate the poor because they will contribute, be progressive and add to the positive growth of the society when given the needed help.
The annual Felabration didn’t hold last year because of the pandemic (covid-19). What are your thoughts about the virus and the vaccine?
Some people still don’t believe ithere is COVID 19, but I know some very close people who have died and some family members who were affected, were admitted in the hospital and nearly died. I took my vaccine because I listen to the new reports of foreign countries I would have to visit for one thing or the other.
All I know is that COVID 19 is here and very real. There is so much propaganda against the vaccine but people are takin it in their millions. Doctors never said the vaccine iis a cure, it only stops you from getting seriously ill. This is the safest option they can come up with at this point for the world to move forward. The President of the United States, Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, have had their vaccines.
Many Doctors in Nigeria I spoke to advised that I take the vaccine. Initially, I had my worries due to the negative information on the vaccine. But, on speaking to these doctors, they debunked this information and it made my decision to take the vaccine easier.
Finally, I hope Felabration will hold. If it does hold, it won’t be like other Felabrations that hosted 50,000 or so people. We have to abide by the Lagos State regulations.
What message do you have for Nigerian youths this year and beyond?
The message I have is that they need to believe in themselves, they need to believe in Pan-Africanism, we need to look inwards. They have to understand they’re the future, whether they like it or not, they will effect change. The question now is, are they going to be like their fathers or are they going to make true change?
Because of my life with my father, I understood quickly what I needed to give my son Made. So if Made is excelling, it’s all because I’ve given him all the tools, of course he has his God-given talents, but if I don’t give him those tools, he would struggle more.
He’s going to even have his own obstacles to overcome, but if I don’t arm him, he probably will fail.
I know that education is important, so if you want to be a musician, better read. Yes, I got away with it, but if I give him the opportunity to learn a piano, he teaches himself the bass, the drum, guitar, the trumpet. He was in Europe and I asked him to stay there and excel but he says NO, he wants to come home and contribute to society. That is the vision one wants for his offspring. You can see the Pan-Africanism in him even though he is British. He knows that every drop of water he puts into the bucket for his people can go a very long way.
The British didn’t make him, his people made him. So, if he’s here, encouraging another generation, better for him, better for his own children. So that’s what I’d tell the youths. I could have left, I could have run away long time ago but because of my training with my father, I could not. Why would I leave? If I left,
there would have been no shrine currently. If all Fela’s children had left, we’d only be shouting Fela! Fela! and very likely, the government would have killed his name. If Fela’s children didn’t believe in Fela, and in their respective ways, kept his legacy, just a few people would jbe left calling his name today.
My sister started Felabration, it’s not my dream. Felabration is my elder sister’s dream, We put the shrine together because Fela never had a shrine. Fela was always stripped of owning a shrine. This time, we knew we had to make sure we owned the shrine. We didn’t know we’d go through a lot of obstacles on the way, but thank God. Angels were behind us and we have managed to sustain this place for 21 years. You could tell me a club in this country that has managed that, then I would stop playing.
There’s no festival in this country that has lasted 21 years and that is because those other ones have no ideology behind it. When you don’t have an ideology behind what you’re doing, you’d just be throwing money to the wind. So, the youths must believe in themselves, they can’t say because the government is corrupt we are going to be corrupt. You can’t say because he’s a thief and he’s driving a Benz, me sef, I want a Benz so I will steal. That’s how we lost our culture, traditions, virtues of of being human beings You have to understand that it’s wrong, our leaders are wrong and they’ve wronged us. You can’t get into position and continue with the status quo. When would we get it right?
Whether I like it or not, I’m on the way out. I don’t know when God will call me, but even if God gives me many more years, the strength I had years ago, I don’t have it now. For now, we can only continue to pray for wisdom.