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Where Were You When Murtala Muhammed Said Africa Has Come of Age? (11th January 1976)



It is of great historical significance that the first extraordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government to be held since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity twelve years ago is being held on the liberation of Africa…

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Mr Chairman, when I contemplate the evils of apartheid, my heart bleeds and I am sure the heart of every true-blooded African bleeds. . . Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self-determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policymakers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain white supremacy and minority regimes in Africa. . .

Africa has come of age. It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or to Mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly…

For too long has it been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protect those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which, more often than not, have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand.”

An excerpt of the speech above, famously tagged the ‘Africa Has Come of Age’ was delivered late Murtala Mohammed at the Extraordinary Meeting of OAU on January 11th 1976, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The speech has since been seen symbolically to speak for the place of Africa being able to stand for itself after decades of colonialism and exploitation. It was taken to mark the important position Africa was rising into as an emerging continent in the early ’70s.

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The American Ambassador to Nigeria in 1976, Mr Donald Easum, started it all when he delivered a letter addressed to the Nigerian head of state from the United States president, Gerald Ford on the 3rd of January, 1976. Murtala Mohammed, then Nigerian head of state, was so furious with the effrontery by the U.S to try to control Africa’s policies that he published the letter sent to him in Nigerian newspapers.

The ‘Africa has Come of Age’ speech was meant partly as a response to the letter from then U.S President, Gerald Ford and also to fend off other bullies hoping to pilfer off Africa. U.S foreign policy has always been opposed to Soviet-backed nations – even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa had also taken a position opposing the MPLA (the Soviet-backed guerrilla group which had assumed power in Angola).

Murtala Mohammed did not stop at that, he rose to the occasion partly leveraging Nigeria’s position as a leading nation in Africa and largely depending on the economic boom inspired by the oil boom of the ’70s. He needed Africa and Nigeria particularly retaining that position of influence by ensuring good governance practices. Nigeria’s relevance was central even internationally – and the United States heard the voice of the country’s leader loud and clear.

General Murtala then used the opportunity of the Extraordinary OAU meeting to object to those protesting Africa’s self-determination in the full glare of the entire world. Straight to the point – void of diplomacy or politics.

As if it was his farewell speech to remind all Africans and Nigerians that they should guard their territory by all means and being ready to rise to the occasion whenever necessary, Murtala was gunned down 34 days after this speech while riding in his motorcade in Lagos.

The ‘Africa has Come of Age’ speech still rings a bell in the ears of Nigerians and other Africans who care to reflect deeply even 45 years after. The speech speaks even now to the African nation as it struggles with basic things decades after the last occupied nation has become independent and after the veil of apartheid has been removed.

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Macaddy Gad

Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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