The convener of the Hekima Series, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the UNDP Bureau for Africa, emphasized Professor Soyinka’s point: “We have a small window of opportunity, while COVID-19 has put us on our knees, to accept that humility and reimagine what development looks like. Reimagine the political order, the social contract and bring these perspectives to the center of the table. We have noted that every time we raise an issue that needs a solution, somebody makes reference to an existing framework or decision at the African Union or elsewhere, that's been there on the table but not really taken to the next level,” she said.
The Professor argued passionately for gender equality. “I have no patience for societies which reduce the potential and accessibility of opportunity of any gender. We must end this rape epidemic. If we continue to diminish half the world's population, women and girls, we brutalize and diminish our humanity.”
The conversation included young and dynamic African intellectuals such as Ms. Mathabo Mohwaduba – also an African Union-UNDP Young African Woman Leadership Fellow – who asked for Professor Soyinka’s advice to “young, energetic, radical, capable and educated African youth that are ready to take their seats at the table but often feel that they are denied the opportunity to do so.”
“To these youth”, said the Professor, “you are going to do all the work. It will not be us who bail you out. It's about time we [older generation] left this stage to you now. There are many answers, many positions, many approaches for the younger generation to mobilize themselves around and take power. My response is to listen to them,” he said, adding that the initiative of a joint letter from African intellectuals in response to COVID-19 was led by a younger generation of scholars.
Another young thought leader, Mr. Bright Simons, a Ghanaian social innovator, entrepreneur, writer, was able to share his appreciation of Professor Soyinka’s catalogue of written works and asked him why it is that people would rather preside over a cemetery – to which the professor retorted: “…don’t you feel you are being eaten piecemeal? Power reduces the other’s humanity.” He urged us to “recognize humanity in each other by demonstration, illustration and catching them young!”
The tenet of a shared humanity continued into the Professor sharing his perspective on the issue of migration on the continent: “I am afraid, the man in us has gone into a coma. I believe that the shame of migration that we are witnessing over the past few years, across the Sahara and across the Mediterranean, should compel leaders to sit down together to analyze and bring forth solutions that are practical and sustainable. Our leaders don't feel a sense of remedial urgency to terminate this history of degradation of our own people. It’s something which puzzles me and I think this is the task especially for the younger generation because it's your generation that's being whisked into the Mediterranean and across the Sahara Desert. It is your generation who must ask why you must leave to undergo such brutal conditions -- just to go somewhere to be servants and slaves. Any leader who does not make this one of his or her cardinal cross-cutting issues is indifferent to the fate of Africans,” he said.