Editor’s note: This commentary piece was written by Books for Africa Executive Director Patrick Plonski and board member Atare Agbamu, a Nigeria native
Despite its flaws, the recently concluded Nigerian presidential election was an important milestone for Africa’s most populous country. Running on a campaign of anti-corruption against an opponent who was tarnished by it, President Muhammadu Buhari has won a second four-year term.
When Mr. Buhari prevailed against the incumbent in 2015, many Nigerians were thrilled with the outcome and the changes it represented in their home country, along with the diaspora community in Georgia and around the U.S.
“Thrilled” may be too strong a reaction this time, given the incidence of violence and delays that may have impacted the vote, but as the largest democracy in Africa, Nigeria continued to set an example for the rest of the continent.
President Buhari and his government still have a lot of work to do fighting Boko Haram terrorists, battling corruption and spreading more evenly the wealth of a country where oil wealth has failed to lift many out of poverty.
Education will be paramount in Nigeria’s quest to grow its economy and build engaged citizens. Like most of Africa, Nigeria’s population skews younger, with more than half of its 190 million people under the age of 20.
Volunteers and companies in Georgia are already contributing to this cause through their work with Books for Africa, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based nonprofit that ships most of its books out of its largest warehouse in the metro Atlanta area.
More than 12,000 people spent time volunteering at the warehouse last year, including employees from Coca-Cola, RaceTrack and Home Depot. Students from Morehouse College, Spelman College, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech also sent volunteers, along with schools from outside the state. Many church groups and people with disabilities also volunteer regularly.
Since the warehouse opened on the west side of Atlanta decade ago, more than 26 million books have been shipped from there through the Port of Savannah and on to all 55 countries in Africa. BFA’s Law & Democracy Initiative has also provided law and human rights libraries to 21 countries, including Nigeria.
This track record is one reason the African Union has partnered with Books for Africa to populate a library at its secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first of many planned shipments containing 22,000 books arrived in January, just in time for the AU’s annual summit. The union’s long-term plan, “Agenda 2063,” acknowledges the challenge of educating youth, noting that “development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people especially its women and youth, and caring for children.”
To further the collaboration, the African Union Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, has joined the BFA Law & Democracy Initiative as its co-chair, joining former US Vice President Walter F. Mondale. She replaces the late Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General.
Books For Africa has also recently established the Nigerian Book Trust in Port Harcourt. The book trust, which is a mechanism for providing low-cost books to universities, schools, libraries and the general public in a micro-finance model, is the first such strategic initiative ever created by BFA. Forty thousand books just landed in Nigeria and the initiative is expected to deliver 250,000 books annually when fully operational.
A large African diaspora in Georgia is primed to support these initiatives. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the state is home to 105,000 residents of African origin, not to mention their children born here. Nigerians are said to be one of the best educated immigrant groups in the U.S., with manyworking in fields like law and medicine. Most want to see Africa develop to the point where bright young people see a promising future at home, rather than contributing to a continental brain drain.
Fifteen years ago there were almost no ex-presidents in Africa because almost all of them were, in effect, “presidents for life.” Things have changed for the better in Africa with more contested elections like those of Nigeria. As we build a new generation of educated citizens, we look forward to seeing continued improvement in these elections in terms of fairness and process in the coming years.
About the authors: Atare Agbamu, a native of Nigeria, is a member of the Books For Africa Board of Directors and a Trustee of The Nigerian Book Trust. Patrick Plonski is Executive Director of Books For Africa.