“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so, for remember fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in your mind.”
~~ Dale Carnegie
Many Nigerians, particularly in my home state Delta, no longer know or call me by my real name because it does not mean much to them anymore. There, as well as in most other places, so often, I get introduced as the Desert Warrior. I do not have any serious problem with that except that my children cannot take after the name.
It all started in London 20 years ago at the British Museum during the conferment of an award to me at the end of my second solo expedition across the Sahara. The title bestowed on me that fateful day was Desert Conqueror seeing that I had for the second time conquered the desert as it were. But I did not see it that way. In my acceptance speech, I stated that crossing the Sahara a second time alone was the very early beginning of the fight to tame the desert. My expedition was mainly to raise people’s awareness and to begin some activism that will halt the southward march of the Sahara which was first articulated by the once president of Ghana Dr Kwame Nkrumah and his counterparts in the early 60s. I reminded the fine people who were honouring me that it will take several decades to achieve our ultimate goal even if we started then in 2000 and for that, I proceeded to say that I saw myself as a warrior, not a conqueror. My speech was broadcast and published. Thus, began the transformation of my revolutionary name to Desert Warrior. The name of the award that I received did not change, however. It presently sits on display in my gallery in Lagos.
History tells us that the Sahara once had a very different climate and environment. From those who were here at least 7,000 BCE, we learnt that in Libya and Algeria; there were pastoralism, herding of sheep and goats, pottery and craft within large settlements. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4,000 to 3,500 BCE. Remarkable rock paintings (dated 3,500 to 2,500 BCE) from contemporaneous dry places portray vegetation and animal presence many eons ago, starkly different from modern-day realities. Let us be clear; climate change did not create the Sahara. For over 600 million years, intermittent sea rise and flooding have always submerged the region. Then there will be followed by uplift that will send back the seas to ocean basins, exposing the region to be covered by forests, savannahs and even marshlands. With the African Continent drifting north-eastwards, the region found itself in a place where it is affected “by a variation in the angle of the tilt of the Earth and the shape of its orbit. Changes in the Earth’s tilt caused changes in weather patterns and Sahara became a desert”, formed as a result of low-pressure air heating the ground and evaporating groundwater.
For centuries, there have been trans-Saharan trades in both directions between the Mediterranean countries and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Trade-in pre-Islamic times was conducted by caravans of camels. These camels would be fattened for a number of months on the plains of either the Maghreb or Sahel before being assembled into the caravan. The survival of the caravan would be precarious and rely on careful coordination. It was usual to send runners ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not carry enough with them to make the journey. However, all that changed with desertification and global warming.
Twenty years after my Desert Conqueror also known as Desert Warrior award, forty years after Kwame Nkrumah first mooted the idea and said, the continent of Africa will remain in darkness until the Sahara is tamed and breached, and now approaching my middle 80s, we have done very little in taming the Sahara or utilising its potentials. The vast heat and solar energy potentials of the desert can be harnessed to provide electricity for millions of homes, industries, and infrastructures like roads and railways. Same can be said with wind power and all these can transform us from the Dark Continent to powerhouses of industrial growth. Africa is the only continent in the whole world where you cannot move from north to south and east to west by road or rail transport because of the Sahara.
We must all begin to think of the benefits that are likely to be derived if the Trans-Saharan highway is built. In my book, “Bridging the Sahara – A Different Perspective”, published 20 years ago, I stated the following benefits;
Fishing For Water and Bridging the Sahara Desert
- Will open up the Sahara and make for the movement of goods, trade and services across the continent.
- Will create employment, education and industry for millions of Africans that border the Sahara through many countries.
- Will reduce migration and help to stem conflicts, wars, and the security risks that follow unchecked migrations.
- Will help to recover lands that have been encroached upon for agricultural and grazing purposes
- The threat of food security will be minimised, reducing poverty.
- Will empower the community especially the African Farming Women.
- Will give portable water to millions of people in the Sahel.
- Will cause rainfall with the greening of the land once again.
- Cause roads to be built and the resources that abound in the desert can be explored.
The Trans-Saharan highway has the potential to reduce insurgency everywhere and put a stop to the migration of the Fulani herdsmen. So, let us begin to imagine where Nigeria could be if we do not have to deal with all these crises.
Once again I will like to share the encounter I had early this year with a single mother in her 50s at a gas station. She was being attended to before me, and apart from filling up her car, she was also filling up two small generators behind her car and also some plastic containers. Since it was going to take a long time to fill up all these I decided to engage her in a conversation on safety and environmental concerns of what she was carrying. I wrote about it in a column titled the ‘’Incredible Nigerian’’ but the high and low of our conversation was that she knew me very well and had been reading my writings for many years. She wondered how I was able to continue writing when nobody listens. In yet another piece titled: “Is Anyone Listening?”, I confirmed my response to her that sometimes they do listen. Other times, they lack the political will, the patriotism, and the foresight to embark on a long journey of continuous development. They forget that Government is a continuum, and as my friend would say; “There is no end to work in the Ministry of Works”.
It isn’t too hard to understand why she would have said that no one was listening, after all, there appears to have been little to no change in the way things were and the way they are now. Actually, that’s untrue. Things have clearly retrogressed. Still, we don’t have the luxury of accepting defeat as that will mean the end of Nigeria and those in it. One thing remains true and this is the serious and urgent need for the Sahara Desert to be bridged and conquered so that the continent of Africa can begin to emerge. It will take decades for someone, some nation or the Global community to initiate the next move. I may be long gone by then but I hope that all the Warriors that have travelled and shared the journeys with me will remember that I tried.