The Dream Of North Korea Is Alive In West Africa – BuzzFeed News

ABUJA, Nigeria — Of all the memorabilia he’s collected during his nine trips to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Alhassan Muhammad treasures one most: The 54-year-old Nigerian lecturer keeps his “Friends of North Korea” medal lovingly stowed in a bedside cupboard.

A chatty professor of environmental sciences at the University of Abuja, Muhammad is one of just four Africans to have been given the award, and he flashes a wide smile as he recalls picking up the medal five years ago. “I go there twice each year, and I always make sure one visit is on September 9 because that’s their independence day celebration.”

Muhammad is the enthusiastic patriarch of a tenacious handful of Nigerians who believe that transplanting North Korea’s political system — an all-encompassing ideology called Juche, imposed by the country’s founding dictator in the 1950s — is the key to unlocking the potential of Africa’s most populous nation.

On a sweltering Tuesday morning in May, he welcomed me into his ground-floor flat in the capital of Abuja. “North Korea is a country that’s resilient, and built on the basis of self-reliance. It’s very peaceful. It’s a country that is so disciplined. Those are the things that attracted us to the tenets of our darling state of North Korea,” he said, as outside a cacophony of car horns shrieked and hawkers skirted traffic. “The inequality coming from right-wing capitalism — I’m so uncomfortable with that.”

His home, in a building with gently peeling walls, managed to be both typically Nigerian and a shrine of sorts to North Korea. Puffy sofas were crammed around a patterned rug, fake flowers dotted the room, and decorative balls sat in a glass case. The power was out, as usual, and outside the muezzin call to prayer rose and fell.

There’s a North Korean law that every household must display portraits of their leaders in their homes, and the 7,000 mile distance from Pyongyang wasn’t going to stop Muhammad from following it. He gestured at two photographs that take pride of place on his living room wall.

“This is the founding father of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, His Excellency Comrade Kim Il Sung,” he said, pointing at the first framed portrait.

“That’s my wife, Khadija,” he continued, as a woman in a glittering yellow hijab walked into the room.

“And this,” he said, turning back to the wall, “is His Excellency Kim Jong Il.”

He beamed at the former leader of North Korea, who scowled back from beneath his perpetual upturned bowl haircut.

Juche supporters still scattered across Africa today are the tail end of what was once a brightly burning comet of support for North Korea on the continent. As the region began wrestling free from colonialism in the 1960s, many saw their struggles as newly independent nations reflected in the North’s fierce nationalism against US-backed forces. Socialist parties springing up across the continent forged ties with North Korea, from the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea — where the country’s then-dictator renamed the only legal party after North Korea’s Worker’s Party — to Guinea, formerly a West African showcase of Marxism.

Crucially, this cooperation came with aid and military support. If you stumble across a distinctly Asian-looking, Communist-style statue in an African capital, it was likely built by North Koreans during the Cold War. In Somalia, a consignment of bulldozers and tractors arrived as a personal gift from Kim Il Sung; in Burundi, North Korean engineers built a presidential palace; and in Zimbabwe, North Korean-trained soldiers fought colonial leaders.

But nowhere does Juche’s promise of order still resonate so much as in Nigeria, where the four North Korean–themed societies that Muhammad juggles have drawn some 2,000 members.

Which explains how a slice of North Korea ended up in the otherwise ordinary Nigerian home of a man who has dedicated the last decade to promoting the secretive state. A red paper lantern hung over the dining table, itself draped with a red-dragon-patterned tablecloth, and down the hallway a red lamp spluttered on and off in time to the power cuts. Issue number 715 of North Korea’s official state magazine — the cover splash showed the founding father in military uniform inspecting a flag — could be found alongside his wife’s magazine on jewel-bright African fabrics. He apologized that it was an old issue — he’d taken the more recent ones to campus; his wife apologized that her magazine was an old issue too — shipments of international magazines are often erratic in Nigeria.

“I’m not saying Nigerians should be exactly like Koreans — look at me, the way I am,” Muhammad said, spreading his arms so the silk folds of his traditional blue boubou cascaded gracefully. “I’m so proud of my indigenous culture. But common sense dictates that if your neighbor is doing something good, you should imbibe those good aspects and then you’re better off.”

The Dream Of North Korea Is Alive In West Africa – BuzzFeed News

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