Friday, 5 July 2013

Between a rock and a hard place

The Jonathan administration has been notably lacklustre in its foreign policy, especially where Africa is concerned, a far cry from the time when Nigeria was considered a front-line state in the war against apartheid, or when, later, we sent troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone. By contrast, we did nothing while civil war raged in Côte d’Ivoire until the French took it upon themselves to sort out the mess in its former colony. And when Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi vowed to exterminate the ‘cockroaches’ he had ruled for nearly three decades, it was President Jacob Zuma of South Africa who was to be seen everywhere speaking on behalf of the continent. It is true that we contributed our quota to the turmoil in Mali but the initiative came from elsewhere and the French (again) had in any case made the area safe for democracy - to say nothing of the remaining historical artefacts.
Insofar as Jonathan has a foreign policy, it seems to be anchored on ‘attracting investment to support the domestic programmes of government with a view to achieving not only our Vision 20: 20202, but to bequeathing an enduring...legacy of economic prosperity’, as he put it in a speech he gave in New York late last year. This seems to be a particularly myopic approach for at least two reasons. The first is that we have - or ought to have - more than enough money (and in dollars at that) to engage all our unemployed youths to undertake the ‘domestic programmes’ so desperately needed but for our obsession with buying houses in England and educating our children in Switzerland, both of whose banking systems we seem so intent on aiding. The second is that the West Africa region we insist we have an economic relationship with would seem to offer huge potential for growth, as indeed countless Nigerian traders have long known, bemoaning as they do the unhelpful attitude of their home missions, which appear to regard them as a nuisance, perhaps because they have better things to do.
So it was a surprise to discover that we actually had an opinion about the latest events in Egypt, to wit: ‘The unfortunate development is a gross violation of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which prohibits unconstitutional change of government. It constitutes a serious setback of the remarkable progress which Africa has made in fostering [a] culture of democratic governance in the continent.’ One might pick holes here and there, for instance the ‘remarkable progress’ we have supposedly made in ‘democratic governance’, at least here in Nigeria, where, for instance, a would-be national statesman with his sights set on unseating the ruling party come 2015 insists on foisting his daughter on a local association of market women, having previously installed his wife as a senator. As for the ‘unconstitutional change of government’, we know perfectly well who crafted the 1999 effort we are currently labouring under but it was assuredly not ‘the people’ it lays claim to, ‘the people’ themselves being an expendable commodity.
Still, one can understand the unease of those whose lifestyles invite their own overthrow but for our collective experience of military rule which would make any such intervention deeply unpopular. Clearly, the jubilant Egyptians never suffered under the likes of Buhari, Babangida and Abacha - and Goodluck to them. I don’t like Islamic fundamentalism with its myriad hatreds but it is hard to argue with an apparently free and fair election in Egypt, certainly freer and fairer than we have managed here since we began this new experiment in democracy, and which seems doomed to remain forever ‘nascent’.
For the first – and perhaps only – time I find myself in agreement with Nigeria’s official position on the goings-on in a fellow African country, however popular the coup in Egypt has so far proved, especially among those who initially fought for a modern, secular state that is ultimately the only option we have in the brave new world we inhabit. No army, anywhere, should ever intervene in their country’s domestic political arrangements. The Brotherhood is right to reject this abrogation of the people’s will, as we would be here if our own army were to oust the current crop in the National Assembly on the grounds that they are corrupt and self-serving. Indeed, Buhari once did just that, with what results we had to endure for the next fifteen years, which is why Nigerians are hardly likely to follow the Egyptian example, even if we also crave a mass movement that will frighten the government into taking itself and the country more seriously.
The deeper problem we have in Nigeria, any why I recommended boycotting the 2015 elections in a previous blog, was the constitution’s insistence that political parties must show national spread – offices in two-thirds of the 36 states - before they can be registered. My own take is that people with a common interest should be free to come together and contest for any position they like, from local to state to federal, the more so in a country with any number of minorities. This is what democracy means. The current arrangement only perpetuates the ‘money-bags’ politics that excludes ‘the people’ in the interests of the cabal that has ruined the ‘giant of Africa’ over the last half-century of our so-called independence, but which has proved just another form of servitude. Unfortunately, the so-called constitutional review recently undertaken by the National Assembly has merely confirmed that everything stays the same. Given this, we may indeed be faced with the Egyptian scenario come the 2015 elections that has long been viewed as the trigger for the country to descend into the chaos which successive governments have only just managed to contain. Like our Egyptian brothers and sisters, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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