What was President Jonathan doing in Washington?

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: simboor@yahoo.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDThis habit of African leaders running from Beijing to New York, then French call them, they go to France,   then the Japanese call them then  they go … You can sit down at home and do your job actually -Mo Ibrahim

Here we were in the belly of Berlin, mid-2011.  Same old Berlin where in 1885, Africa was placed on a table and partitioned. It was a difficult time for some of us, did not know what to make of the Arab spring threatening to envelope the North of the continent, at that time. The battle for the soul of Libya was raging. There was excitement in the West at what they saw as the advent of democracy in that region. It made more sense keeping one’s convoluted thoughts to himself. But Africa has a way of finding you out, irrespective of the hole you might have hidden yourself in. She pulls you out, to break your heart, thanks to our Leaders.

At the conference, a top government official from one of the African countries walks in with gist from the Malabo Summit of African Heads of State on the Libyan crisis that had just ended. She told of the West had deploying brief-cases heavy with dollars to buy over some of our Leaders. It was no surprise that the AU proposal, wrapped in different tongues, was never considered seriously by the coalition led by France, Britain and the United States. Even though Jacob Zuma tried to put in a voice of caution on behalf of Madiba, he hardly got through to others. As usual, African leaders were not of one accord. In any case, the West had already taken a decision on how to proceed with Libya, a disunited Africa was not going to change their minds.

To see what has become of Libya today, courtesy of the bungling of the crisis in that country by France, Britain and the United States, is a shame. It is even more tragic, given as Alex de Waal puts it, that “AU’s diagnosis of the Libyan conflict was fundamentally correct. This conflict was both a popular uprising against a dictatorship and a civil war within a patronage-based political order, with regional repercussions”. But Africa having lost its voice to notes from the brief cases, no one took her seriously. Who will take African leaders known for not standing up for anything, seriously? Who will consider the opinion of a leadership ready to sell off its own for a cup of tea? Who will take Africa seriously, when its natural leader, the one ever quick to tout herself as the ‘giant of Africa’ is in deep slumber. The Libyan crisis was one in which Nigeria had no voice. She ‘led’ from behind, as usual, only to end up committing a faux pas, slipping away from an agreed resolution by the African Union into a hasty recognition of the NTC.

Indeed, those were the early days of President Goodluck Jonathan in office, had only spent one year. But the signs were already evident. Four years later, his foreign thrust remains undefined. There is in fact, no policy to speak of.  No direction, strategy or tactical plan, to consider for interrogation.  He spoke once of a “citizen-focused” foreign policy designed to “accord this vision of defending the dignity of humanity the highest priority”, but it is difficult to see what that exactly means. Emmanuel Osita is a Nigerian footballer who recently lost his life on the Air Algeire flight.  It’s 2 weeks already since the incident, perhaps our citizen-focused government will pay a visit to his family tomorrow. Perhaps, they will hearken to the cry from his parents and assist in retrieving his remains. We saw the Dutch in action recently. Nigeria might not be Netherlands, but can we begin to aspire to some form of decency in protecting the dignity of Nigerians? Can the citizen-focused policy be extended to assisting Nigerians in one form of misadventure or the other, abroad?

Nigeria has abdicated its leadership position in Africa. Is our foreign policy still built around the concentric circles or not? It would seem Nigeria is now tossed to and fro by every diplomatic wind, in no particular direction. She has become anonymous on the international stage.  Our President often comes across as either uncomfortable or lost in the midst of other Heads of State, at international gatherings. Can anyone explain how President Jonathan ended up at the far end of the last row in that group photograph of President Obama and African Leaders at the just concluded US-Africa Leaders Summit? How did we end up in relegation waters, now hugging the back bench in Africa?

If there was a time Africa truly needs Nigeria, it is now. If there was a time Nigeria has a great need for an educated and robust engagement with the world, this is the moment. Many of the issues nation-states are faced with today are trans-national, in nature. The complexities of global finance(legitimate and illicit), trade, technology, migration, intellectual rights, climate change, piracy, terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, etc. demand more astuteness on the part of national leadership than before. You can only go to sleep at your own detriment.

Nigeria has been battling against terrorists who have tentacles outside the borders. It takes a smooth navigation of international waters to steady the ship. It had to take a summons to Paris by almighty France to get Nigeria and her next-door neighbours operating on the same wavelength in the fight against Boko Haram. What has happened to Nigeria? Have we finally lost our voice?

The summit in Paris ends and President Obama now summons 50 African Leaders to Washington. The point must be – if it took France bringing Nigeria and her neighbours to Paris to meet over a regional affair, why not ship in 50 African leaders to Washington for dinner? Predictably, our leaders abandoned their duty at home, to honour America’s call. Did it once cross their minds that rather than have 50 men leaving the continent to go meet one man in another continent, they could as well bring that man, their ‘son’ to come meet with them in Addis-Ababa?

Nothing better sums up the tragedy that presently faces Africa than the US-African Leaders Summit in Washington. It is sufficient proof of the deficiency at the very top. It forcefully brings it to the fore that there is a vacuum of leadership in Africa.  The continent has lost its voice – Nigeria, the natural leader, has dissolved into obscurity in the global arena.  Anonymity has pushed her down the ladder into irrelevance. With that, there is no vision, no direction, no coherence in policy and strategy.

So Mr Obama summons President Jonathan and his friends to Washington. He was straight to the point – “I want Africans buying more American products. I want Americans buying more African products… we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.  That’s the kind of partnership America offers.”

He wants partnership, he says. He wants Africa to choose America rather than China that built the African Union Headquarters. For that reason, he summons African leaders to Washington.  And our Leaders went.

Mo Ibrahim responds, on our behalf –

“I’m actually a little bit amazed that all those Africans I met on the plane … are coming all the way here to America to tell the very smart, well-informed American businesspeople that ‘guys, you know what, there is a good opportunity in Africa’. They should do some homework.”

“Everywhere in Africa there are Chinese businesspeople, there are Brazilian businesspeople.”

“None of us went to Brazil, or to Asia or to China to tell them, look, come and invest in Africa. They found out themselves and they come and invest. That’s how basic business people behave.”

This is what African leaders should have told Mr Obama, when they received his invitation. But no, they did not. Rather, they packed their bags and headed for Washington to be lectured on how Africa has suddenly become the next best thing after Gari Ijebu.  As if there was any doubt, World Bank MD, Caroline Ansley reminds us that “…after centuries of western and northern dominance, developing and emerging economies are no longer looking at Europe and North America for their economic models.”

Back home, managers of the Nigerian economy are stuck with the same models. They are back from US, touting token investment promises by some American companies as gain for the needless trip. There is no point comparing what America has promised with what China has quietly placed on the table, without any song and dance, over the years.

How a beautiful bride with the entire village on her trail can abandon her home, flies on the wings of inferiority complex, to go dine with a choosy groom in his court, with no pre-conditions, is truly beyond me. It is President Obama today, who knows who will be summoning our leaders next?