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AFRICA IN THE TURBULENCE OF A WORLD IN SEARCH OF DIRECTION 

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By Benson Upah

I am delighted to be part of the 2023 annual lecture series of the Society for International Relations Awareness (as a discusant) put together by its highly resourceful and energetic President, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, veteran journalist, renowned columnist, a leading socio-political influencer and former General Secretary of OATUU.

It is a fitting tribute to his organisational ability and the growing list of his network that today’s event is being chaired by the highly-regarded Ambassador-Emeritus, His Excellency Ambassador Brownson Dede and another equally highly-regarded Ambassador-Emeritus, His Excellency, Ambassador John Kayode Shinkaiye and His Excellency, Dr Kayode J.
Fayemi, immediate past Governor of Ekiti State (now lecturer at one of the ivy-league universities in London) as the lecturer in the massive auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs brimming with serving and retired diplomats and other distinguished guests. It attests to the seriousness of today’s business.

In my view, there are three assumptions pertaining to the topic of discussion, _Africa In The Turbulence of A World In Search of Direction_ .

The first is that the world is in a state of turbulence distinctly unique from previous turbulences. The second is that the world is in need of a direction. The third is where Africa is expected to be in the midst of it all.

Turbulence is a natural phenomenon that has engaged Physics over time and will continue to be of interest to mankind for its “chaotic behaviour” and it’s “complex, a-periodic and deterministic” mood (John Lumley : Cornell University). Turbulence is associated with cataclysm or instability of tsunamic proportions but of transient nature and attributed to “…the instabilities of some basic luminar flow” (Ai-Kady Tsinober: ResearchGate). Serious work on turbulence is said to have begun sometime between 1889 and 1903 (Francois . G. Schmitt).

In summary, “turbulence is a state of confusion and disorganised change” which the Collins Dictionary sums up as “confusion, turmoil, unrest and instability”. 

However, we are gathered here today not to talk about geological formations or malformations or physics in quest of predictions or interpretations of their make-up but extreme or severe violent situations or grave multi-dimensional social disorder created by our politics, decisions, greed, selfishness and selfrighteousness.

 Indeed there cannot but be turbulence “in a world consumed by displays and the ceaseless chatter of fast inter action, the melodic elegance and emotional symphony”, writes Go-Ramblers.com.

Turbulence occurs as a result of collision of ideas, beliefs, policies, hegemonies or civilisations in pursuit of power. Turbulence has been with us since man started organising himself into society(ies) and conquering his environment. The resultant effects have been massive disruptions of systems, indescribable destructions, and often the collapse of empires and emergence of new ones.

 In the 20th century alone there were two world wars that led to consequential global power shift, the collapse of Ottoman and British empires respectively. Preceding the wars were other wars in Europe, Africa and Asia, though of lesser magnitude and destruction but nonetheless of great significance. In the much older world, Mali, Ghana, Songhai empires collapsed as indeed Greek and Roman due to a combination of reasons already adduced, lending credence to the Mats Berdal summation that “Attempts to comprehend, through empirical inquiry and philosophical reflection, the likely effects of deeper, seemingly unstoppable processes of socio-economic change on patterns of violent conflict within and across societies are not new” (How “New” Are “New Wars”? Global Economic Change and the Study of Civil War)

Indeed, under the watch of the UN, we had one of the longest and most intense ideological confrontations in history with over a dozen proxy wars to the bargain…the clash between the West and the East, capitalism and socialism. The collapse of the Soviet Union which effectively marked the end of socialism as a global fighting force did not necessarily lead to a peaceful world either, reinforcing my belief that turbulence is inherently pàrt of human nature. Infact, while Russia was nursing its wounds( from the collapse of Soviet Union), China was re-strategising and re-positioning, preparatory to launching itself on the global stage as an economic super power. Today, it is both an economic and military super power.

From the ashes of the Soviet empire, Putin, a thoughtful and proud Russian, over time rebuilt and repositioned Russia as a global military force to rival the US military might even as Colin Powell (Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff) had said then that only the size of the Russian empire had changed, that Russia had the wherewithal (like the US) to destroy the world within 15 minutes. Today, Russia has a nuclear arsenal second to none. This in itself has always been considered a threat by the West despite the fact that Russia had “opened” up.  

Some however, hold the view that the immediate and more significant threat has been the triumphal mentality of the West under the leadership of the US, which against all grains of wisdom and in utter violation of agreement reached with Russia (not to expand the NATO frontiers), has all but annexed the former member-states of the great Soviet Union in the name of NATO membership, a move Russia persistently protested against on the basis of national security concerns but was ignored. Putin captures the mood here thus:”The history of the West is essentially the chronicle of endless expansion. Western influence in the world is an immense military and financial pyramid scheme that constantly needs more “fuel” to support itself, with natural, technological and human resources that belong to others. This is why the West simply cannot and is not going to stop. Our arguments, reasoning, calls for common sense or proposals have simply been ignored” (his address to the plenary session of the 20th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi 2023).

However, attempts to make Ukraine a NATO member have not gone on very well and today we have a hot war between NATO and Russia in its second year even as Putin exonerates Russia of blame: “We are compelled to respond to ever increasing military and political pressure…It was not us who started the so-called ‘war in Ukraine’…” (his address to the plenary session of the 20th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi 2023).

It has been a war into which virtually everything (boots, projectiles, technology etc) from at least 35 countries has been thrown (32 from the West and 3 from the East).

And for the first time after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have come really close (closer than Cuba) to the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, close enough for Putin to say the lessons of history have not been learnt:

“In the early 21st century, everybody hoped that states and peoples had learned lessons of the expensive and destructive military and ideological confrontations of the previous century, saw their harmfulness and the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet, and understood that the global problems of humanity call for joint action and the search for collective solutions, while egotism, arrogance and disregard for real challenges would inevitably lead to a dead-end , just like the attempts by more powerful countries to force their opinions and interests onto everyone else. This should have been obvious to everyone. It should have, but it has not. It has not” (Putin’s address to the plenary session of the 20th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi 2023).

While some might accuse Putin of being sentimental, it is a trite fact that “We learn from history that we do not learn from history” (Georg Hegel).

If Putin’s initial remarks were considered as indirect, he came in the open and unmistakably belligerent in subsequent comments underscoring the gravity of the situation:

” The United States and its satellites have taken a steady course towards hegemony in military affairs, politics, the economy, culture and even morals and values. Since the very beginning, it has been clear to us that attempts to establish a monopoly were doomed to fail. The world is too complicated and diverse to be subjected to one system, even if it is backed by the enormous powers of the West accumulated over the centuries of its colonial policy. Your colleagues as well —-many of them are absent today, but they do not deny that to a significant degree, the prosperity of the West has been achieved by robbing colonies for several centuries. This is a fact. Essentially, this level of development has been achieved by robbing the entire planet”.

Today, another hot war has erupted in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas with their traditional allies in tow and the possibility of the war escalating and spreading to other regions.

 The two hot wars are by no means the only flash points in the world. There are a dozen other places considered to be high -risk including Taiwan, South China Sea, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Yemen, etc, prompting the formation of emergency geo-political organisations including AUKUS. At some point, thoughts were had of extenting NATO membership to Japan even as Japan is not contiguous to the North Atlantic! Across Africa and Asia, there have been other wars in various stages prompting some to conclude that the world is in a desperate situation.

 However, others argue that “there are no desperate situations; only desperate men” (Joseph Goebbels). Putin seems to share the view that the situation is not desperate even when his actions speak to the contrary. At Sochi, he had said:

“I am confident that humanity is not moving towards fragmentation into rivaling segments, a new confrontation of blocs, what ever their motives, or a soulless universalism of a new globalisation. On the contrary, the world is on its way to a synergy of civilisation-states, large spaces, communities identifying as such”.

In spite of Putin’s seeming optimism, Einstein is among those who subscribe to the notion that “the world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who dont do anything about it” (Albert Einstein).

 Not a few share this philosophy including Putin who is seen as having risen to the threat posed by the West, bullet for bullet, projectile for projectile and boot for boot.

The confrontation is by no means limited to the military domain. The US has rallied the West in its policy of containment, curtailment and encirclement of China just as the West has slammed unprecedented sanctions on Russia even as their economies run into recession as a result of these sanctions.

In Africa, there is a renewed rivalry between the West and the East (led by Russia and China) on the one hand and the familiar Western landlords. Political, economic and military advantages are at the heart of it all. There are also wars, insurgencies and other threats internal to these African countries. 

In light of these irreconcilable differences around the world with everybody’s finger on the trigger, the world might truly be in some significant danger and accordingly has need of a new direction. But more importantly, where does that leave Africa?

First, the direction the world is presumed to be in need of. In my view the world is in need of more integration, co-operation, and collaboration in all spheres of human endeavour to end hunger, poverty, want, disease, ignorance and discrimination. But wait a minute, this is the view of the doves, and although in the majority, they have little or no say in the affairs of the world even as Putin says, “we stand for equality, for diverse potential of all countries”. In summary therefore, the integrative view will be no more than a sermon preached from the oak-panelled chamber of the United Nations General Assembly which the more powerful countries will shrug off with a familiar smugness.

Accordingly, not a few think the world will increasingly get more violent, bitter and polarised with regional military and socio-economic organisations such as NATO and EU not masking their interests which are often downright insular and selfish. This pits the West against the rest of the world, much of a febrile world. The renewed and unmasked herd behaviour (or gang-up) of Western countries in recent conflicts with literally no dissenting voice from within even when the truth is so obvious, has pushed not a few to the painful realisation that the West only cares about its own skin. This inevitably raises the decibels of bitterness, polarisation and confrontation.

 With time, it is most probable that regional organisations such as NATO and EU and their parallels elsewhere will take precedence over the UN which some of us predict will die a slow natural death, more out of its impotence and irrelevance than anything else. The glaring recent herd-behaviour of Western countries under the leadership of the United States and determination of some other countries to no longer “take orders any more or make their interests and needs dependent on anyone, above all on the rich and more powerful” (Putin in Sochi) will be another spark that will ignite a wave of confrontations never before seen. It will similarly trigger the formation of other regional organisations or the strengthening of existing ones like BRICS. 

 Like in the West, voices of citizens will continue to count for less yielding their pre-eminent position to the voices of regional partisans like Joe Biden of the United States. Resentful citizens and weaker nations will be pacified with more short-term social protection measures and quiet rebukes respectively (to fall in line or be isolated in the group). In a few words, I disagree with Thomas L. Friedman’s assertion that, “We are moving from a world where the heavy eat the light to a world where the light eat the heavy” _(Understanding Globalisation: The Lexus and Olive Tree)_ 

The domains of confrontation will be expanded from the military to technology, economy, and culture as I have earlier mentioned. I bet this is already happening as chips are not to be sold to China or Russia. The trade in other sensitive military technology has equally been restricted, in spite of the once popular advert in The Washington Post:

“SOONER OR LATER, ALL TYRANNIES CRUMBLE

Those That Keep Putting Their Customers 

On Hold Tend to Crumble Sooner” (Thomas . L. Friedman; _Understanding Globalisation: The Lexus and the Olive Tree)__ 

 There will be nuclear proliferation in order to ensure the global spread or balance of terror. At the moment more Western countries have nuclear weapons than other regions of the world. However, a nuclear war will not be fought by the two countries with the most powerful nuclear arsenal, the US and Russia. This, however, does not preclude the use of tactical nuclear strikes on some other vulnerable targets in the manner the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

While the possibility of the Russia- US nuclear show-down may be remote, much of it is contingent on the willingness of China to join the fray but it is doubtful that China which uses Russia as a learning curve in practically everything from opening up to taking back a break-away republic, will go for a nuclear war now. Perhaps, in the next seven to ten years when it would have achieved nuclear parity with the US. But then, wars do drop from the skies sometimes. A nuclear war will not be different.

  Due to the reckless use of its power of sanctions, conscious and sustainable efforts are already been made and will be further strengthened to downgrade the global dominance of the US Dollar through “strange” alliances. This will take a while and a lot of conversation between common foes such as China and India, Iran and Saudi Arabia and other countries.

The unprecedented sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs invariably pitched the West not just against Russia but the rest of the world as well as presented the former as not a safe sanctuary for storing up fortune. However, what happens next is entirely in the womb of time but it is a certainty that a per cent age of global wealth will move from the West. However, where to and in what form, I do not know.

Contrary to popularly-held notions that governments’ power or influence will be minimised by the combination of multinationals and other social forces, governments in the emerging global order will re-invent themselves through ingenious alliances with dominant forces, good or bad, to perpetuate their strangle-hold on power. It will be a world more Machiavellian and dangerous, from North to South and East to West in the name of preserving or protecting the people or their civilisations. And especially because peer-review platforms or mechanisms will be non-existent, external pressures will count for nothing. It will be a world of bullies where might is right. It will equally be a world of infinite possibilities never before seen, but largely malevolent. And benevolent too! Patricia Clavin, Professor of Modern History at Oxford argues that:

“Turbulence can push individuals, institutions, and states to their limits. History shows that it simultaneously fosters creative, pluralistic and dynamic advocacy that leads to new modes of co-operation, often in history’s darkest hours”.

It could also be a world in transition as there could be a global power shift in line with the view that:

“Power is not eternal. No one in the world can remain strong all the time. Man is first a child, then youth, then maturity, old age. Such is the life expectancy of states as well” (Sheihk Ahmed Yassin, 1998). 

While this arguemnt is consistent with historical changes of this magnitude, another school of thought says the West will not relinquish its strangle-hold on global power so easily, not without a fight! Even though Putin says the West has lost it, the odds still favour it.

Back to the question of where Africa will be in the new contestations for power or its aftermath?

Putin gives an idea about how to take advantage of the situation thus:

“Relying on your civilisation is a necessary condition for success in the modern world, unfortunately a disorderly and dangerous world that has lost its bearings. More and more states are coming to this conclusion, becoming aware of their owns interests and needs, opportunities and limitations, their own identity and degree of interconnectedness with the world around them” (Putin in Sochi).

But does Africa have any civilisation left on which to rely as a condition and vehicle for entry and participation in this global ferment or arena?

In my view, Africa will be no more than a map, a patch on the earth—the pliant giant, raped, abused and abandoned by those who love her or despise her. Mario Puzo ( _The Godfather_ ) says that a race that allowed itself to be ground to dust is not one any would worry about.

Africa has attributed its inability to grow or develop like other parts of the world to slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism (which Nkrumah says is the highest/last stage of imperialism) and much more recently, globalisation. 

Although the reading of Karl Marx, Lenin and more recent works such as *How Europe Underdeveloped Africa* (Walter Rodney), *The Wretched of the Earth* (Frantz Fanon), *Globalisation And Its Discontents* ( Joseph Stiglitz) and other titles gives us an insight into the horrors of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the double-standards of globalisation, it is time to stop complaining about these phenomena. After an average of 60 years of independence, these are no longer acceptable excuses for Africa’s miserable backwardness. We cannot continue to accept the refrain of, “they took us away”. For how long?

They also took the Jews away but they said, “Never again!” The narrative has since changed for them.

It is of great importance to note that Africa’s erstwhile colonial masters were themselves former colonies of other powers, some under colonialism three to five times longer than Africa was. Rather than wallow in self-pity or indulge in blame game (for their misfortunes), they set to work and became dominant world powers. Perhaps, more significant is the fact that some former colonies who got their independence the same time as most African countries have since transformed. Malaysia, Singapore and others are in this class. Although great powers such as India, Pakistan and China got their own independence much earlier but not more than 15 years before Nigeria, for instance. China, the world’s wonder-country was under three different colonial masters! 

However, in terms of turning situations around, I would think the US leads the pack. After a violent independence struggle against the British 

and a bitter civil war, the US grew sufficiently strong enough to ‘colonise’ Britain, it’s former colonial master as well as dominate the world.

Given these scenarios of turning situations around, I would think Africa has not done enough for itself taking a distant last with no light at the end of the tunnel. At the risk of repetition, Africa is satisfied with blaming others for its woes. When the political elite are in consensus, they blame erstwhile colonial masters. When they are not, they blame opposition politicians or imaginary enemies. Opposition politicians blame witches in their villages. The working class/peasants (in the majority) who have the power to fight or even effect a change of this irredeemably corrupt elite, blame evil spirits and are often divided along primordial lines, rationalising the sins of their leaders. In a few circumstances when they are united, each person waxes into a state of inertia, waiting and hoping for the other person to do something, thus they lose the advantage of collective power of numbers and spark to push. They also lack the power of creative thinking because they are too busy talking or making noise to do anything reasonably meaningful. It is a known axiom that a people who talk too much have little time for thinking or work.

 The few geniuses, and “mad” men and women with the will and initiative to triumph, with or without government, are brutally crushed with regulations and gun-toting task forces.

Africa’s problems are largely internal and they are corruption, oppression, repression, unhelpful education and the inability of the victims to effect a change of leadership. We have a predatory and narrow-minded political elite that are unrepetantly selfish and greedy, lazy and unimaginative, brutal and unforgiving (Frantz Fanon puts it more poignantly). They are impatient and intolerant of their people with little thoughts for tomorrow. They have all the vices of colonialists and none of their virtues. Their overwhelming power and influence have a paralysing effect on the people and the land. The people themselves are too docile for a meaningful fight with their traducers.

This elite are more at home with smarter and self-indulgent foreign counterparts than their own people. Often in dark blue suits and black shoes, these foreign collaborators are implacably arrogant and self-conceited. They facilitate the hitch-free movement of the stolen money or resources, provide sanctuary for their safe-keeping, tell the African elite how to spend the money and then turn around to call all of us “fantastically corrupt”.

 Yakubu Mohammed underscores the gravity of the role played by the local African elite when he writes:

“Economic textbooks on Africa and other poor continents of the world should be updated to take into account the role of indigenous exploiters who use their positions to pauperise their countries and kill their fellow human beings because of their insatiable appetite for money and the good things money can _bring” ( _The Guardian,_ Wednesday, September 1, 2021).

While the African elite take a significant portion of this blame, time has also come for shared-responsibility between the African political elite and their partners in crime in Western capitals. But can Africa muster the necessary will and courage to demand for the reparation of the illegal wealth stowed away or have it reinvested or will it continue on this path of whinning? Which ever decision Africa takes, it must not, never again allow their silk-suited foreign counterparts pour cigar smoke in our faces while they live off us.

The mentality of political leaders waiting for aid before doing anything, must stop even as no nation can be unto itself an island. Even some liberal scholars attest to this. Giles Bolton for instance avers that, “Aid, no matter how good can do no more than help create the conditions for development. It can’t deliver it” ( _Aid and Other Dirty Business_ ) . My opinion is that aid may be good but it will take us no where for the simple reason that the aid-giver determines not only what we need, it decides what we get, and how we spend it. But that is not the end of the story. The aid-giver help us spend the aid and still asks for something bigger in return.

In light of this, the turbulence into which we are getting is a great opportunity for Africa to die a permanent death or to break even, get even….steal, take by force (if it has the courage) but certainly, to stop begging, to stop blaming! It is for weaklings. Development cannot come to Africa on the basis of pity or charity. It will come on chariot wheels with flaming fire!

There are theories and models of development but I have chosen to reduce them to two here; Market and State. Of state model, the assumption is that, “no developmental state, no development [as] the idea of a developmental state puts robust, competent public institutions at the centre of the developmental matrix” (Peter Evans 2010: quoted by Omano Edigheji in his book, _Nigeria: Democracy Without Development: How to Fix It_ ).

He similarly quotes Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, a market-minded politician thus:

“Societies make progress when visionary leaders emerge to organise and direct collective actions for peaceful co-existence, with sensible rules, clear incentives and sanctions that enable individuals to realize their full potential”. 

This is illustrated further as follows:

“…countries escape poverty only when they have appropriate economic institutions, especially private property and competition….countries are more likely to develop the right institutions when they have an open pluralistic political system with competition for political office, a widespread electorate, and openness to new political leaders” (Gary S. Becker, Nobel laureate in economics in _Why Nations Fail)_ 

Which ever model Africa chooses to use, we should stop destroying our indigenous technology, no matter how crude. Enough of razing to the ground artisinal refineries when our sophisticated refineries cannot yield a drop of refined oil. Enough of destroying our local gun factories when our Defence Industries Corporation can only boast of beds, bolts and nuts after 50 years while it’s counterparts in Brazil and elsewhere are building fighter jets. Enough of destroying other private initiatives. Enough of parading jaded market cliches like “government has no busisness in business”. Indeed, government has every business in business!With an inherently weak and dubious organised private sector (Mbeki-Report On Illicit Financial Flows in Africa) we do not need a soothsayer to tell us that government and organised private sector must of necessity create a synergy. 

The turbulence has and will take many dimensions including attempts to re-colonise Africa by both the West and the East. It is a golden opportunity for Africa to play the beautiful bride and for it to know there are no benevolent colonial masters or foreign partners. It is important for Africa to know that diplomacy or international co-operation is not about chastity or charity naivety. Everybody takes what they can and move on.

It is equally important for African countries to note that they do not need hymnal or harmonic peace to develop but blood and grit! I propose the emergence of sub-regional powers with the wherewithal to inspire development across their sub-regions as well as whip into line smaller or weaker nations. 

Africa must decide for itself where it wants to be by making smart choices. Africa should not be scared to venture. After all, strength comes from rubble (Napoleon). “And out of the rubble comes peace” ( Marwa Al-Sabouni, a Syrian Architect).

At the beginning of this presentation, I did say that there were three possible assumptions with the first being that the world is in a state of turbulence distinctly different from the regular turbulence we know. Developments as earlier enunciated point to this. I have talked about multi-dimensional confrontations across the world in multiple domains and their potential effects including major destructions and emergence of new global power centres. In spite of the potential magnitude of the changes expected, this may be no more than a phase in the global cycle of power and therefore not extraordinarily unique after all.

The second assumption is that the world is in need of a direction. My thoughts on this àre similar to the first assumption. The world has never been a perfect place even during the Eden Garden era and the so-called Golden Age or Age of Enlightenment. The world has been in search of direction from its birth to the first industrial revolution, the second and third and then the fourth. Only “recently” in its relentlessly quest, it “found” itself on the brink of a self-destructive world of Artificial Intelligence realising just in time to step back. 

The world will therefore keep on searching for a direction because it has no light of its own. The only light it gets, comes from the sun, and only for a few hours a day.

The third assumption is where Africa will be or expected to be during or after the turbulence. My take is, Africa is not new to turbulence. It was the centre of creation (Serengeti) and creation didn’t happen peacefully (using the big-bang theory). Africa is one of the few places on earth that an ocean turned into a desert, and with tempratures hitting the roof in the Mediterranean/Red Sea nowadays, who knows what will happen next. Africa experienced slavery twice (first came the desert and then the ocean). Africa came under ruthless colonialism by Western powers (with the Belgian Beasts leading the pack) and at the moment coping with neo-colonialism, globalisation, disease, poverty and underdevelopment. The expected turbulence in Africa could range from nature-made to man-made. The “rebellions” in Francophone Africa are some of the things we expect aside from being sucked into the vortex of violence arising from a global military confrontation.

The point being made here is that the new turbulence ought not shock or awe or paralyse Africa (given its history) even as no two turbulence are ever the same. Nonetheless, how it weathers this new turbulence will entirely be determined by the decisions or choices Africa makes since this is expected to be some kind of participatory colonialism in which Africa is expected to have a voice if it choose to, unlike Berlin Conference of 1884 where there was no African.

 Finally, in the emerging world order, in spite of the growing resentment of the weaker nations (for being bullied), and commitment of the powerful nations to be more accommodating, few powerful nations, if any, are prepared to share the perch with the weaker ones….except for the vote or the cheer from the sidelines. Weaker nations will always be reminded of the risks they face from the enemy camp if they don’t fall into line in their own camp. Similarly, they would be reminded of potential isolation from their own camp, and lastly, their own people, especially during elections. Afterall, powerful countries can make things happen in weaker nations.

The last line is that all the three assumptions might seem unique and extraordinary on a scale possibly never before seen but in the cold and remorseless trudge of time, all this might be no more than another phase of existence…waiting for another phase.

 _Benson Upah, a Public Affairs and Leadership Analyst, writes from bensonupah@gmail.com_

OPINION

Why Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Exit from ECOWAS is no BREXIT

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By Olu Jacobs

Comparisons are being made between the sudden exit of the military juntas of
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the Economic Community of West African
States, ECOWAS, and Britain’s 31 st January 2020 official exit of Britain from the
European Union.
On the surface, similarities can be found with Brexit, to wit: some small nation
with a fraction of the GDP of the entire group leaves a Community of equals and
forfeits all the advantages of the economies of scale inherent in a single market
where there is unhindered intra-Community movement of goods and services,
unencumbered by law or tariffs.


As the pretext for leaving, the errant countries accused the Union of promoting
unpleasant polices, policies which were in fact part of the fundamentally practices
of the body and core mandate of the group, and entrenched in its rules of
procedure and which has sustained the Union throughout the 40 or so odd years
of its existence
As a consequence of leaving a group which exerts stronger bargaining power as a
block, the decampees runs the risk of losing out on the group’s negotiating
power and may no longer enjoy free trade with the rest Member
States
But here the comparison ends.
The UK at least held a
referendum where its people voted to leave the EU. The trio of
Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, Col. Assimi Goita, and Brig. Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani,
did not bother with such niceties. Having come to power through the force of
arms, they were under no obligation to inform their people, much less seek their
views, before the pompous announcement penultimate weekend that, “taking all
their responsibilities in the face of history and responding to the expectations,
concerns, and aspirations of their populations, decide in complete sovereignty on

the immediate withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from the Economic
Community of West African States.”
Moreover, Britain was not buffeted by terrorists on the verge of overrunning the
country when it left the EU, nor did it need any help with its security
architecture. On the contrary, it was the most powerful military force in the
union at the time with a strong economy. Still, leaving the EU against popular
expectations shook the global markets and caused the British pound to fall to
its lowest level against the dollar in 30 years. The following day, Prime
Minister David Cameron resigned, and economists suggest that Brexit may
have irreversibly harmed the British economy despite its development level
and reduced its real per capita income, in the long term.
One can therefore imagine the implication for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger
which together belonged to the ten poorest countries in the world, abandoning
the $702bn economy that ECOWAS represents. These three are not only
landlocked nations bedeviled by the twin plagues of recurring drought and
terrorism, they are moreover hounded by sanctions, substantial populations of
internally displaced persons who are near famine and a losing battle with ISIS-
Sahel and other violent groups.
Burkina Faso for instance is ranked the fourth worst terrorist plagued nation in the
world after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. It had 597 violent attacks across 10 of its
13 regions in 2022 leading to thousands of deaths and an estimated 1.6 million of its
population internally displaced. Mali‘s 4500 miles of porous borders with seven
neighboring countries has seen similar armed attacks, abductions, car jackings, IEDs,
vehicle-borne IEDs, rocket attacks, targeted assassinations, and armed imposed
blockades and ambushes. With their security services overwhelmed, they can hardly
cope as ISIS-Sahel, formerly known as ISIS-GS, and the al-Qa’ida-affiliated JNIM
operate indiscriminately.
A recent report ( Pls attribute) described this part of the Sahel as “the epicenter of
terrorism globally accounting for 43 percent of terrorism deaths in 2022, more than
South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa combined.”
These are compounded by pervasive poverty, battles over decreasing resources,
mass displacement of people as a result of climate change and refugee problems
caused by ubiquitous violence which have collectively transformed the area into the
epicentre of terrorism . Yet although General Tiani said the reason for his coup was
to check the scourge of terror, the truth was that by 2022, his Niger, which the year

before had the largest increase in terrorism deaths had already turned a corner.
President Bazoum was winning the war on terror so much so that 90 percent of
deaths from extremist groups in the Sahel in 2022 occurred in Burkina Faso and Mali
which were, ironically led by military juntas.
The Niger coup therefore was more likely to worsen rather than reduce the scourge
of terrorism, as history has shown, which was one reason ECOWAS was set against
it and took the drastic measures to impose sanctions and invoke the protocol that
allows it to use force if necessary to dislodge an un democratic government. Another
reason, apart from the need to halt the domino effect of this putsch on neighboring
countries, was because Niger had turned into a bastion of democracy in the Sahel, a
bulwark against Russian and jihadist movement and proof of the success of western
alliance. With the coup the nation lost all aids and military assistance. The EU
foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promptly announced the “immediate
cessation of budget support” and suspension of “all cooperation actions in
the domain of security,” which translated means its allocation of EUR 500
million for improving governance, education, and sustainable growth in the
country, it’s 27 million-euro military training mission (EUMPM) in Niger in
addition to around 1,500 Barkhane troops stationed in the country, has
come to an end with “immediate cessation of budget support” and
suspension of “all cooperation actions in the domain of security.”
France which has provided the country with around EUR 120 million
in development aid in 2022 also suspended all development and budget
support, and the US which had two military drone bases and over 1,000
troops deployed in Niger, and had just announced $150 million in direct
assistance also suspended its security cooperation with Nigerien forces.  
For a nation which the World Bank estimates has about 10 million of its
people, or around 40 percent of the population, emershed in extreme
poverty, the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) worldwide and
battling acute water scarcity and food insecurity and high population
growth, there is little doubt that Niger needs all the help it can get from
ECOWAS. In total, the country, like the rest two, relies on close to USD 2
billion a year in official development assistance of which ECOWAS provides
a sizable part and more importantly access to the huge regional market.
Economic sanctions led to the closure of the bustling border between Niger and
Nigeria, halting roughly $1.3 billion worth of annual trade. The United States goods

exports alone to ECOWAS in 2022 were $6.7 billion, and its imports from
ECOWAS totaled $9.4 billion in 2022, up 38.8 percent ($2.6 billion) from 2021.
This is the market that the three nations will forfeit. According to a report, Guinea’s
2008 coup and Mali’s coup had erased a combined $12 billion to $13.5 billion from
their economies over five years, which represented 76% of Guinea’s 2008 gross
domestic product and almost half of Mali’s 2012 GDP.
The real goal of ECOWAS is to promote economic cooperation among member
states in order to raise living standards and promote economic development. The
regional group has also worked hard to address security issues by developing a
peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region. The three juntas claimed they were
taking their 75m people out of the bloc because it has not helped them fight
terrorism. That is clearly not true. For instance, ECOWAS sent thousands of
soldiers to help Mali in 2013 when a jihadist onslaught almost overran it. ECOWAS
members were in fact the leading troop contributors to a UN peacekeeping mission
there until the junta sacked it last year.
Now we come to the real real reason why the three coupists announced on Sunday 28th January
that they were taking their countries out of the regional body. Clearly it is to escape the pressure
been mounted by ECOWAS to return their nations to democracy. Mali and Burkina Faso were
already set to hold elections this year as promised ECOWAS, and Niger is under pressure to
produce a short transition timeline for civil rule.
Lashed by hunger, terror and civil strife the economies of Mali, Niger and Burkina
Faso are stunted by what has been called a “multi-dimensional crisis where insecurity,
humanitarian need, rapid urbanization of the country and the drastic effects of
climate change—impacting access to food and water, which fuel intercommunal
conflict, all converge.”
The earlier they return to the embrace of ECOWAS, the better. As a matter of fact,
the West African regional body remains Africa’s most successful example of
integration and economic, political and security cooperation. People’s free movement
throughout the region, underpinned by the visa-free system and a common passport,
is one of ECOWAS’ key achievements benefitting the region’s citizens. For landlocked
countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger especially, the Customs Union
facilitates imports through the application of a single common external tariff.
For almost 50 years, ECOWAS’ rules and operating methods have shaped
governance in its Member States.
In effect, the withdrawal of these countries which together account for 15% of
ECOWAS’ population, but nearly half its surface area is some blow to the regional

body and potentially a disaster for the three landlocked countries. However, it is
important for the reputation and the overall well-being of ECOWAS that the
countries return to the fold.
At the extraordinary Session of Ministerial Mediation and Security Council meeting,
which held Thursday to discuss this and the situation in Senegal where the president
had suddenly postponed elections, ECOWAS Commission President, Alieu Touray
said, “If there is a time for ECOWAS to stay together, this is the time … There is no
challenge that ECOWAS cannot overcome.”
ECOWAS has always insisted that the modalities of their withdrawal are
irregular, that such sudden departures are impossible to implement, and do not
comply with ECOWAS’ governing treaty which stipulates one year formal notification
during which states asking to leave must respect their commitments to the bloc. 
Critics say the current situation presents an opportunity for ECOWAS to review its
frameworks, policies and practices to make the organisation more consistent and
effective and responsive to the development needs of the constituent States.
While doing that, it might not be a bad idea to create conditions for the return of
the three countries to the regional bloc either.

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OPINION

Herbert Wigwe: The Things Yet Unsaid

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By Dakuku Peterside

Clean-shaven, suave, upwardly mobile, and incurably optimistic, Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) was one of the most recognisable figures in the banking space and corporate Nigeria. His official biography could only be written by him. But I hope his example can inspire and influence us.

Accurately describing Herbert in one word can be compared to explaining the mystery of centuries in a few words or a wild goose chase.
It is a nuanced and complex process.

He was an extraordinary businessman who died alongside his wife and son in the United States of America under exceptional circumstances.

His tragic and sudden departure reverberated beyond our shores.
But who was Herbert Wigwe? I can only answer this question from the narrow prism of my friendship and many encounters with him.

Herbert and I were members of the same local church assembly, and I witnessed his dedication to spirituality, good works, and commitment to church growth. It is easy to explain this because of his solid Christian foundation. Herbert’s father, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Herbert was a man of prayers, which he complemented with a ruthless work ethic. He attributed all his successes to God’s blessings.

Both of us are from Rivers State, and we had many sessions on how best to fix the politics of Rivers and, by extension, improve the State’s development trajectory. Herbert was utterly detached from politics but had deep insight into political manoeuvrings. We debated the affairs of Rivers State and the country, and he baffled me with the precision with which he predicted the outcome of political contests. He would quickly tell you that his political party is Nigeria and no other.

His passion for Nigeria was simply unwavering. Only a few persons can match his faith in Nigeria. He firmly believed that he would impact society by using businesses to provide solutions to society’s needs and create wealth that would touch the lives of many. He was unapologetically capitalist, in the proper sense of it, and he lived his life using capital to solve many of societies’ needs, such as creating employment, paying taxes, providing lots of charity, and investing heavily in world-class university education. He used capital as an instrument for socio-cultural upliftment across Africa.

Herbert was a man of bold dreams and obsessed with excellence, while making room for unavoidable mistakes. Herbert never gave up on any bold dream, no matter the odds. He rode the waves of challenges and was filled with the spirit of hard work, dedication, and strokes of ingenuity. He had bold dreams in all ramifications, and this was self-evident.

First, as a young banker, he teamed up with his friend and partner to acquire “a distressed bank”, rated number 89 then, and turn it around in two decades to become one of the top five banks, with an assets base of over N20.9 trillion. This is phenomenal. Herbert, as CEO, set out to build an Access Bank with the vision of becoming the gateway to Africa, and the world’s most respected African bank. With presence in more than 13 African countries, plus footprints in other continents, Access Bank was working towards realising this vision. Second, Wigwe University, which Herbert personally referred to as the “Future Harvard University of Africa,” was another extraordinary, bold dream. He set out to build the best University in Africa, investing $500 million in the initial set-up. You do not need further testament that he was a man of bold dreams.

An entrepreneur extraordinaire, his mystique was his ability to sniff out opportunities where others saw none, multiplied by the fact that he was one of the most persistent persons I know when going after opportunities. He mentored many budding entrepreneurs, top managers, and top academics in entrepreneurship. Apart from his well-known flagship institution, Access Bank, he was active in other financial services concerns, construction, oil and gas, aviation, film, and music, and, most recently, the education sector. He made a star success of all his multiple business pursuits.

Herbert’s hidden strength was his ability to connect with people of all classes and cadres, accompanied by a related instinct to simplify complex things in the most basic way. His mastery of Rivers’ version of Pidgin English could only equal his fluency in Queens’ English. He was among the few successful people referred to as the “original old Port Harcourt boy.” Another strength of his was his courageous, daring, patient, and persistent nature, which added to his relentless ambition to accomplish exceptional things. This attracted to him friends and foes in equal measure.

His philanthropic work in the Herbert Wigwe Foundation, which he founded in 2016, focused on youth empowerment, health, arts, and education. This focus on youth development was central to his mentoring, given his strong belief in the importance of the youth in the development of Nigeria and Africa. He was an art enthusiast and contributed to the development of art in the country. As the art connoisseur he was, his collection reflected his passion for excellence, diversity, and social purpose. The HOW foundation extensively supported many healthcare projects for the downtrodden among us. His charity works were unique because he loathed publicity about it.

Herbert’s enduring legacy is the power of vision, bold dreams, courage, and determination to pursue it and rally people to accomplish the objective. This is what we need to improve in our public space. History has shown that bold dreams have the power to transform societies. He was exceptionally enterprising and entrepreneurial.

Listening to Herbert talk about his vision was to find yourself in the oasis of inspiration. He genuinely believed that there was nothing you fixed your mind on that you could not accomplish. He had bold dreams for the banking sector, tertiary education, the oil and gas industry and most importantly, society.

What lessons can we learn from him? Herbert epitomised a life of passion, dedication, resilience, and boldness in achieving grand personal and societal visions. He was bold in setting out great goals and pursuing them relentlessly until he reached them. He proves that an unexamined life is not worth living. To achieve greatness and impact on society maximally, one must be purposeful, bold, and patient. Herbert’s hidden strengths prepared him for an eventful life – one he lived on his terms. His ability to connect with people, courage, daring attitude, ambition, and excellent work ethic were the ingredients of his success and they must be emulated. Peter Drucker posits, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Herbert created his future and lived it to the full of those he loved.

For our budding entrepreneurs, Herbert left a legacy. He proved the axiomatic expression true: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” He made the needed sacrifices at the start of his entrepreneurship and built capital enough to be reckoned among his contemporaries. Steve Jobs posits that “your work will fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

Herbert did outstanding work; the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Success is not just a product of luck. Hard work, knowledge, skills, and integrity underpin it. Thomas Jefferson argued, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Herbert worked hard enough to be lucky. He had an eye for greatness. It is little wonder he set great goals for himself.

John Rockefeller advised that one should not be “afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” Both in banking and establishing a University, Herbert went for greatness and achieved it. We should do the same. As a business and community leader, Herbert understood that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. He created leaders of industries and global advocates of responsible capitalism in the 21st century.

My friend and brother Herbert lived like a candle in the wind. His star burned so brightly but ended so shortly. Greatness in life is not measured in how long one lives but in the impact of one’s life on society. Herbert lived, and he conquered. Adieu, my great visioner!Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.

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OPINION

Tinubu should Come Clean

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By Nick Dazang

Unless drastic, coherent and proactive measures are taken, the chickens may soon be coming home to roost for the fledgling Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration. I state this with the highest sense of responsibility and advised by recent tragic events and ominous auguries.

For the first time, and on his watch, we have thus far had a rash of peaceful demonstrations against hardship.

Nigerians, in their numbers, protested in Kano, Minna, Suleija, Osogbo and Lagos.
It is noteworthy that even before he departed Lagos for Abuja, after the Christmas and New Year breaks, Lagosians shouted at his convoy that Nigerians were having a hard time.

The Naira plunged to its lowest point some two weeks ago, exchanging at not less than N1,500 to an American dollar.

This precipitous nose dive further increased the prices of products – from foodstuffs to building materials. Little wonder, the protests we saw in Minna and Suleija came hot on the heels of the further collapse of the Naira, which resulted in spiralling inflation and worsening living conditions.

On the security front, we witnessed an uptick. Insecurity not only heightened, it escalated to an all-time high. It was hallmarked by the killing of three monarchs in Ekiti and Kwara states, many acts of terror, kidnappings and criminality.

Even as the country was literally on fire, the President jetted out of the country, claiming he was paying a private visit to France. The visit which lasted thirteen days, and which is alien to our laws, smacked of insensitivity and abdication of responsibility. It is tantamount to a head of family who deserts his home as it is ablaze and relocates to the coziness of a placid abode in another district, leaving his family to its devices. Worse, and grating to the sensibility of Nigerians, was that political jobbers visited the President in France and had photo opportunities with him. As if that were not enough, they proceeded to regale us with how our president cared for us.

It is horrendous that in the midst of these incidents and in spite of the cacophony of laments recently issued by bigwigs of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their sympathizers, the economy was in a terrible place, the government did not deem it wise to come clean and tell Nigerians, in crystal clear terms, how bad it was.

This writer had argued that such an accounting was in consonance with democratic ethos which put premium on transparency. He also argued that such openness would elicit the support and understanding of Nigerians who are being daily exhorted to make sacrifices.

It is heartwarming that one’s clarion cry is not a lone one in the wilderness. Acclaimed economic pundits, such as Bismarck Rewane, have joined the bandwagon of the clamour for full disclosure regarding the parlous state of the economy. Mr Rewane has also underscored what all right-thinking Nigerians had previously observed: that President Tinubu’s economic team is not stellar enough and that his Central Bank Governor may not be well credentialed and savvy for the task at hand.

This assessment may appear unflattering and disapproving. But it is adjudged by the reflexiveness of government policies, the government’s lack of coherence and constancy, the continued exodus of multinational corporations and the government’s frequent resort to summoning the fire brigade to put out fires. Given the headwinds which confront us on the economic front, what we require is a solid economic team at par with, if not surpassing, the one which former President Olusegun Obasanjo constituted during his civilian tenure.

Apart from coming clean on the economy, President Tinubu must be forthcoming on his frequent visits to France. It appears quixotic that a man whose ambition is to transform our economy into a trillion-dollar one can leave the country and his exalted office to pay a private visit to another country. This writer is yet to hear or learn, in the modern age or era, of a President of the type of country Tinubu aspires Nigeria to attend, who has paid a private visit to some other country and for 13 days without just cause or compelling reason(s).

American Presidents and British Prime Ministers travel abroad. But they do so either in the line of duty or official vacation. An extreme case was Bill Clinton who travelled to far-flung Australia and Africa to play golf and to go on a safari. But he did those when he was on official vacation and America was at peace. And to say that President Tinubu’s visit to France came shortly after a vacation in Lagos, and at a time of heightened insecurity, smacks of insensitivity of the highest order.

It is true that during the campaigns, the media were awash with lurid speculations about the President’s health. But these speculations, which animated the media space, were thought merely to be the handiwork of his political opponents.

Assuming that these speculations were valid after all. And assuming that the President were suffering from one ailment or the other,  and he needs medical treatment abroad, what stops him from opening up and telling Nigerians rather than using private visits as veneers or covers? The President, after all, is human. And as humans, we have frailties and we can fall ill. In fact, few persons, who are above sixty years, can be said to be free or immune from one health challenge or the other. It will, therefore, not be surprising, if at his age, the President is suffering from an ailment. If that is the case, what is wrong in leveling with Nigerians?

Besides, democracy as we have often stated, thrives on transparency. The more leaders are open, especially about their health, the more they get the respect and empathy of their citizens. Openness also demystifies these ailments and encourages fellow sufferers or those with similar health challenges to come forward and obtain help. Their first thoughts will be: if the President is getting help, why not us, ordinary citizens?

It is ennobling that even monarchs, who ordinarily have no obligation to disclose their health statuses, because they are not elected, are coming clean with their subjects. A notable and most recent one is King Charles III. In respect of coming clean on his health, King Charles has carried himself splendidly and to the admiration of the world. He first announced he was going to the clinic to treat a benign prostrate. When, however, his diagnosis revealed cancer, he, rather than allow some nosey reporter to out him, was forthcoming. He announced to the world, via an official statement issued by Buckingham Palace, that he had cancer and that he was proceeding, with alacrity, to treat it. His prompt announcement accomplished three salient things: it endeared him to Britons, it earned him the empathy of leaders and ordinary folks around the world and it strengthened and comforted more than three million Britons who live with cancer. They now know they are not alone in their travails.

President Tinubu must be forthcoming, both with the economy and his visits to France. It is by so doing that he will show respect for Nigerians, put our democracy on a transparent pedestal, invest the presidency with dignity and get the sympathy of Nigerians.

Dazang is a former Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission.

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