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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Niger and the Collapse of France’s Empire

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By Thomas Fazi

First, there was Mali; then came Burkina Faso. Today, in the epic saga that is the anti-Western revolt sweeping across the Sahel, it is the turn of Niger to play the protagonist — the third country to suffer a coup in just three years. On 26 July, a military putsch led by general Abdourahamane Tchiani deposed the country’s pro-Western president Mohamed Bazoum, elected in 2021 amid allegations of fraud and protests.

In each of these coups, the military officers involved cited the same reasons for seizing power: mounting concerns about a surge in terrorism and chronic social and economic underdevelopment. Despite being one of the world’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold and uranium, the Sahel is also one of the poorest financially. Niger is a striking example: it is one of the world’s leading exporters of uranium, yet consistently ranks towards the bottom of the Human Development Index.

In the eyes of these countries’ new leaders and their supporters, much of the responsibility for this lies with one villain in particular: France. They are, after all, all former French colonies, part of what used to be known as Françafrique. And more than any other imperial power, France has continued to exercise a huge influence over its former outposts, replacing outright colonial rule with more subtle forms of neocolonial control — first and foremost with currency.

Before Africa’s decolonisation in the Fifties and Sixties, it was common among Western powers to impose forms of monetary subservience on their respective colonies. The latter were generally forced to use currencies issued and controlled by the imperial centres, to ensure the European countries’ economic control and financial benefit. France was no exception; rather, what set France apart from other imperial powers was the fact that its monetary empire survived decolonisation. While most African colonies, upon becoming independent, adopted national currencies, France managed to cajole most of its former outposts in Central and Western Africa into maintaining the colonial currency: the CFA franc.

In the decades that followed, various countries tried to abandon the CFA system, but very few succeeded. As the Senegalese economist Ndongo Samba Sylla and the French journalist Fanny Pigeaud write in their book Africa’s Last Colonial Currency (which I translated), France did everything it could to discourage countries from leaving the CFA: “Intimidations, destabilisation campaigns and even assassinations and coups d’état marked this period, testifying to the permanent and unequal power relations on which the relationship between France and its ‘partners’ in Africa was based — and is still based today.”

The CFA franc, as a result, continues to be used by 14 countries, mostly former French colonies, throughout Central and Western Africa — including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Together, they form the so-called “franc zone”, with France still playing a central role. Despite the formal “Africanisation” of this group, which involved transferring the headquarters of the CFA franc’s two central banks to the African continent, France continues to enjoy far-reaching control over the system — and the countries that employ it.

“More than simply a currency,” Sylla and Pigeaud write, “the CFA franc allows France to manage its economic, monetary, financial and political relations with some of its former colonies according to a logic functional to its interests.” They contend that the CFA franc represents a form of “monetary imperialism”, which hinders the development of African economies and keeps them subservient to France.

 Consider Niger: the country is France’s biggest source of uranium (providing around 20% of its supply), which is needed to fuel the nuclear plants which provide roughly 70% of the country’s electricity. Yet, only one in seven Nigeriens (and just 4% of rural residents) have access to modern electricity services, while more than 40% of the population live in extreme poverty. Just as strikingly, 85% of the company that operates Niger’s uranium industry is owned by France’s Atomic Energy Commission and two French companies; only 15% is owned by Niger’s government.
The CFA system, and the lack of monetary and economic sovereignty it entails, is central to this systematic plundering of resources — in Niger and elsewhere in the Sahel. Of the 10 countries with the world’s lowest Human Development Index, five are part of the franc zone, including the three that have experienced recent coups.

Nor is France’s control over the franc zone limited to economic tools. Niger is also France’s main Sahelian military base, hosting around 1,500 French soldiers. To further complicate matters, the country is also home to around 1,000 US soldiers, one of the largest contingents of American troops on the African continent, operating under the umbrella of the United States Africa Command (Africom). Since 2013, the US has also been carrying out drone missions from several bases in Niger — including a recently constructed $110-million installation. For both France and the US, the purported objective is to fight Islamic terrorism; the reality, however, is that despite this massive foreign military presence, security in Niger and other countries has deteriorated over the years — as have their economic prospects.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Africa’s newest military juntas have singled out France as the main target of their ire. In Mali, the current military leader Assimi Goïta expelled the French army, cut diplomatic ties and even banned French as an official language. In Burkina Faso, the young revolutionary leader Ibrahim Traoré also expelled French troops and banned several exports.
For Sylla, this amounts to nothing less than “a second national liberation movement, which aims to bring to completion the decolonisation process which began in the Fifties and Sixties in Francophone Africa”. While the first stage of this process was about obtaining political independence from the West, this latest stage is about obtaining economic sovereignty and independence. This is why, as a recent United Nations report noted, popular support for these new military governments can be understood as being “symptomatic of a new wave of democratic aspiration that is expanding across the continent”. As Sylla told me: “In many of these countries, the militaries are seen as leaders upholding their nations’ sovereignty and independence, as opposed to elected governments, which tend to be puppets of the West and have done nothing to challenge the neocolonial order throughout the years.”

But what does this mean for Niger? For now, the country appears to be moving in the same direction as Mali and Burkina Faso. While the new government has stopped short (for now) of telling foreign troops to leave the country, it has revoked a raft of military cooperation agreements with France, closed the country’s airspace — effectively bringing to a halt US drone operations — and announced it is suspending the export of uranium to France. In response, thousands of people have taken to the streets to show their support, burning French flags and even attacking the French embassy. “Since childhood, I’ve been opposed to France,” a local businessman told the BBC. “They’ve exploited all the riches of my country such as uranium, petrol and gold. The poorest Nigeriens are unable to eat three times a day because of France.”

As if to prove his point, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) — a political and economic union of 15 countries located in West Africa which has the support of the West — immediately placed sanctions on Niger, suspending all commercial and financial transactions between Niger and Ecowas countries and, even more ominously, freezing Niger’s assets deposited in the central and commercial banks of Ecowas. The reason they can do this is precisely because Ecowas contains the West African Economic and Monetary Union, which issues the currency used by Niger, and is largely under France’s control. This allows France to weaponise the CFA franc against any government that poses a problem for it within the franc zone. The EU has also reacted punitively, suspending aid and cooperation with Niger despite it being one of the poorest countries in the world.

More worryingly, the West African bloc said it would “take all measures necessary”, including the use of force, if the elected government was not reinstated within a week. That deadline expired on Sunday and no action was taken, but the threat has not been retracted. They are due to meet on Thursday to decide what happens next. Meanwhile, France, the EU and the US have all offered “unflagging” support to the ousted leader, and have backed Ecowas’s stance. This follows a decade of France using military force to defend its interests in Francophone Africa, intervening in the Ivory Coast, Mali and Chad.

But this is more than just a story about France’s waning hegemony and US military presence in the region. The Nigerien coup also threatens a $13-billion dollar project to build a gas pipeline connecting gas fields in Nigeria to Europe, which would pass straight through Niger. Following the EU’s decision to wean itself off Russian gas last year, this venture is arguably more urgent than ever.

The Nigerien military regime, for its part, has warned that any foreign military intervention in the country would result in a “massacre”, while Mali and Burkina Faso have both come out in support of the new government. Any military intervention, they warned in a joint statement, “would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali”, and “could destabilise the entire region”. Moreover, given Russia’s strong ties with the putschist governments, a Western-backed attack on Niger could easily mutate into what Colin P. Clarke has described as “a regional proxy war”, with Russia and the Wagner Group supporting Niger (and Burkina Faso and Mali), and Western countries supporting Ecowas.

All of which feeds into fears that we are on the verge of a new scramble for Africa, with Russia, China and the West vying for influence over this immensely resource-rich, young continent predicted to be the next frontier of growth. If this logic prevails, however, it will be a disaster for Africa. For as hard as it may be to fathom, Western countries — and France in particular — should accept that this anti-Western trend has much less to do with recent foreign influence than with historical grievances against long-running neocolonial practices. Any attempt to counter it with the same old recipe — financial blackmail and military force — will only strengthen the rebels’ resolve.

This article was originally published in the UnHerd, UK


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Vladimir Trump Resurgent

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By Dr. Chidi Amuta

The United States presidential election in November is looking more like a referendum. Though intended as a democratic ritual, it could end up as a choice between democracy and authoritarianism. That at least is what the rhetoric and track record of the two most likely  contenders now suggests. With his resounding victory in both the Iowa and New Hampshire caucus primaries, Mr. Donald Trump is galloping towards clinching the Republican nomination. Both Wall Street and Main Street America have in recent times been gripped by the trepidation that a return to the Trump nightmare is well within the realm of possibility come November.

On the other hand, an unchallenged Mr. Joe Biden is the undisputed choice of the Democrats. It is not just a disparity in partisan alignments that is tilting the election towards a referendum. It is the untidy manners and track record of Mr. Trump that is upsetting democracy’s apple cart in the place where it matters most. In the process, democracy in America seems to be on trial with the menacing silhouette of a home grown autocrat in the mIrror.

Mr. Biden has consistently presented as the candidate out to defend and protect classical American democracy. Somehow, the aggressive comeback campaign of Donald Trump has projected democracy and its very survival as the central issue of this campaign season. Ordinarily, Biden and Trump should have been dueling over abortion, the crisis at the border, unemployment figures, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the like. Biden should have been busy defending his policies and programmes in the last three years. But the re-emergence of a bullish Donald Trump has more or less made Mr. Biden the candidate of Democracy and no more. In the last campaign season, Trump gave Mr. Biden Covid-19 as a campaign gift and invariably lost the election to mostly on that account. Against a rampaging bull of a belligerent and autocratic Trump, Biden has no choice than to dig into the trenches as the mortal defender of democracy and the liberal heritage.

As things look now, Biden  wants to protect and preserve American democracy as we have come to know it. The rule of law, respect for individual rights, diversity driven by the understanding of America as a nation of immigrants, belief in the sanctity of the ballot as the determinant of who rules America, the requirement for decency as the unwritten code of conduct of those who must rule the free world and, above all, the projection of American democracy as a beacon to the rest of the democratic world. Implicit in the ritual of America’s democratic election every four years is the understanding that each election renews hope in democracy and strengthens democracy as a universal aspiration that holds out a promise for the free world. Somehow, Joe Biden has come to be the personification of these values and aspirations as well as an inspiration to all those who hold America tacitly responsible for the survival of global democracy and the enlargement of the coast of freedom all over the world.

Mr. Biden’s strengths as a symbol of democracy are ironically embedded in his perceived weaknesses as a person. He is not a demagogue. He is not necessarily a charismatic orator nor an electrifying presence. But he is a reassuring grandpa figure, the adult in the room as he was indeed in the Obama White House. His calming composure and attention to details is compounded by his long familiarity and multiple roles in the history of American democracy and the highpoints of America’s exploits on behalf of democracy around the world. If indeed America needed am embodiment of information and experience on the challenges and triumphs of democracy around the world, Mr. Joe Biden provides a ready historical centerpiece.

However, many fear that Mr. Biden has not been sufficiently reassuring as a defender of democracy in terms of his performance on the job. The essence of democracy is ultimately in the ability of an elected sovereign to deliver on the expectations of a specific electorate. Mr. Biden is sometimes accused of the weakness that Mr. Trump frequently accuses him of. This can only be in the sense that his confrontation of autocrats has not been quite surefooted. He has largely ignored the baby tyrant in North Korea, been less than bullish in his psychological duels with Mr. Putin and has not quite campaigned openly against Mr. Trump’s anti democratic trail in America itself. He has allowed Mr. Trump to monopolize the use of fear rhetoric frighten ordinary Americans. In addition,  a good deal of the economic recovery under Mr. Biden in the last three years has been rather tepid and reversible.

Mr. Donald Trump has become etched in the imagination of Americans and the democratic world as something of an enfant terrible of deviant democracy. Mr. Trump’s initial emergence was greeted with some excitement as a refreshing departure. A Manhattan business man was heading for Washington to infuse the can do ethos of American capitalism into the boring On the contrary rigidity of Washington’s politics of  same old correctness. At that point, Trump was an embodiment of the American dream and dictum of “In Gold We Trust” was emerging as president. The assumption was that the pursuit of happiness through hard work and the building of wealth would lead to the spread of prosperity for all hard working Americans through the example of a different type of President. After all, Trump was reputed to have built his humongous wealth and prosperity through hard work and entrepreneurial bravado. No one knew what a Manhattan real estate entrepreneur would make of the White House. But the risk fitted into the adventure prone American mass psychology. “Sure, why not?, was the refrain in bars, restaurants and subways.

Mr. Trump looked at Washington and saw mostly a political swamp that needed to be drained. And he assigned himself the task. Between the White House and the Capitol in Washington, there is a cultural assumption that the politics of American democracy is a cultural ecosystem in and of itself. Washington has its meta language, its traditions, its conventions, codes and manners. Mr. Trump was aware of the outlines of this political ecosystem but said he was determine d to replace same old Washinglton with a new spirit. But he had no name for his new system nor had he thought it through in any systematic way. He was later to come face to face with it in a historic collision that left a political and physical carnage. By the end of his turbulent and chaotic first term,  America was a junk yard of its former self and no where near the threshold of a new republic.

His first catastrophic tenure ended up enthroning  an American version of illiberal democracy. To a large extent, he came to embody the antithesis and corollary of classical American democracy. Mr. Donald Trump was stubbornly recalcitrant, unrepentantly rebellious and unrelentingly bullish in his affront of the best traditions of democracy. He constantly sought to bulldoze his views through Congress, adopted abuse and insult as his standard political language. He posited the demagogue and thug as the archetypal leader, a model from the authoritarian play book.

In his choice of leadership models around the world, Mr. Trump consistently showed a clear preference and open admiration for the worst autocrats and dictators. His chosen models have been Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jiping of China, Kim Jung Un of North Korea, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Tayeb Erdogan of Turkey. Against these authoritarian models, he has excoriated the past leaders of his own country like Barrack Obama, George Bush Jr. and the Clintons. He cherished and admired the traditions and habits of dictators including reckless abuses of human rights. He openly admired elaborate parades and open displays of military power like those in Moscow’s Red Square and imperial France.

Most leaders who crave a second shot at power usually show signs of some repentance or maturation in their intervening period outside power. Not for Donald Trump. It would instead seem that the last three years have only served to reveal, through the American judicial system, the real tragic essence of the identity of Donald J. Trump. He has faced investigations for storing classified official documents in the bathrooms of his Florida Maralago mansion. He has faced countless judicial indictments over his role in the January 6th mob invasion of the Capitol. He has been indicted for lying abut the net worth of is businesses. He has been variously indicted for a business campaign funds  in payments for the services of porn artists and for defaming and harassing numerous women. His serial indictments for electoral offences in a number of states are on record just as some states supreme courts have ruled him out of the ballot in their states.  The vast majority of lawyers who staked their reputation and professional careers to defend or associate with Trump have ended up in jail themselves. Only Trump, courtesy of the elastic immunity of his office as a former President is still walking free but vastly injured and deformed. Yet, America’s rule of law provisions and strict judicial codes have not yet established anything that could possibly stop Donald Trump from standing in the November elections as the candidate of the Republic party.  The man remains fit to run for as long as he is not yet in prison uniform.

Yet there is an undeniable level of populism that has trailed Donald Trump ever since his chaotic first tenure ended. For a president who was impeached twice by the House of Representatives and only saved by the Republican Senate majority, his political base remains strong. It is a base of the vast majority who probably never went to college, work long days in factories, live mostly in rural America and are predominantly white, cocooned in the illusion that America was once the exclusive homeland of white middle America. They dream of a land with little immigrants, that abhors persons of colour and those who do not look like them. But that is an illusion, a myth spurned by Trump and his mobs of rough thugs and supremacist bands.

In pursuit of his bigoted image of America, he has set up and inspired any number of white supremacist militias and street terror gangs. He has promoted any number of toxic conspiracy theories and pioneered countless divisive  loyalties. The Proud Boys, QAnon, Make America Great Again (MAGA) Brigade etc. In response, other groups like African Americans and Hispanics have set up self defense outfits and groups (Black Lives Matter etc), creating a very divided nation out of what used to be a multicultural and integrated  nation of diversity. Even in his Republican party, Trump has splintered the  GOP, alienated the mainstream Republic party elite and driven them to fringes of silence. The mainstream of the  party is now occupied by Donald Trump and his attack dogs and racist thugs.

Trump’s belief in electoral democracy begins and ends with elections if they end up re-anointing him as ‘winner’. For him, ‘winning’ in a democracy is triumphing over opponents and vanquishing political “enemies”. This is why he stopped at no excess in meddling with the presidential elections of November 2020. He endorsed all manner of conspiracies, election meddling antics, and open attempts at rigging which led to the fiasco of an attempted ‘coup’ of the Capitol invasion and storming of January 6th 2021.

What is remarkable about Donald Trump’s career to date and which has converted the next election into a virtual referendum is that he has hardly changed in his rhetoric, beliefs, defining warfare concept of power and overall  style. He has remained insolent, abusive, uncouth and thuggish as ever. More dangerously, Trump has remained unrepentant in his divisive views of the American nation. He wants to shut the borders, preside over the largest immigrant repatriation and deportation in American history. He has branded immigrants from Africa, Latin America and nearly everywhere else as toxic presences who are ‘poisoning the blood’ of his phantom pure idyllic America. The implicit racism, bigotry and decadent nationalism are right in your face.

The implications of a relapse into Trumpism in the United States for the rest of the world are too stark and frightening to contemplate. Trump will throw Ukraine under the bus and celebrate the triumph of Putin’s “Mother” Russia even if only to annul the emergence of Zelensky as a global super star and hero. The Palestinians had better forget their lifelong dream of an independent homeland. He will return to North Korea with a more elaborate utopian computer animation of what the Hermit kingdom will look like in return for dining with America. The hope of African countries (“S…hole countries”) for greater economic leverage in a new world of free enterprise and democracy would end up in the thrash can. An endless trade war with China will rage and bring world trade to a standstill. Europe will pretty much be on its own on world affairs, deprived of America’s historic trans Atlantic solidarity and support with which Europe stopped Nazism, Fascism and communism on their tracks for the decades after World War II. NATO would be deprived of American money if only to strengthen Putin as a counterweight to European strength and expansion.

China, Russia and their allies in the emergent axis of evil are waiting with optimism for the return of Vladimir Trump to the White House. That would give authoritarianism a major leverage in the the coming world contest between liberal democracy and authoritarianism.

But the statistical reality both globally and in the United States is hugely in favour of the triumph of democracy and freedom. The inevitable defeat of Trump in America’s November elections will herald a setback for the advance of authoritarianism as a counter force to the global wave of democracy.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt.


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Tinubu, Matter Don Pass be Careful

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By Lasisi Olagunju

The last premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, asked his guest what the town was saying. The guest told him the town was solidly behind him. The guest backed his claim with a cassette which he said contained the adulation with which the people of Ibadan welcomed every step so far taken by Chief Akintola. The premier listened to the cassette and brightened up. He thanked the guest, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye, as he took his exit. Akintola’s young confidant and aide, Adewale Kazeem, walked in. The premier told him of Akinloye’s good news and gave him the cassette to listen to. Adewale listened to the cassette, sighed and was downcast. The premier looked at the worried face of Adewale Kazeem and asked why. “The town is not good,” he told Chief Akintola, and added that the content of the cassette was not a true reflection of what the town was saying about the premier and his government. A shocked Akintola intoned “ta l’a á wàá gbàgbó báyìí (who do we believe now)?” The young man told the premier: “You had better believe me, Baba.”

The above happened sometime in 1964. A year later, the problem multiplied for Chief Akintola who became increasingly troubled, his hands unsteady; “he could no longer write his signature on a straight line.” One day, he was advised by the same aide, Adewale Kazeem, to resign his post as premier and end the raging crisis in the region. Akintola’s response was: “Adewale, ó ti bó; ikú ló má a gb’èyìn eléyìí (Adewale, it is too late. It is death that will end all this).” The above details are on pages 161 and 172 of the book ‘SLA Akintola in the Eyes of History: A Biography and Postscript’. The book, published in 2017, was written by a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Kehinde. The author did not put those conversations in the book as hearsay. He heard them directly from Adewale Kazeem who rose in life to become a well-respected oba in Osun State.

At 5.50pm on 6 August, 1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo left his place for the residence of the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, for a 6pm appointment. It was at the height of the political crisis of the early 1960s. Awo arrived at Balewa’s 8 Lodge on the dot and wasted no time opening their discussion. He asked Balewa: “Are you sure in your mind that this crisis will end well for all of us and for Nigeria?” Chief Awolowo said “Balewa replied in a low, solemn voice that he was sure it would not end well…” (See Awolowo’s ‘Adventures in Power’, Book Two, page 249). And, did it end well? There is no point answering that question. We all know how it ended. Today, there is a new fire on the mountain. Things are bad; very bad. Paris-born Nigerian singer, Bukola Elemide (Asa) sings: “There is fire on the mountain/ And nobody seems to be on the run…” The first time we heard a cry of fire and fear in our politics was in the Western House of Assembly in 1962. Since then, the mountain of Nigeria has been badly scarred by political bush-burners. A fresh blaze is balding the skull of the poor today and the consequences cannot be imagined.

There are consequences for everything anyone does or does not do. Even the words that I use here will have consequences. Ethnic and business ‘friends’ of the president will abuse me like they’ve always done to poets who refuse to do palace clowning. They forget that I am a child of the farm; I walk the furrows, not the ridge. I am beyond their shot. Authored by researchers Iain McLean and Jennifer Nou, a piece appeared in the October 2006 edition of the British Journal of Political Science. And the title? ‘Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?’ That is the question we dare not ask here without them saying we should bring our heads. They say the president is our brother who cannot do wrong. They forget that we were not taught in Yoruba land to merely chase away the fox and pamper the cocky bumbling hen. We were taught to give justice to fox and then to hen – one after the other. How is keeping quiet when the ‘war’ is all around us going to help “our brother”?

The hunger that is in town today is more serious than the hunger that made Sango burn down a whole town. Yet, our leader appears not worried. He is not scared. It is business as usual. Why are we not fearing the consequences of our misbehaviour? A journalist recalled that sometime in 1965, Prime Minister Balewa was at the airport in Ikeja and was asked what he was doing to quench the fire in the Western Region. The big man looked around and declared that “Ikeja is part of the West, I can’t see any fire burning.” Truly, he was kept busy with positive assurances by flightless birds around him. He lived in denial, or in self-deception, he ignored the firestorm. The fire he refused to see grew uncontrollably wild; it became a blaze so much that when the cock crowed at dawn on January 15, 1966, it was too late for the head of the Nigerian government to save even himself.

There were protests in parts of the country last week by hungry Nigerians. But President Bola Tinubu’s trusted people said the protests were unreal; they said the president’s policies are good and popular with the people. They are telling the president that the hungry are not very hungry. They said it was the opposition playing politics, inciting the poor against the state. I saw Lagbaja, the mystery musician, from a distance at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, on Friday. I tried unsuccessfully to reach him and get him to sing: ‘Mo sorry fun gbogbo yin’ to those telling the naked president that his garment is beautiful. The ‘sorry’ is more for Tinubu. He is the one chosen and crowned to rule; and he is the one whose tenure is being measured by mass suffering, mass hunger, mass kidnapping. He is the one being scaffolded from the ugliness of the street. Tinubu is an elder. Should it be difficult for him to know the next line of action when a load is too heavy for the ground to carry and is too heavy for the rafters? We say in Yoruba land that when the going gets tough and life faces you, shoot at it; if it backs you, shoot it. When you are alone, reconsider your stand.

Did President Tinubu read Segun Adeniyi of Thisday last week? The columnist asked him to go and watch again the Yoruba mainframe play, Saworoide. If you are not Yoruba, look for the plot summary of that play, it should be online. Read it. It should tell what the warning is all about. They are all prophets – the warners. Did the president read Abimbola Adelakun of The Punch last Thursday? She warned that “things are getting out of hand.” Did Tinubu read Tunde Odesola of the same newspaper the following day? He wrote that in Tinubu’s Nigeria, “the poor can’t inhale, the rich can’t exhale.” Farooq Kperogi of Saturday Tribune has written twice (last week and the week before) on hunger and anger in the land. He warned Tinubu two days ago not to see himself as Buhari who misruled big time but escaped the whips of consequences. Festus Adedayo yesterday in the Sunday Tribune likened today’s Nigeria to ravaged Ijaiye, a defeated community of hopelessness. I, particularly, find very apt Adedayo’s reading of today’s suffering as Kurunmi’s war-ravaged Ijaiye of 1860/61. In 2024 Nigeria, respectable people beg to eat; mothers sell one child to feed another. It is tragic. Bola Bolawole’s offering drew from French and Russian histories of social and political tragedy. I do not know what Suyi Ayodele of the Nigerian Tribune is cooking for tomorrow, Tuesday. I will be surprised if Tinubu’s ‘friends’ have not reported these warners to him as his enemies. That is how we are being governed.

The naira is ruined, the kitchen is on fire. We thought the regime of Muhammadu Buhari was the last leg of Nigeria’s relay race of tragedy. Now, it is clear he was actually the first leg in a race that won’t end soon. Tinubu took the baton from his game-mate and said his wand is made of hope in renewed bottles. His first eight months have proved that it is not true that the child does not die at the hands of the circumciser. This is better said in Yoruba – àsé iró ni wípé omo kìí kú lówó oní’kolà! This one is dying – or is dead. Before the president’s very eyes, the country has become a vast camp for stranded people; a nation of displaced people who live on food rations. The people now ask who is going to be their helper. Legendary Ilorin musician, Odolaye Aremu, at a moment of anomie as this, lamented that the one we said we should run to for safety is urging us to run even far away from where he is (eni tí a ní k’á lo sá bá, ó tún ní k’á máa sá lo).

Cluelessness is a physician treating leprosy with drugs made for eczema. Who told the president that opening the federal silos is the solution to a bag of rice selling for N70,000? It was N7,000 nine years ago. The protesting people from the north and in the south are not saying there is no food in the market. There is no scarcity of foodstuffs. It is not a demand and supply problem. There is food in the market, but the food in the market is priced beyond the earnings of the people. That is the issue, the problem, and it cannot be solved with handouts from grain reserves. It can only be solved with a magic that will shrink the price of foodstuffs to a size within the financial capacity of the poor.

Some say it is age that ails Tinubu making him unfelt in this season of pain. But, he won’t be the first old man to be king. There was a prince in Ofa who owned neither calabash nor plate (kò ní’gbá, kò l’áwo). But he had a large piece of cloth as his only item of value. He did not use it; it was too unuseful to the poor old man who would rather lend it for a fee to others for use on their special outings. The man’s condition remained critical, his poverty unremitting. He prepared himself and went to an elder for consultation. He sought counsel on what he could do so that he might gain importance. He was told to give up the large piece of cloth, sit back and watch. He did as he was told and soon after that sacrifice, the king of Ofa died and the people of Ofa made the poor old man king. They said among themselves that “this one will not be long before he dies and another will take his place.” But the old man became king and refused to die. Instead of dying, he became increasingly robust, younger and stronger. Life and living in Ofa became good and pleasant as well. The poor became prosperous and the rich richer. The people of Ofa fell in love with their king; they no longer wanted him to die. He reigned long and well. At the end of his journey, the departing king was satisfied that he had good tidings to take to his alásekù – those who reigned without destroying the crown, the ones who passed the stool to him for him to pass to others. This Ofa story belongs in the grove of the wise; it is deeper than I have told it. Its code is with the elders.

All who are favoured are counselled to take it easy with life. They should cast away the garment of greed, of hubris and of lust for the self. If they care, they can take counsel from these lines from the ancestral scroll: “Do not run the world in haste. Let us not hold on to the rope of wealth impatiently. What should be treated with mature judgment should not be treated in a fit of temper. Whenever we arrive at a cool place, let us rest sufficiently well and give prolonged attention to the future; let us give due regard to the consequences of things. We should do all these because of the day of our sleeping, our end (Má fi wàrà wàrà s’ayé, K’á má fi wàrà wàrà rò m’ókùn orò. Ohun a bâ fi s’àgbà, K’á má fi sè’bínú. Bí a bá dé’bi t’ó tútù, K’á simi simi, K’á wo’wájú ojó lo títí; K’á tún bò wá r’èhìn òràn wò; Nítorí àtisùn ara eni ni).

Tinubu’s salvation lies with his orí inú– his inner head. That is the priest he should consult. It is what he should go and ask for the way. His reign is painful.

Originally published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 12 February, 2024


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

South Africa’s Genocide Case against Israel: Expert Sets out what to Expect from the International Court of Justice

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The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will be holding public hearings on 11-12 January at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the court, in a case brought by South Africa against Israel. South Africa has accused Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in its military bombardment and siege of Gaza, which started after the deadly 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Both Israel and South Africa have ratified the genocide convention. We asked human rights and international law expert Magnus Killander for his insights.

What is the International Court of Justice?

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is one of many international courts. It is the most prominent and widely regarded as the most authoritative as it is the only judicial body set out in the Charter of the United Nations. It has general jurisdiction rather than being limited to specific areas of law such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or regional human rights courts such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The ICJ should be distinguished from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which also has its seat in The Hague, in the Netherlands. The ICC can convict and sentence individual perpetrators for violations such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In contrast the ICJ deals only with the responsibility of states for violations of international law, not with accountability of individuals.

Parallel to the process at the ICJ, the prosecutor of the ICC has been investigating “the situation” in Palestine for some time, and may prosecute those allegedly responsible for atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict.

What is the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction?

It can hear cases brought by states (“contentious cases”) and requests by United Nations bodies, such as the General Assembly, for advisory opinions. The ICJ has delivered judgments in close to 150 “contentious cases” since its first judgment in 1949, and 27 advisory opinions since its first advisory opinion in 1948.

The first time a case was brought to the ICJ alleging violation of the Genocide Convention was in 1993 by Bosnia against Yugoslavia. The second case was in 2019 by The Gambia against Myanmar. The third case was by Ukraine against Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Of these cases the ICJ has so far only handed down a final judgment in the 2007 Bosnian judgment, 14 years after the case was initiated.

However, the ICJ has issued provisional measures in all the Genocide Convention cases, within a few months after the cases were brought to the court. Provisional measures are orders of the court to prevent irreparable harm. They bind the respondent state to refrain from certain actions until the court has delivered final judgment. The provisional measures in the Myanmar case adopted by the court in January 2020 prohibited the state from, among other things, taking action against the minority Rohingya group by

(a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

While there have been fewer killings of Rohingya since the provisional measures, their situation remains precarious both in Myanmar and in Bangladesh, where many of them have taken refuge.

In the provisional measures order in Ukraine v Russia in 2022 the ICJ ordered Russia to immediately cease its military operations in Ukraine and ensure that any military units or irregular armed units conduct military operations. However, Russia’s war on Ukraine continues.

What are the conditions for having a case heard by the ICJ?

1) There must be a substantive jurisdictional basis for bringing the case. This can be, for example, by agreement by the parties or, as in the case under discussion, that both states are parties to a multilateral treaty that provides for disputes between state parties to be heard by the ICJ. Article IX of the Genocide Convention is a case in point.

Israel ratified the Genocide Convention in 1950 and South Africa in 1998. Palestine has been a party to the Genocide Convention since 2014 and may bring cases before the ICJ, but hasn’t done so.

2) The state bringing the case must normally have an interest in the case. However, this does not apply to certain types of violations where all states in the world are considered to have an interest. Examples include alleged violations of the Genocide Convention and the Convention against Torture. In its judgment in the 2022 case against Myanmar on preliminary objections, the ICJ stated that any state can bring a case to it in relation to a suspected violation by another state that is party to the Genocide Convention.

The process

The first step in the case is the public hearing on provisional measures. South Africa and Israel are allocated two hours each to present their arguments on provisional measures. A decision on provisional measures is usually taken within one or two months after the public hearing.

The ICJ only makes a provisional assessment of the case to issue provisional measures. Thus even if the ICJ issues provisional measures against Israel, it does not necessarily follow that the court will – in its final judgment – find that Israel has violated the Genocide Convention.

After a provisional measures decision, the ICJ will proceed to determine any preliminary objections raised by Israel, such as whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the case on the merits, and whether South Africa has standing to bring the case.

If the preliminary objections are unsuccessful, the ICJ will make a judgment on the merits of the case in which it determines whether Israel has violated the Genocide Convention. The process until a final judgment takes several years. In many cases final judgment has taken a decade or more. Other states may intervene in a case, as many have done, for example, in the Ukraine v Russia case.

What action can the court take?

The ICJ provides declaratory orders. In its 2007 final judgment in the Bosnia v Serbia and Montenegro case, the ICJ found that Serbia had violated the Genocide Convention by not taking action to prevent the genocide in Srebrenica, and by having failed to transfer Ratko Mladic, who commanded the Bosnian Serb army that massacred Bosnian civilians, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Other claims of genocide were dismissed by a majority of the court. The court held that the declaration of a violation was a sufficient remedy, and that the court should not provide any other remedies in the case such as compensation.

The orders of the ICJ are binding on states. Nevertheless, they are often ignored. This is in line with the general difficulty of enforcing international law, in particular international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The provisional measures requested by South Africa include that Israel should suspend military activities in Gaza, stop killing Palestinians and prevent forced displacement and deprivation of access to adequate food, water, fuel, shelter and sanitation.

The ICJ can grant provisional measures different from those requested. While it is clear that the prevention of humanitarian assistance leading to starvation, forced displacement and indiscriminate bombings, taken together with statements by Israeli officials (see paragraphs 101-107 of South Africa’s submission to the ICJ), could constitute violations of the Genocide Convention, it is less clear that this means no military action whatsoever may be taken by Israel against Hamas.

Following its own precedent in earlier cases under the Genocide Convention, it seems clear that the ICJ should issue provisional measures. What such measures the court will order remains to be seen.

Professor Magnus Killander, Centre for Human Rights in the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Courtesy: The Conversation


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