Vengeance is unfurling over a wounded land
Trump dreamed of it.
But it’s coming true with Biden.
And historians will never stop wondering what could have induced the 46th president of the United States to commit such a grievous error.
Is it the naïveté of a politician lacking any sense of history or tragedy, the one who took the Taliban at their word when they assured us of their peaceful intentions in Doha in February 2020?
Is it the cynicism of a president already looking ahead to his re-election and pandering to those in swing-states who are said to be fed up with “endless wars”?
Is it an effect of a swing of the pendulum between the four major poles of American diplomacy laid out by Walter Russell Mead: Wilsonianism and its democratic messianism; Jeffersonianism and its hard and fast isolationism; Jacksonianism and its reflex to give tit for tat, but only when US interests appear directly targeted; and Hamiltonianism and the formulation, so dear to France’s Montesquieu, that America’s only truly vital interests were those of peaceful commerce?
Or is this a new pole altogether? One pioneered by Barack Obama in August 2013, when he declined to enforce the red line that he had said would be irretrievably crossed if the Syrian leader resorted to the use of chemical weapons against his own citizens? The one at work when, without warning or any shred of moral or strategic interest, Donald Trump abandoned his country’s Kurdish allies, first in Iraq when he allowed the pro-Iranian militias to invade Kirkuk, then in Syria when he allowed Erdogan’s murderous proxies to enter Rojava? The one brought to its culmination in the present Afghan rout, this abject display of open desertion being broadcast live to the world and punctuated, as I write, by scenes of panic and chaos at Kabul airport that could easily be mistaken for those in Saigon in 1975?
Is it, in other words, the consolidation of a trend that I first sensed almost twenty years ago, when writing American Vertigo and later developed in The Empire and the Five Kings? Gone the great power, which has jettisoned its dreams of exceptionalism, its ambition to be a shining city upon a hill! Broken, the gracious Virgilian thread that made the invention of America a new Aeneid whose mission was no longer to rebuild Troy in Rome or Rome on a grand scale in Europe, but to reinvent Europe with improvements! Onward toward a new pre-Columbian order in which the old empire, in retreat, no longer counts and makes way for the latter-day reincarnations of the Ottoman Empire, Greater Persia, Great Russia, Imperial China, and, as here, the new Ummah made possible by a radical misreading of the Koran!
It is too early to know for certain.
And each of these explanations is at least partially true.
But the time has come for a review of accounts.
And that review shows that what the most pessimistic of us feared must be booked not just as a loss but as an abomination in three parts:
- The wolves are through the gate
They are hunting down the supporters of republican government and institutions, as well as my journalist friends from Tolo News.
They are sending women back to their fabric prisons after many thousands of them had tasted dignity and become accustomed to gender equality and the freedom to show their faces.
Sharia is the law of the land.
Lists of suspects, banned and “wanted” people are being posted at the entrances to neighbourhoods, sounding an ominous clarion call.
Islamic tribunals will soon be operating at full speed, with their absurd crimes and atrocious punishments.
And the scenes of stoning that have been filmed over the past few months in remote villages will be reenacted live in Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, sites of high civilisation where the descendants of horsemen and poets had begun to embrace the democratic dream.
A people are in agony.
The triumph of a strain of barbarism that, twenty years ago, the great democracies and their Afghan allies easily defeated and whose legions of rabble on motorbikes are no more formidable today than they were back then.
And of naïveté, when the American administration, speaking through national security adviser Jake Sullivan, adds credulity to dishonour by accepting the Taliban’s word that it is ready to “protect” civilians seeking to be evacuated from the country while offering dubious evidence of good intentions.
Worse than a crime, this is a mistake.
And, worse than a mistake, it is a stain.
A stain on the term of Joe Biden, whose first dramatic error this is.
But also, in a greater sense, this stain dishonours the modern conscience. It will take a long time for that conscience to forget this failure, this shame.
- And what of the United States?
Already devalued by the sacrifice of the Kurds on the altar of appeasement, first toward Iran (the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq) and then toward Turkey (the Kurds in Syria), the word of the United States is suddenly worth nothing.
Imagine you are a Ukrainian in Donbass battling, in the trenches of Luhansk or Donetsk, pro-Russian separatists and mercenaries in the pay of the Kremlin.
An Armenian in Nagorno-Karabakh who has learned that the resentment of those pining for a return of the Ottoman Empire and denying the genocide of their ancestors knows no bounds or limitations.
Or a Taiwanese, South Korean or even a Japanese sensing the nearby presence of the iron jaw of Chinese totalitarianism just waiting to bite.
To say nothing of the Balts, the Poles, the Czechs — of Europeans, in other words — who had been living, like the generation of the founders of Europe, in the belief that venerable old treaties protected them and ensured their security.
What do they all think of this self-inflicted Saigon? This geopolitical suicide? How can they avoid ruminating on the betrayal and massacre of Carthage’s Punic allies, as recounted by Gustave Flaubert in his novel Salammbô, when confronted with this spectacle, this disarray in a diplomatic system that has made the inexplicable choice, just weeks before the anniversary of September 11, of returning Afghanistan to the terrorists on a silver platter and allowing them to build a nest for the vipers of the new Al-Qaeda and their ilk? When confronted, yes, with the direct, deliberate and slow-motion abandonment of a people who, like the Kurds, were our rampart against radical Islam and protected the world from terrorism? Under the circumstances, how is it possible not to conclude that if Putin, Erdogan or Xi got it in his head to fill part of the void created by the American retreat there would be no one to oppose him?
An Afghan Anschluss.
Munich on all fronts.
And even if one must be wary of comparing the incomparable, this is truly terrible.
- But then, there is Panjshir
There remains, living in his homeland of Panjshir, one young man, Ahmad Massoud, son of the legendary Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who, in his day, embodied the struggle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and who was assassinated two days before September 11.
A few days ago, just a few hours after the fall of Kabul, the young Ahmad Massoud was able to elude the hired killers sent to track him down.
Knowing that if they captured him, he might suffer the same fate as his illustrious father, he did exactly what his father had done, a little less than twenty-five years ago, after the first fall of Kabul, when he managed to get hold of one of the last old helicopters that the Taliban had not yet taken over and took refuge in his bastion in Panjshir, above the Shomali Plain, to organise the Afghan resistance.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books. His most recent, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, is published by Yale University Press.
President Hassan is the Face of Tanzania’s reform agenda. But she Needs to Carry the Country with Her
By Brian Cooksey and Deus Valentine
After two years in power, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has consolidated her political base, opened up the media space and increased the number of women in public appointments. But Tanzania is not yet out of the woods. Years of failed accountability created the conditions for the rise of authoritarianism and the worrying absence of strong constitutional safeguards. The continued absence of these safeguards means that the risk of a backwards slide remains.
In a 2022-2023 report produced for the Center for Strategic Litigation, a not-for-profit organisation based in Tanzania, we reviewed the main developments in Tanzania’s civic space. The report covers six areas: political trends; media and access to information; rights and civil society; economic governance; Zanzibar’s governance; and performance in East Africa. In this article, we unpack the findings in some of these areas. The report finds that current reform efforts aren’t sustainable because they lack popular participation and grounding in any legal or constitutional safeguards.
As a political science scholar, I have been studying Tanzania’s politics in the last 10 years. We conclude in our report that Tanzania is yet to develop the resiliency necessary to fight any future assault on its fledgling democracy should it occur, given the country’s weak constitutional order.
The big drivers
The report’s main sources are the Center for Strategic Litigation’s monthly updates on politics, the media and civil society as well as public finance management and economic governance. We reviewed materials published in the official, private and social media. We also conducted interviews with officials and political, private and civil society actors and observers.
President Hassan has asserted her authority over Tanzania’s ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi, abandoned some of the worst anti-democratic practices of her predecessor, and established her credentials to lead the country for the remainder of her term. She used her party’s elections in 2022 to sideline her predecessor’s loyalists and consolidate her own power base. This base may be sufficient to pull through transformative and far reaching changes such as electoral reforms and ultimately a new constitution. But to do this she needs to have a definite timeline for a new constitution.
Tanzanian media houses acknowledge the improvements in state-media relations during the last two years. They also note, however, that the old threats to media freedom in Tanzania persist. Journalists and media workers continue to face threats against their safety, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.
Civil liberties remain threatened. The criminal justice system continues to abuse the rule of law in the absence of legal safeguards for most of these liberties. In December 2021, Hassan noted that: some police officers take bribes, use excessive force in carrying out their duties, and use offensive language. According to a REPOA and Afrobarometer survey, nearly a quarter of Tanzanians (23%) consider that all or most of the police are involved in corruption.
For many years, Maasai communities have conflicted with the state over residence and grazing rights in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. These areas have been leased for hunting by a company associated with the Emirati royal family. In 2022, both conflicts re-erupted and led to confrontations and prosecutions. Affected communities have filed several cases concerning rights abuses in the East African Court of Justice and the High Court of Tanzania.
The president has deftly played the gender card, increasing the proportion of women at ministerial, regional and district commissioner levels. Critics, however, have pointed out that she focuses on promoting women from within “the system”. They dismiss her efforts as political rewards for loyalists.
The business environment continues to discourage investors with its bureaucracy, risks and corruption. This is despite initiatives such as the ambitious five-year industrialisation policy. Theft, fraud and corruption are among the main concerns of businesses, according to the 2023 Allianz Risk Barometer. The steady empowerment of state agencies in productive areas that should arguably be the reserve of the private sector also remain a concern for Tanzania’s nascent private sector. These sectors include banking, clearing and forwarding, and water and air transport.
State agencies run companies in all major productive sectors. The country’s industrial policy also sets it at odds with the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The policy promotes fossil fuels over carbon emission reductions. In recent years, Tanzania has become a serious coal producer and exporter. The government’s commitment to the US$6 billion Uganda-Tanzania East African Crude Oil Pipeline project is a case in point. The project has been challenged on social, environmental and climate change grounds. The state has widely harassed Ugandan activists for calling for transparency and accountability over the project.
Many of the reforms initiated by Hassan are solely on presidential writ. Efforts at reconciliation with citizens and independent civil society remain absent. This is partly attributed to the continued presence of limiting legislation governing civil society. So far the Tanzanian state has made no indication of willingness to open up the civic space.
The restriction of civil rights is also a reflection of the inherent weaknesses of the civil society in mobilising a viable constituency and engaging proactively with the state to shape and influence ongoing democratic reform efforts. At the heart of this is the need to build strong infrastructure for dialogue among civil society, the state, political actors, the private sector and Tanzania’s development partners.
Achieving sustainable reforms will not be possible without constitutional reforms to provide for effective participation and accountability of the state towards the citizens. Constitutional powers have been abused to give credence to the autocratic trends witnessed over the last decade. The ongoing engagement with the opposition will prove valuable only if it leads to critical legislative reforms of the political parties, elections and other relevant laws. While the president remains the face of the reform agenda, she needs to carry her lieutenants and the country with her.
Brian Cooksey and Deus Valentine of the Center for Strategic Litigation participated in compiling this report.
Nigeria: Politics in Wig and Gown
By Chidi Amuta
Ordinarily, it would be hazardous to judge the judgment of five eminent Federal judges over an issue as life threatening as the results of a Nigerian presidential election. Apex power is involved. Big money is at stake. Livelihoods are up on the hoist. The instruments of state and non-state violence are at the disposal of those whose interests are troubled. It is a zone where even the angels will tread very cautiously. But once the judges wisely permitted their ruling on the February 25th presidential election to be televised and broadcast live, they admitted we regular mortals into the legitimate sphere of public theatre and drama. As a television mass audience and a public of voting citizens, we automatically acquired the right to judge the judgment of the learned judges. After all, It is all about us and how we are likely to be governed or misgoverned in the next four years at least.
The day- long theatre of a sea of wigs and gowns in Abuja made impressive spectacle. But it may not have impressed too many ordinary Nigerians. Yet there was something quite remarkable. A largely unjust nation with such a large population of lawyers is in itself anachronistic. But the ‘show’ failed as either entertainment or mass legal education. The decision to televise and broadcast live the proceedings of the judgment of the 2023 Presidential Election and Petitions Tribunal may have been well intentioned.
After all, democracy ought to be an open festival, more so in the age of instant internet and television. After a whole day of boring caterwauling of legalese and motionless suspense, the predictable verdict is out. Spending a whole day to rehearse and restate a forgone outcome is yet another Nigerian first in what is essentially a political conquest of the judiciary.
To the perceptive, the prelude was sufficient indication of the forgone outcome. The president jetted off to the G-20 meeting in India, seemingly oblivious of what was in the offing. A date for the judgment was carefully chosen to come a day after the 100 day mark of the Tinubu presidency. The ingenuity of that schedule is that most public discussion will be on the emotional matter of the tribunal verdict, thus crowding out whatever discourse there may be on the chaotic first hundred days of a flip flop presidency from the media space. The DSS predictably warned of opposition plans to protest the tribunal verdict. That was enough indication that the verdict will reaffirm the victory of the incumbent. An incumbent could not possibly be mobilizing to protest against its own victory! Unexpectedly, the Court of Appeal, in an unprecedented gesture, joined the DSS in the scare mongering, cautioning the public to stay home on Judgment Day. They all knew what we did not know. But the ultimate credit must go to President Tinubu for a masterful arrangement!
The verdict of the tribunal has come. It has been greeted by a mix of understandable triumphalism and despair depending on where Nigerians stand on the political spectrum. Among Mr. Tinubu’s immediate political family of party devotees and ethnic cheer mongers, the talking drums and trumpets are out. On the other side, especially among the youth and ‘Obidients’, followers of Mr. Peter Obi and the Labour Party, it is an extended period of virtual mourning. Mr. Atiku Abubakar’s followership is more amorphous and a bit confused and muffled. It is to the eternal credit of the political leaders especially the opposition that the hell predicted by the DSS and other merchants of fear have come to nothing.
Prior to the tribunal verdict, however, there was this stubborn hope among Mr. Obi’s nationwide throng of followers especially that, somehow, the judiciary could restore some justice to a system in which the presidential elections of February 25th was universally adjudged to be seriously flawed. In the minds of this group, the Nigerian judiciary could do one of two things: right what they perceived as an electoral wrong or reaffirm an unpopular status quo in line with its tradition of delivering judgments without justice.
Yet the skepticism remained strong that a judiciary with a strong reputation for corruption and compromise would predictably reaffirm the victory of the incumbent Bola Tinubu. The skeptics have carried the day. After a hundred days of what promises to be a turbulent and bumbling presidency, Mr. Bola Tinubu seems secure in power to begin navigating his way and his country out of very troubled waters.
The actual substance and body of the tribunal judgment proceedings was quite interesting even if long drawn out and spectacularly boring. Many principal actors were asleep half of the time! At some point, the tribunal judges began to sound more like an aggressive band of defense attorneys out to defend the incumbent at all costs. Most of the evidence adduced by the opposition petitioners , Peter Obi and Mr. Atiku Abubakar, were either dismissed as untenable or routinely demolished. Most of the witnesses of the petititoners were equally dismissed, discredited or simply rule out on grounds of personal interest or identity conflict. In all, the tribunal was quite dutiful in throwing out what it did not like and selecting what would not hurt a seemingly preconceived verdict.
Interestingly, all witnesses called by the opposition that had any suggestion of technical expertise and competence were all casually dismissed as either lacking merit or relevance to the issues on hand. The witnesses themselves were cast as persons with either personal pecuniary or other hidden interests or parading expertise that the tribunal said it did not need!
Clearly, the Tribunal was averse to witnesses with a technological bent as they were likely to punch holes in INEC’s leaky armour of technological sophistication. The tribunal simply kept everything at the analogue level as it was in no mood to engage witnesses that would goad them into exposing their own technological deficits. No need to expose the relative ignorance of the learned judges on complex matters of information technology, digital communication or the combustible possibilities of the social media.
Quite conveniently, on the substantive issues of the eligibility of the APC candidate, the Tribunal took recourse to technical conveniences. Questions about Mr. Tinubu’s qualifications were rightly adjudged pre-election matters that ought to have been brought up in the appropriate lower courts and disposed of 180 days before the elections.
But in demolishing most of the grounds of substantive preliminary objections that would have weakened Tinubu’s and INEC’s positions, the Tribunal cleared the pathway for the material evidence in the various petitions. The Tribunal may have staged a valiant legal battle but thrown logic, common sense and national morality to the dogs. So, Tinubu’s refund of $460,000 to the US government had no criminal infraction component. We were however not told what type of transaction the money came from. Was it just a routine errant financial transaction alert that found this huge trove of cash enter Mr. Tinubu’s US account? Maybe, the money was not even connected to him. Maybe, it was an accidental transfer from an unknown vendor of questionable merchandise. Just leave a cloud of doubt in order to degrade the weight of this allegation!
Another curious legal disclosure is that candidates in an election do not have a right to question the eligibility of the candidate of another party for the same election. In other words, it is a fair contest if the other party decides to send in either a Sumo wrestler or killer hulk to duel my frail structure in a wrestling match up!
Strict evidence -based legal outcomes may serve the needs of legal justice. But it often flies in the face of common sense, natural Justice and ignores some of the things that worry ordinary people. These include issues of public morality and the common sense behavior of public institutions. So, the culpability of INEC in the various infractions and irregularities of the election are left to the petitioners to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
As far as the Tribunal was concerned, for as long as petitioners could not discharge the onus of proof of allegations against INEC, the agency is beyond reproach. Worse still, INEC’s own commitments as spelt out in the Electoral Law are conveniently waived, So, INEC did not have to transmit any results electronically or otherwise. It could decide to transmit either electronically or manually or deploy a hybrid system of result transmission. Yet the same INEC paraded the use of BVAS technology and the transmission of results via its IREV portals as the unique selling points of the last elections. The pubic bought into this hoax since these technologies had worked in state governorship elections in Anambra, Edo, Osun and Ekiti states.
Furthermore, the onus of proving an electoral irregularity at a polling station is that of the petitioners with no bounding obligation on the part of INEC to account for the processes at the said polling station. If a petitioner’s agent has evidence of INEC facilitating the thrashing or falsification of election results, the onus of ultimate proof is still the petitioner. The Tribunal cannot even compel INEC to authenticate the processes at that polling centre.
Matters of general abuse and the use of violence, intimidation and profiling to influence the voting process in different parts of the country did not quite qualify for the attention of the Tribunal. Even the rather incisive on –the- spot report of European Union (EU) observers during the elections was rejected by the Tribunal as immaterial to its verdict and beneath its purview. In short, the Tribunal gaove out the overall impression that nothing went wrong on 25th February, 2023. All was smooth, free and fair. It was the opposition, the social media, the EU and other international observers that raked up all this unfounded noise! There is nothing to fix about INEC’s processes, protocols and performance. There was no need to adjust the vote tally since the petitioners could not prove either over voting, rigging, under counting etc anywhere in the country! Therefore, the vote scores of the three principal contestants as declared by INEC remain sacrosanct!
In reaffirming the victory of the incumbent over the claims of the opposition petitioners, the Tribunal was replaying the familiar path of jurisprudence in all matters where the order and peace of the state are challenged. Even ahead of the verdict of the tribunal and those of a possible Supreme Court outing, it is obvious that a reaffirmation of the sovereignty of the incumbent is the easiest option for the judiciary.
The logic is simple, elementary and ancient, deriving from early political philosophies from Thomas Hobbes to John Locke and even Machievelli. Going to the Tribunal or the Supreme Court is a quest for justice according to law. But justice is only possible when law and order prevail in an orderly state. In an anarchy, neither law nor order are possible. Therefore, every judiciary, in matters that challenge the stability of the state and the legitimacy of the sovereign, will always rule in favour of the incumbent order. That is the only guarantee that unites all citizens. The state must exist as an orderly whole in order to make the pursuit of our individual rights, freedoms and quest for justice possible in the first place.
But once an ultimate political consideration such as the survival of the state overrides specific legal arguments in determining a judicial outcome, judges unconsciously don the garb of political partisanship. The lawyers’ wig and gown become part of the costume of political actors and the citizens begin to see judicial outcomes as an extension of the partisan fray.
When politics invades the behavior of judges, something often goes horribly wrong. In a democracy, the high command of the executive (mostly politicians) invade and even gobble up the judicial branch. The acquiescence of the legislature follows naturally. Authoritarianism becomes a ready temptation. In these parts, nothing touched by politics remains the same. Worse still, anything embraced by politicians gets terminally deformed. This is the terminal risk that the Presidential election Tribunal ran earlier in the week. In stepping beyond law towards ultimate politics, the Tribunal may have usurped the role of the Supreme Court as the ultimate guarantor of the state according to constitution as the final law of the land.
As the haze over the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) clears in favor of the incumbent, fewer Nigerians now look up to the Supreme Court to make any difference in outcomes. Nigeria’s murky gangster politics seems to have prevailed once again even as the public reservation lingers that Mr. Tinubu’s mandate is based on a flawed election.
In the ensuing months, most Nigerians are more likely to be concerned about where the next meal will come from rather than what the next presidential election holds in store. In this regard, Mr. Tinubu and his team have their task now better defined by that sea of wigs and gowns at the Tribunal.
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.
From Libreville, An Ugly Postcard, and From Abuja, Fanfare of Ministerial Bluster
By Chidi Amuta
The immediate past president of Gabon, Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimbo, has joined the new crop of video -posting toppled rulers. The luxurious expanse of his gold plated presidential mansion in Libreville has shrunk into a tiny sitting space surrounded by book shelves and inconsequential furniture. From here, he has posted an online video that casually urged the world to ‘make some noise’ to draw attention to his altered circumstances. He of course pretends to be unaware of what is happening around him as he admits he is confined to a room while the whereabouts of his wife and family are yet uncertain.
In the last couple of months, some of the footages of Mr. Ali Bongo’s public appearances before the coup showed an infirm man recovering from a debilitating stroke but still firmly in power as the c heir to a family political dynasty that has presided over Gabon for the last 55 years. The younger Bongo is the son of former President, Omar Bongo who often wore high wedge shoes covered by a baggy James Brown -style ‘bongo’ trousers to enhance his dimunitive proportions.
In spite of his personal infirmity and the obviously dysfunctional state of Gabon, Mr. Bongo went ahead to prepare for last weekend’s presidential election. He predictably ‘won’ the election. Opposition parties and groups throughout Gabon however dismissed the election as a fraudulent sham. Mr. Bongo clung to his victory and power nonetheless but was quickly toppled in a palace military coup, barely four days after. The election would have given him a third term in an office he assumed in 2009. He had tweaked the constitution to give himself room for a third presidential term.
Soon after the election of last weekend, it was predictable that his party, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) which he inherited from his late father would win. With a time tested combination of rigging, violence and official intimidation, the perpetual victory of the ruling party was fairly much guaranteed. But opposition forces had of late increased in strength and been joined by masses of disenchanted youth and the urban poor. Gabon, a nation of a little over 2.4 million people has the fourth highest GDP per head in sub Saharan Africa but lately wracked by unemployment and poverty.
Mounting political opposition led to a belated coalition of 16 opposition parties into an electoral alliance that presented a joint candidate to challenge Mr. Bongo at last weekend’s presidential election. That did not alter what was a foregone outcome in what has become a typical African sit -tight tradition of democratic persistence disguised as succession.
In continuation of a recent fashion among French speaking African countries, Gabon has fallen to the new coup contagion. The military struck barely four days after the election results were announced. In a televised photo opportunity that has become typical of the recent Franco-phone coups, a group of soldiers appeared on Gabonese national television to announce that they had decided to topple the democratic order ‘in the name of the Gabonese people’.
Predictably, they declared last weekend’s presidential elections as flawed, dubious and therefore annulled. Typically, the soldiers have suspended the constitution and all institutions of the state. They have also placed the ousted president under house arrest while taking in one of his sons on a charge of ‘high treason.’ As it turns out, the cop leader and transitional president is Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, commander of the presidential guards and a cousin of Ali Bongo.
The coup in Gabon comes barely two months after that in Niger which is still the centre of feverish activity within ECOWAS and the African Union. The Gabon coup merely increases the tally of a series of coups that have ravaged Franco-phone Africa. In quick succession, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and now Gabon have all literally fallen onto the sword. Previous coups in the countries under review have been advanced and marketed as the result of a series of identical causes ranging from insecurity caused by Sahelian jihadist terrorists to economic adversity and political misrule by leaders enthroned by democratic elections.
The Gabonese coup has pointedly indicated an open political dimension. The Gabonese military has added its voice to that of African opposition parties who have of late decried abuses in recent African democratic elections. The Gabonese coup makers have been clear and direct in joining their voice to that of opposition parties and groups. They have openly rejected the conduct and outcome of last weekend’s presidential election in Gabon as well as the long misrule under the Bongo dynasty.
Without doubt, all the coup makers in French -speaking West and Central Africa have acquired their audacity as a result of one single factor: the reduction and even outright decline in French presence and influence in the region. The disengagement of France from its former African colonies is the direct result of a latter day revolt by African countries against certain extant exploitative colonial era arrangements between France and its former African colonies. This arrangement which has gained recent currency defines an essentially exploitative economic relationship between France and its former African colonies.
According to the outlines of the arrangement, France has retained tight control over the international financial transactions of these former colonies as well as curtailed the autonomy of their central banks. This has made these countries subject to French supervision and ultimate financial authority. Therefore, the political storm at the bottom of these recent coups seems to be a general revolt of former African French colonies against the last vestiges of a colonial relationship that has left these countries politically independent but
Financially and economically dependent on Paris.
The progressive French disengagement from Africa has also removed the safety switch of ready French intervention and stabilization forces which used to be the guarantee against instability and wider insecurity in these countries. In the absence of standby French intervention and stabilization forces, the frail armies of these countries have taken to an easier recourse to coups to assert some authority.
The frenzy of coups in West and Central Africa will destabilize the region strategically in the near term. It may end up destabilizing not just the region but also upsetting an already stressed global order. The decline of French influence and military presence in the region exposes Western oriented countries in West and Central Africa to direct jihadist terrorist threat. More dangerously, West and Central Africa are now under the direct threat of recent Russian ambition and influence through the conspicuous presence and activities of the Wagner Group of mercenaries in the region.
For Africa, the recent spate of coups challenges our leaders to increase confidence in democracy by ensuring that the processes and practice of democracy meet the hopes of the people. But this is not just an African challenge. For the free world, there is a clear and urgent task of restoring confidence in democracy by using diplomatic pressure to roll back the specter of coups in Central and West Africa.
For the West, there is an immediate issue of defending a vital sphere of western influence from the ills of authoritarian rule and potential Russian influence. The ultimate question for the West is not merely diplomacy as usual. It is also an overarching moral burden. When and where does democracy deserve and qualify to be defended by its global champions? There must be a clear indication that global democracy has a guarantor that will stoutly defend it whenever and wherever it is under threat. Democracy is clearly under threat in Africa today. How the West responds will determine whether the forces of authoritarianism championed by China and Russia will prevail in the contest for a new world order or beat a retreat.
From Abuja, Fanfare of Ministerial Bluster
The great national festival of the last fortnight was the swearing in and deployment of Tinubu’s mammoth ministerial assembly. The event was preceded by the comedy of curious confirmations. While the nominees were facing the Senate, no one knew what portfolios they were being processed for. So, a blindfolded Senate was interviewing a series of equally blindfolded ministerial nominees in a charade that served mostly an entertainment function for Nigerians who watched on television.
The poor senators were in no position to ask any pointed or specific questions. For the more familiar faces among the nominees, especially those who had served as state governors, it was the usual “Bow and Go!” comedy. No questions asked. No answers required. Just show up and proceed. For the less known ones, there were no challenging probes. Just show face and mutter something, Confirmed! Go onto the mountain and proclaim thyself: Distinguished Honourable Minister!
On first appearance, some of the more anonymous nominees seemed somewhat like sorry shy creatures. Imagine an innocuous fellow appearing in blindfold in front of the hallowed chambers of the Senate full of strangers with arrows and darts aimed at you. In the end, it was a typical Nigerian ‘mass promotion’ oral examination. Everybody passed including the gentleman prodigy who completed secondary school by age nine and an ingenious young lady who got appointed minister as a serving NYSC member!
After last Monday’s swearing in ceremony, however, something novel happened among the new ministers. As if by consensus, straight from the inauguration hall, most of the ministers addressed the media at their disposal on their mission. You would think the feverish campaigns of the 2023 elections were still raging. Promises and commitments came tumbling over one another.
Each new minister, as if on a prompt, addressed the media to market their priorities and advertise their unique selling points. It was like an advertising contest for self -promotion. It ended up a day of hyper bluster, mostly a fanfare of ministerial fantasies. Some of the ministers sounded more like politicians on the soap box all over again than as prospective departmental chief executives of government. Just a sample from the copious parade.
The new Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Betta Edu, boasted that the federal government is poised to migrate 136 million Nigerians out of poverty in a short time. I guess she needed to be reminded that even the worst estimates of Nigeria’s poverty population has put the figure at no more than 130 million people. By this ministerial bluster, before she leaves office, there will be no more poor people in Nigeria. On the more immediate matter of equitable distribution of hunger palliatives among Nigerians, she even surpassed herself . She promised that government will deploy GPS for the distribution of bags of rice and packs of Indomie noodles. No reporter had the presence of mind to ask her the meaning of GPS!
Not to be outdone, the new Minister of Information who has just succeeded the ubiquitous Lai Mohammed promised that henceforth, government will stop lying to Nigerians. As it were, this minister will reinvent government publicity and communication. If government were to stop lying to us, what other business will be left for government?
Yet another Minister, Mr. Adebayo Adelabu, who is Minister for Power promised uninterrupted power to all Nigerian homes and businesses within the shortest time, precisely within one year. Many Nigerians recall that a similar promise was made immediately on assumption of office by President Obasanjo’s then new minister of power, the late Bola Ige who probably did not quite know the difference between an electric pole and a transformer. He promised uninterrupted power supply in six months in 1999! We are still waiting.
On his part, Mr. Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, the new Minister of Budget and National Economic Planning used the occasion to promise that he will “unlock the vast economic potentials of the nation” through his ministry. It is hard to decipher what a minister locked away in an office with a pile of statistics and Power point projections of government’s economic scenarios will have to do to ‘unlock’ the nation’s prosperity in the midst of an army of economists, central bankers and drivers economic drivers. There is information on good authority that Mr. Bagudu has a key to free some long missing resources!
Not one to be left out of a bluster festival, my friend, Mr. Dele Alake, the journalist turned Minister of Solid Minerals, used the opportunity to rationalize his new role. For a man who in less than 90 days of the Tinubu administration has rapidly exchanged choice roles with fancy titles so many times, it was pretty easy to market his new role. He predictably praised the wisdom of the president in recognizing his genius and universal versatility by sending him to help diversify the nation’s revenue and foreign exchange sources through the Solid Minerals sector as an alternative to the long standing dependence on hydrocarbons.
Similarly, the Minister for Steel Development, Mr. Shuaibu Audu, committed to the completion of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Mill which was started by the Shagari administration since the 1980s. There is no indication of where Nigeria ranks among steel producing countries today and where we fit into the global steel market today.
Not to be sidelined by his colleagues, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Tigard promised to initiate what he called a foreign policy of 4-Ds: Development, Democracy, Demographics and Diaspora. He was wise enough to leave his policy initiative at the level of just those four key words. In the context of the mass emigration of Nigerians to Canada, United Kingdom, Rwanda and other places, the nation awaits the unfolding of this word based foreign policy against the background of the Buhari administration which uttered not a single word on foreign policy in all of eight years.
Predictably the most dramatic and boisterous of the lot was the new Minister of the FCT, former Rivers Governor Mr. Nyesom Wike. In his characteristic disruptive boisterousness, Wike promised to demolish as many buildings as possible in Abuja for as long as they violate planning approval in strict compliance with the original Abuja master plan. Of all the ministers, Wike has been the first to move into an ‘action’ phase. He has already demolished some fancy mansions and ordered their owners arrested. He has indicated a desire to complete the long abandoned Abuja light rail project. He has ordered all FCT contractors back to site and promised to pay indigenous land owners nearly a trillion Naira in compensation for a 4 kilometer new runway at the Abuja airport.
It is yet uncertain what King Wike will do about minor issues like urban sanitation, public health, the FCT public school system and the quality of the Abuja environment which is incrementally being degraded by basic urban challenges like traffic congestion and creeping overcrowding of the suburbs. It needs to occur to the bi partisan minister that Abuja has long ceased to be a construction site but is now a thriving urban city with all its implicit challenges.
There is nothing wrong with ministers stating a diversity of aims and aspirations. What is yet uncertain is whether in fact there is a unifying vision that runs through this cacophony of voices and fantasies. May be the mantra of the Tinubu administration of “Renewed Hope” after the hopelessness of the Buhari interregnum could provide a binding theme for this season of bluster.
There is something deserving of the excitement that has produced this burst of bluster among the new ministers. Some analysts have insisted that becoming a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria is an opportunity to ‘serve and to chop’. No doubt an opportunity that transforms mendicants of yesterday into islands of prosperity deserves the unguarded bluster and bragging that has featured among our new ministers. In a vastly religious society, to become a minister is seen by some as an earthly embrace of salvation, the arrival of some pilgrims at the place of their eternal quest. For some of them, it is an opportunity to serve and make a difference. In real terms then, the ministerial term is a race to separate those who came to serve from those who are here to ‘chop’.
Taken together, there is something refreshing about the season of ministerial bluster that is now graduating into a period of activity for the new men and women of power. The tenure of each of this motley assembly of ministers will be determined by how faithful they remain to some of the boasts and noises that heralded their emergence.
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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