Nigerians and Others In the Age of Trump, By Owei Lakemfa
I argued that there is too much emphasis on a strong economy as a basis of a clear-headed foreign policy, pointing out that although poor, Cuba cannot be overlooked in the international circuit and that Captain Thomas Sankara led Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world but made quite an impact on the international scene.
There is a New World Disorder. One of the main reasons for this, according to Akin Oyebode, international lawyer and professor specialising in the Law of Treaties, is because American president, Donald Trump, “imposes his will on the children of lesser gods.”
Trumpism was a predictable tragedy waiting to happen. In my March 11, 2016 column titled “If Americans Throw Trump At Us”, I had argued that given his love for false statistics, fake news, characterisation of Mexicans as drug peddlers and crooks, and claims that Muslims are terrorists, Trump wants “to turn both America and the world upside down.” I had argued that: “Electing him would be like handing over the White House to the Ku Klux Klan.” And, I had concluded that: “Ordinarily, Trump should be an American reject, but if the U.S. throws him at the world, it must be ready for a reject.” Unfortunately, it is not just Americans but the entire humanity that has become afflicted with Trumpism.
Some academics, serving and retired diplomats, trade unionists, journalists and students of diplomacy gathered at a forum by the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) in Abuja on October 30 to discuss what is happening to our world in the Age of Trump. The theme was “Nigeria and Multilateralism: Trends and Challenges.”
The choice of 72-year old Oyebode, an intellectual who speaks pictorially and powerfully with a flood of ideas that leave no one in doubt that he is a receptacle of ideas, was quite apt. Having a first law degree from Kiev in the old Soviet Union, a masters from Harvard Law school and a Ph.D in law from Toronto, Canada, he is well grounded on the issue of multilateralism.
It was fascinating listening to him on “how nations behave and misbehave” and his conclusion that Nigeria’s foreign policy is in “a state of suspended animation.” For him, the last, and perhaps the only time Nigeria had a robust foreign policy was in the six months of the Murtala Mohammed regime. He said only the successor Obasanjo regime came close to that golden era in the country’s foreign policy. Today, under the Buhari administration, he said: “it seems the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.” He argued that: “Nigeria deserves to go to heaven any way it wants.”
On the issue of a changing world order, he posited that the United Nations Charter is built on multilateralism and that the Cold War left humanity with no choice but to be multilateral. Another example of multilateralism, he said, was the Non-Aligned Movement where the smaller and poor countries took refuge from the super powers, deciding “to hang together rather than individually.”
Oyebode noted that the collapse of the Soviet Bloc seriously affected multilateralism, as “Capitalism decided to shape the world in its own image.” He said the arrival of Trump, a man he described as “self-opinionated, swashbuckling and rambunctious”, has dealt a serious blow to multilateralism. He was of the opinion that with the Trump administration walking out of the Arms Treaty with Russia, taking on and mocking America’s European allies, insulting Africans and Mexicans and taking on a plethora of countries including China and Iran, world peace and development is threatened. The international lawyer said the killing of the Islamic State (ISIS) founder, Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, by the United States raises the issue: “Is it legal to adopt an illegal means to settle an illegal situation?”
He hopes that if Trump is not taken out by the on-going impeachment process, the American elections in 2020 will do so. Oyebode concluded that: “Multilateralism serves humanity better than unilateralism”, warning that, “The Cold War might be over, but it is still smouldering. The new trend is, never expect the expected.”
Ambassador Olufemi Oyewale George, Nigeria’s ex-ambassador to Portugal and former high commissioner to Canada was the discussant. He posited that it was a buoyant economy that enabled Nigeria to play a prominent role in international affairs. He said those were times when the country’s views and those of its diplomats were sought by all nations at international fora like the United Nations. The author of From Rookie to Mandarin: The Memoirs of A Second Generation Diplomat pointed out that it was such visibility that gave Nigeria the status of a frontline state, even when it was quite far from the Southern African borders, and enabled it play key roles in the Concert of Medium Powers, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Now, he said, our diplomats have become timid.
Ambassador George observed that the Cold War brought to the fore the need to avoid another international conflagration; so multilateralism was needed to avoid the Doom’s Day scenario of a nuclear holocaust and a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). He said the ascendancy of America as the only power, following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, has seen the bullying of the rest of humanity in a unipolar world. He sees the world getting fed up with this scenario.
Ambassador George predicts Africa embracing more of multilateralism, such as the coalition of countries against the Boko Haram terrorists. He sees the closure of Nigeria’s borders as “very, very necessary but (should be) temporary.”
Professor Williams Alade Fawole, whose newest book The Illusion Of The Post-Colonial State: Government and Security Challenges in Africa is making waves on the internet, described what is going on in the world as a mere “Trumpian phenomenon” and a “unipolar moment” which does not fundamentally threaten multilateralism. He pointed at the continued rise of multilateral bodies like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum. Fawole said with the new power points like cyberattacks on powerful countries and entities, what we are witnessing is an omnipolar world.
I argued that there is too much emphasis on a strong economy as a basis of a clear-headed foreign policy, pointing out that although poor, Cuba cannot be overlooked in the international circuit and that Captain Thomas Sankara led Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world but made quite an impact on the international scene. I also contended that with Nigeria controlling 76 per cent of trade on the West African coast, it is myopic of it to close its borders, adding that this is a serious setback for multilateralism in Africa.
Political Scientist, Hassan Saliu, a professor of the University of Ilorin, pointed out that the country has failed to document its assistance over the years to various countries, and urged a change in this regard.
The gathering reached a consensus that despite Trumpism, multilateralism is alive and well in the world.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.
Picture credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.