Positioning Nigeria in the United States
BEFORE the emergence of President Buhari in the 2015 election, Nigeria’s image and esteem in the United States had gone down drastically. Throughout 2007-2015 across the wide spectrum of the American political establishment, and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), there was a seething Nigeria-phobia, which damaged not only U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relations, but our national reputation in the international community.
There is an urgent need for the Buhari administration to reposition Nigeria, beginning with the State Department, the Congress and finally the White House. Three main strategies are hereby advocated for this purpose:
Public relations, and
A MUSHARAF-style official counter-terrorism posture to deal with Nigerian security and international terrorism.
This approach consists of mobilizing institutional and interpersonal support for Nigeria in the American government establishment. For any diplomacy to have any functional utility, in the U.S. it must harness various political and security institutions towards the achievement of Nigerian national foreign policy objectives. Nigeria government and diplomats must recognize and utilize these variables to create a momentum that should be followed up. Credible personalities and groups must be used to lobby the State Department, the Congress and the White House. This will also require the strengthening of our diplomatic representation especially in Washington, financially as well as increased manpower allocation.
There is also need to approach certain strategically placed and sensitive institutions within the U.S government. The usual “back channel” provided by our intelligence and security liaison must be used to feed the US government with reassuring clarifications and explanations aimed at countering the negative image.
A carefully prepared public relations campaign must be put in place to complement and support the extra diplomatic strategy. The campaign should focus on repositioning Nigeria favourably within the American media and NGO publics. The overall objective of this strategy should be to market Nigeria as a progressive rather than a retrogressive democracy; as a country with drastically reduced foreign debt, a consolidated banking system, a rising foreign direct investment profile, a very promising stock exchange market and a steady over 5% economic growth rate, a stable national currency and an improved international credit rating etc.
An Openly Articulated Counter Terrorism Policy
Among other unfavourable perceptions about Nigeria is the prospect of its becoming a base of Islamic extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S. intelligence community firmly believes that Al-Qaeda has operational bases in certain parts of Nigeria and that the large Muslim population provides fertile recruitment grounds for Islamic terrorist groups. To allay the fears and reposition our country as a partner in the global counter-terrorist crusade, the present Administration should sustain and increase bilateral counter-terrorist cooperation with the U.S. President Buhari or the National Security Adviser should make a public statement where our national counter-terrorist policy will be unequivocally stated. The Musharaf-style public posturing is recommended to reduce the circumstances in which there seem to be a cloud of suspicion on the country’s commitment to anti-terrorism at the national and international levels.
In the world of diplomacy, the image is often more important than the substance. Ultimately, image is always more a matter of perception than reality. No matter how right or justified we are, and no matter how unjust others appear to us, it is their opinion not ours, that shapes their policies towards our country.
The strategies should aim at proving Nigeria as a core asset that really matters to the United States in Africa in particular and the international community in general.
The extraordinary interest, the United States Government and peoples showed in the 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria, certainly demonstrates that they are prepared to renew, deepen and consolidate relations with the Government and Peoples of Nigeria.
Nigeria as well as other countries in Africa is a nation in transition that has had a mixture a springling of peace and a lot of crises, violence and conflicts. It is within a continent struggling to re-invent itself and leaders that are not too sure how to go about it. It is therefore imperative that American knows what Africa nations need most now.
Peace: That elusive word peace is what Africa needs most now. Without peace, there will be no progress, no development and no growth. Conflicts have done great damage to all the dreams about emerging viable African states. And many have become failed states or failing states because of endemic crises and conflicts. Engaging African leaders to ensure peace and stability should be a top priority of the United States of America.
Hence, preventive Diplomacy to ensure peace is what Africa needs. This means constant monitoring of conflict and potentially conflict areas in Africa. Ability to detect early warning signals of conflicts and flash points will help to preserve and ensure peace in Africa. This is a role that America should be engaged with African countries and leaders. However, it seems that, the United States, although it has the capability, does not have the political will to stay engaged in conflict resolution in Africa. It may be the Somalia experience or too much commitment elsewhere in the world, but whatever it is Africa, today needs intensive American attention to preserve peace.
Economy: It is no news to say that in spite of the continent’s potentials, Africa remains remarkable for its wide-spread poverty. And poverty breeds restlessness and political and social instability. Food production is the lowest in comparison to other continents, hence the constant alarms on starvation in many parts of Africa and consequently, how to assist Africa to grow its economy, achieve relative economic growth and development calls for American attention. In the past, the USA economic interests have been limited to the area of oil and other extractive industries. But the reality is that those areas have not made meaningful impacts on the basic economic needs of the African nations. The U.S. must adjust and put emphasis on Agricultural development, capacity building, and diversification of the African economy.
Politics is putting asunder many African states. The inherited borders are no longer capable of sustaining the sovereign independent claims of some of the African states. We have seen borders/boundary conflicts between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo etc. Many African countries are in political quandary and as stated earlier, many of them need-reinventing.
Internally, Political Reforms have become imperative; Reforms that take into consideration, the basic political and structural needs of each country in Africa. As new democracies, their institutions are fragile and untested. These must be strengthened and made more effective. All efforts should be made towards the encouragement of good Governance.
The United States and Africa are getting closer than ever in our respective histories as nations and continents. At independence, a little over 50 years, many African countries were closer to their former European colonial masters than to the United States. This is no longer true today, for many Africa countries, all roads lead to the United states, China, Russia and not only Europe as before.
Today, the United States Military/Strategic, Economic/Social and Political/Diplomatic interests are inter-linked with that of African nations, no less than the rest of the world.
Increasingly, the countries of our continent and the United States share a common destiny in the struggle to save humanity.
For the peoples of Africa and the United States, the era of separate destinies seems to be over. The U.S./African Relations may be complex but nonetheless a vital relationship that requires a serious attention.
• Ambassador (Prof) George A. Obiozor was Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Israel, and Cyprus