What President Buhari and his entourage should have in mind when they meet with representatives of the United States
“A dwarf is as much a man as a giant; a small republic is not less a sovereign state than the most powerful kingdom” Emerich de Vattel (1714–67).
Like Achebe’s wide fire during the harmattan season, the news of President Buhari’s visit to the United States has reverberated beyond the demographic confines of Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest economy. The visit is coming at a time when security promises that emotionalized Buhari’s advent to power had taken a nosedive: when expectant hearts seem broken on the inability of a democratically elected president to get a cabinet seven weeks after assuming office. On the demands of diplomatic relations, the visit also will be the first time that a Nigerian president shall be engaging in a bilateral talk in a foreign land without an ordained interlocutor in the art of State to State dialogue.
As perceived by many analysts, such administrative deficiency exudes an “unprepared” picture of a national leader from the global south engaging in a bilateral talk with a hegemonic partner from the global North: the kind that depicts and streamlines the current boundaries of global inequality. It is to such “unpreparedness” that I lend these advices of mine:
First, president Buhari and his group should become “present” to the cognition that they are in the United States of America: a country that charms visitors with its promises and one that visiting it had become a hammer of sanction to recalcitrant policy makers throughout the world. The atmosphere of freedom that arriving in the United States imbues is the kind that can ignite an unhealthy spirit of obeisance especially when one is flying in from a part of the world where such a freedom is at a distant. The intimidating aura of such freedom can challenge the vehemence of a diplomatic memorandum prepared at home. Nevertheless, on the reality of the above note, I would advise that the president and his entourage KEEP CALM and tap from the saneness of the US system to drive their bilateral point’s home. Rome is home to anyone that can behave like the Romans.
Secondly, the Nigerian contingent should be armed with the knowledge that the United States is facing great challenges in Africa. At the fore of those challenges is China whose soft power policies have responded so well to the challenges of poverty and under-development in Africa and whose business ethics had found resonance with Africa’s weak legal and administrative systems. Such unregulated symbiosis had relieved some African leaders of over-dependence on Western conditional aids. The US sees this development as a potential source of a politicized engagement that might introduce a discord in the rhythm of her foreign policy outlook in Africa. The United States feel that China is systematically constructing an alternative architecture to the postwar Western order. This is a dark psychology that the Nigerian entourage should be able to see through in order to understand the traditional limits of US policy interests in Nigeria. They should be armed with the question: Is the US trying to help Nigeria out of her developmental woes or trying to create a stumbling block to China’s influence in Africa or both? The question that shape the US goal is not a problem, what becomes a problem is the inability of Nigerian policy makers to achieve a favorable equation out of the geostrategic calculus on any bargain.
My third advise centers on the contemporary global ordering system. Global political and economic developments lend clarity to the fact that the westphalian global order of power, prosperity and poverty is changing and careful policy decisions must be made against the global order that is gradually evolving.
Although the United States remains militarily hegemonic, one would never doubt the fact that the business of global engagement is no more as usual. The US public and judicial opinions seem to have come home to the assertion of Mr. Ramesh Thakur that “having the best hammer does not make the world a nail”. Pundits might attribute this to the choice of Obama’s foreign policy but recent events reveals that the American publics are getting more entrepreneurial on the international engagements of their policy makers. The legislative hurdles over Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP bill buttress these facts. Such hurdle was not there when a bill of almost the same magnitude and verbology (NAFTA) was signed by Bill Clinton during his days as President.
On the global balance of power arrangement, Iran stands at the threshold of acquiring a nuclear weapon and altering the kaleidoscopes of power relations in the Middle East. Eastern Europe is radically putinized and NATO’s protectionist psychology is suffering from weariness imbued by nationalist politics in Europe. The foundations of great power relations had been shaken ever since Russia annexed Crimea and redrawing the map of Europe. Global economic alliances presents another challenge with the rise of the BRICS and their new development bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) set up by China with membership cutting across post westphalian blocks .The founding interest of these institutions is to open up post-westphalian bilateral spaces that will alter the balance of power arrangement in global politics.
In a re-ordered power relations as is currently evolving, fresh attention shall be given to the developing countries, especially those rich in raw materials and resources needed to sustain the industrial needs of global power brokers. Such a scenario foretells Africa as the future gravitation point of global consumerist mentality.
Engaging a world as ideologically polarized as our present age of internationalism requires a good degree of policy creativity, ideological neutrality and adjustment to evolving circumstances. It also demands knowledge of the hidden interiors of other cultures and political systems, especially those researched to influence global engagements in the coming years. Contemporary international responsibilities demand a 21st century intuitive statecraft based on the enduring interests of a nation: one close in policy proximity with the 19th century British Statesman Lord Palmerson when he opined that “we have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”. When Palmerson was asked to concretize those interests in the British Foreign Policy posture he said,” when people ask me for what is called a policy, the only answer is that we mean to do what may seem to be best, upon each occasion as it arises, making the interests of our country one’s guarding principle”.
As President Buhari engages the United States president in a much talked about visit, the aboves should serve as his guarding literature. The enduring interests of Nigeria should power his positions. What Nigerians need is a just, democratic and enduring policies and institutions that would re-posture the country to face the challenges of a 21st century international relations. Such a relationship entails more than party politics and messianic philosophies. A nation whose stability and development relies on the mandatory emergence of personalities like Buhari at every election year has set itself a task that no nation had ever met.
Kenneth Uchenna Obiakor is a Policy analyst from Nigeria. He is the founder of Leadership Development Foundation for Civic Literacy (LDFCL) and He wrote in from Owerri, Imo State Nigeria.