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Obama’s visit to Ghana signals the shifts in Nigeria-America relationship

By Obi Nwakanma
DOES America’s President Barrack H. Obama’s choice of  Ghana as his first port of call to sub-Sahara Africa really matter in determining the new directions of America’s foreign policy on Africa in the coming era? Diplomatic sources on the Nigerian end seriously think so.

Many Nigerians also see the weighty symbolic thrust in Obama’s choice of Ghana. For many it is as clear an indication of the new shifts in relationship between Nigeria and the United States as can be easily fathomed.

There are also clear indications that Nigeria may be at the threshold of a new engagement with the United States, a long time ally and trading partner in the light of what many foreign policy analysts see as indubitable slight of Nigeria by the new Obama administration.

Abuja may already be formulating new policy directions in response to this.

The last decade or so has seen an increasing degradation of the importance of Nigeria by Washington as a key player in world, and particularly, African affairs.

The downgrading of this vital relationship was hinted at by the United States Centre for Strategic Studies earlier this year during the inauguration of President Barrack Obama when it hosted Nigeria’s foreign minister.

But nothing clarifies this downsizing more for the Nigerians than Obama’s decision to make Ghana the symbolic point of his first visit to Africa South of the Sahara. Africans swooned and wept tears of joy over the election of Obama.

He has been construed as a great son of Africa seeded of the loins of the Luo.

The Kenyans even have greater claims on him and demanded a visit first to Kenya, and indeed may feel a sharper slight by this first visit to Ghana.

Usually, international politics is a mystery within a mystery. Its logic is often hermetic. The choice of Ghana, it has been said by the Americans and various others, is to signify the United States support for Ghana’s democratic and new economic trajectory. It is thus like a paternal pat on the back.

There are many like me who, however, do not put much store to this visit by Obama. But it is indeed one of the most ironic twists in the history of the Nigerian-American relationship that some Nigerians today would have to beg an American president or state official to come and visit.

We have all indeed come a long way from that moment in 1975 when the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed spurned the American secretary of state, Henry Kissinger’s moves to come and visit Nigeria in one of his diplomatic forays over, I think, the South African question.

“Stay at home!” Murtala Muhammed told Kissinger. Nigeria was not interested in a visit from the United States. It was such a time too when Nigeria’s new foreign policy thrust aimed to make Africa the epicentre of Nigeria’s foreign policy initiative. There was a sustained sense of her place in the emerging world.

Today, Nigeria seems too ragged, and too beaten down by the forces of its own history to matter in the world, and so the Americans are apparently making a statement, and making capital of it: there is a new kid on the block, so to say, and her name is Ghana.

This is the thinking that seems increasingly to frame American attitudes, and is increasingly circulating within its diplomatic circles, although it does seem to me, quite a mistake to discount Nigeria in the larger scheme of things.

It is true that the Americans have made prediction of a 15-year  time frame for an end of the Nigerian enterprise, starting it seems from the year 2007. Perhaps they are shifting attention to Ghana as the real new players in the coming years in Africa with the inevitable dismantling of the Nigerian behemoth.

If this is the calculation, then it does seem that the Americans really do not know Nigeria and Nigerians. Nigeria has constantly defied logic.

But let me trace a little aspect of the history of these relationships. Ghana has always managed to steal the thunder from Nigeria at crucial moments.

For instance, although Nigeria’s Nnamdi Azikiwe led the anti-colonial movement in English-speaking West Africa, even earning the sobriquet, “Zik of Africa,” it was Nkrumah who came to symbolize in the western mind, the face of the new, decolonized Africa. Why?

Because, by some devious calculations of the colonial office and by a twist of fate, Ghana gained Independence first, and became the first modern nation in sub-Sahara Africa to symbolize the new freedom of Africa from colonialism.

Thus Ghana became the staging post of the new Africa, and its founding premier has since become the symbol of the African struggle in the 20th century, thus in many ways, upstaging the real narrative of the anticolonial movement in Africa. Nkrumah was of course, without question, a man of history and one who bore its brunt with Olympian fortitude.

The contributions of the Nigerian nationalists, especially those who challenged Great Britain over its attempts to redefine and redetermine the Atlantic charter at the first gathering of nations in San Francisco in 1945 seems, however, to have been obscured by Ghana’s emergence.

Then Ghana slipped into political and economic turpor from the 1970s and 1980s, until Jerry Rawlings cleared its augean stable. But while Ghana was in the mush, Nigeria had fought a civil war, and fate paid it what now seems to be left-handed compliment with massive oil and gas deposits.

Oil ultimately drove her mad. Today, oil has become the curse of Nigeria. Now also, oil has been found in commercial quantity in a much more stabilized Ghana.

While Nigeria’s Niger delta, with its virulent pore of hydrocarbon now boils and is in great turmoil, that state of affairs has driven much new attention to Ghana as the new place in Africa on which the United States may rebuild its oil policy in Africa. Already, more businesses have been forced to relocate from Nigeria to Ghana.

As a result of increasing notions of insecurity, many important  diplomatic staging posts will also soon move to Ghana, because ultimately, it’s all about oil and its stability of supply.

The new American initiative in the Gulf of Guinea also seems to be at the core of this new attempt to reshape America’s foreign policy in Africa.

Diplomatic sources hint that Nigeria’s rejection of America’s Gulf of Guinea program is being seen in new, friendlier lights by the new administration of Dr. Atta Mills in Ghana. It is not about democracy, as Obama suggested in his rather patronizing speech to Africans in Accra during his visit.

If the basis of his choice of Ghana for a visit were democracy, then he needs to tell Africans if Egypt or Saudi Arabia, where he first visited, are also democracies.

And as the Nigerians grapple with the larger implication of the changes in US foreign policy with regards to its Nigerian relationships, two things I think will be crucial to note: one, is the continued relevance of these old ties with America, the second would be about the implications of any new directions that either governments might chart. We keep watch.  


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