By Owei Lakemfa
NIGERIA at the African Union, AU, Assembly rolled out its fearsome arsenal; diplomatic, political and economic in a contest to win the leadership of the Peace and Security Commission, PSC. The Giant of Africa which has been in economic recession, must have expended quite some money, at least for travels and estacode across the continent campaigning for its candidate, Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed.
The PSC is perhaps the largest and most important Commission in the AU given the rash of unending conflicts in the continent. Currently, there are the bloody divisive conflicts in the Central African Republic, CAR, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and South Sudan. There are the terrorist wars in Somalia which has spilled into Kenya, in Libya where there are at least four governments, in Mali, and the Boko Haram War which has engulfed Nigeria, Niger, Cameroun and Chad. There is the terrorist Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in Uganda which has shifted base to the DRC.
It is to this powerful and highly prized AU Commission, Nigeria rightly aspired to lead. The elections promised to be tough not just because the PSC is highly coveted, but we were also seeking to defeat the incumbent, Ambassador Smail Chergui of Algeria.
Unfortunately, Nigeria, a country of 180 million people with a long list of accomplished diplomats, scholars, technocrats and professionals, produced a candidate whose feet were not firmly on the ground. Ms. Mohammed had trained in sustainable Economic Development at the University of Peace, Costa Rica and all her experience is that she is a partner in a limited liability company called West African Conflict and Security Consulting, itself, a subsidiary of INCAS Consulting Limited. In other words, she is quite short in experience whether in government, diplomacy, military, security, academic or international politics.
A Professor friend of mine once said he was asked to supervise a Ph.D. student; he Goggled him and it came out blank; his conclusion was that the candidate did not exist. I Goggled Ms. Mohammed and knew Nigeria was going to have problems selling such a candidate; how did she emerge the country’s candidate? I had turned to some serving and retired diplomats I know to ask about our candidate for such an important post, and they all drew a blank.
It is incomprehensible that Nigeria, the largest Black Nation in the world and a dominant economic and military power in Africa, would roll out its heavyweight leaders including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to campaign for a paper weight candidate. Like we say at home; you do not place the head of an elephant on a child’s head to carry.
If what we wanted was a young, active candidate, perhaps we should have put forward one with solid credentials and experience like Solid Minerals and Development Minister, Kayode Fayemi who holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the University of London specialising in Civil-Military Relations and Security. Fayemi was also a State Governor, lecturer in African, European, Asian and American universities. His international experience include being a Technical Expert, Consultant or Adviser to ECOWAS, the British Government, the Commonwealth, the OECD and the Economic Commission of Africa. He is author of at least four books on areas including Regional Institutions and Security, and has experience in local and international civil societies. With a candidate like that, we had a far better chance of success. If Ms. Mohammed had won, I doubt whether she would have added the value Africa needs.
In contrast to Nigeria, Algeria which campaigned to retain the seat is not known to have travelled round the continent selling its candidate. In my view, it was more strategic. For instance, it organised an international conference from November 29-30, 2016 on ‘Algeria‘s contribution to the Decolonisation of Africa’ There, it assembled former liberation fighters, campaigners for Africa’s independence, serving and retired ambassadors across the continent and some former African leaders. The conference praised Algeria for giving military training and international passports to liberation fighters including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Namibia’s Sam Nujoma, Agosthino Neto of Angola and Amilcar Cabra of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. It seemed to me, a subtle campaign, and the message sank.
Also, in contrast to the Nigerian candidate, the suitability of the Algerian candidate was not in doubt; he was Algerian Consul General to Geneva, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation, and quite strategically, Ambassador to Ethiopia. For those who understand the workings of the AU, it is actually the African Ambassadors in Ethiopia – constituting the Permanent Representatives Committee , PRC, – who conduct the day-to-day business of the AU. It is the ambassadors who take decisions in the AU in-between the meetings of the Executive (comprising the Foreign Ministers) and the Assembly of Heads of State which meets twice annually. It is the ambassadors who prepare the AU agenda, recommendations, decisions, budget and financial matters. To be a member of the PRC is like being part of the AU elite club, and in my experience, they act like a brotherhood. It is from this exclusive club the Algeria candidate had passed through to become the PSC Commissioner in 2013.
Nigeria also had a problem of concrete programmes to sell; in fact, its candidate promised to build on the good legacy of current and past holders of that office. So if Nigeria acknowledges that the incumbent is doing a good job, why replace him?
Nigeria’s strategy seemed simple; it got the 15-member Regional Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS, to adopt its candidate. That is a guaranteed 15 votes out of a total 54. It might have reasoned that in reaching out to some other friendly African countries, that post was pretty wrapped up in Nigerian colours. But politics is not arithmetic; it could not be assumed that because Ms. Mohammed is ECOWAS ‘candidate’ the eight French-speaking countries in West Africa will not vote for Algeria, a fellow Francophone country. In fact, it is doubtful that given the central role Algeria played in the bloody independence war of Portuguese-speaking West African countries like Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, they would have voted Nigeria.
It appeared Nigeria was so sure of victory, that the first news circulated in various websites was that the Nigerian candidate won.
Nigeria should not get bogged down trying to find out which country voted against us, rather we should examine ourselves and ask the basic question, why did we fail? A Nigerian saying has it that when a child trips and falls, he looks forward to see if anybody is coming to raise him up, but when an elder falls, he looks back to see what tripped him. We should look back.