By Obadiah Mailafia
THE late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington underlined “the clash of civilisations” as the defining character of our twenty-first century international society. The attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in September 2001 were emblematic of the new disorder, with the emergence of al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen militias and other extremist movements committed to violence and fanaticism.
The price we have to pay for our emerging globalised economy is the reality of increased mutual vulnerability. When the sub-prime crisis broke out in Wall Street, New York, in the autumn of 2008, the impact was immediately felt across the world – Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
For better or worse, my generation grew up in the shadow of the American Imperium. Sadly, we find an America that is gradually descending the spiral of terminal decline as prophesied by the historian Paul Kennedy.
Having waged costly wars on two fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq; and having exhausted its financial and moral capital; America is, as it were, reaping the whirlwind. In the autumn of 2008, following the sub-prime financial crisis in Wall Street, America was engulfed by the Great Recession. It took the courage and statecraft of Barrack Obama to save trans-Atlantic capitalism from total collapse.
America today is the most indebted nation on earth, with a public deficit that currently stands at a staggering US$23.3 trillion — a whopping 103% of gross domestic product. And with the emergence of and anti-statesman such as Donald Trump, we see an America that is tragically becoming an outcast rogue-state among the ranks of civilised nations. The challenge for world order is, clearly, enormous.
It is also evident that, with the emergence of the new economic powers, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the centre of world economic gravity is shifting away from Europe, North America and the Atlantic. The rise of the BRICS also coincides with the erosion of the legitimacy of the Western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, in particular, the IMF and the World Bank.
Another global trend of note is the dynamics of population. While Europe and North America are regressing demographically, the emerging countries are experiencing a population explosion. Africa’s population currently stands at 1.22 billion, and is expected to exceed both China and India by the year 2030. Our continent has the world’s youngest population.
Another important global trend is the spread of democratisation around the world. The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989 and the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe opened up new vistas for Humanity. The totalitarian ideologies of the past have been discredited while democracy and the rule of law are now the accepted norms of the new Global Standard of Civilisation.
I am happy to note that Africa too is basking in the warmth of the New Liberty. Democracy and good governance are taking root and being consolidated in many of our countries. Africa has come a long way. Until recently, our continent was considered a basket case. Wars, conflict and famine engendered by oppressive government were the popular image of a benighted continent.
While it is true that many of these conflicts in Africa were fuelled by the struggle over natural resources such as diamonds and oil, they also had much to do with poverty and the structural violence occasioned by horizontal as well vertical inequities. Above all, they have to do with the lack of good economic and political governance and the absence of the minimum requisites of the rule of law and civil institutions needed to sustain economic development, democracy and social justice.
A new and more positive image of Africa is emerging. Significant strides are being made not only in economic growth but also in social development, democracy and governance. A new generation of Africans, tempered by war, tutored in the crucible of manifold upheavals and wizened by extraordinary suffering are irreversibly committed to the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
This is not to say, of course, that such progress is not without its challenges. Recent images of African youths drowning in their thousands while sailing in rickety boats across the Mediterranean captures the pathos of our collective tragedy. Young people without hope and without a feature, risk certain death on the treacherous high seas in vain quest for a non-existing Eldorado in Europe. Slavery of black people has re-surfaced with a vengeance in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Nigeria, our country, is destined to be one of the world powers of the twenty-first century. Ours is a population of 180 million, with a GDP of US$485 billion and a per recent report from the United States predicts that by 2050 Nigeria’s population will be about 440 million, way ahead of that of the United States. We are still far behind the principal emerging economies, judged by performance on most economic and human development indices.
Nigeria faces exceptional challenges of nationhood. Our public institutions remain weak while the political elites remain fractious, without that broad national consensus that is so vital to accomplishing Grand National projects. And it is evident that a country that offers little or no opportunities for its young people can only be digging its own grave. Add to this the spectre of high-scale corruption and the ogre of lawlessness and random, nihilistic violence, and you get a fatal cocktail ready to implode.
The task falls on our generation to re-imagine Nigeria as a land of peace, a land of justice, a land of progress, — a land based on the precepts of democracy, the rule of law, enlightenment and civilised values. We need nothing less than a coalition of Nigerians who believe in our manifest destiny as the leader of our glorious continent.
British war-time Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, once declared that “the empires of the future will be the empires of the mind”. Churchill meant that those who will command power and wealth in the future will be those who have mastery of science and innovation. Developments in new energy technologies, robotics, space science, nanotechnology and genetics will lead to profound changes in world economics and international relations. The lesson for our nations is that we will have to innovate or perish.
Nigeria has a world-historic destiny as leader of Africa and the Black race. Our vocation is to build a first class technological industrial democracy — a city set on a hill – a light unto the nations. But we must also remain open to the world – open to Europe, Asia and the Americas – building partnerships that promote trade, investments and a rules-based international order that guarantees the welfare and security of all.
(Being Concluding Part of a Keynote Lecture in Honour of H. E. Ambassador Joy Ogwu OFR Held at the National Defence College, Abuja, on Thursday 11 January, 2018).