Friday, January 16, 2009

As Obama Becomes President (2)

Israel would seem to be comfortable with the personalities chosen by President-elect Obama to handle American foreign policy as well as other key appointments made in the White House, but whether the Israeli “connections” could be seized upon to move the frontiers of peace remains to be seen. Here, the only new factor is President Obama’s personality and the hope that he will be able to gain the trust of the belligerents as an honest broker to move mountains. The prospects do not seem encouraging in that Senator Obama during his electioneering campaign had made certain compromising statements and undertakings to various influential interest groups which he would find difficult to renege on without serious loss of face.
The U.S/Europe threat to build a missile defence shield in Russia’s neighbourhood has unwittingly set off a new cold war which has seen Russia foraging in American neighbourhood, as signaled by the Russian warships visit to Venezuela. The earlier test of will in Georgia resulted in an uneasy truce. Whether President Obama would proceed with the missile project or not and what Russia’s response to the perceived threat would be should determine the level of intensity of a new cold war and even a new arms race.
As the saying goes, when America sneezes the rest of the world catches cold. This truism has been amply demonstrated by the current economic meltdown in America, which has affected the rest of the world. The bubble seems to have burst in Britain ahead of others although the symptoms of the world economic dislocation had earlier manifested in America for months without any one in authority having the courage or sincerity to acknowledge the problem. It was after a lot of hide-and-seek and dodgy policies that the Bush administration swallowed its pride to confess that indeed the United States has been in a recession as far back as December 2007.
If a doctor could not diagnose an ailment and the patient refuses to tell the truth no meaningful prescription would be made. Hence the developed world had to put up with recession for nearly a year on misplaced prescriptions. President Obama would have to do away with the Bush administration’s absolute distaste for non-state intervention in the economy as soon as he takes office. Hopefully, given a new friendly face in America, President Obama would more easily get the much-needed international cooperation required to deal with the global recession. Such multilateral effort may work where Bush’s “go-it-alone” policy had woefully failed.
But even without a recession, the gradual shift of much of the world economy to the Far East, and more especially China, have been noticed by all. While the US dug herself over the years in resource-sapping wars in the Middle East, China has been quietly solidifying its dominance in the world economy. One may, therefore, dare to predict that in the next decade or so there will be a new world economic order and with it a new political order. By that time we would be back to a new multi-polar world and the new super powers would be any body’s guess.:
Needless to say that the economies of many countries, including the highly industrialised ones, continue to suffer from the severe travel restrictions imposed in the fight against so-called global terrorism. As a fallout, Nigeria suffered incalculable economic loss and severe damage.
To undertake from Nigeria a simple business, medical, academic or pleasure trip to a European country, for example, requires no less than 3 months preparation by which time the purpose of the trip would have lapsed or been overtaken by events at home or at the intended destination. And even when one finally succeeds in getting the permit to travel, one is subjected to indignity by literally being stripped to the waist at travel controls. Many other developing countries encounter similar travel restrictions by the West. Candidly, any solution to the world economic meltdown which ignores the damage done by undue travel restrictions is unrealistic. It is quite apparent that countries which take the risk to liberalize their travel controls are reaping economic fruits.
While we sympathize with the plight of countries which suffer acts of terrorism, there is urgent need for the G20 to seriously assess the impact of the travel restrictions as part of the package of efforts being made to find a solution to global economic recession. Unfortunately, given the recent U.S commission report predicting that terrorists using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) would launch deadly attacks in the next five years, (P.II Daily Independent 4/12/08) America, and indeed the world, is likely to remain on maximum alert for all these years. Ironically, we now talk of the world being a global village while it is becoming more and more difficult for people to interact across it.
If there is anything President Bush’s critics conceded in his favour, it is his commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge in Africa, including Nigeria. All eyes will therefore be on President Obama to see whether he would match or even surpass President Bush’s HIV/AIDS programme in Africa.
Senator Obama’s victory has sent shock waves throughout the world. It has given hope and confidence to many minorities in all manner of circumstances that no condition is permanent. For its symbolism, some see Obama’s victory as finally nailing the coffin of slavery in America and also bringing into reality the ideals of the American constitution which says: “All men are created equal….” This is despite the fact that he is not a descendant of victims of slavery.
Oh, how wildly agog we all were over Senator Obama’s victory! This writer was warmly congratulated in streets, in restaurants and shops etc in a Far East country as if it was his presidential election. Senator Obama’s election has thus turned out to be more than a routine election in America. It generated hope and optimism across several sections of the world. Obama’s victory is so novel and unprecedented almost every conceivable group of people, including Nigerians, now see it as a symbol of light at the end of any tunnel of human disadvantage or oppression.
Interestingly, some current affairs commentators and a few functionaries attempt to draw not only inspirations from the conduct of public affairs but also make comparisons between the American election and elections in Nigeria. A few had stuck out their necks to say that the U.S has something to learn from Nigeria. Patriotism aside, the truth is that any objective assessment would admit that the basis of comparison is not there. We beat our chest to say that the last election had broken the jinx in civilian-civilian transition not minding how it was achieved, a kind of the Machiavellian principle of “the end justifies the means”.
Comparing Nigerian elections with the American elections is like comparing day and night. The difference is clear. On the one side is a high degree of transparency such that a nation-wide election was conducted in a country larger than ours in all ramifications without any serious disputes; candidates conceded defeat without any prompting; and the media gave electoral verdict without the slightest accusation of bias, while the incumbency factor had little or no impact. Prof. Akin Oyebode rightly asked: “Does any body know who the President of the Federal Election Commission is in America?” (P.37, Nigeria Tribune 8/12/08). “It is just a technical job,” he declared. Indeed, people hardly heard of the formal declarations by the electoral body, results were so instantaneously released and widely published by the media. Foreign observers seemed to have gone there more to learn of the procedural excellence than to act as a check on any perceived electoral manipulation or irregularities.
The recent electoral debacle in Jos is a clear indication that we still have a long way to go in our attitude to elections. Such attitude can hardly be brought about by new electoral regulations or even a new Constitution. Given the correct attitude to the rules on the ground as we have them today will be enough for us to govern the country meaningfully and that would have ended crave for a new constitution and additional electoral regulations. What is the need for more regulations if they can not be enforced and if each election can easily become a “do-or-die” affair? If the law provides for a special design of the ballot paper and someone did something else or the vote is not even counted, could that be the fault of the law? Saturday “Punch” columnist Joe said he could not find any significant “similarities” between Ghana’s recent Presidential elections and Nigeria’s April 2007 (P.64, Saturday Punch 13/12/08). You then ask: What electoral law does Ghana have in place that Nigeria does not?
It is quite apparent that often the urge for a new constitution is only to soothe the ego of those concerned with the form rather than the substance; satisfy the greed of those who want to carve out empires by splitting the country into more states and local governments; as well as satisfy the avarice for increased revenue allocation; or create the opportunity to squeeze in ill-conceived pet ideas like the aborted “third term” project. Ultimately a country is conditioned by the dominant political group’s morality which in several countries plagued by horrible electoral and socio-economic vices is quite low indeed.
As relates to Nigeria-U.S relations in general, President-elect Obama’s briefing will inevitably include criminal activities disrupting oil supplies in Nigeria which is of special interest to U.S. There is also the question of religious intolerance which evokes sentiment in the fight against so-called global terrorism. Of note is the recent U.S National Intelligence Council report (P.9, Sunday Punch 30/11/08) which has already predicted the likelihood of religious cleavage between the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria. The report’s conclusions are, of course, questionable in that the religious dichotomy in the country is not all that clear cut between the North and the South, and is even harder to draw in the Western part of the country.
The authors could easily point to the recent disturbances in Jos over the local government elections as a pointer to the veracity of their conclusions. But it could be seen that electric power shortage in Nigeria has by far greater potential for more serious social dislocations in the country than any other factor in the coming years. Imagine a hitherto socially volatile area like Kano where recent reports revealed more than 500 factories have closed down as a result of power shortage. It is universally potentially dangerous to the social set up to have multitude of able-bodied jobless persons walking the streets in all parts of the Federation.
All in all, I think Obama’s greatest challenges as US President would lie within the US rather than outside it. The US electoral “establishment” is so transparently entrenched that Martin Luther King’s dream was so sweetly fulfilled in Obama’s victory. The question now is: will the ultra right-wing Washington establishment permit the fulfillment of Obama’s own audacious vision of a new liberal America of equal and attainable opportunities for all Americans and his aspiration for a US-led world founded on dialogue and multilateral action? This remains to be seen.