Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama’s Key Message

Despite the heavy weather that was made of the exclusion of Nigeria from President Barack Obama’s itinerary during his tour of Africa last week, it was always clear that the action was not an arbitrary one.
Many Nigerians had faulted the choice of Ghana, instead of Nigeria, as the country most deserving of the honour in the West Africa sub-region. The argument of such persons is that Nigeria is not only the largest black nation in the world but also richer in terms of natural resources than most other African countries.
It is also their view that Nigeria has contributed much more than other African countries in peace-keeping efforts under the auspices of the United Nations. For all these, the argument goes, Nigeria should have been a natural first choice in Obama’s itinerary in West Africa.
Arguments like the foregoing tend to suggest that mere size is enough to swing such international recognition for nations. Alas, how erroneous such views are! For a nation like the US, issues of democratic values, good governance and rule of law play a crucial role in determining how to relate with other nations.
And that was exactly the point he made in his pre-visit interview and during his address to the Ghanaian parliament.
Explaining his choice of Ghana as the first country to be visited in sub-Sahara Africa, Obama said “part of the reason is that Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully (despite) the very close nature of the election…That John Atta Mills (Ghana’s incumbent president) has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country.” The US president further defended his action thus: “I think there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people…”
He reiterated this key message in Accra: Development is a function of good governance. Is the US President wrong? Hardly so. All things considered, most African countries cannot be said to be enjoying good governance. The leadership still inflicts pain on the people. Countries are run like personal properties and corruption is so much that the governed are denied use of state resources.
Elections are still largely manipulated by the ruling parties. Nigerians, for example, yearn for the day when an incumbent government will concede victory to the opposition as was the case in Ghana recently. In Nigeria, as in most African countries, incumbent governments deploy the instruments of state to ensure that the electoral umpire returns them to office at every election. That way the opposition is permanently shut out of power. This virtual one-party system contradicts the spirit of democracy and competition, and leads to social and political tensions that hinder development.
Obama’s statement is therefore a wakeup call to all African political leaders. They must allow for a level playing field and embark on genuine political reforms if they hope to be taken seriously by the free world.
Now that Obama has convincingly explained his choice of Ghana, the onus is equally on him as a proud descendant of Africa to do all in his power to encourage reforms on the continent. African leaders who remain adamant to such reforms must continue to be isolated and treated as some pariah. African people have suffered too much under irresponsible leadership. Anything the US president can do to reverse the ugly trend will be welcomed.