Prince Charles Visit and Nige­ria’s Eclec­tic For­eign Pol­icy

THISDAY - - PERSPECTIVE - Tony Iyare Iyare, an In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions An­a­lyst is also a Com­mu­ni­ca­tions & De­vel­op­ment Con­sul­tant. He can be reached on ehi­ame2009@gmail.com.

Like other fel­low coun­try men and women, strug­gling to make some mean­ing of this week’s visit by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla to some African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Nige­ria, I’ve been nudged into some deep re­flec­tion on the real im­port of that visit. It is tragic that the same week when In­dia was cel­e­brat­ing its gi­ant strides with Ja­pan, on the build­ing of a £14.4 bil­lion bul­let train, we are be­ing goaded into a form­less visit of Prince Charles which holds lit­tle for our peo­ple. While we are en­am­oured with danc­ing our own mu­sic to the abyss, Ethiopia which runs one of the best air­lines in the world is cel­e­brat­ing the ad­di­tion of 100th plane to its fleet. South Africa which rules our com­mu­ni­ca­tions, en­ter­tain­ment and re­tail out­lets is also fur­ther deep­en­ing their rail net­works which be­gan as plans for the host­ing of the 2010 World Cup.

From the sum­mary of Prince Charles itin­er­ary both in Abuja and La­gos, I see the whim­si­cal cob­bling of some brain wave events just to fill the void. I wish to save my per­cep­tion of the near de­mean­ing treat­ment meted to our es­teemed tra­di­tional rulers for an­other day. I get the im­pres­sion that we seem to be re­ally bent on mak­ing mince­meat of all our in­sti­tu­tions.

Just won­der­ing why our royal fa­thers had to seat like some school boys get­ting sop from a jan­i­tor. We re­ally have not learnt enough lessons on how to com­port our­selves when vis­i­tors come call­ing. What was wrong in mak­ing Prince Charles visit some of the tra­di­tional rulers in their palaces like he did to the Asan­ti­hene in Ku­masi, Ghana?

No doubt, many may have been re­volted by what has be­come our rather eclec­tic for­eign pol­icy un­der the Buhari Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which reeks nei­ther of vision, char­ac­ter, form and con­tent. Hardly do you re­mem­ber the name of our for­eign min­is­ter, nor any of his epic quotes, pro­nounce­ments or ac­tions.

In the con­verse, many schol­ars still rel­ish the “ac­tivist” for­eign pol­icy of the Joe Garba era of the late 70s which saw the coun­try spear­head­ing the anti-apartheid cam­paign or the three con­cen­tric cir­cles es­poused by both Pro­fes­sors Ibrahim Gam­bari and Bo­laji Akinyemi, that de­fined the vision of Nige­ria in the in­ter­na­tional arena in the 80s. This gave birth to ECOWAS and the idea to reach out more to our African neigh­bours and Africans in Di­as­pora. The chal­lenge of the 90s also made many schol­ars to posit that we can’t pro­mote a for­eign pol­icy de­void of an eco­nomic vision par­tic­u­larly af­ter spend­ing mas­sively on peace keep­ing ef­forts with­out pur­su­ing an eco­nomic goal in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But all now seems to have gone with the wind. We may not fault those who ar­gue that our for­eign pol­icy is in re­cess.

At best one con­fuses who is the for­eign min­is­ter be­tween Ge­of­fery Onyeama and Abike Dabiri Erewa, se­nior spe­cial as­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent on Di­as­pora Mat­ters who’s a bit more ac­tive when it comes to at­tacks on Nige­ri­ans in South Africa and other places. For a coun­try en­meshed in a cri­sis of lead­er­ship and de­vel­op­ment and par­tic­u­larly weaved around its acute in­fras­truc­tural deficit and chal­lenge, what re­ally was the essence of the hul­la­baloo about a visit that was more of razzmatazz? With our paucity of re­sources, I’m won­der­ing why we should en­gage in such fid­dle­sticks, host­ing Prince Charles, a non head of gov­ern­ment who came here on what ap­pears more like a fun trip? At a time when vir­tu­ally ev­ery coun­try in the world is re­po­si­tion­ing its for­eign pol­icy en­gage­ment for max­i­mum ben­e­fit of its cit­i­zenry, is it not laugh­able that we are ro­man­ti­cis­ing some colo­nial relic that has been of lit­tle ben­e­fit to our peo­ple? Whether the fo­cus of our dis­course is on go­ing back to the tem­plate of the La­gos Plan of Ac­tion (LPA) as de­signed by the Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Africa (ECA) un­der Prof Ade­bayo Ad­edeji, which con­ceives of an ex­press­way from Mobassa to La­gos or we strive to re­ac­ti­vate our rolling plans, which long had a pro­vi­sion for a coastal high­way from La­gos to Cal­abar, Bri­tain which is presently con­fronted with its cri­sis of pri­macy with the Eu­ro­pean Union, may not be where to turn. Our di­rec­tion should be more to China which is build­ing mas­sive roads and bridges across some of the most dif­fi­cult ter­rains at lit­tle costs. Bri­tain is also a dy­ing power whose econ­omy is se­ri­ously on the wane.

Per­haps I may not have both­ered if Prince Charles was on some tourist ad­ven­ture to the con­ti­nent. Af­ter all, Rwanda is said to be a des­ti­na­tion for go­rilla vis­its, gar­ner­ing $400 mil­lion on that alone an­nu­ally. There are also im­mense tourist loca- tions in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa wor­thy of vis­its. It’s in­trigu­ing how­ever that Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal elite have made fid­dle­sticks of the huge tourism po­ten­tial of the coun­try, pre­fer­ring to biker over the shar­ing of oil re­sources rather than cul­ti­vate other gold­mine.

Even be­fore the in­vi­ta­tion to dis­cuss the “Rel­e­vance of the Com­mon­wealth” against the back­ground of Prince Charles visit, with An­thony Kila, pro­fes­sor of Strat­egy and De­vel­op­ment on TVC last Wed­nes­day, I’ve had to per­suade my­self on the worth of this visit.

Schol­ars of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions are agreed that for­eign pol­icy is a con­tin­u­a­tion of do­mes­tic pol­icy. Some also posit that both do­mes­tic and for­eign poli­cies are in­ter­twined in a di­alec­tion. Ola­jide Aluko, fore­most Nige­ria’s pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions for in­stance ar­gues that for­eign pol­icy is con­ducted in an amoral sense. I doubt whether we’ve ever had such a sleepy for­eign pol­icy de­void of vision, char­ac­ter, form and con­tent since in­de­pen­dence like we have now. Even the Balewa era that was re­garded as a bit spineless on for­eign pol­icy was force­ful against the ex­pul­sion of then racist South Africa over the Sharpeville Mas­sacre. Al­though schol­ars like Cyril Obi, Akin Osun­tokun and Ayo Ak­in­bobola are dis­cor­dant on the ac­tual date of the es­tab­lish­ment of the Com­mon­wealth which com­prise Bri­tain and its for­mer colo­nial ter­ri­to­ries, the or­gan­i­sa­tion can be said to have been in some flux be­tween the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion of 1896 and the Statute of West Min­ster of 1931.

There has also been some trans­for­ma­tion of the Com­mon­wealth with the ad­mis­sion of non for­mer Bri­tish colo­nial ter­ri­to­ries like Mozam­bique, Camer­oun and ter­ri­to­ries af­fil­i­ated to Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

I do con­cur with Bo­laji Akinyemi who ar­gues that the sig­nif­i­cance of the 2 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion Com­mon­wealth group should not be con­ceived strictly in a mone­tary sense but in terms of col­lab­o­ra­tion. For in­stance, we have a big English bloc which is a third of the world for which we can do busi­ness. But we need to take our cud­gels and cul­ti­vate coun­tries like In­dia, China, Ja­pan, Rus­sia and oth­ers who are ready to cre­ate a leap for our peo­ple in the 21st cen­tury rather than seek to make a fetish of our colo­nial iden­tity.

Apart from en­sur­ing some close as­so­ci­a­tion with In­dia on IT de­vel­op­ment, our fo­cus should be to con­stantly en­gage with those who can as­sist us out of the coun­try’s power crises to re-en­gi­neer our pro­duc­tive sec­tor, build mas­sive roads and bul­let trains to ease the trans­verse of our vast ter­ri­to­ries.

I’m par­tic­u­larly ex­cited by de­vel­op­ments in In­dia where her creak­ing, colo­nial-era rail­way sys­tem is pre­par­ing to take a gi­ant leap for­ward as the In­dian prime min­is­ter breaks ground on the coun­try’s first bul­let train project.

Naren­dra Modi laid the foun­da­tion stone for the high-speed line on Thurs­day dur­ing a visit by his Ja­panese coun­ter­part, Shinzo Abe, to the western state of Gu­jarat.

“This is the new In­dia and the flight of its dreams is end­less,” Modi said at the cer­e­mony. “The bul­let train project will bring speed and em­ploy­ment. It is hu­man-friendly and eco-friendly.”

The project also has a con­crete time­line. The high-speed line, which the gov­ern­ment aims to launch by the 75th an­niver­sary of In­dian in­de­pen­dence on Au­gust 15th, 2022, will run from Ahmed­abad, the Gu­jarat cap­i­tal, to the fi­nan­cial hub of Mum­bai.

In­dian of­fi­cials say the train will have a max­i­mum speed of 217mph (350km/h), more than twice the speed of the coun­try’s cur­rent fastest train, which runs from the cap­i­tal, Delhi, to Agra at a com­pa­ra­bly slug­gish max­i­mum of 100mph.

The Shinkansen model train will cut the 316-mile jour­ney from Ahmed­abad to Mum­bai from eight hours to around three.

More than four-fifths of the project’s $19bn (£14.4bn) cost will be funded by a 0.1% in­ter­est-rate loan from Ja­pan as part of a deep­en­ing eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship that both coun­tries hope will act as a bul­wark against Chi­nese in­flu­ence in Asia. “Ja­pan has shown that its a true friend of In­dia,” Modi said on Thurs­day.

The fast rail is also sig­nif­i­cant for the Modi gov­ern­ment, which made the bul­let train a key part of the mod­erni­sa­tion agenda on which it cam­paigned at the 2014 elec­tions. It also claims the project will cre­ate about 36,000 jobs.

In­dia is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing an­other six po­ten­tial high-speed rail cor­ri­dors, in­clud­ing one con­nect­ing Mum­bai and Delhi. But the for­mer chair­man of In­dia’s rail­way board Vivek Sa­hai said that the fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment re­quired to build such fast rail meant it was un­likely to phase out tra­di­tional trains any time soon.

“In­dia runs more than 10,000 trains each day, which carry the equiv­a­lent of the pop­u­la­tion of Aus­tralia – you can’t just dis­con­tinue them,” Sa­hai said.

Un­for­tu­nately, Nige­ria is not in­vest­ing in bul­let trains be­cause we are be­ing mind­ful of the move­ment of cows, ac­cord­ing to Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Ro­timi Amaechi. The pro­posed La­gos- Cal­abar rail line ap­pears to have be­come for­lorn as the gov­ern­ment now hardly says any­thing about it any­more. The rail lines link­ing its ma­jor ports in Apapa are in de­crepit state and there are no im­me­di­ate plans to re­ha­bil­i­tate them.

Un­like Kenya which built a rail line from Nairobi to Mom­bassa to ease the move­ment of goods, we are vir­tu­ally con­tent with run­ning our econ­omy with trucks which have not only ren­dered our roads in near shreds but have cre­ated grid­lock and blocked ac­cess to the ports. Is it not equally tragic that while oth­ers are build­ing bul­let trains to fur­ther ease move­ments across far flung cities, we are be­ing told that in the 21st Cen­tury, that the speed of our trains should be a func­tion of the move­ment of cows?

While In­dia’s cot­tage in­dus­try is fired largely by Di­as­pora in­flows, what re­ally is our con­crete plan to en­gen­der a seg­ment of our econ­omy with Di­as­pora in­flows to Africa which was $72 bil­lion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank with Nige­ria lead­ing the pack. The coun­try is also part of the lead­ing five coun­tries glob­ally on Di­as­pora in­flows.

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Prince Charles and wife, Duchess Camilla in Abuja and Pres­i­dent Buhari

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