Journalism and gossips on Foreign Affairs

Okello Oculi, Ph.D
Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525

The editorial board room of the DAILY TRUST newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, was recently buzzing with concern over Nigeria's failure to push through its candidate for the presidency of the African Development Bank in the face of American opposition. A rainbow of conspiracy theories were floated outside the boardroom over Nigeria's success or failure (depending on the variant of conspiracy lenses one wore), in handling  the May 2005 meeting in Abuja of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank to get a Nigeria current Vice-President of the bank elected as the new president of Africa's foremost financial institution.The board is a volatile mixture of African Ministers of Finance and non-African shareholders who also cast votes.

The first theory to be knitted was by hardcore Obasanjo critics who saw, in his failure to have a Nigerian   elected President of the Bank, a collusion with President  Bush,  to keep the doors to the continental royal money seat open for the next two years until Nigeria's current Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonji Iweala, has had her hair platted (by artists in Aso Rock) into a "go well" and "support agriculture" rows in 2007. According to this theory, the plot is to keep the Moroccan incumbent in office for two more years by violating the constitution of the bank by the very brilliant trick of a collection of Africa's Ministers of Finance mocking the "rule of law" with riotous merriment.

  A president of the bank is elected to serve a maximum of two four-year terms. In 2007, according to this theory, Nigeria's outgoing Minister of Finance would be elected to the post. She would, thereby, carry her alleged loyalty to the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank to wider frontiers as the President of the African Development Bank.

The strength of the theory lies in the big cooking stones on which it places the pot for cooking Mrs. Iweala's future, namely: she would be a Nigerian put up as a candidate after Washington was satisfied that she had "reformed" Nigeria's economy according to dictates of the IMF and the World Bank; she is a much respected performer (as curently rated by most of her ideological peers all across Africa), and thirdly, she would be a first-time woman president-to-be. The weakness of the theory is that it so leisurely ignores the struggle put up by those who fought so bitterly, not so long ago, to throw out the Senegalese,Boubacar Ndiaye, who had outlasted many African heads of state when he led the bank with enormous energy, brilliance and political wit. He was booted out by a conspiracy hatched among the non-African share holders who proposed that Ndiaye's clever schemes for ensuring his reelection be broken by adopting a new rule pegging a president's tenure to a maximum of two four-year terms. The theory also assumes that President Bush, whose country (thanks to President Shehu Shagari's consenting to let outside capital into the bank in the early 1980s), is now the second largest shareholder in the bank, after Nigeria, would still support her rise to that position.

The second group of conspiracy theorists saw the perfidious hands of the British wishing to reward Paul Kagame of Rwanda for using a genocide-tainted revolution to yank Rwanda out of the cultural colonialism of the French language and culture; and taking her to the global tribe of the English language.Britain apparently exploited the proposition that only two citizens of Ghana have ever been genuine pan-Africanists, namely: Kwame Nkrumah and Kofi Annan, to get Ghana to put up a candidate against six others. Ghana had previously gotten Africa to support Kofi Annan for the Secretary Generalship of the United Nations. The current boss of the Economic Commission for Africa is also a son of Ghana; a follower in the grand footsteps of his countryman,Robert Gardner. A son of Ghana is also the current Executive Secretary of ECOWAS; a most activist technocrat, who the holders of this conspiracy theory have great approval ratings for. It was a peculiar brand of Ghanaian spirit of pan-Africanism, therefore, which made its leaders jump at the first tickle by the British to, yet again, ask Africa to support one of her own for the presidency of the African Development Bank. This action violated the African dictum that 'in brotherhood we share'; while helping in throwing a smokescreen over a pernicious Anglo-Saxon plan to block Nigeria's candidate.

The weakness of the theory was that it did not explain the support of the Americans for the same Rwandan candidate, unless this was a payback for Tony Blair's support for Bush in Iraq, as if Blair is allergic to the vast deposits of crude oil in that much tortured country. It also does not explain why Paul Kagame would snub Nigeria whose soldiers stayed on to help contain the ravages of the genocide of 1994 while President Clinton got the United Nations to withdraw its troops. It is, however, plausible to assume  that Kagame has since then moved on and is now anxious to scratch Obasanjo's face for the sin of supporting Robert Mugabe's programme of seizing land from white farmers in Zimbabwe against the wishes of Tony Blair and George Bush. When, after 1998, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, their troops were driven out by the combined guns of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. There is a possible case here of the friend of your enemy (Nigeria)  also getting shot with the same political bullets blasted at the enemy (Mugabe).

  The theory does not explain why President Bush would be rewarding Rwanda for continuing to cause trouble for peace and stability on Kabila's  eastern horizon.That President Kagame took his candidate with him on a visit to President Bush just before the elections, was unlikely to carry much weight in the White House. Such symbolic gestures may well have been dictated by the American ambassador in Kigali to add pepper to a Texan beaf steak already chopped and waiting for use in celebrating a game plan against Nigeria's ambition for a permanent seat at the United Nation's Security Council;  as suggested by a quick release after the meeting of the ADB by the Americans of a report by their intelligence establishment prophesying the termination of Nigeria as a state in fifteen years's time. The message to the international community was apparently that if Nigeria was soon to be terminated, it made no sense voting her in as a permanent veto-carrying member of the UN Security Council.

The third conspiracy theory had a French connection. It claimed that France was afraid of Nigeria's candidate winning because he would wreck France's current cultural-political headship of the bank. The profile of the top hierarchy of the ADB consists of one Nigerian, a Francophony Camerounian; a Mauritanian; a full blooded French national,;and a French-Canadian - all four of whom lavishly probably habitually sing the "les Marsseilles" after lunches washed down with Burgundy wine.

Each new president of the bank  comes to office with new visions of change. The Nigerian, once he becomes the sovereign President of the ADB, might invade Tunisia with herds of goats and sacks of dry red pepper imported from Katsina, Kano and Sokoto so that they can, in earthen pots, offer services with perfumes from cooked goat-heads.

  President Bush might have responded to French politico-cultural fears over African food invasion of the corridors of power in the ADB, when expressed to him. French officials probably helped President Bush to recall frequent newspaper reports about residents in some sections of New York desperately calling the Police when, at weekends, terrified goats were heard yelling from homes of  Nigerian neighbours.

The weakness in this theory is that the Americans have not yet fully recovered from bashing the French for refusing to join in the invasion of Iraq; and President Bush would be glad to complete the Yankee roll back of that broad but jaded French colonial carpet inside government offices from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in the north, across tropical and sahelian West Africa, and down to the two Congos in central Africa. The war in Cote d' Ivoir probably owes some of its fury to American satelite pictures showing bands of oil deposits along its Atlantic shore.

The last conspiracy theory fingers the unpredictable fingers of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. According to this theory, Egypt may have wanted to taint Nigeria with a record of failure in dominating events in a major regional African international diplomacy even when negotiations were being done in their President's kitchen. An elephant, like Nigeria,  who could be floored at home by a blow to the forehead by a diplomatic fly,like Rwanda, should surely not be a serious contestant against  buffaloes and rhinos (like Egypt and South Africa) which are sneezing and coughing for a fight for a permanent seat at the United Nations' Security Council. Egypt, it is argued, has always been  opportunistic about its Africanity: hugging it  when it brings, on the back of the River Nile,  free waters and fertile soils to their farmlands from the mountains of Ethiopia and the volcanic soils of the East African highlands; and when it gets Boutrous Boutrous Ghali, a Coptic Christian who is not allowed to hold such high office in Moslem Egypt, to be Secretary General of the United Nations. Moreover,even in the Arab community of states, Mubarak has a record of duplicity. As an example, when in 1990 he was     promised a total of over 20 billion American dollars worth of Egyptian debt being forgiven by the United States and her European allies, he broke a secret promise made  to Saudi Arabia and  other Arab states, not to publicly condemn Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. He did criticise Sadam, thereby making Saddam Hussein fall into the trap of refusing to withdraw quickly from annexing Kuwait, and calling into his country hurricanes of Euro-American bombs in the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

  Mubarak acted true to his form in Abuja by plotting
with the Americans to stick the first diplomatic dagger into Nigeria's  claim of being seen by most of "black Africa" as their premier voice. And who would best serve this role than countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, dubbed- "the spoilers"- who  also contested probably under the influence of under-the-table budget support offers.

The weaknesses of this theory are several. It ignores the on-going commercial benefits to Egypt of the special friendship she built when she supported Nigeria against the secessionist bid by Biafra, as well as Nigeria's role in the diplomatic isolation of Israel after Israeli troops occupied the Sinai Peninsular after the 1973 war. It also assumes that Egypt sees Nigeria, and not South Africa, as the easier candidate to beat in the race for a UN Security Council seat. More importantly, it assumes that the Americans would guarantee easy future access to Nigeria's vast oil deposits in the Gulf Of Guinea by keeping her weak, humiliated, hostile and isolated from the prime dance arena of global diplomacy. While it may be true that South Africa has a longer history of global diplomacy, and a larger pool of diplomats (which includes those with Dutch, German, French and English tribal roots), wrapped around the legendary Nelson Mandela, that same Mandela deeply honours those who stood for the freedom of black South Africans when it mattered most. He has certainly made that very clear over his relations with Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro.

  The American tail which Mubarak is assumed  to be pulling by whispering the words "al Qaeda" into winds he sees blowing across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, is also likely to be most attractive to the Israelis who might be shy to see the high symbolic value of permanent membership of the Security Council going to a next-door neighbour who has periodically bloodied their noses since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war over Palestine.

One big lesson from the various conspiracy theories that were being tossed about is that individual members of  the editorial board of the DAILY TRUST newspaper,a hard-hitting critic of President Obasanjo's government, lacked hard information about Africa's day-to-day diplomatic footsteps; including those patches where Nigeria is assumed to be  acting with much insight and strategic competence. Put another way, it sounded out drums about the adequacy of Nigeria's media in reporting and analysing Africa's diplomatic drama for the purposes of empowering the
public's mind, and perhaps even the wits of that
elusive and secretive sub-tribe who people the
country's ministry of trading in foreign gossips.

With regards to the substance of the conspiracy drama, it drove home the issue of the absence of Angola and Gabon, two of Africa's oil producers, in the affairs of the bank. The effective injection of their funds into the ADB would weaken the current financial influence of the non-African members. When the election comes up again in July, the veto power of the non-African shareholders will dramatize the need to take a decision over whether the ADB is an African bank or an OECD bank for Africa.