U.S. and the rest of us: Re-setting decency in a multipolar world?, By Adewale Ajadi

3 days ago 2
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The visit of Antony Blinken, the current U.S. Secretary of State, to Nigeria is one of the more humble expressions of the United States in a history of condescending relations with Nigeria. It is very easy, when listening to the United States on its soap box about democracy and human rights, to forget that that country only became a real democracy in the 1960s, after the Civil Rights Revolution.

This dance started a long while before we became conscious. Sometimes it is explicit but more often it is implicit. The relations between Nigeria and the United States of America was formed long before the political existence of the current countries. It is an association that has seemingly become cemented in abuse and caste hierarchy.

Recently, it was widely publicised that many people enslaved in the United States were kidnapped from the territory now known as Nigeria. Even though many were not directly shipped to the shores of what is now the U.S., many ended up there from South America and the Caribbean, after further sales. As such, at the founding of whatever the U.S. has become were the lives, sweat, bones, broken bodies and spirits of those whose relatives, many generations on, are now called Nigerians. Many of their descendants in the U.S. are living through the denial, disdain and depletion of humanity that that country reserves for its citizens of African origin.

The visit of Antony Blinken, the current U.S. Secretary of State, to Nigeria is one of the more humble expressions of the United States in a history of condescending relations with Nigeria. It is very easy, when listening to the United States on its soap box about democracy and human rights, to forget that that country only became a real democracy in the 1960s, after the Civil Rights Revolution. Before then, it was a Racialist Republic and shortly before then, a Sexist one. Even now, and at every opportunity, efforts are made to make the votes of African Americans insignificant. From the purely outrageous use of criminalisation and racist incarceration to the disenfranchisement of millions or, just simply, gerrymandering. Also in that vein are the efforts to ensure that the cost of registration on the electoral rolls, are procedurally or practically too expensive.

As the journey of the United States has shown, from the Bacon’s Uprising till January the 6th, the essence of White Supremacy is the religion of choice in that republic, as evident in the devotion to hanging and genocidal murder of African Americans, from the Clinton Massacre of 1875 and Wilmington Massacre of 1898, to the many who lost their lives registering African American voters, up until the end of the 1960s in the south of the U.S.

In the continuing Trump backlash against the administration of the first ever African American president, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Bill more than once, building on the groundwork of the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting similar efforts in 2013. Quite clearly, the U.S. is struggling to be a genuinely multi-ethnic democracy. Yet, it has one of the most forceful and aggressive global platforms on human rights, even though African Americans are daily subject to death in the hands of law enforcement, with the consequence being that names like George Floyd are now tattooed on the skin of the world, and Black Lives Matter as a political statement and movement is something that should go without saying. We must see clearly, using Ọ̀làjú, and not recognise the U.S. with the eyes of the brainwashed or through Hollywood fantasies.

If the U.S. must grow in humility and maturity, Nigerians, especially the elite, must lose their fawning desire for visa access and the obsession with material accumulation and its attendant need for U.S. validation. The modern Nigerian is an emotive narcissist in my view: A creation of colonial education who, till date, has accepted the false notion that he or she will only be validated by being Westernised in education…

As such, the humility of the Blinken engagement and tone has been long overdue. Hopefully, it is the beginning of a U.S. that listens, not just in Nigeria but especially in Ethiopia, Sudan and Guinea; listening to the diverse voices, rather than being hostage to a venal minority of activists. Respecting territorial complexity and integrity, rather than the preferences of choice acolytes. The listing of Nigeria as country on the list of countries highlighted for religious violence was a classic. Simply, the kind of violence that a Muslim faces in the U.S., from the Gulag of Guantanamo to being specifically excluded and treated with public and covert violence, can never happen to a Christian or any religion in Nigeria. The treatment of Nigerians seeking to visit or school etc. in the U.S. is plain outrageous and humiliating. In fact, in about two years of working for the State Departments’ civil society organisation in the Niger Delta, what was most notable was the lack and segregated treatment of African American officials of the United States Embassy in Nigeria.

If the U.S. must grow in humility and maturity, Nigerians, especially the elite, must lose their fawning desire for visa access and the obsession with material accumulation and its attendant need for U.S. validation. The modern Nigerian is an emotive narcissist in my view: A creation of colonial education who, till date, has accepted the false notion that he or she will only be validated by being Westernised in education and defined by the certification that that brings. Inevitably, the modern Nigerian is, unconsciously, one of the greatest champions of White Supremacy, being totally infatuated with Anglo-American capitalism. The more the modern Nigerian acquires, the greater the bombast, blinded by the grudging validation and damned by faint praise.

On the Nigerian side, having lost the appreciation for interdependence that is our pre-colonial ancestral purpose, it has not been and it is not easy to become a nation out of the heritage of hundreds of proud, independent ethnicities. It hs also not been easy to evolve beyond our dependence on oil revenue. It is extremely challenging, especially because the entire North-East of Nigeria has been embroiled in destructive insurgency and, unsurprisingly, that has made a larger part of our country extremely poor.

It will all be worth it if we reduce our partisan toxicity. Yes, we copied the U.S.’s political architecture but must we copy its destructive partisanship too or become a society so unequal and manifestly unjust that we only celebrate ourselves by the number of those we are able to scapegoat? The Gini Coefficient of Nigeria, at 35, is better than that of the U.S., and that says a lot for this 61-year-old country.

We must rise above this underwhelming goal of being a representative democracy to aspiring to a fully participatory democracy. We also must have the moral courage we had in the recent past against the Apartheid government of South Africa to become a true friend of the U.S. by standing more visibly for and with our African American kin. Clearly, if we did then, the Trump administration and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) lobbyists would not have been able to oversimplify Nigeria as a place of religious persecution, putting to shame elements in the Christian Association of Nigeria who exploit this gap. For us in Nigeria, we desperately need the Ojú Inú to see the potential in our vulnerabilities.

As the Pan-African Free Trade zone evolves into a daily economic bloc that is meaningful to both the poorest and the rich, we enter this new multipolar world where the U.S. president admits that the world is looking to find leadership, and the U.S. Secretary of State admits that democracy is evolutionary for all.

As the Pan-African Free Trade zone evolves into a daily economic bloc that is meaningful to both the poorest and the rich, we enter this new multipolar world where the U.S. president admits that the world is looking to find leadership, and the U.S. Secretary of State admits that democracy is evolutionary for all.

In the order that is emerging, the demographic profile of Africa will be 50 per cent of all young people in the world. Africa must engage with the U.S. on more than trade, and economic exchange, that up to this point has been a very poor, extractive caricature. The proliferation of small arms in Africa, especially in the Sahel, has made the predicted destabilisation real (the effect of U.S. action in Libya is also another element). If Nigeria can be a bridge in Sudan, Guinea and Ethiopia, the U.S. must be a complementary friend, not a freelancing spoiler.


The U.S. must also recognise a critical part of its populace is African and they must be treated with the honour and dignity they deserve, especially by acknowledging their role in its material wealth. It could evolve a cultural exchange platform and vitalise the African American genetic curiosity about its African roots, recognising the self-interest in a healthy and thriving Pan-African world.

It is critical that the lesson in interdependence that COVID-19 has taught is not lost on the participants in this relationship between Nigeria and the U.S. Both countries should partner in vaccine production capacity in Nigeria, investing in research. In this connection, there should be better investment in developing a database of the Nigerian gene pool for connection with African Americans and other uses for humanity.

In the end, a more symmetrical relation with Nigeria gives the U.S. more chance of importance in the emerging order. This order is one in which it seems that both countries will swap places, not just in population size but in other critical qualities.

Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.

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