Paul Kennedy, British historian and renown analyst on issues of international relations, economic power and grand strategy, gave one of the most profound insights on British foreign policy and Great Power struggles. In his book ‘The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000’, first published in 1987, he argued that poor economic power leads to reduced military and, more importantly, diplomatic strength.
He specifically argued that the triumph of any one Great Power, or the collapse of another, was usually the consequence of lengthy fighting by its armed forces. But more importantly, he quipped, at the heart of that development are concerns around the consequences of state’s (in)efficient utilization of the productive economic resources in times of conflict, and, well, of the way in which that state’s economy had been rising or falling, relative to the other leading nations, in the years preceding the actual conflict.
When, in the first quarter of this year, President Donald Trump of the United States described El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations as “shithole” countries during a meeting with lawmakers, there was global outrage. In many countries in Africa and around the world, U.S. diplomats were summoned for formal reproach, amid global shock over the president’s roundly condemnable comment. But at the base of Trump’s comment, especially in Africa, was the shame that comes with the realization that an uncouth racist has only spoken––perhaps crudely––about what stared everyone in the face.
So when the Financial Times reported recently that, yet again, Mr Trump spoke ill of President Muhammadu Buhari during the latter’s visit to the White House in April, it was not quite surprising. Financial Times, in an article titled, ‘Africa looks for something new out of Trump,’ claimed that the US leader described Buhari, as ‘so lifeless.’ “The first meeting with Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April ended with the US president telling aides he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again, according to three people familiar with the matter,” Financial Times claimed.
Now, to be sure, Trump’s resolve to ridicule the Nigerian presidency should be totally condemned––without reservations––by every Nigerian patriot. It is important that we separate the individual from the institution; to separate the current occupier of office from the office itself. So away from the hypocrisy of pro-Buhari ‘hailers’ who celebrated such similarly debasing and totally condemnable representation of the Nigerian president as a ‘buffoon’ about four years ago when Goodluck Jonathan held sway (many of whom, ironically, now shamelessly lecture people about the sanctity of the office of the Nigerian president now), Trump’s comment is utterly reckless and undiplomatic.
Of course, the ‘Orange-headed’ loudmouth who is known more for everything un-presidential and less for decency, has said worse things about others. He isn’t new to such dirty terrain. But then that’s where it ends.
What Trump’s ‘lifeless’ comment may have shown, however, is the futility of cozying up to the world’s super powers, with weak global reckoning and a huge population of literally ‘lifeless’ human population pushed into poverty by official ineptitude. It is particularly telling that in the wake of this meeting (between Trump and Buhari) in April, the Nigerian cyber space was flooded with pictures supplied by the president’s supporters, all containing pro-Buhari spin messages. Now that the chips are down, if Financial Times’ claims are correct, then Buharists may have only deceived themselves.
The lessons, frankly, are clear: no amount of propaganda and hero worship would cover up the fact that your country, according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), earned $592 billion from the oil and gas sector from 1999 to 2014 but, rather dramatically, it just overthrew India as the world’s poverty capital. No BMC tweet-fest would hide the fact that Ghana’s oil production and fiscal governance template were borrowed from you but the nation now does fairly better, in transparency and governance of its oil sector particularly. No amount of name-calling would hide your GDP figures from the world.
So, as Kennedy pointed out in his thesis, the strengths of the leading nations in global politics and international affairs never remain constant, “principally because of the uneven rate of growth among different societies and of the technological and organizational breakthroughs which bring a greater advantage to one society than to another.”
The late Nelson Mandela once reckoned that the world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. “The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence,” said the South African leader. It is pathetic to imagine situating Mandela’s postulation in the context of what obtains on the continent now, as exemplified in what its leading light (Nigeria) has become. The great Madiba, sadly, to borrow an Ekiti lingo, might be in ‘severe pain’ right now.
Understanding that ‘2-Minutes’ of Lifelessness
On the flipside, fellow Nigerians, there may be something to rejoice about in this Trump-Buhari lifeless encounter of April. In a Vogue magazine profile published Tuesday, New York Times reporter Amy Chozick pressed Stormy Daniels for details of his sexcapades with Trump in 2006. Daniels (Stephanie Gregory Clifford), for clarity, is the pornstar who alleged he had an affair with Mr Trump.
“How many details can you really give about two minutes?” Daniels said. “Maybe. I’m being generous.” Reports said the tone of the exchange suggests Daniels might be joking, yet netizens would not want to agree.
But, as a Nigerian, there was something I found quite interesting about the revelation: Daniels said Trump wasn’t a bad conversationalist and that he asked good questions about the porn industry, including if adult film stars get royalties and residuals or had a union. If situated in the context of Trump’s unsavoury ‘lifeless’ remarks about Buhari, one could perhaps draw a connection from the April encounter at the White House.
First, the Orange man, a 2-minute talkative, was perhaps interested in idle chats about Ms Daniels’ industry and how to step up his game beyond his legendary 2-minute performance, having heard about Mr Buhari’s famed ‘other room’ prowess. But the old soldier, a general in the war-front and perhaps in the ‘other room’, troubled by the shenanigans of a parliament that refused to co-operate (not even on a matter as important as election funding), had no such concerns in mind.
That encounter was bound to be ‘lifeless’!