Gulliver's Troubles: Nigeria's foreign policy after the Cold War / Garth le Pere / Sunday Independent

26 October 2008

Gulliver's Troubles: Nigeria's foreign policy after the Cold War, edited by Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu Mustapha, University of KwaZulu Natal Press. R240.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and its third-largest economy, is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, yet poverty and underdevelopment afflict the majority of its 130 million people.

It is common cause that this affliction has been exacerbated by perennial bad governance and debilitating corruption. In its 48 years of independence, the country's chequered political history has been punctuated by seven military regimes and failed attempts at forging a calculus of democracy.

In his introduction to this elegant book, which examines the domestic, regional and external issues that shape Nigeria's foreign policy, Adekeye Adebajo's teasing polemic sets the mood: "Over its nearly 50 years of independence Nigeria has been reduced to a giant with clay feet."

Abdul Raufu Mustapha examines how the country's "fractured" nationhood, its social cleavages and troubled identity have negatively shaped and influenced its foreign relations. This is complemented neatly by Ibrahim Gambari's reflective analysis of major historical turning points in Nigeria's domestic politics and the evolution of theory and practice in its foreign policy.

Further chapters chronicle the politics of the foreign service and the making of the Nigerian diplomat in a country with more than 250 ethnic groups; the interface between security prerogatives and foreign policy, especially the prominent role of the military and the emergence of ethnic militias.

Also under the spotlight is oil wealth, which has created pathologies of inequality, exploitation and repression that bring Shell and political elites into direct confrontation with restrictive minorities in the Niger Delta.

Akinjide Osuntokun looks at how differing colonial progenies - British French, Spanish and Portuguese - have influenced Nigeria's regional outlook. Adebajo carefully deconstructs Nigeria's attempt to bring and maintain peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, highlighting what he calls "the myths and realities of Pax Nigeriana."

Chris Landsberg examines the strategic-political interface between Nigeria and South Africa through the collaboration in creating the new architectures of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

Nigeria's independence in 1960 was the pivotal moment which defined its international role. As the 99th member of the United Nations, Nigeria has been steadfast in upholding principles of multilateralism, especially through its bold anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stances. Its international profile was profoundly influenced by interactions with the UN, the Commonwealth and the European Union, what Martin Uhomoibhi in his chapter calls "a triple web of interdependence".

Nigeria's aspirations to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council will always be coloured by its fragile ethnic and social fabric and unstable domestic environment. But, crucially, Nigeria has also championed the cause of developing countries through the Non-Aligned Movement and the G77.

Kaye Whiteman described Nigeria's relations with Britain as "...a complex mixture of the circumstantial and the continuous...moving from reasonably cordial to differing levels of animosity and tension".

The boundaries of relations with the United States, according o Gwendolyn Mikell are circumscribed by the British "sphere of influence". Yet, through policy players on both sides, important links have been forged in support of economic diplomacy, security co-operation and democratisation and also with Nigeria as a strategic supplier of oil.

Relations between Nigeria and France are rooted in the acrimonious politics of Françafrique.

There are challenges aplenty for Nigeria's foreign policy, especially with a change of guard since the significant but deeply flawed elections of April 2007. Critically, how it meets these challenges will depend on how it balances the demands and dynamics of its foreign policy.

As Nigeria goes, so goes Africa, goes the axiom. This book goes a long way in creating an understanding of why this "giant with clay feet" will continue to shape the fortunes of our continent and the world.

Garth le Pere

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