By Emma Emeozor
UNDOUBTEDLY, expectations are high in Africa as Joe Biden settles down to work as United States 46th President. Majority of Africans are looking forward to seeing improved Africa-America relations compared to the era of Donald Trump’s ‘shithole’ diplomacy which traumatised the continent’s intelligentsia. Biden was Obama’s vice president and he is believed to have a ‘soft’ spot for Africa and the black race at large.
But Olusola Ojo, a professor of International Relations and Dean, College of Humanities, McPherson University, Seriki Sotayo, Ogun State thinks differently. He belongs to the group of pundits that want Africa to exercise cautious optimism in Biden’s administration. In this interview, he reminds African leaders and scholars about the modus operandi of the American government.
He recalls the emergence of a Kenyan son, Barrack Obama as the first black president of the United States and how Africans were upbeat about his administration only to express disappointment at the end of his tenure.
He said: “There is something peculiar with the advanced countries and in this case, the United States. And this is one of the differences between them and us (Africa). Irrespective of who the leader or president is, irrespective of what political party is in power, be it the Republican or the Democratic party, you don’t see much of a difference in their policies. This is
a contrast to what obtains in African countries.
“In the advanced countries like the United States, national interest overrides any other interest. There is hardly any radical change in the national interest. There can be changes in style of leadership and in nuances. We know that the immediate past president, Trump is an aberration in all respects. Even then, if you look at Trump’s African policy, there was no dramatic change between what he did and what it was before he became president.”
Ojo is at a loss as to why some Africans are quick to conclude that Biden (or
any emerging American president) will make Africa a top priority in his agenda. While expressing surprise over how “Africans have always exhibited unrealistic expectations each time a new president is elected in America,” he drew attention to how Africans fell for the argument that Obama’s father was a Kenya and therefore the continent will experience a unprecedented turning point in its relations with America.
“Because former President Barrack Obama’s father was from Kenya, the resonance across the continent was: Oh, Obama is an African, his government will favour Africa. But Obama did not become president to implement Africa’s objectives, he did not become president to pursue Africa’s interest, he contested election and won to pursue America’s interest. And that is what we saw, same thing with Trump. Although, Trump had his own nuances, peculiar style of leadership and … he’s like an aberration, generally speaking.”
But has Africa any hope in Biden’s presidency? Ojo was blunt in his answer. He said: “Personally, I don’t expect any dramatic change in his Africa policy. In any case, in Trump’s four years rule, I did not see anything dramatic in US foreign policy. The changes I observed were his withdrawal of America from existing multilateral, bilateral and regional treaties. We saw that. But he (Trump) did not introduce anything dramatic in Africa. He did not revise any African policy. So, by and large, America policy on Africa relations continued as it were under Obama.
“As far as Africa was concerned, he did not implement or make any dramatic change in his policy worth mentioning here. Therefore, I don’t expect to see any dramatic policy change under Biden as it concerns Africa, since Trump did not implement any dramatic policy in the continent.”
Ask Ojo what Africa should demand from Biden’s administration, the Professor calls for self appraisal first. He believes that transparency in government, peace, strong structures and a clear definition of development objectives are necessary factors that African countries must address first before making demand on foreign leaders.
“First, African countries have to sit down and define their internal and foreign policy objectives . . . these are our goals and these are objectives. So, African leaders must have very clear goals and objectives to be able to attract the attention or enduring support of the international community. It is not the US that will initiate African interest, it is governments of African countries that will have to voice what they want from the international community, including the US.”
Ojo however noted that Biden will
not replay Trump’s hostile policy toward Africa. He was particular about the hostility Trump perpetuated against Nigeria when his administration opposed the re-election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina as president of the Africa Development Bank and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the most favoured candidate for the office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
“So, the only area I expect there could be some changes is the hostility of Trump administration exhibited toward Nigeria as demonstrated during the election of Dr Akinwumi Adesina as president
of Africa Development Bank. Trump’s administration opposed the re-election of Adesina as the president of the Africa Development Bank and also the election of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Direc- tor General of the World Trade Organisa- tion (WTO).
“I don’t expect Biden to show that level of hostility toward Nigeria or any African country though he (Trump) sold to Nigeria weapons that Obama was reluctant to sell. The hostility was unwarranted because Nigeria never threatened Ameri- can interest during Trump’s administration.”
The Professor argued that it is wrong for Africans to blame the lack of develop- ment in the continent on the failure of the advanced countries to support the development needs of the continent. Cit-
ing Nigeria as a case study, he buttressed his argument thus: “The point I am making here is that we cannot blame any external power over the failure of our policy. The Americans wanted to help Nigeria to rescue the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls but when they were to start the operation, they found that every information they had confided in those they were in contact with have been leaked to the insurgents, so they with- drew. Whose fault is that he queried?”
When asked how do you mean? Ojo chose to give tutorial on the role of self-esteem in international diplomacy: “If we don’t put our house in order, there is no foreign power . . . infact, the issue of sovereignty, the implications of sover- eignty . . . we say we are a sovereign na- tion . . . the implication of the principles of sovereignty, non-interference . . .
all those principles will not allow any foreign nation to come and do it for us against our will.”
Using Nigeria to further mirror the challenges facing Africa in the area of multi and bilateral relations, particularly reasons the continent don’t benefit from the international community as ex- pected, Ojo raised the question of poor policy ideas as well as the problem of lack of implementation capability.
Apparently turning philosophical, Ojo said: “So, it is for Nigeria . . . unfortu- nately, there is a change of government in the US but there is no change of baton in Nigeria, it is the same old leadership. So I’m not expecting anything. The major problem with Nigeria now . . . I’m not in government, I don’t know what those in government are thinking, may be those in government do not think like the rest of Nigerians.
“For most of Nigerians now, the num- ber one issue is insecurity. But I’m not sure if the government thinks that it is a problem. Citing the case of banditry, the Professor expressed dismay over how the authorities play with words such that it has become difficult to define terms like ‘bandit’ and ‘gunmen.’
“The authorities seem to be saying there is no problem of insecurity, rather it is a case of bandits and gunmen, for example. . . . but the fact is that those we are calling bandits or gunmen are Fulani herdsmen who are killing for whatever reason even as the United Nations has said they are the most dangerous terror- ists in the world, not just in Africa alone. But all of us have stopped calling them bandits.”
Ojo agrees that America has interest in Africa but insists that the continent will not benefit much from any American president and indeed the international community until the respective governments put their house together. He points to the numerous challenges developed nations face in the murky water of international politics.
“Generally, there are the global factors – the global competition, the issue
of China, the issue of global economy, Africa’s mineral wealth and want access to them . . . it is in the bid to successfully pursue their interest(s) in the continent that the Americans or the French will monitor all terrorists’ activities across Africa. They will not allow Islamic State or the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) or whatever, to take over Chad or Niger. They always support the governments of these countries because it is in their interest