Among the fulcrum points of contemporary international affairs, the relationship between China and the more than fifty countries that make up Africa is among the most closely watched. Critics and defenders alike cannot say enough about Beijing’s ties with the mysterious continent.
Contemporary realities and prospective gains are what drive a state’s foreign policy. Thus, while it may have been a different set of motives that drove Africa and China to one another between the 1960s and 1980s (this interesting history and its impact on the relationship today will be returned to at a later section), to students watching and studying the relationship between China and African countries, there are three main motives to Beijing’s interest in Africa today. Firstly, there is the oft-stated prospect of natural resources on which most critics tend to end their analysis. Secondly, there are the opportunities to be gained in the vast markets in Africa’s growing middle class. Thirdly, there are political considerations that Beijing has as its main aims and tries to hasten at all times; chief among these is its being recognised as the “one China” instead of Taiwan by African states and, some argue, the alienation of the west within Africa in a battle for economic frontiers and political allies.
Likewise, Africa has a set of its own motives in engaging with China. A cursory look at the African Union’s Vision 2063 will reveal these in depth. But very briefly, we can state here that they include funding for its initiatives to do with industrialisation, infrastructure, as well as education and healthcare in face of the structural adjustment programmes which prescribed austerity measures such as cutting government spending beginning in the 1980s under conditional aid and loans from Bretton Woods institutions.
The relationship between Africa and China has so far not been particularly perfect and harmonious. The most salient example of this is perhaps the reality that China has tended to export more to the continent than the other way round. Even though there are more than fifty African countries, the balance of trade is tipped in favour of China. Looking at the characteristics of the trade, an even more oblique picture emerges as it is clear that China mainly imports mineral resources (timber and forestry from Gabon, copper from Zambia, cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and oil from Angola to mention a few) and in turn exports into the continent manufactured textiles and technologies which, because of their affordability, tend to bring about a crowding-out effect on the continent’s domestic producers. In fact, trade unions have been at the forefront of attempting to curb China’s access to African markets. The Congress of South African Trade Unions in South Africa launched a “buy local” campaign that was motivated by a perceived threat posed by China in 2012. Moreover, more jobs have allegedly been threatened in the West African coast by alleged illegal fishing by Chinese nationals. Furthermore, less than optimum conditions in Chinese-owned factories in Zambia led in 2004 to the death of close to 40 employees in an explosion. And throughout the window period in which African countries were given access to US markets by the American Growth Opportunity Act, Chinese companies allegedly took advantage of that and set-up and registered businesses in Africa so as to gain access to the US market for themselves.
Facts and allegations such as these have become ready points to those who claim that China is neo-colonial in its relations with continental Africa. According to the view, the lopsided and imbalanced trade is reminiscent of the “scramble for Africa” which characterised the colonial relations between the Western European states and their African colonies. In what has been termed the “New Scramble for Africa”, China is cast as the new colonial power in the continent taking advantage of the continent’s citizens and taking away valuable commodities in exchange only for trinkets. Yet, this is a view of the relationship that is grossly over-simplistic. The nuances are not completely appreciated. For example, the risks that China has taken in taking over tottering projects in the continent (Nigeria’s oil sector, and Sudan after allegations of terrorism sponsoring, for example) are overlooked. Overlooked too, are the billions of aid that the People’s Republic gave without conditions to the continent while it was itself still a developing entity in the twentieth century, and even today. The high watermark of Africa and China’s relationship has been formed on the back of these contributions. The People’s Republic also has as one of its claimed principal aims the improvement of the relations into a win-win scenario.
Despite claims to do with China’s “neo-colonialism”, China has differentiated itself from the West by being avowedly non-interfering in internal African governance issues. This has been its niche. But some scholars read into this a lack of long-term orientation in Beijing’s interest in Africa. In other words, China seems to be only – and temporarily so – interested in extracting resources to complete its developmental project. Otherwise, the critics claim, she would be much more interested in improving Africa’s polities as a sign of long-term orientation.
On the other hand, some argue that China is fostering good governance in a manner that is both prudent and organic. As one Chinese government-associated scholar, He Wenping, sees it, “the fact is China is striving to develop economic and trade cooperation in Africa, helping African countries in large scale infrastructure development, raising people’s living standard, reducing poverty and vigorously developing African personnel training programs, which are all helping to build an economic and human resources foundation for Africa to realize democracy and good governance.” Under this view, China may be, coincidentally or otherwise, promoting (at least the conditions for) democratization through bringing in social and economic development and therefore – if democratization theorists are to be believed – will create a middle class that is capable of bringing about democratic change. Economic development also means a rooting out of “careerism” in African politics; alternative forms of enrichment apart from politics in the private sectors improves governance and leads to declines in corruption. Furthermore, according to a Brookings Institute report, China has not been a funder of unscrupulous dictators as is nominally argued. The greatest volume of China’s investment, the report states, is concentrated in democratic or semi-democratic states – Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia. And South Africa, largely considered the most democratic state on the continent, is China’s largest trading partner on the continent.
The earliest contact between China and Africa can be traced to the Han dynasty around 200 BC and more sporadic contacts between then and the seventeenth century when the Qing Dynasty famously began an inward turn and the Emperor banned all outside visitation and either burned sea-going vessels or let them rot without maintenance. But no understanding of the current set of relations between the two entities could be proper without appreciating the immense impact of the Cold War era between the late 1940s and 1980s in which so much of the present world order was forged. It was in these years that USSR-aligned China sponsored and even trained communist and other left-leaning movements in Africa. After the outright break with Moscow, China went on its independent, and in many ways more successful tirade to win allies on the continent by sponsoring those independence and revolutionary parties that were not only anti-West but also not yet in cooperation with the Soviets. The most noteworthy among these movements was perhaps Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its encompassing Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) which was fighting a bush war against Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia and went on to become the ruling party of independent Zimbabwe. The great result of this being that the relationship between the two countries is extremely positive today. China also has close relations with Angola and Mozambique for almost similar, though perhaps more controversial reasons.
Other outcomes for the present relations between Africa and China were not entirely positive. Due to its zeal for funding and aiding particularly leftist parties in Africa, in the throes of the Cold War, China may have also alienated some African countries who were pro-West – Cameroon, whose President Ahidjo at the time (1963) stated that “China is one of the states supporting terrorism in Cameroon. We have proof, for Cameroonian terrorists are in Communist China,” is a particular example. Perhaps because of this, Cameroon was among the last African countries to recognize mainland China over Taiwan as the One China. Still, China and Africa share a common and painful history of sufferings under colonial invasions. Today in the modern era, they also share the goal of common development for survival and development in a self-consciously Western-dominated international order.
The almost exponential spike in Chinese investment in Africa occurred in the years succeeding 2000. It cannot be coincidence that this is the year in which the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was established. To date, there have been five such meetings between Chinese and African statesmen. A cursory look at each of these fora will reveal the extent to which they have been a launching ground for initiatives that have gone a long way in pushing African development further.
The first conference, which took place on Chinese soil, passed the Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation and the Programme for China–Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development which has laid the basis of future forums and engagement. The second conference, which took place in Ethiopia, saw an increase in attendance and awareness as more than 70 ministers from China and 44 African countries attended the conference. The Conference passed the Addis Ababa Action Plan (2004-2006) which had among its declarations both entities’ plans for further trade plans as well as debt relief and development commitments. In the third conference, which returned to Beijing in 2006, PRC President Hu Jintao and heads of state from 35 African countries were in attendance. President Hu rolled out $5 billion worth of concessionary loans to Africa during the summit. As one of the “Eight Measures” for Sino-African relations, President Hu announced the creation of the China-Africa Development Fund to further Chinese investment in Africa with US$1 billion of initial funding with its fund expected to grow to US$5 billion in the future. On the fourth conference, held in Egypt, there was a great deal of introspective reviewing of the Forum and in addition to this, A $10 billion low-cost loan was announced on November 9, 2009, double the $5 billion loan announced and implemented at the 2006 Beijing Summit. Furthermore, Wen announced that China will write off the debt of some of the poorest African nations. He said China will construct 100 new clean-energy projects on the continent covering solar power, bio-gas and small hydro-power and gradually lower customs duties on 95 percent of products from African states with which it has diplomatic ties. He also stated that China would undertake 100 joint demonstration projects on scientific and technological research, receive 100 African postdoctoral fellows to conduct scientific research in China and assist them in going back and serving their home countries. The number of agricultural technology demonstration centres built by China in Africa will be increased to 20. Likewise, 50 agricultural technology teams would be sent to Africa and 2,000 agricultural technology personnel would be trained for Africa, in order to help strengthen Africa’s ability to ensure food security. China also would provide medical equipment and antimalarial materials worth 500 million yuan to the 30 hospitals and 30 malaria prevention and treatment centres built by China and train 3,000 doctors and nurses for Africa. It was further stated that China will build 50 China–Africa friendship schools and train 1,500 school principals and teachers for African countries and increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to Africa to 5,500 by 2012. China will also train a total of 20,000 professionals of various fields for Africa over the next three years. Already, Africa, as a result of these initiatives, became the second largest engineering services contract market for China. Statistically, there are nearly a million Chinese in Africa, with 1,600 Chinese enterprises doing business on the continent.
The presence of China in Africa, and particularly the creation of the Forum has proven effective in ways that could not have been predicted. It has made other entities ever more willing to reconsider their relationship with the continent. In what economists term the “crowding-in effect” the United States under President Obama in particular set itself on a new, China-like path in the wake of the Forum. In what Lauren Dickey, writing for The Diplomat in 2014, labelled the US’s “belated beginning” in “its treatment of Africa as a strategic continent,” the country launched in 2014 the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington; historically, marking the first time a sitting American president had invited all the leaders of Africa to a single event to discuss regional issues and the macro US-Africa relationship (a la FOCAC). If indeed emulation is the highest form of flattery, then FOCAC must rightfully exalt at its exemplary stature. In the meeting, promises were made by President Obama of, amongst others, a $14 billion commitment by U.S. companies for investments in Africa’s construction, manufacturing, energy, finance, and technology sector. With President Donald Trump’s unpredictable administration, we cannot yet say for certain whether this reconsideration of the relationship will continue, but so far there has been evidence that it may not, as the budget for international aid, for example, got considerable cuts proposed (at the time of writing, US Congress was opposing the motion, however).
Nevertheless, regarding the prospect of a far-reaching full win-win relationship, usage of the Forum beyond just as an aid-granting and investment platform must involve tackling other implicative and negative issues. The Forum, for example, has spoken very minimally on perhaps one of the most important issues facing Africa today: climate change. This, no doubt, would be a major bone of contention as Beijing is one of the leading polluters in the world today. But the Forum cannot be said to be living up to its mandate if it fails to delve into potentially polarizing issues of the contemporary age. But it may not be, as shown in an article in Modern Diplomacy, China is ready to be the leader of the clean energy revolution; and even a cursory look at China’s current Five-Year Plan for the years between will reveal quite the extent to which Africa is crucial to China’s aims and will thereby paint a clear picture of the Forum and its significance. The list of the aims include economic growth with a “medium-high” GDP target of 6.5 percent; double GDP and per capita income by 2020 from the 2010 base; foreign investment increase; yuan convertibility by the year 2020; and increase in welfare as well a relaxing of the One Child policy to a Two Child policy all show just how crucial it is for China to have as many economic partners as attainable and Africa, as a source of both natural resources and market frontiers, is indispensable to the rising giant. The Forum, while far from perfect, has an important and increasingly central role to play in harmonising the gains between China and Africa.
Igbo Women Seek Biafra, Voice Nigeria’s Bleak Future
Nigeria is one of the largest by territory with population (estimated currently at 206 million) and huge economy in Africa. Situated on the southern coast on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean, this country most often referred to as the “Giant of Africa” has never-ending multiple and complicated internal problems ranging from politics (system of federal governance) to widening economic disparity to cultural differences. The country has 36 states and it is officially called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Early July, Kester Kenn Klomegah had the chance and interviewed Chief (Mrs) Marie Okwo, President of the Igbo Women Assembly (IWA), about the impact of the civil war, the current politics and the role of the church in Nigeria. She is one of the remaining few Nigerians who have seen Nigeria from the struggle for independence through the development of its democracy. Mrs Okwor, who is an associate of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, is now the leader of the Igbo Women Assembly and one-time member of Advisory Council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Established as an NGO in 2006, the Igbo Women Assembly focuses on women empowerment and the youth, it consistently encourages moral values particularly among young graduates. Headquarters in Enugu, Enugu State of Nigeria.
Here are the interview excerpts:
The Nigerian civil war (1967-70) was a bitter experience, and has also affected expected development in the Biafra State. What are your views about this, especially from women’s perspectives?
The war of 1967-1070 war was a pogrom; a war of attrition meant to wipe out a whole race for no just cause. It reminded me of the Holocaust against the Jews. Those who died of hunger starvation, bombings were numerous in number. Malnutrition killed many children who developed a disease called “kwashiokor” – medical experts explain as lack of protein in the body and the belly fills up with fluid. I feel very emotional as I speak about this.
Suffice it to say, that the war could have been avoided, had Nigeria kept her end of the agreement at Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana, which came to be called “the Aburi Accord” that was reached in 1967. This venue offered the delegates security guarantee and that meeting was billed to be the last chance of preventing all-out war. The accord finally broke down because of differences of interpretation on both sides. This led to the outbreak of the war. Markets and places of worship were not spared from bombings and strafing. As a matter of facts, one of my domestic staffs lost her mother in one of the market bombings had been hurt by a shrapnel; she bled to death since medical facilities were scarce.
The effect of the war on the State of Biafra was deplorable: So much destabilization as the seat of government had to move from place to place and so could not settle down to the business of governing the people effectively. There were so many things to worry about, such how to get arms and ammunition. There was also the issues food insufficiency. Lack of concentration on the part of the Administrators and the Biafran military officers and soldiers had adverse effects on the Biafrans. As each area fell to the Nigerian military and their superior military weapons, civilians also had to relocate to safer areas. It was really rough and tough especially for nursing mothers most of who lost their babies. So so sad an experience.
Assessing the effects of the civil war today, especially from gender perspectives, what else can you say in this regard, will women play a more critical role in the administration of a Biafran state?
Before I comment on the role women can play in the administration of a Biafran state, let me mention the important roles they played during the war. It will be recalled that most men were in war fronts fighting to defend Biafraland. Others had lost their jobs and were forced to stay idle at home. The duties of catering for the needs of the rest of the families, therefore, fell on the women/ wives. In short, they became the bread winners.
On the roles women can play in a Biafran state, let me say, without fear of equivocation that without the contributions of women in governance, success will be difficult to achieve. Women have great potentials that should be harnessed in order to move the state forward.
How do you look at the political governance in the country in relation to Biafra State?
The government of Nigeria is vehemently aversed to the name Biafra. Mere mention of that name makes them chilly.This government would rather have Biafrans remain under servitude of the Caliphate North. The slogan after the was “No victor, no vanquished.” That was the greatest deceit of the century. Biafrans have never been re-integrated.
The basis for unity no longer exists. Biafrans struggle for their survival without depending on any one. Since Nigerian government has refused absolutely to accept Biafrans as a component part of Nigeria, it stands to reason that they should be allowed to go and develop on their own at their own pace. It is pertinent to mention that the North contributes little or nothing to the development of the country. Rather resources from Southern Nigeria are controlled and squandered by Northern Elements.
On security in Nigeria, I wish to make it categorically clear that in Nigeria, security is at its lowest ebb. The Fulani Herdsmen are the cause of the unprecedented insecurity in Biafraland. They move about freely with their cattle carrying sophisticated AK 47. They destroy farmlands and crops, kill farmers, gang-rape and kill female farmers in their farmlands. The resultant effect of the destruction of farms and crops will be devastating as there will be monumental scarcity of food soon, this will spell doom for the masses.
Government and the security operatives are fully aware of the perilous situations but prefer to look the other way. Sometimes the police offer to pay competitions. A few days ago, a middle-aged woman was gang-raped by Fulani Herdsmen in a farm till she went into a coma she was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead. The insult by these Fulani Herdsmen is a great insult to Biafrans. Why will these Fulanis not allow us peace in our space? Enough is enough! When people are pushed to the wall, they have no alternative than to fight back.
Igbo Women Assembly call for a Referendum to settle the issue, once and for all. Our children have no future in Nigeria. We feel like the Israelites while in bondage under the Pharaohs of Egypt. We desire freedom to follow our own designs and practice our Christian Religion without let or hindrance.
Are people really satisfied with the current government? What, in your objective view, are some of their political mistakes?
Nigeria has never been so polarized or rancorous as it is now. There’s so much unrest which stems from oppression, corruption wrong choices of appointees to important governing bodies. Square pegs are placed in round holes indeed. The bitterness existing in Nigeria, at the present time, is unequalled. Security is non- existent. The reality is that there is unchecked anarchy. As things stand now, Nigeria may just disintegrate without gunshots.
Almost all of Nigeria’s intractable problems emanate from imposition of candidates during elections; no free, fair or credible elections are conducted. The situation gets worse with every election.
In the first place, the Constitution under which elections are held is a fraud. Far from being the “People’s Constitution.” We have faced these mistakes since the inception of presidential system of governance in Nigeria. The system under reference is wasteful, encourages corruption and dictatorial tendencies.
In spite of the flaws in the Constitution, the ruling party has ignored most of the clauses which might enhance the peaceful co- existence of the citizens. Impunity is rife with this current Administration. There is therefore an urgent need for intervention by concerned people of the entire world. Any adversity that befalls a Nation will have adverse effects on other Nations if not nipped in the bud.
This is a clarion call by the Igbo Women Assembly for assistance by all who abhor oppression and bad governance. No justice, no peace! No peace, no progress!
As a highly devout Catholic, how would you argue that the church could be a tool to fight against all injustices and state maladministration, most probably corruption in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
The church in Nigeria, irrespective of denominations, has a vital role to play in addressing the ills of Nigeria. It is the duty of the church to do all in her power to restore the dignity and moral values of our societies.
All of a sudden, acquisition of wealth has taken precedence over ìntegrity, justice and fair play. The church has a duty to inculcate the congregations with a sense of responsibility moral values and discipline. Most criminals and corrupt members of the society are not pagans but Christians driven into such negative behavioral tendencies by the system. It is interesting to say that wrong leaderships beget wrong followers.
Unfortunately, some pastors preach the gospel of prosperity instead of salvation, thereby driving people into acquiring filthy lucre through any means whatsoever. People quickly forget that greed and avarice lead to destruction. They do not remember that whatever one has on earth cannot accompany him/her to the great beyond. Others will enjoy the ill- gotten goods. Corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation and the church must make concerted efforts to bring the menace to the barest minimum.
And the Biafra diaspora outside Nigeria, especially in the United States and Europe…are they optimistic about break away of the Biafran State?
Biafrans in the Diaspora are even more enthusiastic about an independent nation than some Biafrans at home. Any sign that a Referendum is on hand will see a deluge of Diaspora Biafrans flying back home. They will contribute in no small measure to bring rapid development to the new nation-state. Surely, this new nation will overtake Nigeria, which regards herself as the so- called largest country, in Africa. Yes! Largest in all types of vices like kidnappings, rape, sleeze oppression, abuse of human rights and so forth.
What are your recommendations here, what should or must be done under the current circumstances in Nigeria?
My perspective on the future or the way forward for Nigeria, the country has expired and cannot be revived, neither can it be reactivated.It is my well-considered opinion that any group or ethnic nationality, which wants to leave this contraption, should be granted their peace and freedom. Nigeria is too large to be one country since there are too many differences in religion, cultures and traditions, food and languages and other factors. Nigeria has never and can never be one. Unity has eluded the country.
If, however, Biafra becomes unattainable then we should go back to the parliamentary system of governance. A weak center with regional autonomy. As things are now, the country is rudderless and groping in the dark. If no positive action is taken soonest, Nigeria will take a nosedive into a deep precipice, in this case, the name will become irreversibly extinct.
The Creative Journey into Africa’s Future
The African Union (AU), in partnership with Afrochampions, the pan-African business leadership network focused on regional integration and economic emancipation, has launched a virtual festival as part of the broadening of the ”African Integration Day” celebration into a month-long commemoration of both AfCFTA commencement day (scheduled for July 1sy) and “African Integration Day” (July 7th). The festival enfolds the inaugural “Africa Integration Week” concept.
African Integration Day was endorsed by African Heads of State to be observed on 7th July of every year. The ”African Integration Day” became part of the AU’s key flagship programmes to promote and amass broad support for the integration of African societies and economies.
The virtual festival, dubbed ”The Boma of Africa” is a series of insightful convening to drive the ”African Integration” agenda through a strategic high level engagement between the continental governance institutions, represented by the AU Commission, and the African private sector, represented by its strategic partner Afrochampions. This festival seeks to move beyond mere deliberations and delve deep into actions; actions that can inspire Africans to trailblaze in various fields such as science and technology, education and creative arts, as well as hone the region’s talents for our common good.
The 2020 Boma of Africa is anchored on strong partnerships with the African Union, Afreximbank, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) and others to be announced subsequently. As part of the launch of The Boma of Africa, Afrochampions and its partners will be implementing four key innovative programmes between June and July 2020.
Creative Arts Challenge – Launch on June 12th
The “challenge” throws an invitation to all artists and creatives from across Africa to submit their daily artistic work across the categories of poetry, short story, animation/game, culinary art (recipe or short video guide), cartoons, short video, short audio, visual art, fashion, and craft) to the Africaboma website in the hopes of winning the grand prize or one of two consolation prizes, all sponsored by Africa’s leading corporations. Entrants are to submit daily artistic work exploring these themes – African Unity is About Difference, African Science is Universal Science, Africa’s Future is in its Past and Globalization is Africa’s Friend.
There is an expectation that creatives will oppose or support the themes in their explorations in subtle and not so subtle ways. Applications for the Creative Arts Challenge are open until July 7th, 2020, and creatives may enter as many times and in as many categories as they wish. Besides the prizes, the best creative submissions shall be widely disseminated every day on the festival website and through the AU’s media and publicity partners. There are no entry fees associated with this programme.
Inaugural Panel Discussion – July 1, 2020
This will be a series of virtual panel discussions with esteemed and distinguished leaders, former heads of states and experts in Africa. The panel discussion will centre on Africa trade, economic integration and growth in the context of post COVID-19 Pandemic: the road ahead.
The Grand Debates – July 3, 2020
This will be a series of productive discussions between selected eminent African individuals, heads of states, African economists debating on selected themes. These enlightening debates will be segmented into three sessions;
Inclusion (“To stop growing inequity, Africa must first heal its past”)
Innovation (“To win at Science & Technology we must Africanize their essence”)
Integration (“Bridging institutions matter more than building infrastructure in uniting Africa”)
The selected thought leaders will be speaking for or against each of these aforementioned motions.
Africa Future Scenarios Challenge – July 4, 2020
This programme will convene the world’s solutionists and futurists, while engaging in necessary conversations aimed at spearheading change and innovation. Afrochampions will select two reputable African universities to compete in painting a vision of Africa in 2063. Each university will have a different stance on four different carefully researched assumptions:
A. 2030 – Common Currency (Yes/No)
B. 2040 – Standing Army (Yes/No)
C. 2050 – Common Language (Yes/No)
D. 2060 – Common President + Parliament (Yes/No)
Showcase – July 5, 2020
This programme will showcase selected innovative projects that are working to accelerate the integration of African economies. It is also to launch the Africa Showcase Initiative and Africa Showcase Champions group, a partnership between The AU and Afrochampions, to periodically recognise institutions, projects and individuals working on concrete efforts to integrate Africa. Projects that will be showcased include the Essential Innovation & Design Accelerator (EIDA) and PanaBIOS, a secure, standardized, tamper-proof, transcontinental digital application suite for disease contagion monitoring, mass testing and infection traceability.
Biafra Sets the Alarm Clock at Midnight, Time to Wake Up
Over the years, high profiled politicians, academics and human rights groups have been talking about the armed attacks with its devastating effects on the economy in the Igbo-dominated South-Eastern States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nigeria gained its independence in October 1960. Since then it has strongly witnessed the sharp division of Nigeria into three regions – North, West and East – and this factor has further exacerbated the well-developed economic, political, and social differences among ethnic groups. The Igbo-dominated Eastern States have been struggling for peace and freedom necessary for development since the Civil War ended in 1970.
That was fought between the Government of Nigeria and the State of Biafra from July 1967 to January 1970. The Igbo leadership could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated Federal Government. The Eastern River States are devastated, millions of the population deeply impoverished while resources remained untapped.
In this interview, for instance, Professor Nathaniel Aniekwu, Secretary at the Alaigho Development Foundation [ADF] in Nigeria, vehemently argues that 50 years after the civil war, the growing threats and frequent attacks by northern ethnic groups and the deepening pitfalls in the federal governance system have negatively affected the development of the Biafra. The Alaigho Development Foundation is a registered NGO with the key aims of addressing development issues in Igboland, and further fight for justice, civil rights and good governance in Nigeria.
How would you argue that 50years after the Civil War [1967 to 1970], growing threats and frequent attacks by ethnic groups have affected the development, particularly in the Eastern States of Nigeria?
It is not rocket science that capital [money] is a coward and therefore does not go where there is insecurity. The Biafra/Nigeria Civil war never really ended. What happened 50 years ago was a transition of the war from open shooting battles to economic strangulation war which has translated into asymmetric herdsmen/terrorist-based war.
The initial morphed face of the war started in 1970, and was aimed at strangulating the region through infrastructural/economic deprivation. The federal government policy of offering 20 pounds in return for any amount of wealth deposits an Igbo person had in the bank, especially in the face of the 3Rs [Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction] program of reestablishing the region was not accidental. This was quickly followed by the Nigeria Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972, which had as one of its main objectives to promote Nigerian indigenous enterprises with a view to increasing indigenous equity participation in the national economy. We were supposed to acquire this equity with the balance of the 20 pounds after feeding.
The current phase of the war is the herdsmen/terrorist-based war, which is aimed at destroying our agricultural base and make us completely dependent and then overrun and take over our ancestral lands. These are all orchestrated by the same people who could not wipe us out on the battle fields. The world community continuously watches the large-scale atrocities committed in the country.
As long as these wars are going on, Nigeria cannot know peace and therefore no real progress. The Eastern region is totally out of the equation from the evidences of our realities. Any progress in the Eastern region must be home grown and organic. This is the real essence of the ADF’s “Aku ruo’ulo” program. Only the desperate and degenerate Chinese will have the temerity to want to invest in Nigeria, but with conditions that makes it better for you to live without their investments.
How would you assess the overall economic development of the Biafra States?
The Biafra States are faring very well given the numerous and insurmountable challenges thrown at them. We have almost no federal presence in the region, no infrastructure, receive the least budget allocations and have the least representation in all the arms of the federal government. This is what has accounted for this current phase of the war. Ndigbo have indomitable spirits and cannot be rendered null and void economically, as long as they are alive.
The Government is, therefore, on their Plan C, which is physical annihilation and possessing their homelands. All economic indices show that in spite of the war against them, marginalization and exclusion from participation in the governance of Nigeria, the Biafra States continue to be very competitive and are very far from being worse off among the Nigerian States.
Do you think it could have been different if the Southeast or the River States were not under the administration of the Federal Government of Nigeria?
I don’t think so, I know it. If they will let us be, even with all the deprivations and infrastructural neglect in place, Ndigbo will grow very quickly to become the go-to place for business. Our detractors know this much and that is what bothers them the most.
What are the economic potentials, especially for foreign investment?
The prognosis is very poor. Nobody goes for a swim in the desert. Only desperate investors still consider Nigeria as an investment destination for the earlier mentioned reasons. Although Nigeria is very richly endowed with natural and human resources, but it has quickly lost all its shining advantages. Moreover, whatever remains had been made in the past, has been squandered, especially as they seek to exclude Biafras from participation in political governance. They failed to deploy the appropriate resources, especially manpower, the broad-minded people who can guide and manage the development of the country, simply because most of them come from the Biafra States.
Under the current circumstances, how can the government make it easier to attract foreign investment to the region?
The bus has already left the station. The trust has been breached and the center cannot no longer hold. As a Christian, I believe that nothing is impossible with God. But we are not God. We have squandered a lot of goodwill, which all developmental programs required.
Frankly speaking, only a dedicated team of experts can possibly do a lot, if all the impediments on our paths are removed, the trust deficit reversed, religion seizes to be so dominant in our decision making process, the herdsmen/terrorists are reigned in, ethnicity seizes to be a criteria for appointments and recognitions.
Furthermore, if the ethnic nationalities will come together and decide on the form and degree of association they will have in a restructured Nigeria, and the level of authority that should reside at the center: if we shall confess and repent from our sins and seek forgiveness, then perhaps, we stand a chance of reversing the damage.
There are still a lot of challenges in achieving all that you have said above, but do you see any possibilities for national integration and a new leadership paradigm?
National integration is a very clear possibility, especially for The Biafra States. In fact, it is our only hope. Remember that Nigeria is made of many unwilling nations fused into the entity called Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN). These nations have their inalienable right of association and with whomsoever they chose. These nations must choose their paths of integration.
For Ndigbo, not only that internal cohesion is imperative but also integrating in a union of the agreed is paramount. Leadership is very critical in attaining these objectives and this is where the paradigm shift is called for. Leadership must be looked from the point of view of the governed, at the micro-level of the society. A leadership that is organic and evolves from the people. Not a leadership foisted on the people by a band of degenerates.
Leadership paradigm shift is needed to look at the Igbo man as he is, what his essence is and then, try and appeal to that essence. Being republican in his core essence means that you cannot lead him the same way you lead the Yorubas nor Hausas. A leadership that achieves this will have a followership similar to what we had with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the first republic or the followership General Odumegwu Ojukwu had during the war.
Note that the followership was so strong that during the war. Professor M. A. C. Odu and Ishiozo Mbu Amohuru went into the Nigerian territory, hijacked an aircraft and flew it down to Biafra. Such were the level of risks and sacrifices they could make. Please note carefully that when the same General Ojukwu joined the NPN upon his return from exile, Ndigbo unfollowed him, because he no longer represented their aspirations. That is the Igbo man. Seen from this perspective, the Igbo man is very easy to lead as long as you the leader is ready to be transparent and represent their aspirations.
Does that mean there are weaknesses in the Federal System of Governance?
I am usually very wary of stereotyping. By my professional training, I seek for solutions where there are problems. I do not believe in looking for problems to fit into pre-existing solutions. I don’t really care too much what you call the system that works: federal system, unitary system, monarchical system, et cetera.
I don’t know if there is anything wrong with the federal system, but problems can arise as a result of application of systems that are not suitable to the Nigerian environment. Obviously, the federal system of government is not working in Nigerian given the unique nature of the Nigerian political space. We must therefore return to the solution domain, seek long-term solutions that are organic [homegrown] and suitable to our environment.
What do you have to say about the next elections of the State Governors and the President?
I believe the forthcoming elections will be business as usual. There is nothing in the horizon that makes me think it will be different. The problems with election is part of the structuring problems bedeviling Nigeria, and unless Nigeria restructures, nothing will change. However, we are waiting when Nigeria will hit “Ground Zero”, then restructuring will become inevitable.
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