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Hushpuppi and Nigeria’s Reputational Challenge

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As with corporations, the reputation of a country matters considerably. In a digital age where information disseminates quicker, the opinions and attitudes of an increasingly engaged global public are influenced whether negatively or positively by the qualities and characteristics portrayed of a particular country.

Rooted in global public opinion, national reputation refers to the “collective judgment of a…country’s image and character” and is shaped by perceptions of a people, government, foreign policy and cultural outputs.[i]Not only does a good reputation foster an enabling environment for the exercise of influence or the pursuit of strategic objectives, it can in itself constitute a source of influence as with military and economic resources, thereby, placing the management of national reputation at the heart of international relations, public diplomacy and strategic communication.

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s global reputation has suffered tremendously in the past few months, due in large part to the conduct of some Nigerians in the diaspora. In what can be considered a further dent to the country’s batteredglobal reputation, Nigerians woke up to news headlines on June 29, 2020 announcing the arrest of Raymond Abbas, popularly known as “Hushpuppi”,in a coordinated raid comprising the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dubai police, and Interpol, on suspicion of cyberfraud, money laundering, hacking and scamming amounting to £352million.

Until his arrest, Abbas resided in the luxurious Palazzo Versace in Dubai and portrayed himself as an “influencer” for global brands, and a real estate developer, garnering 2.5 million Instagram followers in the process.

News of this nature is all too familiar to Nigerians and the global community, who in recent years have grown accustomed to the involvement of Nigerians in cybercrimes. In August 2019, the FBI indicted 80 people for cybercrimes amounting to $46 million in what was described as the “largest case of online fraud in US history”, of which 77 of them were Nigerians.[ii] Even more alarming was the arrest of ‘international business tycoon’, Obinwanne Okeke alias Invictus Obi, for offences also bordering on computer and wire fraud. Until his arrest, Invictus Obi was the head of Invictus Group, a company with subsidiaries in Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa. As US authorities reported, Okeke who four years ago was featured on Forbes 2016 ‘30 under 30 African entrepreneurs’ defrauded Unatrac Limited a subsidiary of Caterpillar of $11million, a crime for which he pleaded guilty.

“The action of a single Nigerian is not the action of all Nigerians” reacted GarbaShehu—a spokesman of President Buhari—to the arrest of 77 Nigerians in the US.[iii]Whenever news of this nature breaks, Nigerian public officials are quick to distance the actions of a few from the greater number of Nigerians whom they often describe as hardworking and honest. In a tweet reacting to the arrest of Hushpuppi, the Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa affirmed the negative impact these arrests are having on the image of the country but was quick to add that “fraud does not represent who we are as Nigerians” and that Nigerians are “hardworking, dedicated and committed”.

While these reactions are designed to dampen perceptions of Nigerians as fraudulent people as well as minimize the damage these reports may have on the country’s global reputation, thereis no gainsaying that Nigeria’s position as one of the most corrupt countries in the world with an internal political dynamics that is characterized by serious developmental deficits, internal security challenges and pervasive poverty makes them appear contradictory. Moreover, these arrests may be the most notable in recent years, but the practice of Nigerians engaging in schemes designed to defraud foreigners’ dates back to the 90s, thus revealing the extent to which cybercrime is a scourge in the Nigerian society.

As John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria rightly affirms, “there is little question that Nigeria is damaged by its international reputation for fraud. It contributes to the reluctance of international investors to acquire Nigerian partners”.[iv] This is in line with Garba Shehu’s assertion that “it is a big scar on all [Nigerians] who go out of this country and are seen in this image that these our brothers have created.”[v]What is clear is that the involvement of Nigerians in cybercrimes and the wide media coverage this receives in no small way dents the country’s image, thereby undermining the brand—a country known for its entrepreneurial and innovative drive, as well as the source of a diverse array of cultural outputs that resonates well beyond Africa—of the country and by implication its ability to influence through attraction.

The Nigerian government has pledged to enact new laws to address this problem but the sufficiency of this approach remains questionable, especially when existing legal frameworks have done little to combat pervasive corruption in all sectors of the country. Rather, the Nigerian government may want to consider a two-faced strategy, which on the one hand addresses the domestic circumstances that drive Nigerian youths to commit cyber crimes such as pervasive inequality, youth unemployment, systemic corruption and dilapidating educational institutions. On the other, the government may want to contemplate externally oriented strategies geared towards foreign publics or audiences.

This may take the form of projecting to foreign publics the concrete steps that are being taken domestically to address this issue while also showcasing honest and hardworking Nigerians that have successfully established brands with global appeal. Also, successful Nigerians in the diaspora like Kelechi Madu, the first black Canadian Minister of Justice, may be showcased to help substantiate some of the assertions of government officials that Nigerians are hardworking and honest.

The absence of consideration for these policy prescriptions appear to suggest that Nigeria’s external political strategy is yet to come to terms with the changing dynamics of global politics where military and economic might are no longer the only determinants of a country’s global standing. Through cultural, social and political values countries may shape the hearts and minds of not just global publics but also governments. Unlike most developing countries, Nigeria disposes of a vast array of soft power resources including a budding entertainment industry made up of movies, music and comedies. Also, its companies, mostly banks, are amongst the most admired brands in Africa. These resources may form the basis of a public or cultural diplomacy strategies geared towards enhancing the image and reputation of the country and altering the attitudes of foreign publics towards Nigeria.   

[i]Wang, J. (2006).Public diplomacy and global business.Journal of Business Strategy 27(3): 41–49.

[ii] Epstein, K. (2019, August 23). Fraudsters tried to steal more than $40 million in one of the biggest online scam cases in U.S. history. Washington Post.

[iii] Austin, R. (2019, August 29). ‘The misdeeds of a few’: Nigeria speaks out over $46m fraud case. The Guardian.

[iv] Campbell, J. (2019, September 27). U.S. Arrests Celebrated Nigerian Entrepreneur for Fraud.Council on Foreign Relations.,seven%20of%20them%20were%20Nigerian.

[v] BBC News. (2019b, September 23).Letter from Africa: Why Nigeria’s internet scammers are ‘role models’.

Fidel Abowei is an independent consultant and a PhD Candidate at the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham. Twitter: @Drfmab

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U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Matters Arising and Way Forward

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On the eve of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit planned for December 13-15 in Washington, the Corporate Council in partnership with the African Union and the U.S. State Department hosted discussions which was a combination of online and offline with a number of experts from the United States and Africa.

Katherine Tai, the 19th United States Trade Representative and Secretary-General Wene from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Ambassador Rama Yade, Senior Director of the Africa Center. Taking part was the Dean of the African diplomatic corps in the United States.

This discussion came on the eve of the US-Africa Leaders Summit (ALS), which will advance US-African collaboration on today’s most pressing global and regional priorities. The ALS will reflect the breadth and depth of US partnerships with African governments, businesses, civil society, and citizens-partnerships based on dialogue, respect, and shared values that harness the ingenuity and creativity of American and African people.

There were various themes during the discussion against the difficult geopolitical backdrop of high global economic imbalances slowing direct investment into the continent as well as accelerating shifts in the job market. 

Worth noting that the United States – Africa Leaders’ Summit will be hosted by President Joe Biden, and it primarily serves as a demonstration and commitment towards the African continent and further provides the platform for new joint initiatives between the United States and countries in Africa.

The discussion reviewed, somehow the current relations as well as possible new initiatives to boost the continent’s recovery from coronavirus pandemic, how to effectively bolster food security and to promote investment in various critical sectors including infrastructure, health and renewable energy, among other priorities.

On the other hand, the discussion also focused on strengthening the African diaspora communities and engage them in advancing a two-way trade and investment partnership, scale up innovation and entrepreneurship, and drive advancements in key sectors. 

The United States together with the African diaspora have a very unique opportunity to make sure to change the narrative of trade and focus on inclusive rather than only on market access. Supporting women and youth in  identifying opportunities, challenges and also barriers that confront them.

Questions such as what are the challenges that we can confront together and what are the solutions that we can present to heads of states and government to begin to change the last 60 years or so of exclusion of young people people for mainstream economic activity excluding – exclusion of small medium enterprises from mainstream economic activity to make them partners in the implementation.

The United States understands that African Union and African leaders are looking at regional linkages very strategically and then always around inclusivity. How and what to do better with economic engagement inside and outside, to bring everyone along and not to leave people behind.

The United States already plans to take concrete action to benefit young people including women, to benefit small medium enterprises, small cum medium enterprises in Africa, creating over 450 million jobs. And the bulk of that 450 million jobs are young Africans. 

The Corporate Council on Africa significantly undertakes the tremendous support and even galvanize U.S. leadership and engagement in partnership with allies and with partners to shape solutions to global challenges Africa. Its people have a critical role to play in achieving such solutions, Ambassador Tai noted in her discussion.

Nearly the discussants agreed all that will require a combination of private sector activities and governmental actions and one key governmental framework for Africa is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The free trade area promises deepening economic integration. It creates a single market for goods and services for almost 1.3 billion people across Africa. In fact, the 50 for African Union members have signed the agreement, 42 members have ratified it and 39 have deposited their instruments of ratification.

The Secretary General of the the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) during the summit will be able to discuss the way forward. The United States intends to fully engage with Africa as the recent Africa strategy says in a 21st century U.S.-Africa partnership and one aspect of that Africa is a friend shoring, which is to say working with reliable partners. It is noted to work within the framework that provides integration between West Africa and East Africa, between North Africa and Southern Africa.

Within the framework of the African Union agenda, the new generation who wants to build on geopolitical partnership dimension in the regional economic communities and with African countries. The point is that there are symmetries, obviously, between the economy and industrial development trajectory, and between developing and developed countries.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act offers rules and regulations relating to trade agreements, especially tariff liberalization, this is an important aspect for building sustainable economic cooperation between the two regions.

The United States and its partnering institutions (both public and private) can best work together to spearhead continuous complementary work as it relates to both business security for participating actors and investors and including for example, the global African diaspora and beyond industry for things like creative and cultural industries. 

The speakers unanimously confirmed the summit as the highest unique platform to determine the geo-economic centers, examine thoroughly the global priorities and challenges, and concretely design the main directions of U.S.-Africa cooperation. It offers, especially this critical times, an orientation towards the future, at least the next decade, between the African continent and the United States.

U.S.-African Leaders Summit 2022, aims at enhancing cooperation on shared global priorities. The heads of state and leaders from across the African continent will converge in Washington D.C., within the context of the United States-Africa Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States of America. 

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The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora Announces AU20 Writing Project Winners

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The African Union (AU) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) hosted a residency programme under the AU20 project for established writers from across Africa to produce a piece of work that celebrates the unity and potential of the African continent.

This year, the African Union celebrates its 20th anniversary since the organization’s establishment at the Durban Summit of July 2002. Dubbed AU20, the celebrations have taken place under the theme “Our Africa, Our Future” and focuses on the AU’s initiatives, successes, impact, challenges and the way forward. 

The writers residency took the form of a hybrid programme, with two online meetings in October/November and a two-week physical residency at the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) in Accra, Ghana from November 14 – 28.

Catering to the theme “Our Africa, Our Future”, five writers from the continent were tasked to interpret the theme in a broad and expansive way across a selected genre, including fiction, narrative non-fiction and poetry. The piece is pegged between 5,000 and 7,000 words (or five poems for poets) on the theme “Our Africa, Our Future” for the e-book. The final work will be published in an e-book anthology to be released in early 2023.

The AU20 project aims to elevate the profile of the AU in the minds of Africans, particularly the creative community, and better connect the AU to African citizens. Powered by Africa No Filter, the writers residency is a unique contribution towards bringing the African Union closer to the African people by selecting creative professionals who think outside the box, dare to challenge conventions and offer new and original work through their chosen materials, techniques and subject matters.

The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) together with the African Union, the UNDP and Africa No Filter have now announced the final winners of the AU20 writing project. Here are the five winners and bit of their professional backgrounds.

i) Nour Kamel from the Arab Republic of Egypt. Nour writes about identity, language, sexuality, queerness, gender, oppression, femininity, trauma, family, lineage, globalization, loss and food. She is the author of the chapbook “Noon” in New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita).

ii) TJ Benson from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His writing explores the body in the context of memory, migration, utopia and the unconscious self and his works have been exhibited, published in several journals, and shortlisted for awards. The author of three novels, his latest, People Live Here, is out now.

iii) Musih Tedji Xaviere from the Republic of Cameroon. She is a writer, activist, and Moth Storyteller. Her debut novel, These Letters End in Tears, won the 2021 Pontas and JJ Bola Emerging Writer’s Prize. It will be published in the US and UK in 2024 by Catapult and Jacaranda Books.

iv) Tony Mochama from the Republic of Kenya. He is a poet, author and senior journalist at The Nation Media Group. He is a three-time winner of the Burt Awards for African Young Adult Literature and is a recipient of the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship. His futuristic novel, 2063 – Last Mile Bet, was published by Oxford University Press.

v) Sue Nyathi from the Republic of South Africa. She is the author of four novels, her latest, An Angel’s Demise, published in October by Pan Macmillan. A Zimbabwean based in South Africa, she was shortlisted for the 2020 Dublin Literary Award and is a JIAS Fellow ’22.

According to reports, The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) received an overwhelming number of applications from across the continent, and the selected writers represent the best of African literary talent as well as the literary future. 

Started in a one-room office, the library attracted significant national and international attention and quickly outgrew itself. In 2020, it re-branded as the Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora and moved to a bigger space that includes a special collections/archive room, a screening room and extensive outdoor event space.

As a complete African library, it has also an archive, a museum, a writing residency and a research facility. It is dedicated to the collection and visualization of authors from Africa and the African diaspora from the late 19th century to the present. 

The library has over 4000 volumes of literary fiction and narrative nonfiction dating from the early 20th century to the present day. From Algeria to Kenya and from Liberia to Zimbabwe, the collections represent the rich diversity of the African continent and its vast Diaspora. 

LOATAD’s focus is on books by writers of African descent including African, African American, Caribbean, Black European, Afro-Latin, and Indigenous writers. The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) is located in Accra, Ghana. 

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Ramaphosa Faces Possible Impeachment for Corruption

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has fallen into turbulent waves and struggling to save his position and reputation. It has tainted image of and changed the global perception about South Africa, if Ramaphosa is finally impeached for corruption scandal similar to his predecessor Jacob Zuma. He, however, made corruption fight a top priority during the political campaign and has fallen victim himself.

Ramaphosa ousted former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 amid optimism that the new leader could rid the ruling party of graft and revitalise the economy. Zuma faces several corruption investigations, but denies wrongdoing.

He faces possible impeachment over claims that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed inside his commercial farmlands. Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in June over the theft in 2020. 

The Investigative Committee has concluded its report which report found the president may have breached anti-corruption laws. The African National Congress, the ruling party, has called for him to step down. But, Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing.

“We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy as a result of the report, and therefore whatever decision the president takes, it has to be informed by the best interest of the country. That decision cannot be rushed,” according to the spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.

A panel report that found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office is a “troubling moment” for the government and governing party, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor said in an interview with the Reuters.

Pandor added that she was still reading the panel report on the robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm and that she did not want to rush into the public space with additional comments.

The panel’s findings come less than a month away from an elective conference that will decide if Ramaphosa gets to run for a second term on the African National Congress ticket in 2024 polls.

According to his biographical record, Ramaphosa is an anti-apartheid champion, and later South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen and then its most powerful politician and president. Born in Johannesburg on Nov. 17, 1952, the son of a retired policeman. Ramaphosa is a staunch member of the African National Congress (ANC).

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