A smart African president at the White House is on a world stage. He can convert every minute of it to productive outcomes depending on steps he or she takes as well as what he or she says and to whom. The times are, however, such that even if the African president is the leader of the continent’s leading powerhouse, it could still be a bad time to go to DC. Although the United States has a thousand interests to protect in every corner of the world, the Korean Peninsula is the high stake issue in her diplomacy now. Add to that the task of editing its relationship with China, an emergent peer competitor, the reality it has dreaded. Add to that again the combustive nature of the businessman politician serving as president of the United States, someone who can tweet that his foreign minister was wasting his time having a particular meeting from which nothing good would come out even while the meeting in question was still on.
Be that as it may, it was probably a trip that just had to be made because it could not have been better timed. The domestic scene was becoming too stuffy, with struggle for power amidst elite fragmentation on a frightening scale, killings that are capable of interpretations and misinterpretations, all with implications for national well being; multiplication of security threats from Boko Haram in 2015 to not a few additional ones. These are issues the US is bound to articulate its position in an encounter between it and Nigeria at the level of the presidents.
Now, Trump has basically framed the violence in Nigeria as killing of Christians, something that he said America would not accept and would be doing a lot about. Coming on the heels of what the Pope had said and what Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s lone Nobelist said Sunday, a framing of the killings as ethnic cleansing as well as clash of civilisations is emerging. If the way a problem is understood is also the way it is solved, then the case for something more drastic is just too obvious now because the framing has implications for meaning and action.
Trump is American president. He may not be a star on the job but neither was George Bush junior before 9/11 and his subsequent transformation into a star before his fall again in the aftermath of the disaster in invading Iraq. Trump’s framing of the issue is, therefore, important because there are too many others that would follow him in their attempt to understand what it is that is going on in Nigeria. And this just because he is president of the United States! As they say, language is powerful because of the way powerful people use it.
Power cannot be measured but in the current global configuration, a Trump’s view of reality would soar farther than Buhari’s, meaning that it is time for Mister President to drop the narrative of the killings in Nigeria as the handiwork of unruly Gaddafi’s killers. Assuming that they are, does that excuse the Nigerian State from bloodying their nose, at whatever cost?
There were other issues hidden in diplomatic finesse but which are not as critical. There can be no knowing yet what Trump, Theresa May, Archbishop of Canterbury and other Western leaders that the Nigerian president has met recently are directly and indirectly telling him about going or not for second term. Whatever is their position, it is important everyone knows the situation is scary.
There was no interrogation of Trump on reference to Africa as shithole. Both sides spoke to that. That was the wiser thing to do, to leave out such problematic things that will lead to nowhere when it is one- on – one or bilateral.
The late Gen Murtala Mohammed used to congratulate the equally late Gen Joe Garba for being taller than Henry Kissinger. That was Joe Garba as Nigeria’s Foreign Minister and Kissinger was his American counterpart. Following the Murtala sense of it, it is perhaps apt to congratulate President Buhari for standing as nearly tall as Donald Trump. Thereafter, the president needs to put the trip in perspective. Nigeria is, indeed, bleeding!