By Adagbo Onoja
These two books have not been written for Nigerian foreign policy but it would be surprising if they do not form the training manuals for the assemblage associated with formulation and conduct of contemporary foreign policy – the Presidency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the military, the think tanks, academia, the civil society connected to foreign policy and, of course, the media. Surely, the writers cannot have any illusion that Nigeria is the single most important actor that can make it happen. Nigeria’s endowment in the cultural power resources to underwrite the Africanisation of the global question which can be put at the core of the two texts is tremendous. It is true that Nigerian foreign policy practices still has to be re-oriented to factor in the cultural power resources but this is something that can be mapped unto foreign policy practices in a matter of months.
They would have to if Nigeria is going to run a foreign policy of relevance in the unfolding world of signs and meanings. Quantitative realism would still form parts of foreign policy but the agenda setting has slipped neorealist foreign policy practice. Cultural power resources such as the media, internet, film, literature, music, and metaphors have eaten deep into the traditional domains of intelligence, the military, traditional diplomacy and summitry because these cultural resources have enhanced geo-panoptic capabilities that the traditional diplomatic formats do not have in the context of a virtual world. Twitter alone has demonstrated this claim in the defining issues in the 2003 Gulf War and the on-going Syrian War.
This is not a review of the book but of the more important question of the moment in global politics which it speaks to. Crudely, it is the moment which says that truth is not a product of objective criteria but similar to the goatskin bag each elder carried in Umofia in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. If everyone carries his or her own wisdom in global politics and there is no centre or core, then everyone has to write his or her own truth and push it to consensus. Otherwise, it will be a backwater actor because it is the power of your narrative that gives you the reckoning to command any reference in the international system. What this means is that what one says s/he is becomes more important than what one might actually be. What one says one is does not automatically materialise that reality. It still has to be invested into reckoning. How that is achieved is the politics of meaning in foreign policy analysis.
The book is thus situated in the argument that Africa’s own truth has been written for it by others, particularly Europe, meaning the exclusion of Africa from the modernity since the 15th Century which has been dominated by coloniality of its character. To counter this trend means a fall back on a decolonial foreign policy which must first insert indigenous cosmologies in the framing and practices of foreign policy of victims of colonial modernity, a process which makes important the technologies of power that the discursive space enables for the countries that are endowed. God has been too generous to Nigeria in this regard: the cultural diversity – hundreds of tongues, cultural identity with diverse representational tactics. Unfortunately, God did not accompany these with the political leadership with the vision and capability to mould these differences into a power resource that could have made Nigeria the other indispensable nation in global altruism.
In the absence of such leadership, diversity became a source of internal bickering and butchering and local championship has become the name of the game in Nigerian politics. Can this new foreign policy practice overwrite this underdevelopment? It can in the hands of a deft manager of policy. In which case, President Tinubu might be lucky coming in at a time there is a new paradigm to plug into.
Right now, a picture of South African fire fighters singing before they plug into a fire containment engagement in Canada has gone viral. No one knows what frame of intelligibility the foreign policy mandarins in the South African Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidency, the South African Defence Force (SADF), top universities and the media will impose on that outing. It is a rich power resource for foreign policy posture in the context of the politics of meaning and textuality.
Published earlier this year – 2023- these texts are still oven fresh.