The visit fits into the US long standing policy of containing trouble and trouble makers in faraway places
For an administration that has had scant regard for and interest in the continent, the visit by the United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a handful of African countries acquires some significance. Despite cutting short the number of days, Tillerson nevertheless visited Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya before arriving Nigeria yesterday for several hours before heading back home last night.
Ordinarily, the global gravity of the US dictates that the engagements of its chief diplomat attract attention and headlines. Predictably, and quite expectedly, the choice of countries on this visit was dictated more by the interests of the US than some globalist illusions. This was not a trip about the usual issues that usually dominate such visit in the past: AIDS pandemic, massive poverty or indeed about how to uplift African economies from the jaws of a new debt burden. This was an exercise in undisguised marketing of ‘America First’.
Whatever Tillerson may have said in Abuja or elsewhere in Africa, the real interests are first and foremost strategic from point of view of the security of the US and its long standing policy of containing trouble and trouble makers in faraway places so that no harm comes to the American mainland. So the choice of Kenya, Chad, Nigeria, Djibouti and Ethiopia has everything to do with the clear and present danger posed by terrorism and the spread of destabilising fundamentalist theologies. There is little, if anything, in this itinerary that could uplift the economies of these countries or their peoples either now or in the future.
It is within the foregoing context that we should view Tillerson’s whistle stop visit to Abuja yesterday. President Muhammadu Buhari is therefore better placed if he does not raise any expectations from this flying visit beyond the symbolism of diplomatic handshakes and rehash of banalities. The military cooperation between Nigeria and the US has not made much progress aside the fact that a few combat aircraft were sold to our military. In spite of the basing of US drones and service personnel in Chad, Boko Haram has continued to operate freely as evidenced in the recent mass abduction of school girls from Dapchi. The normal expectation would be that with active cooperation of countries like the US, Britain and France, incidents like the Dapchi abductions would be near impossible.
Beyond the predictable counsels on terrorism, it is expected that Tillerson and his Nigerian hosts would have found time to exchange frank views on the need for the administration to improve on its human rights record which, according to Amnesty International and local Nigerian independent observers, remains dismal. The increasing use of the military to contain security threats should also be of concern to all interested observers of the Nigerian scene.
Tillersons may have had general observations to make to his Nigerian counterparts on the need to deepen democratic culture in the country as the ultimate guarantee of peace and security. Yet, he could only have had an audience on such matters for the simple reason that he was flying the US flag. As the number one ambassador of the Donald Trump Washington, Tillerson must have had quite a burden retaining attention given the fact that the administration he represents is presided over by a man whose actions and words are a travesty of the finest traditions of American democracy as the world has come to know it.
While we wish Tillerson safe journey back to America, we must nonetheless stress for the benefit of our authorities that such diplomatic stopover are meaningful only if the Nigerian state conducts itself with the dignity and sense of purpose that would compel leaders of more advanced societies to show greater respect for African countries and their governments.