The celebration of an independence Day in international relations can mean different things, especially in terms of rationales for the celebration. A National Day is not restricted in meaning to that of statehood. As we do have a National Scotch Day every July 27, so do we also have the National New Jersey Day on this same day and the National Day of the Cowboy also held on every last Saturday of July. In this regard, our interest in this column is not in the meaning of National Day for constitutive states or stakeholders in an existing sovereign state, but essentially in the conception of National Day in the context of national sovereignty. It is within this framework that we can be able to discuss objectively US foreign policy of détente under President Donald Trump as a sovereign leader of a sovereign State.
For instance, the Chinese do not talk about ‘Independence,’ but National Day, which is generally also referred to as Double Ten Day or Double Tenth Day, that is, 10 October. This is done in commemoration of the Wuchang Uprising of 10 October, 1911, which led to the end of the Qing Dynasty in China and establishment of the Chinese Republic on 1st January, 1912.
However, with the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the National Day was changed to October 1 and generally observed by Hong Kong and Macau. What is noteworthy about the Chinese National Day is the factor of its week-long public holidays, called the ‘golden week,’ during which the Chinese travel around their country. Festivities begin every October 1. October 3rd is considered the official day, and this is followed by another 3-day holiday. As can be seen in both the contexts of the French and the United States, celebration of Independence and National Day is nothing more than a remembrance of the struggle against oppression.
In Russia, as another example, National Day or Russia Day, is to commemorate the day of adoption of the declaration of state sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) before 2002. The day of celebration is every June 12, which is considered as Democracy Day in Nigeria. It is celebrated by the Russian Federation in the form of flag hoisting, parades, fireworks, award ceremonies, chanting patriotic songs, etc.
The genesis of the Russia Day should also be noted. On June 12, 1990, the First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Republic (then part of the Soviet Union) adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the RSFSR. The declaration made the Constitution and the laws of Russian Republic superior to the Soviet Union’s legislation. In fact, on June 11, 1992 the Supreme Soviet of Russia published a decree designating June 12 as a public holiday, which is marked by holiday concerts, mass open air celebrations and sports events. It was first celebrated on June 12, 1995. In 1998, Boris Yeltsin, Russian President, proposed calling the day, ‘Day of Adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of RSFSR), simply as ‘Russia Day’ and it was not until February 1, 2002 that it was so renamed.
In this regard, let us, for example, espy some countries celebrating their national or independence day in the month of July. They include Canada, which celebrates its own day every July 1, in remembrance of July 1, 1867 considered the effective date of the Constitution of Canada. What is noteworthy about the case of Canada is that ‘Canada Day’ is quite different from ‘Canada’s Independence Day.’
The United States celebrates its own Independence Day on July 4, while the French have July 14 as their own day. However, independence in this regard, does not imply that the French people were under any colonial rule or master of the type of the 13 colonies which fought the British government and thereafter united themselves to become the United States of America (USA). It is different from the type of independence of Nigeria and India.
True, July 14, for the French people, is the ‘National Day, a day also referred to as the Bastille Day. It was a day on which the 1789 French Revolution began and a revolution during which the King of France had his head chopped off. The conception of independence in the context of France, therefore, simply means liberation from monarchical dictatorship, not from outsiders, but from local authorities. And true enough again, July 14 is always a day of military parades and fireworks, beginning from the Arc de Triomphe (Arc of Victory) through the Avenue des Champs Elysées, down to the Place de la Concorde (concorde is synonymous with peace, agreement, hence, ‘’place of agreement or peace’). Thus, Independence or National Day is a unifying factor. Additionally, it should be said that, in France, independence day and national day co-exist as two sides of the same coin. The two words are interchangeably used to mean the same thing.
In the case of the United States, independence was not for one single nation but for thirteen nations. Consequently, independence or national day is coterminous with freedom, liberty, sovereignty, in the same way the French talk about liberty, equality, and fraternity. Independence, as an act or event, can be discussed in terms of war, that is, independence war, or independence history or independence movement. Our interest in this column, therefore, is that the celebration of independence or national day has become a potent instrument of foreign policy implementation beyond military parades, fireworks, musical entertainments, etc. It is now being used as a major instrument for political campaigns, as being manifested under the presidency of Donald Trump.
This is why the celebration of an Independence Day by sovereign States is generally an important feature in international relations. And true enough, many reasons explain such a celebration: to remind of pride and beauty of national sovereignty, recall the efforts of national struggle where necessary, keep old and make new friends, project to the world new developments in one’s country, and more significantly, use the openness of the anniversary for intelligence gathering.
Again, in this regard, the year 1776 marked the 1st Anniversary of the independence of the United States, implying a long period of acquisition of experience. The 243rd anniversary was marked in Lagos, at the residence of the Consul General of the United States, Mr. F. John Bray, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 and probably later celebrated at the residence of the US ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. W. Stuart Symington in Abuja on Thursday, July 4, 2019.
From the foregoing, there is no disputing the fact that the notion of ‘independence’ is complex. It first implies a transition from a situation of dependence to independence. In other words, independence is a rejection of dependence, and to be independent necessarily requires self-reliance and rejection of factors of dependency on others. It is by so doing that there can be capacity and political will to sustain independent policies.
This is why it is often argued that inter-dependence is a major pillar of international relations. No country can successfully be an island unto itself. No matter the extent of capacity for self-reliance, the need to still depend on others for one need or the other, is a desideratum. For instance, President Donald Trump’s foreign policy of ‘Making America Great Again’ or his ‘America First’ policy is nothing more than seeking to lessen the dependence of the United States on other powers, be they small, medium or great. And there is nothing wrong in this type of foreign policy pursuit.
In doing this, all efforts are made to reduce, if not prevent, threats to the national security of the United States. In fact, for the people of America, the word ‘independence’ is synonymous with United States, simply because the 1775-1783 American Revolutionary War is also generally considered as an American War of Independence, in which the thirteen colonies, with support of the French, successfully combated the British colonialists. There is therefore the element of fierté in the US celebration of its independence anniversary.
Nigeria as an Idea
The 2019, July 4 Independence celebration by President Donald Trump in Washington was that of extravaganza in design. The day or celebration was called Salute to America.’ As previewed by Reuters Top News, ‘at around 6.30 pm (22.30 GMT), Trump will take to the hallowed steps of the Lincoln memorial for an unprecedented event that will include a televised address, military hardware and a giant fireworks display. The nation’s top military brass will have a front row seat. The modified Boeing 747 used as Air Force One, will fly over, as will noisy, powerful warplanes expected to include F-35s, and jets from the navy’s Blue Angels air show team.’
The foregoing is to underscore the type of importance often attached to an independence celebration. In fact, in the words of Donald Trump, before July 4, ‘we will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington DC on July 4th. It will be called a “Salute to America,” and this will be held at the Lincoln Memorial. Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favourite President, Me!’ In this regard, Independence Day is made synonymous with liberty, celebration of liberty, rejection of dependency and dictatorship. It is more often than not, a day for furthering self-projection activities, particularly in terms of national development.
In Lagos, expectedly, the crème de la crème of the society was at the residence of the Consul General: Archbishop Adewale Martins of the Holy Cross was one of those who arrived on time. Erelu Abiola Dosunmu was also in this category. Professors Ralph Akinfeleye and Duro Oni, both of the University of Lagos, were there. The well-respected Oni of Ife and members of his entourage were there. His Excellency, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania, Mr. Ibru and Mr. J.K. Randle were also in company of the American celebrants. In fact, a very ‘presidentiable’ Nigerian, saxophonist and former governor, Duke, was not absent.
On arriving at the venue, a display of various national flags is what one quickly sees. Beside it was also a panel board on which the Americans express their appreciation to guests for accepting to attend the event. As noted on the board, ‘thank you for attending our Independence Day Celebration… We thank our generous sponsors…’ Without scintilla of doubt, the sponsors were many and famous: Heineken, Wild Turkey American Honey, Dow TÁTÁ, Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Moneygram, Fedex, Citi, Visa, etc.
The environment of reception was tightly secured. There were too many vehicles for the few parking slots in the whole area. Because of the breeze from the lagoon, the environment was cool. The air was quite oxygenated, even if many guests still opted to fan themselves. In other words, there was a bit of human traffic go-slow, which created the warmth. Unlike during Chinese anniversary celebrations where RSVP does not mean ‘répondez s’il vous plait,’ but ‘rice and stew very plenty,’ entertainment of guest was more of provision of snacks. There were fruits, assorted drinks and musical entertainment galore by the Ebony Band. True, all the edible things provided were quite rich in energy nutrients, carbohydrates and calcium. Promotion of a new brand of wine was done. Without any gainsaying, bar was inexhaustible. Music rendition was mostly extra-African.
Three observations are particularly interesting about the 2019 celebration of US Independence Day in Lagos, Nigeria: warm reception of guests, beautiful rendition of the US National Anthem by Yinka Davies, and the message of Ambassador Symington. As regards reception of guests, the mania of reception not only portrayed the American belief in professional competency and delivery, but also in the decreasing importance attached to the issue of colour race. In other words, have the capacity and operate freely. I noted that most of the receiving hostesses were not only Nigerians, but also Nigerians that other good natured Nigerians should be very proud of. Their mania of reception of invited guests was smilingly friendly and prompt, unassuming, courteous, and protocolar. Whatever animosity any attending guest may have at the point of security entry check-in point is necessarily and naturally obliterated by the attitudinal disposition of the hostesses and other members of staff lined up to salute and welcome all guests.
It cannot be surprising, therefore, if the US Ambassador reserved his special commendation for the Consul General and his staff for pulling a quality crowd. It was difficult to evaluate gender balance as people were frequently moving from one place to the other, to shake hands, dine and wine. The high number of invitees at the reception was befitting. This brings us to the second point of observation, the message of the US ambassador.
Ambassador Symington made three departing points of observation in his speech. The first is his direct concern for peace. He explained it both philosophically and hypothetically. As he put it, there are 10,000 birds coming in and 1,000 people are talking. ‘If you are talking about peace in the world, please keep on talking.’ The import of this is that the discussion about 10,000 birds can be an important issue, but cannot be as important as an environment of peace which the birds need to live in and survive. By extended analysis for Nigeria, the reference to 10,000 birds can be another way of talking about the many problems with which the people of Nigeria are confronted. In addressing them, the ambassador is indirectly saying that an atmosphere of peace is required for their solution.
Another point of observation is the direct announcement of the recall of the ambassador. The style of announcement is again noteworthy: very biblical. John the Baptist was baptising with water but he told his followers and the world that another person, Jesus Christ, who was greater than him in all ramifications, would still be coming to the world and would be baptising by Holy Ghost. This is the way Ambassador Symington replicated the biblical idea: it is not true that behind every successful man is a successful woman. This phraseology is different from the usual saying in Nigeria that ‘behind a successful man is a woman.’ In terms of the functional cordiality and coordination of the functions of representation of the United States diplomatic mission in Nigeria, and particularly in the area of protection of the US national interests, it is a man who has been behind or by the side of the ambassador, and that is the Consul General.
But, perhaps most importantly, the ambassador said his successor would be a woman who is expected to perform greater wonders than the out-going Consul General. The ambassador made it clear that he, indeed, was also addressing his last crowd in Nigeria. At this juncture, the Nigerianomania already acquired by the ambassador was shown and most of the guests wished that they had the ultimate power to stop his going back home. Most unfortunately, this is not possible, as there is time for everything, time for an accreditation to begin and another time for the tenure to come to an end.
His third point of submission was that Nigeria is an idea and not simply a country of a nation, with which the American people are familiar. Nigeria has 497 languages which is twice the number often given at the United Nations. The problem is that there is one government but there are 100 observers. In this regard, Nigeria does not need any foreign invention or intruders in resolving the country’s problems. In his words, ‘Nigerians know what to do.’ And what is it that Nigerians are required to do? According to the ambassador, there should not be oil subsidy and power should be given to the people in terms of stopping power outage. The political leaders should come together to make Nigeria one nation bound in freedom. If Nigeria can get it right, the whole world will be quite better for it as the future of Nigeria is crystal bright.
Grosso modo, the 243rd US Independence Anniversary celebration took place on the heels of President Donald Trump’s emerging foreign policy détente. Détente is a French word and simply means the lessening of tension in a relationship, and by so doing, also improving the relationship. If we espy the ties between the United States, on the one hand, and North Korea, on the other, or between the United States and the Chinese in the area of their trade war, there can be no disputing the fact that US relations with North Korea and the Chinese are witnessing an easing of hostility which has characterised such ties until now.
Why is the US president engaging in the diplomacy of détente now? Is he really interested in an improved ties with China and North Korea? To what extent can the framework of annual independence day be useful? Can such days not be specially organised to also promote peace-making lectures and activities?
Independence Anniversary and Détente
The future of détente as a new and major component of US foreign policy under President Donald Trump, especially as being manifested at the level of the Washingtonian and Pyongyang relations, on the one hand, and Washington and Beijing ties, on the other hand, is quite bright and the reason cannot be far-fetched: Ambassador Symington is not much bothered about noisiness on the sidelines, bickering, noise making, etc, people can continue with their conversations for as long as they are about peace seeking and peace- making. If the US ambassador sees Nigeria as an idea, he is also implicitly also saying that Nigeria is indivisible or indestructible because an idea cannot be destroyed. One can disagree with it but one cannot destroy it. The celebration of the 243rd US Independence Day celebration is a major foundation-laying for a détente-driven quest for global peace. But whether Donald Trump is really serious about peace-making or he is simply playing to the gallery for purposes of re-election next year is not yet clearly known. However, time will tell.