When Economic Diplomacy Becomes a Necessity [opinion] (allAfrica.com)
Days ago, I had a conversation with a friend and classmate from my master’s class of Diplomatic Studies in the University of Westminster, London. My friend, who is not a Nigerian, wanted to get some exciting heads up on the new government in Nigeria. Being an enthusiast in international relations with particular interest in African affairs, he was curious about issues currently surrounding Nigeria’s diplomacy. He wanted to know why Nigeria’s new President, Muhammed Buhari, has been the one leading what, he (my friend) said, is clearly known in the international community as Shuttle diplomacy to rebuild alliances with other nations towards strengthening Nigeria’s foreign policy. This, he said further, is ordinarily an exercise that ought to have been embarked upon by a very senior government official accompanied by a few highly experienced diplomats. My response was quite instructive. Nigeria is just starting to get a restorative touch after a bout of terrible governance which has led to a considerable strain on Nigeria’s relationships with many of our international allies especially our pseudo-friendly western countries. Therefore it is only proper for the head of the new government, who many world leaders have described as a clear departure from Nigeria’s recent political past, to personally champion the institution of fresh diplomatic engagements with the required urgency.
Also, I added, Nigeria is obviously not a Western nation, and certainly not one of the “favoured” ones outside of the West, regardless of our population and size, that are accorded preferential courtesies on critical diplomatic and political issues. His gestural response was not immediately decipherable and while I thought for a second to prod his mind on my standpoint on the subject matter, he was swifter to introduce another angle.
“I understand your new square-shooting President gave a dressing down to some notable members of the Nigerian business community who allegedly turned up without invitation at the President’s meeting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa during the President’s shuttle diplomatic visit to President Obama.
“I just wonder that this is the moment when Nigeria should deploy the full spectrum of its diplomatic tools including economic diplomacy in bringing its flagging economy back on its feet. And this can hardly be achieved without the engagement and efforts of the business people and entrepreneurs from your country”, he argued.
I couldn’t but agree with him on that point. In fact, I felt he had spied in on my mind. Actually, I had, before then, wondered why our President, as shown in several reports, was less tactful in expressing his displeasure with the presence of “unwanted” guests at such a strategic economic and diplomatic gathering.
More importantly, I still wonder why the presidency only made public the names of the government officials and politicians on President Buhari’s convoy to the US while the identities of economic technocrats that normally should be on the team, if any, were not revealed. Similarly, nothing has been said about the potential direct economic take-away derivable to Nigeria as a result of the outing. Even the possibility of the US coming to embolden our military personnel through technical input and equipment supply to defeat the devilish Boko Haram insurgents keeps waning by the day. If I’m not mistaken, it is a globally acceptable practice for a country to be represented by its best economic brains at such strategic meetings where essential agreements on trade exchange and Foreign Direct Investments are negotiated and sealed. This is even more important for a country like ours that needs to boost her non-oil industry with utmost urgency. Many Nigerians are still bemused on how a country like Singapore that attained its independence around the same time as Nigeria and has gone through arduous circumstances like we are currently undergoing has now left us behind. The Singaporean story is now being used as development model by policy-makers and academicians around the world. Just around us, Djibouti is aggressively on the move to make a mark on the world stage, and its leaders are exploring all avenues to make it happen. Their focus is on incentivising foreign investments and “poaching” business leaders around the world to help bring the country’s vision of economic growth to fruition. This is evidenced in the Djibouti President, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s, appointment, about two years ago, of a Nigerian businessman, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, as Honorary Consulate-General of the Republic of Djibouti in Nigeria. A move geared towards promoting trade and investment between Nigeria and Djibouti particularly in the maritime and aviation sectors where Afolabi has made a good name for himself. That is a country that has come to terms with the importance of having active economic diplomatic relations with other nations.
Fortunately for us, I dare to say, the immediate past administration also espoused the prospect of an economic diplomacy and suggested that it should be made active in the chiefly Afro-centric Nigeria’s foreign policy.
“While upholding the democratic imperative and our leadership role on the continent, we would strive to redefine our foreign policy… We will redress existing imbalances and forge a strong partnership with the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to assist economic growth. Consequently, members of OPS would frequently constitute part of any bilateral discussions between our governments and other foreign delegations, so that Nigeria can benefit from visits to and from other countries,” late former minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru said.
Hence, it behoves on the current administration to tap into the prospects that economic diplomacy offers.
Of course, citizens around the world stare at most politicians and their friends in the private sector through the prism of cynicism. And it’s no different in Nigeria. But the new government should not lose touch with the truism that there are still a few upright ones in the system whose inputs would be significant in the move for economic advancement and a greater Nigeria.