Akinwumi, Gbagbo and the Reality of Africa in the International System


Adesina Akinwunmi (dawncommission.org) Laurent Gbagbo (Britannica)

By Ademola Araoye 

The travails of Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), have elicited high voltage nationalistic emotions. Commentary over commentary has exalted his impeccable academic credentials, unique experiences and exalted his almost futuristic, in the context of Nigeria, profile, as if these were the main issues in his tribulation. Yet, these effusive sentiments are understandable in a nation that has bogged itself down in a national politics of quotas, mediocrity and relative contingent parameters. The acclaimed excellence of a part is the horror of the absolute mediocrity of another part of the polity. This is at all levels of the national process. So, it is in this context that the hemorrhage of the best brains from the mediocrity driven national life is not itself an issue. But that is a matter for another day. For now, the national befuddlement over the Akinwumi saga has been unmistakable in revealing the persistence of ingrained myths about the nature of interactions in the international system. There exists a puerile understanding of the nature of the international system, its structures and institutions, protocols and the dynamics that are generated.

Accordingly, the lack of familiarity with the true character of the international system has spawned widespread naivete in our appreciations of challenges thrown up. Beyond the calm façade, the multilateral system is very volatile in an international environment that is at the very basic level underpinned by ruthless Hobessian power calculus. The simplistic notions about the utopian character of and requirements for successful strategic engagements are often touted among Nigerian elites. The complexity seems lost as a lot is taken for granted. Life in the international system is perceived as a robust lucky escape from the frustrations of a dysfunctional and badly compromised national contrivance that repels its best human assets away to some perceived glorious warm institutional Siberia. Perhaps, it is. But that exactly is the Achilles heels of most African operatives at all levels in the international system. Success of the individual African of the international system is a function of how the individual responds to the stimulus of the hegemonic and powerful gatekeepers. New entrants as Akinwumi get a first chance to prove themselves, one way or other. Those with established nationalistic profiles are often barred before they do any significant damage to the hegemonic agenda.

Ademola Araoye

I refer to this as the confrontation, encountered to different degrees, with the Patrice Lumumba/ Mobutu Sese Seko dilemma that afflicts any African on any mission at the international level. Conceptually, especially at the higher levels of operation, the choices implied along this spectrum are mutually exclusive syndromes. Every choice, reflected in declared or associated policy preferences, marks the individual, and has a contrived narrative attached to it. The clear consequences of preferences made impact well beyond the immediate choice maker. The Mobutu Sese Seko end of the ethical continuum has immediate immense gratification, even fawning adoration by the very ignorant victimized societies rolled under the wheels of personal ambitions in the choices made by one of their own. However, there is always a real potential for a disastrous ending. For those with the Lumumbist mindset, the immutable choice is bold and courageous with attendant great internal satisfaction, but no guarantees for material gratifications. Often the narratives of damnation are preferred against them, until they are redeemed much later, if lucky. Sadly and often paradoxically, I have noted false and embellished narratives of blatantly controversial Africans touted on the continent. In the manner of Boutros Boutros Ghalis of this world, the very best Africans for the cause of Africa are silently interred. Save, of course, in the gracious memories of the more discerning or the better informed that are equipped to navigate the hegemonic falsehoods of a vicious universe.

Fundamentally, international institutions or multilateral organizations are advanced as the expressions of the better angels of the altruistic human spirit. Cooperation in that clime is assumed to be unencumbered by selfish pursuit in liberalism as an analytic compass. Unfortunately, that’s the preferred unsophisticated understanding of the international system bandied about, especially by and for the underdogs of the system. The sharp reality has been recognized in neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism refines the assumptions of liberalism by infusing the reality of power as the main arbiter in interactions in international cooperative platforms. That is even while cooperation is touted as the main springboard for action. Neo-liberalism thus diminishes the protection of group interests. It rather advances the interests of individual national states. It is therefore the very expression of the Nigerian syndrome of putting political power, sub national interests, over all else. Excellence in that scenario is said to matter, but political interests of the respective individual national actors matter more. Four legs good, two legs better. The projection of power is central. All sorts of subterfuges, ranging from allegations around competence, and/or where it does not hold, the ethical to deficiencies in moral standing, are employed when relations between the engaged  state actors from where the involved citizens are issued are somehow good or needs to be protected. Otherwise, when the gloves are off, the offensive human assets or goods are declared damaged for office. Nothing is off limits. These would appear to be the basic 101s of all strategic engagements in the international system. It is an enduring hard lesson this author learnt as a young diplomat in Vienna. That early appreciation of the sharp realities of the international system served well in navigating personal issues and avoiding heart attack later.

Vienna. It is Autumn/Winter 1985. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) founded in 1965 as an Office was, twenty years after, was being transformed into a Specialized agency of the United Nations to catalyze industrial development in the Third World. The formally stated mission on the organization’s website, now, as then in 1985, is to improve the living conditions of people and promote global prosperity, by offering tailor-made solutions for the sustainable industrial development of developing countries and countries with economies in transition. UNIDO, it is affirmed, has a special place in the United Nations system. It is the only organization specifically targeting the creation of wealth through manufacturing industries, focusing on the small and medium enterprise sector, the key generator of employment in most developing countries. In 1985, it seemed the emerging UNIDO would be the most relevant specialized agency to the fortunes of Africa, with some of the least economically developed countries. Nigeria took a keen interest in its evolution, especially its promised potential impact on African economies. The Systems of Consultations had been put in place on the planned transformation and working with the Industrial Development Board had been thrashing out the internal structures and protocols of this new specialized agency. At the subterranean level, parallel consultations were going on as to who the founding Director General of the organization would be. On the surface and in the political rhetoric, a tested economist with strong administrative experience was profiled for office of the Director General of the UNIDO to be transformed. Eventually, with many potential incumbents dropping out of the race, the field narrowed down to contrasting personalities: Prof Adebayo Adedeji of Nigeria and Ambassador. Domingos Saizon of the Phillipines.

Prof Adebayo Adedeji’s reputation was sterling. An economist of great global stature, he was head of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA). He was the driving intellect of the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action that has remained the authentic blueprint of Africa’s economic integration till today. Even the African Union’s Agenda 2063 is motivated in fact and spirit by the vision of Professor Adedeji. Given the number of African states in UNIDO and the theoretical affinities of Prof Adedeji to the Depencia School that was raging in Latin America then, it was not unexpected that with a little jostling here and there, the Professor would clinch the prized office with the support of China and the Soviet Union. The Nigerian government had also assiduously covered all bases.

I knew Ambassador Domingos Saizon well enough. I observed his thorough engagements in the Vienna domiciled Systems of Consultations and the Industrial Development Board. He read the intimidating voluminous conference books, not notes, churned out almost after every meeting by the Secretariat. He was the most regular Plenipotentiary at all Group of 77 meetings. It didn’t matter if a meeting was just a working group of subalterns, he would be substantively embroiled. In comparison with the very laid back attitude of virtually all Vienna based African Ambassadors, with a possible exception of Ambassador Shash of Egypt, Amb. Saizon was dedicated and thorough. He was only slightly edged by the intellectual, even if aggressive, astuteness of the Indian Ambassador. Yet, for all the bureaucratic muscle, no objective assessor would imagine him holding the candle to the dynamism of the articulate Nigerian professor of Economics. The Nigerian delegation to the First General Conference of the UNIDO as a Specialized Agency in 1985 was led by Amb. Adeniji. The elections of the Director General were stalemated. If my memory serves me well, all permutations of a dedicated block African support fizzled away as Saizon advanced to the fourth round with Adedeji. The next day, Saizon triumphed. How could this be? We had done our homework. In full, so to say, diplomatic regalia, yours truly wept his eyes out. The Americans had spoken. No one with socialist sympathies, or Dependencia theorists or any mobilizing agent of economic integration of Africa was going to lead UNIDO. Basic 101 of international system, excellence is good, but the dominant agenda and the political imperatives around the agenda triumph. Period.

The lesson was reinforced in the unending historic Laurent and Simone Gbagbo debacle. The same dangerously simplistic understandings being exhibited in Nigeria in the Akinwumi Adesina saga was manifest in the case of the Gbagbos. Thinking through Adesina’s situation, I have silently wished him the fate of Laurent Gbagbo. At the same time, I do not wish on Adesina the ultimate fate of a damaged good. As the progressive block in Africa knew at the height of the Ivorian crisis, Gbagbo was guilty of only one passion: the rapid integration of West Africa across imposed divisive Anglo-Franco state demarcations. For good measure, it didn’t matter if Nigeria led. Political apostasy in the heartland of Francophone West Africa!! The Gbagbo episode reaffirmed the lesson that African states cannot be trusted to do right by each other in their common interest. In this instance, it was Nigeria that betrayed the progressive impulses of Africa in the Ivorian crisis.

The reason for the historic indelible Nigeria’s infamy is out there; the personal ambition of a major national figure intent on pleasing France. The sell out of the integrity of Nigeria’s foreign and security policy in relation to the Ivorian conflict was just in order to advance an unconstitutional personal political ambition. Nigeria, metamorphosing as a strange bed fellow with France and its African cronies and proxies, then led by Omar Bongo of Gabon and the likes of Cameroon’s Paul Biya or Dennis Sassou Nguesso in Brazaville, threatened to go to war against Laurent Gbagbo. By implication, Nigeria was declaring war on Gbagbo and African allies. In the progressive anti-neo-colonialist camp were South Africa, Angola, rumored to have anchored a frigate near the Ivorian capital, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Gambia etc… President Atta Mills of Ghana, clearly coming to a good understanding of the fundamental interests of the players in the Ivorian crisis was very clear that Nigeria was on its own in its threatened mad misadventure to Abidjan. In a ridiculous rationalization, Nigeria declared itself the Gerdarme of democracy in Africa.

Thereafter, when the justice of the hegemony and its local cronies was imposed and while Africa formally protested the injustices of the Gbagbo trials at the Hague, the hyperactive Nigerian self declared continental statesman, it is known, was secretly egging on the ICC Prosecutor. It worked to Gbagbo’s favor. Gbagbo’s place in history, reputation and legacy has today been better assured by virtue of the ICC’S trial judges unprecedented declaration. The court proclaimed that Gbagbo, rather the villain that popular narratives of the conflict had conjured, is on trial for just being a caring leader of his people. The real villains had been ushered into office by France. The confused Fatou Bensouda’s unending appeal at the ICC merely responds to stimulus of France to keep Gbagbo away. France’s agenda is to consolidate grounds gained in consolidating is hegemony in West Africa under its proxy Allasane Ouattara. Meanwhile, with the pro France disgraceful Ivorian allies in disarray, contemporary Ivorian politics revolves around the next steps of a vindicated Laurent Gbagbo. It is instructive that the Gbagbo debacle began with the rubbishing of the proclamations of the constitutionally mandated judicial institutions of Cote d’Ivoire by powerful external actors, mainly France and Barrack Obama’s United States of America. That experience should resonate with embattled Adesina and those who claim to be his Godfathers, who running riot for their personal aggrandizement, helped to undermine the sanctity of African institutions. In this circumstance, letter writing to invoke African solidarity must sound hollow and of no effect. The AfDB capitulated to external demands in violation of its own protocols just like Ivorian national institutions, aided by internal African saboteurs, did.  What goes around, comes around…

The glorious vindication of Gbagbo is the fate that I wish on Akinwumi Adesina. The genuine search for transparency may then be in Adesina’s ultimate interest. But again, nothing, especially in international politics under whatever guise, can be taken for granted. Reports indicate the African Development Bank, Africa’s premier multilateral financial institution, caved in to demand of the United States government for an independent investigation into the ethical profile of Adesina’s administration. Managing Africa’s strategic development institution and one of the world’s five largest multilateral development lenders cannot but present sufficient ethical dilemmas. It is also indicated that countries such Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland have weighed in support of the demands of the United States Secretary of the Treasury. This should come as no surprise. The United States has framed the issue in a manner that challenges the continued integrity of the ethical watchdogs of the AfDB, should its demand be rebuffed. The demand raises concern that the complete vindication of Adesina by the internal process was without in depth investigation. If such optics should gain ground, it would tarnish the reputation of the financial institution and undermine the operational integrity of Africa’s foremost financial institution. The surprise at this time may be in the reticence of France on the matter, considering that the first salvo against Adesina was fired from the Le Monde. As the preferred harbinger of the narrative of damnation of Africa’s emancipators, it cannot be that the French establishment paper may not have more than just journalistic interest in the affair. But that is a secondary concern at this point.

The real challenge is that the moral and ethical fiber of the review panel of three seems impregnable and may thus be above base politics. A High-Level Panel of Independent Experts is to conduct the review. Former president Mary Robinson will lead the panel. Mary Therese Winifred Robinson served as the seventh President of Ireland from December 1990 to September 1997, becoming the first woman to hold this office. She also served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Mrs Robinson will lead the probe, alongside Gambia’s Chief Justice Hassan Jallow and the World Bank’s integrity vice president Leonard McCarthy. In June 2008, Leonard McCarthy was appointed vice president of the World Bank Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), whose mandate it is to anticipate, detect, deter, and prevent fraud and corruption in Bank Group-financed projects. Prior to joining the World Bank Group, McCarthy headed the Directorate of Special Operations in South Africa, specializing in crime analysis, investigation, prosecution, forensic accounting, asset forfeiture, and civil litigation. Two of the members this critically important are thus Africans with great reputation. They are also from countries that ordinarily cannot be deemed to be hostile to Nigeria. The chairperson is a woman of strong reputation. It is important to stress that their core mission is to evaluate the ethics of Akinwumi’s management. The issues of the definitely politically mobilized whistle blowers have successfully been instrumentalized in the probe of the ethical dimensions of management for potential havoc.

With a review panel constructed of this caliber of men and women, a vindicatory outcome should make a hero of our dear Akinwumi Adesina. The bottom line is that life in the international system, even if Africa denominated, is almost always booby trapped. Given his dazzling performance record, Adesina’s fortunes, whatever the outcome of the review process, should be a sad reminder that our best brains, at all levels, are always in jeopardy when deployed on such revolutionary missions as the pursuit of continental development assignments. The real lesson is ensuring that our home provides ample avenues for professional fulfillment and a modicum of good life for all. We cannot remove but must diminish the deceptively alluring temptation to go out.