Giant Nigeria, Rising!

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Nigeria, Africa’s sleeping giant, seems to be on the rise. To be sure, this potential African powerhouse, with its vast oil resources, talented and educated citizens, and abundant fertile land, has not come close to realizing its potential. And the country faces daunting domestic woes.

When the ugly apartheid regime murdered Blacks in Africa and humiliated all peoples of African ancestry for years, African opposition was weakened because through the decades military dictators misruled Nigeria. Instead, smaller countries like Tanzania and Zambia had to lead the war against Apartheid oppression. There was no African country to set a shining example for good leadership – Africa’s potential star, Nigeria, was compromised.

Yet, with respect to global diplomacy, things are changing. With a dramatic move, Nigeria has enhanced its respectability. When Togo’s longtime dictator, Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema died on Feb. 5, the military there pushed his son Faure Eyadema into State House. Yet the country’s constitution required the speaker of Parliament to temporarily assume the presidency and for elections to be held within 60 days.

Nigeria’s president Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a retired general, warned Togo’s illegitimate government to restore constitutional rule or face “serious consequences.� These words were last heard in the international arena when the United Nations warned Saddam Hussein to open Iraq to unfettered arms inspections. Faure, to his credit, was no fool – he packed his bags and moved out of State House when Obasanjo reportedly indicated he was willing to assemble and armed intervention force of commandoes and marines with other West African countries. It also helped that thousands of Togolese took to the streets to protest against the military.

Leaders across the entire African continent know that the world has become so interconnected, with modern communications systems and the Internet, that chaos in one African country is easily associated with all African countries. And in an era when African countries want to attract foreign investment, they know the continent must project stability and the rule of law.

Here was a fabulous opportunity for African leaders to rise to the occasion and, with Nigerian leadership, they did so brilliantly.

Indeed, it was Nigerian leadership and intervention – before the British and the United Nations followed later – which eventually restored stability to both Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is hard to imagine that African leaders would nowadays stand by and watch the kind of genocide that occurred in those countries and in Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi.

In Southern Africa, Thabo Mbeki is similarly promoting the rule of law -- he has pressured opposition in Zimbabwe to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He also won a commitment from government of Zimbabwe to conduct the voting in an open and transparent manner.

Yet much still needs to be done across the continent and tens of thousands continue to die in the Sudan and Uganda, to name a few hot spots. Others live in miserable conditions or perish due to violence or despotic governance.

African leaders and the international community have pushed the Sudanese government to halt its attacks in its Darfur region. Government also was pushed to sign a comprehensive Peace Treaty with the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, possibly ending 30 years of ruinous genocidal warfare. Yet in neighboring Uganda, a fanatic insurgent army called the Lord’s Resistance Army remains engaged in an 18-year war with an equally fanatical government. The primary victims are two million innocent Ugandans who have been driven into internal concentration camps where the United Nations report tens of thousands have died through hunger, diseases and rapes.

Africa has a long way to go but the recent steps bode well. The international community can help by praising and encouraging leaders such as Obasanjo and Mbeki and denouncing despotism everywhere in Africa.

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