There are many who argue that the phrase “the world is watching” ceased to have any powerful effect or hold any importance after the 1994 Rwandan genocide where more than one million people were killed in around 100 days. Many years after that, “the world is watching” has become a statement that now provides pseudo-comfort to incurable optimists who, overwhelmed by their powerlessness and helplessness in the face of government injustice and oppression, believe that developed countries will swoop in to help and save the day.
This phrase comes to mind again as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been heard imploring African leaders to strengthen democracy in their respective domains and not allow anti-democratic forces reverse the hard-won gains of democracy. From calling for a ceasefire to the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, to asserting the pleasure of the U.S. government over the release of the report of the #EndSARS judicial panel in Lagos, Nigeria, so much more has been said by Secretary Blinken who is looking to use his current multi-nation African tour to, amongst other things, revive what many may see as the U.S.’ diminishing influence in Africa.
Fortunately for many African leaders – and they have the sovereignty of their nations to thank for this – Blinken’s visit cannot be compared to that of a shrewd businessman travelling around to check on his African outlets in order to gauge business performance and assess the general state of affairs. It would not be out of place to think that most might regard his tour as another tick-the-box move by one of the world’s top diplomats representing what many have come to see the U.S. as – democracy’s self-appointed gatekeeper.
If Blinken has received any assurances from the Nigerian leaders he has met with, then he should know that his departure will result in a classic case of when the cat’s away, the mice will play. Things will remain the way they are, at least for the time being. Nothing epitomizes a government that is impervious to change as the Buhari administration. For the Nigerian government, though, a major win for them is Secretary Blinken’s announcement in Nairobi, just before leaving for Nigeria, that the U.S. had taken Nigeria off its list of countries violating religious freedom. And just like a knight, Blinken flew in to a welcome from Africa’s most populous country and self-acclaimed giant.
Frankly, it is not surprising to see the media hits that have been generated by Blinken’s visit. Beyond what it means for the US – with China and Russia mounting a rather impressive domineering influence via economic and military aid across Africa – there is hope by some incurable optimists that the visit will be used to draw international attention to a number of issues.
Again, like clockwork, Blinken is quoted as saying, “The United States is committed to helping Nigeria by continuing to invest in our security partnership, and the institutions that strengthen the rule of law, and that hold accountable those who commit human rights abuses, corruption and other acts that harm the Nigerian people. By tackling these issues, we can help to address some of the problems that have been key drivers of insecurity.” If it is the same Buhari administration that we all know, then Blinken’s tour may have happened a little too early. Dear Secretary Blinken, in the event that you are still U.S. Secretary of State after May 29, 2023, please visit again.