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As United States President Barrack Obama sideline Africa’s giant, Nigeria, and instead makes his first African visit to Ghana, it has unmasked the long friction between the two countries. But the deeper truth is that the two countries need each other. The two countries admire each more than either realizes, and in some ways, their ties are stronger.
By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
US President Barack Obama making his first visit to sub-Sahara Africa to Ghana over continental giant Nigeria has opened the old rivalry between the two countries. The current rivalry isn’t Nigeria’s large population (over 150 million against Ghana’s over 22 million) or Nigeria’s rich petro-dollars but the health of each country’s governance, institutions and image abroad.
No one studying the cultural map of the two countries would make the mistake that the two countries come from different universe. Paradoxically, despite this, their everyday lives make them come from different world values, each the other’s anti-world: Ghana inclusive, heterogeneous, medium sized, not-so-tribal, simple, less dense sphere, liberal, somehow focused; Nigeria a giant of huge distances, extroverted, messy, exclusive, wasteful, unfocused, oil rich, tribal, chaotically diverse.
Yet in the years after independence (Ghana in 1957, Nigeria in 1960), the two countries became sisters of Africa’s free world, Ghana rallying its Pan-African ideals for larger continental freedom from colonial rule, Nigeria vigorously taking on South Africa’s horrendous apartheid system. They collaborated in diverse continental projects – from the Organization of African Unity to Africa Union to the Economic Community of West African States to interventions in the civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Ivory Coast.
Over the years, the two peoples have accomplished development convergence after all: they met on hard surfaces of progress – Nigerians fraught with the complexity of their socio-cultural make-up despite their immense oil flow, Ghanaians struggling to contain their near-Sisyphusian progress despite their gold and cocoa. For sometime, in the 1960s Ghana was rich and waned, beginning in the 1970s Nigeria swims in petro-dollars but general deep-seated socio-economic despair prevail. In all this, each suffered inferiority complex against each other, Nigerian labour helped developed Ghanaian cocoa industry and later Ghanaian labour helped powered Nigerian industries and infrastructural development driven by petro-dollars.
But in each other’s mind they remained mutually uncomprehending presences. Ghanaians and Nigerians tended to misrepresent each other, always getting things just a little off. Omon Ghana, shouts the Nigerian; alatta ne, yelled the Ghanaian. Such unpalatable atmosphere became more pronounced when following the overthrow of President Hilla Limann, Nigeria under President Shehu Shagari, protested and caught off oil supplies to Ghana and expulsed more than one million Ghanaian immigrants in early 1983, when Ghana was facing severe drought and economic problems, and another 300,000 in early 1985 on short notice. Ghana under Prime Minister Kofi Busia introduced the Aliens Compliance Order in 1970 that saw over 150,000 Nigerians expulsed. The foolhardiness of these expulsions and counter-expulsions affected each others development. Regardless of this, the mutuality between Nigerians and Ghanaians has been all right as long as admiration and difference remained, as long as nervous laughter smooths the way.
Now the burning issue is the quality of governance and as each country struggles to develop, the technicalities of democracy, rule of law, freedoms and human rights, as globally affirmed catalysts for progress, more so in view of Africa’s ethnic make-ups, histories and culture, have become the deciding factors in driving progress. Nigeria and Ghana are each increasingly seen domestically and internationally in this light. Despite the contention that Ghana cannot be compared to Nigeria because of Nigeria’s complexities and size, Ghana is viewed continentally and internationally as doing better than Nigeria; that’s why Obama choose Ghana over Nigeria in his first sub-Sahara Africa visit. Obama told the Washington-based allafrica.com why he choose Ghana, “Well, part of it is lifting up successful models. And so, by traveling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place. I don't think that we can expect that every country is going to undergo these transitions in the same way at the same time. But we have seen progress in democracy and transparency and rule of law, in the protection of property rights, in anti-corruption efforts…And I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.” At issue isn’t oil or cocoa but values, democratic/governance values that will spur prosperity and help refine the illiberalities within the two countries systems that have stifled progress for the past 50 years and made them and Africa the poorest place on earth. It is in such atmosphere that Nigeria, despite its immense oil wealth, nonetheless, feels somehow diminished in its own eyes and in the international system. The old enemy of imperialism is gone; the new enemy is anti-democracy, poor governance, weak rule of law, poor human rights, unfreedoms, and certain cultural values that inhibit progress. Becoming a familiar line across both Ghana and Nigeria, Gabby Otchere-Darko, head of the Accra-based Danquah Institute, a pro-democracy policy development outfit, and editor-in-chief of The Statesman, argues why Obama choose Ghana over Nigeria, “The message should be clear to our leaders that it is not your population, the size of your territory, your richness in mineral resources or your claim to being a giant that the world is interested in. It is good governance, purposeful leadership arising from free and fair elections, zero tolerance for corruption and continuous strengthening of democracy, which are apparent in Ghana but alien to Nigeria.” Like Otchere-Darko, some Ghanaians politicians, journalists and elites, who have worked in Nigeria during its initial oil boom in the 1970s, have become open in their contempt for Nigeria (as a brotherly act), – or what they consider Nigeria’s self-indulgence, moral filth and disturbing indiscipline. Benjamin Tawiah, a columnist for ghanaweb.com and modernghana.com, writing in the wake of Obama choosing Ghana over Nigeria, invoked Nigeria Nobel Prize laureate, Wole Soyinka’s caricature of his critics for supporting Obama’s choice of Ghana over Nigeria by comparing Nigeria with chichidodo, a Ghanaian mythical bird that detests shit yet only eats worms. The import here is that the problem isn’t with Obama but Nigerians themselves. For the past 50 years, as Nigeria fails to invest in itself by providing the necessary socio-economic values, its businesses and peoples are increasingly moving to Ghana, where there are reasonably better infrastructure, good governance, human rights, freedoms and the rule of law. Writes Tawiah, “…Nigerians are relocating their families and businesses to Ghana. Tyre manufacturers Dunlop Nigeria have moved base to Ghana while several Nigerian companies are in queue to relocate. Then recently, we read that the educational system in Nigeria is getting so bad that most Nigerians are prepared to pay in excess of US$6,000 to sponsor their wards in Ghanaian universities. Today, most Ghanaians have Nigerian neighbours, especially those in the middle-upper class neighbourhoods.” Nigerians used to feel proprietary about Ghanaians. At sometime in the 1970s, as Nigeria’s oil wealth boomed, over one million Ghanaians lived in Nigeria and remitted money and goods back home. Ghanaians depended on depending on Nigerians, and Nigerians depended on being depended upon. In 2009, Nigerians have disconcerted sense that their relationship with Ghanaians has been turned upside down. The “Black Star of Africa” has rejuvenated itself as Africa’s democratic light, against its 1960s emotionally-charged socialist-driven Pan-Africanist rhetoric, and performed some sort of Japanese jujitsu on Nigeria by overturning Nigeria’s “Giant of Africa” picture and overlord image and instead utilize the principles of equilibrium, weight, and thrust to overcome Nigeria. While for sometime, before the over one million Ghanaians were expulsed from Nigeria, Nigerians tend to react to Ghanaians inroads with an impolite, complex dislike, or with anger, bigotry, and vexation, today it is different. The Accra-based Nigerian journalist-businessman, Chief Dele Momodu, editor-in-chief of Ovation International, writes in the face of Ghanaians turning their misfortunes around over the past 20 years that, “Nigerians would recall how in the eighties, Ghanaians had become economic refugees in Nigeria. Graduates among them took up menial jobs in Nigerian cities, jobs that Nigerian graduates would never accept: shoe-mending, site labourers, messengers. But the average Ghanaian had no option… Democracy had been restored. Ghana had found its feet. That country’s success is to be measured in terms of the reversal of roles between it and Nigeria. Today, many Nigerians are rushing to Ghana, not as refugees, thank God, but in search of a more enabling environment for self-actualization.” Despite Nigerian alarm and anti-Ghanaian feeling over the years, a strain of ambivalence and self-criticism runs through Nigerian opinion. For one thing, anti-Ghanaian shrugs can be very complicated in the emerging African democratic scene. Writes Momodu, “Comparing Ghana and Nigeria is fast becoming for me an interesting sport, but is it not the case that it is through such comparisons that useful light can be thrown on human circumstances?” Femi Akomolafe, of the Nigerian Television Newsfile, in an introductory remarks before an interview with some Nigerian political heavy-weights over Obama going to Ghana instead of Nigeria, notes that, “To African watchers, this is regarded as a big snub to Nigeria.” The real astonishment is the degree to which a contempt of Ghana vanished in Nigeria. Peculiarly, Nigerians are now in many ways more anti-Nigerian than anti-Ghanaian. There is even a danger that Nigerians in a self-flagellation mood have become biased against themselves. The remorseful self-accusation is repeated across Nigeria. Being messed up, inhibited by certain dark cultural practices, mortgaging the future of the country through immense corruption, despair in the face of massive oil wealth, complicated governance troubles, the “Giant of Africa” has lost a certain amount of face in their own estimation. Nigeria have become outdone by Ghana, Nigerians grumble, in a way they wouldn’t have thought possible some years ago. Nigerian-Ghanaian dealings are today troubled by the differences of the strength of democratic practices, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms – and the Ghanaians are increasingly mastering the nuances of democracy, artfully, within the shade of their of own inscrutability. Both Nigeria and Ghana, and by extension Africa, will profit if the mystique is cleared by some painful truth, as the Barack Obama visit to Ghana has opened.
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