Guest host Hagar Chemali, foreign policy expert and Creator and Host of the YouTube show "Oh My World!" looks closely at the latest in international policy, from the conflict in Ukraine to US and China Relations, and finally, the recent election in Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria.
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This is Our Body Politic. I'm guest host Hagar Chemali, foreign policy expert and creator and host of the YouTube show "Oh My World" sitting in for Farai Chideya. So much is changing on the international stage from the ongoing war in Ukraine to China's shifting relations to Nigeria's new elections. It's essential that we understand how global politics connect. So we're using our show to unpack major international events and what might come next. Let's kick things off with our weekly roundtable, Sippin' the Political Tea to talk about the war in Ukraine and the impact it has on the U.S. and the rest of the world. I'm joined by host of The Global Experience on Sirius XM, MSNBC columnist and former White House senior director Nayyera Haq. Welcome back, Nayyera. It's great to have you.
Nayyera Haq [00:01:27] Good to be with you, Hagar.
Hagar Chemali [00:01:29] And Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, who's a Ph.D. student in history at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in race and Blackness in Eastern Europe. Hi, Kimberly. Thanks for joining.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:01:40] Hi. Thank you for having me.
Hagar Chemali [00:01:43] We are now more than a year into the Ukraine Russia war, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight anytime soon. Nayyera, there have been heavy losses on both sides and those reports are only continuing. Given how hard Ukraine intends to continue fighting and how long the war is projected to last. Where does this go from here?
Nayyera Haq [00:02:02] How long the international community will be willing to support Ukraine is still a question mark, despite the fact that we have had European leaders and the U.S. president say as long as it takes, because the key part, as they've said, as long as it takes, not whatever it takes at the moment, what Ukrainians are getting from NATO's allies is just enough military support, armaments, some strategy to defend their turf, but not take the war to Russia and actually defeat Russia. Which then brings us to who can afford to lose more. Currently, the Ukrainians have morale on their side because they are defending their homeland, but it's getting destroyed in the process. Putin has lost more than 100,000 troops, but his homeland is still firmly under his control. Whether it's through his propaganda narrative or even through the ways he's managed to get around the economic sanctions. So Putin's legacy is on the line for the people of Ukraine. Their lives, their homeland is on the line. So we suspect they will keep on fighting. But at some point, what are they fighting for? That's what their frustration is. They could get Russia to leave and then still need to rebuild their country. We've seen in the last couple of days that Putin has been officially charged by the International Criminal Court. That makes it harder for him to travel around the world. But we're taking incremental small steps. It is not to the point where it undermines his fundamental desire to be an imperialist and to dominate Ukraine.
Hagar Chemali [00:03:45] Well, why should people in the United States care about what's happening in Ukraine?
Nayyera Haq [00:03:50] We are part of a global community. We saw with the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a spike in energy prices. We saw threats of famine in Africa and elsewhere because Ukraine's grain shipments couldn't move out. And they are one of the largest suppliers of grain to the world, let alone to Africa. Gas prices became a matter of political rhetoric right before a critical election. What happens in Ukraine matters to the United States. There's also that existential crisis beyond the sense of the American economy and the American pocketbook. The existential crisis, as Biden has framed it domestically and internationally about democracy versus autocracy. We established the post-World War two order in which it is not okay to roll in and try to change the boundaries of countries in the world. We tolerate a lot of other things. We tolerate human rights violations. We tolerate all sorts of racism and other harms to people. But that is the real red line that we have as a global community is your borders. Are your borders. When other countries decide to change them, that should prompt global action and. Yes. The countries that decide to do that are the autocrats. Are the dictators. Other monarchies of the world. It is not the democracies. So at a time when we are seeing rule of law and operating together in a shared space under threat in the United States, we are also fighting that battle on the global stage.
Hagar Chemali [00:05:18] And Kimberly, what does this mean for U.S. foreign policy, particularly as we head into a presidential election year?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:05:25] I think it doesn't bode well for Ukraine. When we think about U.S. foreign policy. We're going to have to come up to the fact of are we going to continue to financially support Ukraine to fight this war? Are we going to start pressuring Ukraine to come to the negotiation table? And as the weather gets warmer and Russia has dug in its heels. Russia is not about to leave. But the elections coming up and we know the Republicans are very staunchly turning against financial support to Ukraine. The Biden administration is going to have to make a decision sooner rather than later.
Hagar Chemali [00:05:56] Given that we're in the run up to a presidential election, as Kimberly noted. Do you worry that some political leaders will take advantage and push disinformation to affect the view of the average American who's not following this issue on a daily basis?
Nayyera Haq [00:06:10] We already saw in 2016 a significant amount of Russian disinformation targeting specific communities, Black communities, white people who are looking at racism in America and having their own new challenges about America's reality. And that was done through KGB, associated computer networks, troll farms that used the existing divisions in the United States and amplified them via Facebook, via Twitter, using messages that looked and sounded real but were not from real accounts. So if nothing else, it made you think as your average casual viewer, that there was more tension and more polarization than maybe really existed. We can expect that to happen heading into the next presidential, as we see, for example, that Ron DeSantis on the Republican side has dismissed Ukraine as just a territorial dispute, making it seem like this is some legitimate disagreement that they need to sort out as opposed to the country was invaded by another country. Right. Ukraine was invaded. We all saw it happen in real time. So we hear these narratives coming out of one particular party. And Putin would absolutely look to leverage those existing narratives and divisions in the United States against us in the next presidential election.
Hagar Chemali [00:07:32] And, Kimberly, I'd love your thoughts on this as well. What connections or parallels do you see between Russian oppression against marginalized groups and instances here, as I noted, where you have discrimination or prejudice against marginalized groups as well?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:07:47] There is a considerable amount of overlap between the types of oppression that we're seeing in Russia against people of color, against the LGBTQ community, and that same thing that's happening in the United States, not only from attempting to ban drag queens and drag shows. This is the same thing we saw in Russia earlier in the mid 2000 teens where they had bills that were passed that were preventing the promotion of homosexual lifestyles. But also, it helps us see that there is a global network of very far right anti LGBTQ way and racist networks that are talking to each other. There's a reason why people are meeting in Hungary under Viktor Orban and having these connections, including Ron DeSantis, but also as we see the Parrott and History wars that are being fought in the United States, the rewriting of history and the erasure of oppression has been key to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It consistently used that kind of rhetoric to undermine Ukrainian calls for sovereignty. And we're seeing the same thing in the United States erasing history to undermine the very core right calls for individual and civil rights across the board in the United States. So we're seeing these global processes really coming to the fore, but they've been forging these networks for decades.
Hagar Chemali [00:08:59] And Kimberly, I want to shift the focus a little bit. But still in the same world, there is a tendency at times for some to romanticize the Black experience in the former Soviet Union, particularly what seemed to be an ideological embrace of Blackness and time of heightened racial tensions in the United States. And you wrote about the difference between rhetoric and reality in a February piece in New Lines magazine that I highly recommend listeners read. Can you tell us about that piece? And how does understanding persistent issues like anti-Blackness in the broader context of contemporary Russia help inform how we should understand the ongoing war?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:09:37] So the piece I wrote in New Lines magazine was in reaction to discussing the killing of an African national in Ukraine. He was arrested and he was accused of trafficking in drugs. He got a nine year sentence in Russia and he ended up fighting in Ukraine on the front lines for the Wagner group. So we see the way that Russia at the same time this is happening the foreign minister Lavrov was going throughout Africa re forging the connections between African countries and Russia. And Russia has consistently leaned hard on its history of welcoming Africans to the Soviet Union as an excuse for Russia to continue these connections in Africa. But what has consistently happened since the Soviet period onward is that Russia and the former Soviet Union, they have consistently laundered their reputation through Africa and denied the fact that there were very strong instances of racism against African students in 1964. There was an instance of an African student being killed in their protest in Leningrad, which is now St Petersburg and Moscow, about the treatment of African students in the sixties. Throughout the seventies and eighties you had discrimination against Africans. You also had instances of people ostracizing Afro Russian children who are the products of interracial relationships. And you see that again in the World Cup about ten years ago, where people were being warned not to have children with African soccer players throwing bananas at African soccer players. So Russia has consistently had this problem with anti-Blackness, but because of its ideological stance in the Soviet Union, is being anti-racist. And even now in Russia, you are not categorized by your race. What they've done is use their reputation to consistently behave in anti-Black ways.
Hagar Chemali [00:11:25] And what does this tell us about Russian ideologies, propaganda, given that it's still looking to increase its presence in Africa?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:11:35] Russia has been incredibly good at leveraging ideology to increase soft power and also hard power. The relationships that Russia built as the leader of the Soviet Union, we still see those impacting how African leaders are responding to Russia's war in Ukraine, but also the pressure that they've put on other Western powers in terms of getting Russian and Ukrainian grain out of the ports in Odessa. So you have Russia always angling itself as an ally to former third world countries because it sees itself as a balance to the United States. But also Putin has said multiple times he does not believe in a unipolar world. So hinging on Africa allows Russia to regain its position as a world power, but also to be a counter to the United States and Western Europe.
Hagar Chemali [00:12:21] Nayyera, I want to turn to you next. We know that China for decades has worked to gain allies in sub-Saharan Africa with infrastructure projects and debt for diplomacy traps. And now Russia is doing the same. And that looks like a direct strike at the West. Is this going to end in proxy wars?
Nayyera Haq [00:12:38] The proxy war question is an interesting one, I think. Hagar, because I think the way that war is conducted is changing and we're still reckoning with that, whether it's through words and technology, whether it's through a certain type of influence. You mentioned China's Belt and Road Initiative in Africa, which is essentially predatory loans to build massive infrastructure projects where the corrupt leaders get to show off. They delivered something, and I use the word delivered with massive air quotes, because when they cannot actually hit the loan targets of repayment. China takes over and it nationalizes these big projects which were never built with local labor. They move in their own labor and move it out. So this is a way for China to trap another cycle of debt for another generation in Africa and to have their foothold without ever making a military base, which is what the United States used to do. Right. China's taking a different approach to it. They have a large, massive standing army, but they're not looking at building their influence solely through military power, military might. Russia, as we've discussed, despite their economic woes, despite their increasing isolation culturally on the world stage, does have the ability to cross borders using technology. And they've mastered that in a way that we have are still catching up to here in the United States. So the way we wage war is changing. The question of how the United States stays relevant as a leader on the world stage so that we can determine the rules of the road. That's something that the American public also has to decide if they want that to be the vision of America first or if they truly just want it to be America alone.
Hagar Chemali [00:14:25] This discussion comes at a particularly interesting time, given the relationship we see growing further and further between China and Russia. There's Chinese support for Russia. Change the calculus on the war in Ukraine? Or is this more about pushing back on American global power?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:14:43] I think both. But I think the romance between Xi and Putin, it also has deeper meaning in Russia because she is also representing Chinese power not only to Russia, but the Central Asian leaders are also watching. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. All of these leaders are watching how she behaves and how he moves because they also think that a strong relationship with China also benefits them and gives them a little bit of a counter against Putin.
Hagar Chemali [00:15:09] So now let's bring in another topic, gender based violence. Kimberly, there have been horrific reports of sexual violence, including rape and forced nudity by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine. Russia, for its part, has denied these allegations. There's also reports that the Wagner Group, a private military force made up of Russian mercenaries with close ties to Vladimir Putin, is committing gender based violence in the Central African Republic. Why is it important to highlight this type of violence against women?
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:15:39] It's incredibly important to highlight these types of violence because often they're underreported and a lot of times they're not really prosecuted on the international level or even domestic level. So Ukraine's really been trying to go in stride and document these cases. And there are dozens so far that prosecutors have been able to put together. But also, I think it's important to shed light on what Russia is doing in Ukraine, but also what Russia and Wagner forces in particular been doing in the Central African Republic. Because as we think about the frontlines in Ukraine, there are a lot of Wagner forces who were trained and, you know, fortified themselves and sexual violence against women of the Central African Republic. And I think it also forces the international organizations to work with Western governments in particular, to actually go after the people who are committing these sexual crimes. And we also have to deal with the fact that in Ukraine, but also Central African Republic, there still is an incredible amount of shame that women are dealing with because of sexual violence, but also the ramifications SGI infections, unexpected pregnancies, these are continual forms of trauma for these women that have to be addressed. So we have a issue of legality, but also an issue of needing the support systems to protect these women afterwards.
Hagar Chemali [00:16:55] And Nayyera, this is a perfect segue to my question for you, which is that as we think about how these conversations unfold, how important is it that we have experts like yourself and Kimberly involved in these conversations? What role does diversity play in our understanding of international affairs and geopolitical concerns like the ongoing war in Ukraine?
Nayyera Haq [00:17:15] Diversity at its core is essential for having a true debate of ideas and understanding of new perspectives and dynamics, particularly for diplomacy and for national security. When you are literally working side by side or across from people who have a different cultural heritage will likely look different than you will likely have different language and a set of expectations associated with all of that. The ability to navigate that and having navigated that internally is critical. That will make the difference between getting what you want and losing. With that said, I think it's even more important to have reflected to people outside America a sense of what America really is and really looks like and foreign policy had traditionally been dominated by. Ivy League graduates. White men who even in the United States, did not truly reflect who we are as a country. So we're advancing a set of objectives and agendas that shape the world in their image, as opposed to shaping the world in the image of a global community. And I want to mention that one of the examples of how we started talking differently about foreign policy issues to an American public in this last year was having experts like Kimberly on television, on radio, making sure we found women who are Black, who have expertise in the region because they were able to because Kimberly was able to help us understand what Putin was doing to us and what Putin will do to us in this next election. She is exactly the example of the type of voice that needs to be elevated in the global community conversations.
Hagar Chemali [00:19:14] Thank you so much, Nayyera. I could not agree more. And as a Lebanese-American myself who worked in the U.S. government, I also agree with your insight on how valuable it is to have different perspectives around the table. Thank you so much for joining, Nayyera. It was wonderful having you.
Nayyera Haq [00:19:33] Always a pleasure.
Hagar Chemali [00:19:34] And Kimberly, thank you so much for your brilliant comments and all the historical knowledge you shared yesterday. It was great having you as well.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon [00:19:43] Thank you so much.
Hagar Chemali [00:19:44] That was Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a doctoral student of history at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in race and Blackness in Eastern Europe and Nayyera Haq, host of The Global Experience on Sirius XM, MSNBC columnist and former White House senior director.
Hagar Chemali [00:20:02] As we continue to explore international policy, we dive deeper into China, another country that has dominated headlines from spy balloons to its seemingly cozy relationship with Russia, and even concerns the countries using the social media platform TikTok to spy on the U.S. Anxiety about China is running high. Here to put U.S.-China relations in context is our next guest, Professor Jessica Chen Weiss, the Michael J. Zak Professor for China and Asia-Pacific Studies at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute's Center for China Analysis. Hi, Professor Weiss.
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:20:39] Hi there. Thanks for having me.
Hagar Chemali [00:20:41] There seems to be a lot of anxiety and fear about China. Is the concern justified? How worried should the average American be about China?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:20:51] I think the average American ought to be worried that we are in an increasingly confrontational relationship with China, partly due to the differences in interests and values. But I think more importantly, due to the trajectory that we are on in which one side takes actions that the other side feels the need to counter, and that is producing an escalatory spiral that is leading us toward an avoidable crisis or conflict likely over Taiwan. So it's by no means inevitable, but it's something that if we do not find ways to halt the spiral, I think we will end up in a pretty devastating place.
Hagar Chemali [00:21:28] You previously wrote about the zero sum logic when it comes to China. Can you explain to us what that means? And is that the right approach to viewing US-China relations?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:21:41] The zero sum logic basically means that the approach that says that if I win, you lose. And if you win, I lose. And it suggests that we cannot find ways to work together on common interests that leave both sides better off. And I think it's important to note that even where there are really maybe even irreconcilable differences, the war, for example, whether that's a trade war or a real war, would be a lose lose proposition. And so even when there are differences, the worst that we could find ourselves is in an open conflict.
Hagar Chemali [00:22:17] Especially following President Xi's visit to Moscow. There's been some suggestion that the increasing antagonism between the United States and China has put us on the verge of a second Cold War. Do you think that's where we're headed or are we already there?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:22:31] I think many look to the Cold War as a reasonable analogy, and I think it's attractive for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, because the United States prevailed and the Soviet Union collapsed. One of the reasons that's not a very good analogy today is, first, the United States and China are among each other's largest trading partners. We continue to really depend upon some degree of imports from China, for example, to build out solar at scale. There are a lot of things where, you know, we're just entered twined and the same is true on the Chinese side. The other way in which the Cold War is a poor analogy is that during the first Cold War, it really was the United States and the Soviet Union and what analysts call a bipolar international structure. Today, you have multiple centers of power, including, you know, Japan and India, other very powerful countries that mean that it's not just the two, you know, facing off one another.
Hagar Chemali [00:23:29] So then I think you already answered a bit. Is conflict of China inevitable? But it doesn't sound like you're saying that. And so my question is, is conflict with China avoidable? Are there other things that would take to change course?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:23:44] So there's a I would say there's brewing competition across a variety of domains, but it's really the importance of security and the perception that any economic or geopolitical advantage will undermine the others, I think ultimately means that all these other different issues are collapsing into the framework of this security or competition. Both sides need to find a way to lower the temperature, which doesn't mean just rhetoric, but also in terms of the mutual actions that are making the risk of a militarized incident or crisis in the East China Sea or South China Sea or around Taiwan, more and more likely. Certainly some of the rhetoric I think around Taiwan is deeply unserious by former officials and certain members of Congress who I don't think really understand that recognizing Taiwan as an independent state would overturn decades of U.S. policy that have assured the space for Taiwan to develop its vibrant democracy, that in this ambiguous space, all sides have really benefited, and it's in no one's interest to try to overturn or change that status quo. Now, of course, I think Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party would like to see progress toward what they will call reunification. And most, I would say, in the end don't want that. But precipitous efforts, unilateral steps by either side to rock the boat, I think risk devastating everything. It should be an important part of U.S. policy, not only to deter moves by Beijing, to intimidate and isolate Taiwan, but also to prevent actions by political leaders on Taiwan or politicians in the United States from taking irresponsible steps that would accelerate rather than decelerate the escalatory spiral we see there.
Hagar Chemali [00:25:37] In early March, China's President Xi Jinping accused the U.S. of holding back his country's development and trying to isolate China. But China certainly doesn't seem deterred by your actions and has expanded its influence beyond its borders. Professor, can you talk to us about how China views its global expansionist policies, specifically its financial bailouts and loans in countries in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East? Why is that such a key goal of President Xi Jinping?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:26:08] So let me step back and give a little bit of context. After the global financial crisis of 2009, the Chinese leadership became, I think, really disillusioned with the idea of the United States economic model as one that should necessarily be emulated and that the United States no longer really could occupy the role of teacher in China that a student. And I think that over time, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to play an increasingly central role on the global stage, explicitly saying so in a variety of speeches, and to reshape the international system in ways that are less threatening to the Chinese Communist Party, particularly the emphasis on individual political rights, universal values and so forth. And one of the ways that China has really become, I think, influential in a variety of countries and regions across the world has not been by prescribing a model for other countries to follow, but rather by providing the kind of assistance, much of it, you know, commercial, but nonetheless providing really the means to help countries develop, particularly the construction of infrastructure, which is something that other international organizations like the World Bank have really pulled back from. And it is not a strong suit for United States, even here at home, let alone overseas. Many of those efforts, particularly, you know, China's development assistance and loans have run into trouble because many of these countries find themselves unable to pay back those loans at high levels of debt distress, which is not, you know, just Chinese lending. Of course, a lot of international as well as private actors in this space. But China has a huge share of it. Increasingly, China has found that its with projects and its loans along the Belt and Road Initiative, they're sort of trapped in many of these cases. It's not just the host nation that is trapped, but it's also the creditors that are trapped. And if they can't recoup some of these loans, that also ultimately affects the bottom line of China's many development banks and firms that are engaged here.
Hagar Chemali [00:28:14] I know you're currently working on a book project, A World Safe for Autocracy: The Domestic Politics of China's Foreign Policy. And I don't expect you to give us a full preview, but what can you tell us about how China's domestic politics affect its foreign policy?
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:28:29] How about the most important takeaway is that China's intentions are constantly evolving and domestically contested. I don't think there is one single view of how China should relate to the world, just as there's no one single view of how the United States should relate to the world. And certainly the Chinese Communist Party's own interests have shaped their interest in creating a world that is more hospitable to autocracies. You know, in contrast to the world that we helped fashion, particularly after the end of the Cold War, where there was a much more kind of robust effort to reshape other countries in the liberal democratic image. But at the end of the day, as you know, President John F Kennedy said we ought to seek a world safe for diversity because ultimately it's a world that is inescapable. I think that the world is going to be populated by countries of different regime types and that we ought not to let tensions between regime types undermine our own security, our own ability to run faster, and ultimately our ability to solve our collective challenges.
Hagar Chemali [00:29:40] Thank you, Professor.
Jessica Chen Weiss [00:29:42] My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Hagar Chemali [00:29:44] That was Professor Jessica Chen Weiss, the Michael J. Zak Professor for China and Asia-Pacific Studies at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute's Center for China Analysis.
Hagar Chemali [00:30:08] Welcome back to Our Body Politic. I'm Hagar Chemali, foreign policy expert and creator and host of the YouTube show "Oh My World". Sitting in for Farai Chideya. Nigeria, Africa's largest democracy, recently held two elections that could have far reaching implications for the West African country and the continent as a whole. To discuss the recent Nigerian elections and sustaining the country's democracy. I'm joined by Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome political science professor, focusing on sub-Saharan African political economy and diaspora studies at Brooklyn College. Hi, Professor Okome. Thank you so much for joining us.
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:30:48] It's a pleasure.
Hagar Chemali [00:30:50] All eyes were recently on Nigeria as the country held two elections in February. Nigerian voters went to the polls to select a new president. Can you set the scene for us and tell us about the players in this election?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:31:03] The major players in the presidential election Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party, And Peter Obi of the Labor Party. Besides these, we also had legislative elections and governorship elections and state assembly elections.
Hagar Chemali [00:31:30] And I understand there were protests after the election. Can you unpack that a bit? Because despite some of the reported challenges with the presidential election and the protests, there was not widespread disruption of the country's government. So is the turmoil over now? Have Nigerians moved on?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:31:49] Nigerians were disappointed with the conduct of the elections because the promise was that technology was going to be used that would make it impossible for there to be electoral integrity issues. There are also allegations that the independent electoral body did not use the technology as promised. There were some cases of violence at the polling units and around the polling units and also what one could call voter suppression efforts. One of the positive things about this elections is that a lot of the youth participated, and many of those young people are the same groups that were protesting against police brutality and the tri judicial action by this special police unit called the SARS. So they voted overwhelmingly for Peter Obi, the Labor Party candidate. And there's been a lot of expression of disappointment about the results by the young people. The parties whose candidates lost, according to the reports by INEC, have protested and said that they would bring lawsuits to challenge the results of the elections. Now, I'm basically talking about the presidential elections in the cases of the other elections. The complaints have not been, as the Hemant.
Hagar Chemali [00:33:33] You mentioned, the lawsuit where two of the leading opposition party leaders filed a lawsuit requesting Nigeria's appeals court invalidate the outcome of the presidential election. And reports indicate could be months before a decision is made. Now, even if the court were to uphold the election, what lessons can be learned from the issues raised? Does the legal challenge pose any difficulty for the incoming president to govern?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:33:59] Actually, it wouldn't be the first time that there would be legal challenges. I suspect that the results would not be overturned. I think the legal system would be thinking of system stability. But there have been cases of overturning inactions, not the presidential in Nigeria, but legislative elections have been overturned before governorship, elections had been overturned, and some of them take up to a year or more. And those overturning of the results have not led to any significant instability. There have been efforts to kind of make this into some sort of ethnic bias issues. Peter Obi is Igbo from the southeast and Tinubu is Yoruba from the southwest, especially in Lagos, which is a stronghold for Tinubu. Tinubu supporters apparently attacked people that they believed were Igbo at some of the polling units and they prevented them from voting, particularly in the governorship elections. So there's been a lot of back and forth, but Peter Obi won overwhelmingly in Lagos during the presidential elections. It wasn't an ethnic vote where only Igbos voted for him. And also, the economy is dismal. The cashless aspect of the economy in terms of bank transfers and so forth have not been happening in a seamless way. So this puts an extra burden on people. And the level of insecurity in Nigeria is why there's been a significant uptick in kidnappings, especially when people are doing interstate travel. Some of the kidnappings have been really traumatic and fatal for some people. This is a concern that people want to have personal security. They also want human security in terms of being able to meet their daily basic needs. The cost of living has escalated. Inflation is high and many young people. In Nigeria because of the level of unemployment in the country and underemployment and looking at migration outside of Nigeria as a means of upward mobility and their life chances, we have a very young population, almost the youngest population in the world. And if majority of the population is experiencing Nigeria as a place where they cannot grow, where there are insufficient opportunities and they're looking for opportunities to migrate. This is a problem for the country.
Hagar Chemali [00:37:08] Nigeria is also a relatively young democracy and it is also currently the sixth most populous country in the world and it will be the third most populous by 2050. You have an estimated 70% of the population under the age of 30. Can you talk a little bit about what role the young people in particular play in building and sustaining a strong democracy in Nigeria?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:37:32] Young people are eager to have Nigeria live up to the principles that it has subscribed to by saying that it's a democratic nation, that a democratic nation should have freedom of movement. It should have democratic institutions where the human rights of citizens are respected. The police and security forces should not traumatize and victimize the population. Nigeria has this mantra that Nigeria is the giant of Africa. The young people of Nigeria are actually one Nigeria to be the true giant of Africa, not just in terms of our population size, but in terms of ensuring that we have conditions under which majority of Nigerians would be able to meet their basic needs, would be able to have hope that there would always be conditions where people would thrive, where the state would be trusted to be concerned about the welfare of citizens, and it would prioritize the needs of the citizens.
Hagar Chemali [00:38:53] I'd love your thoughts on why it's important for the U.S. to have a strong relationship with Nigeria, especially as Africa's largest economy and democracy.
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:39:05] So in terms of markets for American goods, Nigeria is a good country to think about. Also, Nigeria has a lot of skilled people. I think Nigeria's potential for greatness is yet to be accomplished. What we are seeing in Nigeria now is just the potential that Nigeria is going to become exponentially powerful. So it's a what, while contrary to engagement. Also, there's a significant Nigerian population in the United States. They are contributing to the workforce in many different areas. They are an asset. Nigeria also supplies a good amount of petroleum products to the United States. They are American companies, especially the oil companies that are doing good business in Nigeria. And I wish more Nigerian companies and businesses would be exporting to the US more than petroleum products and so forth. So there's a possibility for great partnerships between Nigeria and the US.
Hagar Chemali [00:40:22] Vice President Kamala Harris is actually making her first official visit to Africa in her current capacity, and some see the trip as an opportunity for the Biden-Harris administration to build inroads in Africa as concerns grow about China's influence there. However, Nigeria wasn't on her itinerary. And given now what you're highlighting about the opportunities, do you think she could have gone?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:40:45] I think she could have gone. And actually even the Obama administration sort of ignored Nigeria. Its last opportunities to engage the country that has the biggest market, that has already significant trade relations with the United States, and that has a population of people who are contributing seriously to American economy, American political life, American society. And so it's a lost opportunity and a disappointment. The U.S. needs to engage Nigeria and engage it seriously. Yes, China is making inroads and China is building partnerships, lending money. And increasingly there are more Chinese people even settling in many African countries, including Nigeria.
Hagar Chemali [00:41:41] Yes, I'm actually really glad you mentioned that because it's something covered quite a bit here. As you obviously know, the United States, Russia and China are competing for influence in Africa. Could a strong Nigeria provide a buffer against African countries being potentially used in a U.S., Russia, China proxy war of influence?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:42:03] So Nigeria, as I told you, aspires to be the giant of Africa, and Nigeria already has regional power in West Africa. I think also besides the oil wealth that Nigeria has, Nigeria also has significant mineral endowments, and some of this minerals are going to get increasingly important as the world transitions from fossil fuels to cleaner energy and even as Nigeria is now, even given the constraints Nigeria is operating under now, it is still a very strong nation in the African continent and it worthwhile partner to engage. But you see, Nigeria also has its own aspirations. And I think more and more, you know, Nigeria used to be more America centric. Now Nigeria is playing more with China in terms of partnerships for infrastructure development. And Chinese firms are also engaged in mining some of these minerals in Nigeria and also setting up businesses in export promotion zones in Nigeria. So the U.S. has an opportunity to engage Nigeria and engage it seriously. But I don't know that the US is exploring those opportunities as robustly as it needs to.
Hagar Chemali [00:43:42] Well, and Western relationships with Africa have been often very paternalistic and extractive. So as we think about U.S. foreign policy toward Nigeria and Africa more broadly, I'd love to hear your. Thoughts on what changes are needed from here to support democracy and the people in the region?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:44:00] Well, yes, and no doubt the relationship between Western countries, not just the US, but also, you know, Nigeria was colonized by the British relationship between the Western countries and African countries, has been historically paternalistic and very extractive. I wouldn't say that the relationship with the Chinese is not extractive either, because China needs a lot of natural resources that are abundant in the African continent, but they are not paternalistic. They don't talk down to African countries. They don't lecture them on inadequacies that they believe they see. So I think what needs to happen is more of an equal partnership and a relationship based on respect and understanding that Nigerians themselves have an idea of where they want their country to go and they should be engaged as equals and not as eternal children, that America is going to come and lecture to about democracy.
Hagar Chemali [00:45:12] And just to close out, Professor, looking forward as a relatively young democracy, what does the future hold for Nigeria and West Africa as a whole?
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:45:21] I want to be optimistic. It's sometimes turbulent in our continent and in Nigeria. My hope is that we build the kind of democracy that works for the majority, the kind of democracy where the principles of transparency, accountability, justice, respect for human rights are respected. And I'm optimistic that this can be done. But, you know, we also have the challenges of nation building, the fact that historically our countries in the continent were put together without consultation with the people concerned. So a lot of the growing pains that have been experienced is also due to that history of the establishment of the modern state in the African continent. So I'm hopeful that we won't be able to struggle and build institutions that ground democracy and Nepal for there to be the kind of circumstance where the majority of the population feel that they have a stake in a system that respects them, that values them, and that approaches each human being as a valuable member of a community and having justice, having the freedoms that are promised in terms of the ideals of democracy is what is going to get us there.
Hagar Chemali [00:47:09] Thank you so much, Professor Okome, and thank you for joining us all the way from Nigeria.
Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome [00:47:14] My pleasure.
Hagar Chemali [00:47:18] That was Professor Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, political science professor focusing on sub-Saharan African political economy and diaspora studies at Brooklyn College.
Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch. I'm today's host Hagar Chemali.
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