by Dayo Sobowale
Generally and historically, it is during war that combatant nations lay siege on each other’s territory and borders. The Trojan War in which the Greeks laid siege on the ancient city of Troy and gained access eventually with the subterfuge and lure of a wooden horse, with Greek soldiers hidden inside, is the best historical example of a successful siege.
Today, however, I am not interested in such military sieges whether ancient or modern. Instead I am drawing inspiration from them to talk of economic sieges in modern times which have no territorial borders or defined locations. I am saying loud and clear that in modern times and in today’s global economies, political and economic mismanagement have created economies that have wittingly or unwittingly laid siege on the welfare and interests of their electorates. In essence then, siege economies have emerged in which the electorate is like a prisoner in its own house; as politicians try to keep the status quo while the electorate squirms and frets at first, and later gets desperate to throw out the yoke of the bad joke of imprisonment in what it knows it is its natural habitation by right.
The evolution of siege economies in modern times and how political leaders manipulate the global and individual political systems to maintain the status quo at all costs while the electorate or the masses struggle to throw off the shackles of imprisonment in their own house, is the topic of discussion today.
The Zimbabwean Elections of last Wednesday which the PM Mr. Tsvirangai called a farce after ignoring the pre election charge of President Robert Mugabe to his supporters that the election was to be a do or die affair for them, provides a good example of a siege economy and the struggle for political control. Also the registration of a new political party in Nigeria – the APC – by INEC, in a nation in which the ruling party thinks it will forever win elections, just because of its size, where oil theft and mismanagement of the nation’s mono economy have turned its citizens into landlords of poverty in their country, is another good example of the struggle for political control in a vintage siege economy like Nigeria. In addition, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan and his closed door meeting with Pakistan’s newly elected PM, Nawaz Sharif on the Pakistani economy and the war on terrorism, round up our examples for discussion today.
Again, we start with Zimbabwe where 89 year old President Robert Mugabe‘s party was on course for a smooth victory in spite of all odds and expectations of majority of Zimbabweans for a change of government from the Mugabe regime which has been in power for 33 years. Even though international observers have said the elections have been largely free and fair and AU Chairman of Observers retired Nigerian General Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted as saying that the first impression was that the Zimbabwean polls have been free, one cannot ignore the anomalies highlighted by the opposition.
The first is that about 2m voters on the voters list were recorded as dead and as such could not vote for the simple reason that dead men don’t or cannot vote. The second is that about one million voters were disenfranchised for one reason or the other and could not vote . In effect then Mugabe’s party has won a costly electoral battle but cannot claim victory because it was a pyrrhic victory in terms of electoral breaches that denudes it of any legitimacy. This is a victory for 33 years of Mugabe’s rule that has ruined the Zimbabwean economy through EU sanctions and land seizures that has crippled the nation’s once buoyant agricultural sector and fast growing economy that was once the envy of the nations of southern Africa and indeed the rest of Africa. As for Mugabe’s truculent pre election violent jargon that the election would be a do or die affair, I presume the old Zimbabwean Patriotic Front warrior must just have borrowed a leaf from the book of another warrior, a Nigerian now election observer at the Zimbabwean elections General Olusegun Obasanjo, who used the same volatile vocabulary while campaigning for the late President Yar Adua to succeed him at the 2007 elections. You may call both of them birds of the same feather and you could be right at least in terms of usage of combustible political vocabulary. But if you brand them as ‘experts’ at laying siege to their economies and manipulating its control through rigged elections like the 2007 elections that the ultimate beneficiary, the late President YarAdua himself later admitted was rigged; as well as this last Zimbabwean elections where living voters turned up at the polling booth to be listed dead and could therefore not vote, then you have scored a bull’s eye indeed in that comparison.
The registration of the APC made up of a merger of opposition parties in Nigeria’s bullish, winner takes all political terrain on July 31 ushers in another cycle of hope that Nigeria’s difficult democracy and siege economy may not crash land sooner than expected. At least not like the high flying train in Spain last week which took a corner at a speed of 192 mph while its driver was on record as having a telephone conversation and killed about 80 innocent passengers. A big wig in the ruling PDP once said that the party will rule Nigeria for the next 60 years. Just this week another PDP chieftain said the APC cannot be a threat because it is made up of strange bed fellows. I wonder which political party on earth is not made up of strange bed fellows. Especially as politics is a game of who gets what, when and how and that has to be discussed, and negotiated amongst people of various background and interests, who come together to fight a common cause.
Given the implosion in the PDP and its factional governors’ forum there is little doubt that the ruling party is losing the consensus and common front that catapulted it to power which it has tried to cling to by all means. The PDP should therefore be indeed wary with the emergence of the PDP and the political stature of those behind the party especially Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu co-author of Financialism. This is a brilliant book on how the financial system drains the economy.
Financialism could have helped the PDP leadership a lot if it had been published by the time they took office in 1999 when the foundation of turning Nigeria into a siege economy was laid and cemented with the political control PDP has had ever since, through successively rigged elections. With the emergence of APC then, the ball is certainly in the other court and not the PDP, which obviously has run out of ideas to transform the Nigerian economy with the requisite knowledge management base to get the economy out of its rut and siege. What the APC needs to do is to be prepared to fight rigging which the ruling party seem to have perfected to an exportable commodity for Zimbawe, to a stand still.
For the new APC and indeed Nigeria as a whole –eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – especially at this point in time, for the APC to change the pervading, sickening and repugnant climate of economic siege and claim political control in the coming 2015 elections.
Lastly I take on Pakistan together in the context of today’s topic and I will illustrate with the two personalities involved and the issues they are facing. These are the US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif. The two have two things in common and these are focus and principle and again I will elucidate.
Before coming to Pakistan John Kerry had just kicked start the Middle East peace process. At a press conference after both sides agreed to start talking, the Israeli peace negotiator doffed her hat to the US Secretary of State for the firm way he told the Israeli and Pakistani chief peace negotiators that failure was not an option in the renewed Middle East Peace Talks. In Pakistan, Kerry will be visiting for the first time since he took over from the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He faced a newly elected PM Nawaz Sharif who has just come to power and who has condemned the drone strikes which US President Barak Obama asserts is a legitimate weapon in the war against terrorism, a war in which the US and Pakistan are partners in fighting the Taliban, on the hilly borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The war on terror has turned the Pakistani economy into a siege economy dependent on US largesse given the Pakistani government to prosecute the war and fuel its economy as well. But the Pakistani army prosecutes the war and has done it half heartedly while the politicians in power cannot do much because of the fear of a coup from the military as the war is unpopular with the largely Islamic population of Pakistan. Now Nawaz Sharif has spoken against the drone strike which the army and the other opposition could not do for fear of losing US funds and increasing the tension of a siege economy or losing political control or relevance in the process in Pakistan.
Yet I am sure that Mr. Kerry knows that Mr. Sharif is man of honor and principle who has spoken on behalf of his nation and the US will respect his views and concern on the drone strikes. Pakistan is lucky therefore in that it has a new leader that even the US which oils its siege economy knows as a man of principle in political control who should not be allowed to lose face in the two nations partnership fight against terrorism. That to me is mutual respect that is at first personal but which has a high convertible rate in sovereign and diplomatic relations and I think Pakistan was lucky this week that the leader talking to John Kerry was Nawaz Sharif and not anyone else in Pakistan. That was a lesson on the rewards of leadership focus and principle in high diplomacy, and it has my total and sincere admiration.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dayo Sobowale