Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

National Concord, Nigeria, January 20, 1986

Reagan versus Gaddafi

Two months ago, at the super-power summit held in Geneva, President Ronald Reagan of the United States of America could legitimately dress himself in the garb of a world statesman. Probably for the first time since he attained the exalted presidency of the United States over five years ago, Reagan was on the threshold of a momentous realisation: that the destiny of the world would not always tally with the narrow interests of America's ruling class.

Sadly, however, any hopes that the world was in for a much- needed period of peace and sanity now seem to have been hopelessly misplaced. For Ronald Reagan, proving once again that old habits indeed die hard, has stubbornly reverted to his more accustomed role of an international cowboy, attempting to subjugate otherwise sovereign nations to an unjust, unwarranted and unviable PAX AMERICANA.

The continuing attempts to bully the proud people of Libya into abrogating their most laudable solidarity with the noble cause of a Palestinian homeland, is merely one instance of Reagan's unfortunate inability to see the world as it really is, and as it must be. The persistent pattern of criminal activity in such diverse places as Nicaragua, Angola, Grenada, South Africa and now Libya - usually predicated on patently flimsy reasons - shows clearly that this out-dated American monarch cannot live peacefully with small nations unwilling to suffer, in perpetuity, the hegemony of more developed powers.

The excuse for this latest onslaught against Libya is that the supposedly all-knowing C.I.A. has "conclusive proof" of Libyan involvement in the ghastly terrorist attack on Rome and Vienna airports, which claimed 18 lives and wounded over 100 people. On this pretext, Reagan mobilised the American Mediterranean fleet for a possible land-sea-air invasion of Libya, quickly imposed far-ranging economic sanctions against her, and sought to isolate her on the diplomatic front.

While Gaddafi's response has been characteristically swift, successfully stopping the United States in mid-stream, the larger and more important issues are in danger of being lost as Reagan escalates his dangerous game of brinkmanship.

That President Reagan who has often lectured the world on the futility of sanctions against South Africa now sees the utility of such sanctions in forcing "errant" nations to conform, cannot simply be reduced to sheer hypocrisy. It is, sadly, the mark of a nation incapable of articulating and consistently pursuing its long-term national interests.

The immediate post-1945 global imbalance of power allowed the United States to ruthlessly bully the newly-independent nations into submitting to its often unjust world-view. Thankfully, however, things have changed and once quiescent people no longer buckle under the mere threat of either military invasion, economic sanctions or diplomatic isolation.

Probably the most enduring issue in the whole messy affair lies far away from both Libya and the United States. While the often ill-advised resort to mindless violence by freedom-seeking Palestinians deserves to be vigorously condemned, the heroic search for a Palestinian homeland remains the crux of the matter. And until this sore issue is squarely addressed and justice fully done, no nation should be swayed in its support for Palestine by Reagan's unfortunate but expected return to his gun-toting days.

The Guardian, Nigeria, January 20, 1986

Tomorrow's armed forces

President Babangida continues to surprise us by the extent to which he seems determined to carry his policy of open government and continuous dialogue with the governed. Never before in our history has a Commander-in-Chief spoken so publicly and with such candour to his professional colleagues as he did recently at the beginning of this year's Armed Forces and Remembrance Day. And the openness of its clearly suggested that he fully expects a public discussion of the issues he raised.

The subject of his address was complex, its immediate context fraught with danger to the public. An attempted coup had just been suppressed, and the shock waves it created had not fully subsided. Something the President said was deeply wrong with the Armed Forces. They were beginning to forget the true meaning of their calling, the virtues of their profession, and their sworn commitment to defend and protect the state and the nation.

'Disloyal elements' within the Armed Forces were placing personal desires, personal opinion and personal ambition "above patriotic and professional duty". And unless care was taken, the nation could become the permanent hostage of an arrogant and overbearing armed gang.

The President was right in his conclusion that nothing he had said was unfamiliar. For close to 20 years now, the central issue of our political culture has been what to do with our Armed Forces. On four occasions, they had intervened in favour and on behalf of the people. But, equally, on at least two occasions, they had sought to overthrow popular governments for reasons that had nothing to do either with the popular will or with any real prospect of good government.

But whether or not each intervention, or attempted intervention, was welcome or not, the fact remains that the very possibility of such interventions constitute a grave measure of instability to our political culture, and can therefore, be judged undesirable.

It cannot, we daresay, be entirely fortuitous that the President delivered his address only a few days before he inaugurated the political bureau, whose task is to help articulate a new and, we hope, more durable political arrangement for Nigeria. It is as though he deliberately threw a challenge to the bureau to confront the problem of the Armed Forces and evolve a system that would, at the least, ensure the nation against unpopular coups. And while the bureau is going about its task, we might leave it with a preliminary caveat.

We may never be able to abolish all coups. And it is in any event worth reflecting on, whether a 'good' coup ought not to be wished for. But whatever our position on coups may be, the one thing that seems certain is that our Armed Forces, if they must be responsive to the true needs of the state and the nation, must evolve a tradition that is rooted in the community they are meant to serve. And how precisely to achieve this will no doubt generate some interesting debate in the coming months.

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