Nigeria, the nation, is not usually held out as a model of anything, no less of a Valhalla for builders of effective just nation-states. Not so for three authors of an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Defining Success in Afghanistan.” For Stephen Biddle, Fotini Christia and Alexander Their, the U.S. can’t reaslistically build a “strong, centralized Western-style government in Kabil.” But these political analysts insist that “Afghanistan is not ungovernable.” There is a “feasible” option that can serve as a lodestar for American success in the Afghan war, and justify the loss of lives and the costs being incurred by the American public. And that’s for Afghanistan to achieve the level of political maturity presently possessed by Nigeria.
Yes, that Nigeria. The country in West Africa. The big one with all those people.
Biddle, Christia and Thier, as is probably obvious, are not Nigeria experts, nor even Africa experts. They probably haven’t visited Nigeria or even maintained any Nigerian acquaintances. Because this is their picture of the Nigeria they’d love Afghanistan to become:
“After the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, Nigeria had a weak federal government and a strong regional system, in which individual governors were free to organize local administration as they wished. Even today, the country retains some traits of internal mixed sovereignty. States in the Muslim north have sharia law, whereas others secular judicial systems. The central government intervenes selectively to suppress unrest, such as in the Delta region. Although there are signs that Nigeria may now be deteriorating, for most of the last 40 years it has functioned tolerably.”
Signs of deterioration indeed. Who knew that for scholars of international security and relations, African affairs remains a sphinx? Perhaps what the authors call “internal mixed sovereignty,” which political philosopher Will Kymlicka and others term “asymmetric federalism,” does do some good in Nigeria. And for brief references to Nigeria, the one by Biddle et al at least has the advantage of presenting the country as a role model notwithstanding the failure to mention periods of dictatorship and martial law as well as the widespread looting of public oil monies by federal and state governors alike. But enough. This case rather seems like another example of the penchant for highly educated non-Africans to say anything about Africa, or anything that appears to support their own political views. Debunking the dumb things said about Africa and its people by Americans could be a fulltime job but it isn’t because such debunking doesn’t help enough Americans score their own debating points. In the end, the question being answered is “What has Africa done for us lately?”