- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based American journalist and former assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy.
It was bound to happen: President Barack Obama’s innocuous little trip to Ghana was apt to annoy someone or another. One might have exptected Kenya, where Obama still has family, to feel slighted. But the visit did even more damage the ego of another African power: Nigeria.
As soon as the news of Obama’s trip was announced, the editorials began. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa by population. It has oil reserves that head, by and large, to the United States for consumption. It is a regional leader in economic and political terms. So why, the country wondered, would Obama pick its relatively smaller neighbor to the South?
The answer, many in civil society concluded, is pretty clear: Nigeria must get its house in order before it will be honored with such a visit. Notorious for corruption, flawed elections, and an ongoing insurgency in the oil-producing region, Nigeria is in many ways everything Ghana is not. One Nigerian commentor on the BBC site proclaimed, “Snubbing Nigeria is okay. It is a wake up call for those who drag Nigeria by the nose.” Even Wole Soyinka, one of the country’s most esteemed intellectuals, said that he agreed with Obama’s decision; Nigeria didn’t merit the honor, he told a gathering in the capital, Abuja.
How has the Nigerian government reacted? If the Daily Trust newspaper has it pegged, “the honey pot of the ‘big men’ has turned paranoid.” The head of the Foreign Relations Committee in Nigeria told the BBC that Obama should express any concerns he had about Nigeria in Abuja — in person — rather than by sending cryptic foreign policy signs. Criticism of the foreign service abounds, as well, as many claim that it was poor Nigerian diplomacy that failed to win the visit.
So if Obama has been trying to send a message by visiting the relatively democratic and peaceful Ghana, it appears to at least be causing a stir. Of course, there are those who favor other theories for Nigeria’s being slighted of the visit:
Come to think of it, you know Obama likes to play basketball. Suppose he invites President Yar’Adua while visiting to a game of basketball, one on one, and the man out of politeness agrees. And you know President Yar’Adua doesn’t play basketball, he only plays squash.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images