• Friday, September 22, 2023
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Soft power, Washington and Nigeria (1)

Soft power, Washington and Nigeria (1)

While the guns are booming in Europe between and among Ukraine, her proxies and Russia; I am thinking of how countries can penetrate one another without the use of lethal instruments. One sure way of doing this is through the deployment of what has come to be known as soft power.

This variant of power was pioneered and brought into mainstream international relations by Professor Joseph Nye, Jnr. of Harvard University.

It is essentially a non-lethal way in which a country can influence another without recourse to military hardware. Perhaps the only downside to this aspect of inter-state relations is that the merchants of arms would have been put into the shade.

They would be out of business. One country which has been very adept in deploying its soft power is the United States of America.

White America was being sold to the world in grand terms. But it was largely a hoax. This is because, further reflection cannot but turn on pertinent questions like: who are the intruders? who indeed owns the land?

As a super power, Washington does it in various forms. The most fascinating thing about it is that it is not confined to the state.

The entirety of American society is really involved. Their Hollywood films, television series and their universities as well as their literary figures are involved.

By way of illustration, many members of my generation were sold on the idea that America was a paradise. And that this was the best place to go and possibly live in.

This fascination partly derives from one of the television series of those days called: ‘Bonanza.’

Basically, the television programme was structured around the perennial conflict between the gun slinging “actor” and his cohorts-other white men versus the Red Indians. It was a manichean situation in which good was always pitted against evil.

With the Red Indian being portrayed as the villain. This was the kind of cultural diet with which I was fed in my formative years. Of course, one was sucked in.

But looking back now, I can see the grand strategy.

White America was being sold to the world in grand terms. But it was largely a hoax. This is because further reflection cannot but turn on pertinent questions like: who are the intruders?

Who indeed owns the land? If and when these questions are truthfully answered, the villains and heroes can always be made to interchange places as opposed to what was projected in that TV programme.

But then, such is the crucial role of soft power that what is not – can always be sold as what is.

Similarly, you often come into discourses, which tout America as the bastion of democracy. Indeed, the claim is often made by what is usually orchestrated and grandly titled: our way of life. Again, what is being projected is in reality, a modified form of reality.

This is because when you get acquainted with some American writers and intellectuals, other ideas begin to come into view about American democracy.

In saying this, a writer like James Baldwin comes in for mention. Such was the suffocating atmosphere, in view of his pigmentation i.e. the colour of his skin that he virtually had to lead all his life in France – in some form of exile.

And when asked about the nature of American democracy, he would always retort with a tinge of irony that: America is indeed the land of the free. Again such is the nature of the new fang-led idea called, democracy promotion that the omniscient observer cannot but observe the contradictions inherent in this venture.

For instance, with the recession of the cold war, Washington took it upon itself to promote democracy in Africa.

Across the continent they were to be seen promoting this concept. So assiduously and evangelical was their disposition that, now and then, the issue of double standards came up. For instance, their evangelism could not be taken to say China who was a big power in her own right.

Similarly, it was not an idea that could be pursued in resource-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The oil must keep flowing; so leave them and their monarchies alone.

Read also: The power of institutions: Lessons from the United States

Even in a social formation like ours they virtually burnt their fingers in the light of the exertions of a Walter Carrington.

The US lost a lot of ground in the Nigerian oil industry at that point in time. So, in the post Carrington era, care was taken to bring in an ambassador who was auspiciously placed to reverse Washington’s losses in this important area.

Meanwhile, if you have been lucky to be a direct recipient of America’s soft power; chances are that if you are not careful, you would have been successfully sucked in.

Take the Fulbright scholar who goes to America on the platform of this prestigious fellowship. The Fellowship is in reality an investment in human capital.

The expectation is that this particular human being, sooner than later, is going to be an important person in his home country. So bring him over and cultivate him. He/she will certainly be useful to America later. This is really sound reasoning.

This is because more often than not, Fulbrighters as they are called usually end up as important personalities and figures in their home countries.

In Nigeria here for instance, the first Fulbright scholar was none other than, Dr Alex Ekwueme, who as far back as the fifties had been spotted as an individual who will go on to make waves in a future Nigeria. And he really did. Indeed but for the quirks of our society, he would have been the President of the country.

In our next offering,

We will among other things focus on other aspects of soft power as these relate to Nigeria and how soft power can in fact serve as an antidote to the on-going belligerence between Russia and Ukraine.