NewsWest AfricaAre you talking to me?


Posted on Monday, 02 November 2015 12:25

Are you talking to me?

Photos© All rights reserved A photographer – one who found himself accidentally on purpose at the back of a room booked by South Africa's delegation at the AU's Addis Ababa headquarters in January 2012 – emerged with an instructive vignette about regional relations.

Inside, presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola were haranguing Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan about his backing for Côte d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara in the post-election turmoil.

Are we going to take dictation from each other?

Why could Jonathan not understand that Laurent Gbagbo was the African candidate and that Ouattara was the cat's paw of the French presidency and his business friends? Jonathan acquitted himself with some style, paying due deference to the elder statesmen.

Everyone can take a view on the election, he replied, but ECOWAS had debated the matter at length after taking evidence from the UN about the conduct of Côte d'Ivoire's election.

When The Africa Report asked Jonathan about the conversation, he said simply that ECOWAS would not intervene in Southern Africa's policy on Zimbabwe, so there should be some diplomatic reciprocity.

"Are we going to take dictation from each other?" he asked, sounding as if he was back in college. Both sides probably felt vindicated three months later when French troops helped chase Gbagbo from power.

But such an exchange would never happen between Muhammadu Buhari and Zuma and Dos Santos.

Coming from the military's nationalist tradition, Buhari holds no brief for external powers but insists that West Africa will decide the policies and alliances that best suit its purposes, regardless of the opinion of others.

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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