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Nigeria: After Abacha, 2
Nigeria: After Abacha, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 980628
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +US policy focus+
This posting contains contains testimony by U.S. Assistant Secretary of
State for African Affairs Susan Rice, on U.S. policy towards the new Nigerian
military government. The previous posting contains statements from the
Africa Fund, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP),
and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General
Workers' Unions (ICEM).
Nigeria Stands At Important Crossroads, Rice Says
June 26, 1998
For other U.S. statements on Africa, see the Web Sites of the State
and of USIA
Washington - Following is the text of Assistant Secretary of State for
African Affairs Susan Rice's remarks to the House of Representatives Committee
on International Relations on June 25(as prepared for delivery):
Good Morning, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to be here and to address
this Committee on Prospects for Democracy in Nigeria. It has been several
months since I testified before the Africa Subcommittee on the broad parameters
of U.S. policy towards Africa. Since then the Continent has been the subject
of increased and sustained attention, especially in light of the President's
historic trip to Africa in March and movement on the African Growth and
The president's trip to six African countries highlighted Africa's progress
over the past decade. The days of apartheid, cold war conflict, and one-party
states are over. The number of democracies has quadrupled in 10 years in
Africa, and economic growth has risen from the negative numbers of the
1980s to over 4 percent on average the past two years. Especially strong
performers include Uganda and Cote d'Ivoire, which experienced 6 and 7
percent growth rates, and Mozambique, with growth last year in double-digit
figures. As a result, the United States is committed to a new partnership
with the African continent -- a partnership based on mutual respect, mutual
interest, and mutual security.
While I note today Africa's continued strides toward peace and political
and economic reform, I would be remiss not to mention a few recent setbacks.
The on-going border strife between Ethiopia and Eritrea, for example, threatens
stability in the Horn of Africa and illustrates just how fragile post-conflict
nations can be. I note and appreciate the concurrent resolution passed
yesterday by the Africa Subcommittee on the conflict between the two countries.
We deplore and condemn the recent attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau by elements
of the armed forces against the democratically elected government. And
we remain disappointed by the slow pace of progress in Central Africa,
especially in both of the Congos.
Nigeria, however, stands at an unexpected and important crossroads.
Its new leadership has an unprecedented opportunity to open the political
process and institute a genuine transition to civilian democratic rule.
During this official period of mourning, we extend again our friendship
to the Nigerian people as well as our condolences, and stand with them
as they dream of a brighter future.
The people of Nigeria want and deserve a responsible and accountable
government. Their time may well be now. General Abdulsalam Abubakar can
play a noble and decisive role in shaping their country's destiny by charting
a fresh course towards reform in Nigeria.
At stake is not only Nigeria's relationship with the international community,
but also its role as a regional leader in helping bring stability to a
volatile neighborhood and in assuming its rightful place on the global
stage. Nigeria is large and influential with an ancient culture, tremendous
human talent, enormous wealth and democratic experience. It is home to
more than 100 million people, with over 250 ethnic groups, an abundance
of natural resources and the largest domestic market on the continent.
Nigeria has played, and continues to play, a significant role in West Africa,
especially as Chair of the Economic Community of West African States and
through the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group
(ECOMOG). The country was instrumental in restoring to power the legitimate
Sierra Leone government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on March 10 of
this year. In Liberia, Nigeria actively supported the peace process by
contributing over 75 percent of the West African peacekeeping troops and
by helping enable open and transparent elections in Liberia just a year
ago. We thus have come to value Nigeria as an important potential partner
in helping bring security to troubled neighboring states.
Mr. Chairman, let me be plain. U.S. interests in Nigeria remain constant.
We seek a stable, prosperous, democratic Nigeria that respects human rights.
We also have sought better cooperation with the government of Nigeria in
combating international narcotics trafficking and crime. We hope to be
in a position to promote favorable trade and investment partnerships in
one of the largest economies on the continent. Finally, we hope Nigeria
will continue to play a responsible role in resolving regional conflicts.
Yet, it is no secret that there have been serious strains in U.S.- Nigerian
relations in recent times. The military has ruled Africa's most populous
nation for 28 out of 38 years since its independence, often with an iron
fist. Misguided policies, mismanagement and corruption have stifled Nigeria's
economy. Basic human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly,
have been trampled upon. Then Head of State Ibrahim Babangida annulled
the presidential elections five years ago, leading to the military overthrow
of a civilian-led interim national government. General Sani Abacha suspended
the constitution and imprisoned the apparent winner of the 1993 presidential
elections, M.K.O. Abiola.
Moreover, the Nigerian Government detained pro-democracy leaders and
political figures who were critical of the government, including former
Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo, along with numerous others, including
human rights activists and journalists. Military tribunals denied due
process to political and other prisoners, prompting both the United Nations
General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to condemn
the Nigerian government and call upon it to respect fundamental human rights
and restore civilian rule. The government's November 10, 1995, execution
of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine met with swift
international response, including the imposition of additional sanctions
by the United States, the European Union and the Commonwealth.
We were skeptical but still hopeful three years ago when General Abacha
pledged a genuine transition to civilian democratic rule by October 1,
1998. But, by any standard, it quickly became clear that General Abacha's
transition was gravely flawed and failing.
Our road map for measuring democratic progress is universal and unwavering.
A credible transition would include: a transparent and participatory process;
unconditional release of political prisoners; provisions for free political
activity and party formation allowing all those who wish to run to do so
freely; freedom of association, speech and the press; unrestricted access
to the media by all candidates and parties; impartial electoral preparations;
and elections open to all.
The crowning blow for General Abacha's transition came in April this
year when the five political parties, all sponsored by the military government,
bowed to heavy regime pressure and selected General Abacha to be their
sole candidate. The subsequent low voter turnout for the Government-organized
legislative elections eloquently demonstrated the people's widespread rejection
of the transition program that was heading toward a pre-determined outcome.
But today, the Nigerian people have a fresh chance for freedom, an opportunity
finally to realize their country's full potential. The United States is
heartened by initial promising steps taken by Nigeria's new leaders, including
the release of former Head of State Obasanjo and fourteen other prominent
political prisoners, and the announcement by the government that more detainees
will soon be released. We hope Chief M.K.O. Abiola and others will be released
swiftly and unconditionally. We also applaud General Abubakar's decision
to consult with representatives of various political groups on how to restore
credibility to the transition. The new dialogue between the government
and civil society is a critical and positive precursor to democratization
and open and fair elections. We hope these consultations with civil society,
human rights and pro-democracy groups will continue and help to tap the
energy and will of the Nigerian people.
The government of Nigeria has pledged to complete the transition process
by October 1, 1998. Some political groups have called for a delay of three
to 12 months. Our hope remains for a credible and lasting transition in
the shortest time possible. Thus, over the next few weeks our goal will
be to encourage the new leadership to move swiftly along the path to democracy.
We look forward to establishing a productive
dialogue with General Abubakar and with other key leaders. At the same
time, we will also consult closely and constructively with our friends
and allies in Africa and elsewhere on developments in Nigeria. We will
pursue with renewed vigor efforts to cooperate with Nigeria on counternarcotics
and to resolve outstanding airport security issues. And, working with Congress
and this Committee, we will aim to increase U.S. assistance to civil society
and pro-democracy efforts.
Already the lines of communication between the United States and Nigeria
are opening. President Clinton called General Abubakar on June 14 to express
our hopes for a new beginning for Nigeria. Our Ambassador, William Twaddell,
met with General Abubakar last week to lay the groundwork for a working
relationship we hope will be of great value to both our countries. Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering looks forward
to leading a delegation to the country in the near future to continue our
dialogue with the new leadership.
We are investing in this high-level effort because the stakes in Nigeria
are enormous. A democratic Nigeria is key to a stable and prosperous West
Africa, an invigorated Africa, and thus to U.S. national interests and
national security. Already, the United States is the top foreign investor
in Nigeria. Nigeria is our largest trading partner in all of Africa. Last
year, our exports to Nigeria reached $814 million, while U.S. imports were
over $6 billion [$6,000 million]. An open and free body politic can breathe
new life into Nigeria's stagnant economy. All Nigerians deserve to benefit
finally from the vast wealth of their country.
Ultimately, of course, the success of democracy in Nigeria depends on
the Nigerian people. The United States has a unique opportunity to support
the people of Nigeria as they work to fulfill long overdue commitments
to create a dynamic, prosperous and democratic society that will help lead
Africa into the 21st century. Much work remains to be done in Africa, by
Africans. In Sierra Leone, for example, atrocities of the former Armed
Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)/Revolutionary United Front (RUF) junta
are creating a humanitarian crisis which threatens thousands of innocent
civilians and neighboring countries. Guinea-Bissau is now a tinderbox where
once there was a freely elected government. The troubled Congos and the
Horn of Africa, as well as other promising emerging democracies, face critical
tests. Nigeria's role will be influential throughout the continent. We
sincerely hope that the new leadership in Nigeria will plot a course toward
democracy at home, and, in doing so, further advance our mutual interests
in safeguarding democracy and peace throughout Africa.
Mr. Chairman, I am committed to working with your committee and the
Subcommittee on Africa as we seek to forge a new U.S.-Nigeria relationship
in the context of a successful transition to civilian democratic rule.
Over the past few years we have witnessed the demise of apartheid in South
Africa, which unleashed the incredible potential of a formerly divided
nation. What Pretoria is to Africa's southern region, Abuja can be to West
Africa and beyond. As South Africa did at the end of this century, Nigeria
has the chance to do at the turn of the next century -- to better the lives
of hundreds of millions of Africans at home and abroad.
We look forward to working with Congress to make plain to the new leadership
that we are there to support them as they weigh these historic options
-- and choose the right path towards reform. To this end, I pledge my own
best efforts and respectfully ask for your continued wise counsel and support.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington
Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate
in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,
by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and
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