SHEEP IN WOLF’S CLOTHING

 Watching repeat footages of the president cutting the Independence Day cake at the low-key state house party, I couldn’t help but notice that the commander-in-chief fittingly cut the figure of a military leader. This thought, however flitting, may have been fanned by the garb he donned on this occasion: the full regalia of a field marshal. Granted that the military fatigues belies the wholesome truth that Mr Goodluck Jonathan is a democratically elected president it would not be wild to suggest from his mannerisms since he entered into office that he sometimes displays the trappings of a Babangida era administrator – and this time I am not referring to his sartorial tastes.

First, the January 1st removal of fuel subsidies still rankles with many of us, even if he eventually reversed the order after nationwide demonstrations and protests by civil right groups, labour unions, activists and ordinary citizens alike. Furthermore, the president unilaterally decided to change the name of a federal university on a day marked to celebrate the end of military rule in Nigeria. This paradox was another politburoesque move by the president that led to another round of protests. Key terms in these examples are ‘order’ and ‘unilaterally’

The common thread in both narratives is that Mr. President made outrageous declarations on landmark dates: New Year Day and Democracy Day respectively. This caused an expected sense of cynicism as he took to the podium on October 1st to make yet another gaffe. This time he claimed Transparency International ranked Nigeria second as the country with the most improved index in its fight against corruption. This is untrue. Transparency International has refuted the bogus claim. How pervasive corruption still is in the Nigerian polity given the way the recent Otedola-Lawan affair was swept under the carpet is subject for another day. Another important digression would be how telling it is that Mr. Jonathan did not prepare his own speech for an occasion as august as Nigeria’s birthday.

The episode suggests the presidential team made two assumptions. One is that Nigerians would not care to listen to the speech. The second is that even if they did they would not crosscheck the factitious facts. Both are insults to us. A probe has been instigated to find the root of this humiliating faux pas but it is one of those embarrassing national incidents that soon diffuse into the sub-conscious of our memories. I choose to see the bigger picture.

While sweeping declarations and orders are trademark vestiges of a military junta, feeding the nation with blatant lies certainly takes the biscuit. Now you may be tempted to believe this is much ado about nothing, making a mountain out of a molehill, or whatever idiom suits you fine, but we must understand this is a precedent that must be bellowed to the far-flung corners of Nigeria till everyone is aware that the president lied to Nigerians on national television. As minuscule as a lie may be, when it is uttered from the office of the presidency it negates everything that office and our democracy stands for.

So while the blame for this mishap has gone to misinformation from a national newspaper the incident transcends a honest mistake by the speech-writers, proof-readers or typists; rather, it is an innocuous attempt to sell garbage to the Nigerian masses. Furthermore, no clear-cut apology has been rendered to Nigerians since October 1st. That, my dear friends, is the hallmark of an autocracy!

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THE FIVE TRILLION NAIRA – A QUEST AND A QUESTION

The Punch newspaper recently reported that the sum of N5 trillion has been stolen under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan. Given how toothless the Economic and Financial Crime Commission and other similar anti-graft agencies have become in the last couple of years; and how the petroleum subsidy scam was managed my only surprise was that the figure did not exceed that reported amount. What astounds me is how Nigeria’s current president seems to be unmoved at an allegation of this gravity. There are two ways to account for this unseemly indifference. One, it is either he is unaware of the unmitigated defalcation of tax-payers’ money under his leadership; or, two, he is aiding and abetting the fraud. I can bet my designer glasses the second option is truer.

For most Nigerians Mr Jonathan seems like a harmless, docile man who can ordinarily relate with the plight of Nigerians. His campaign in 2011 was predicated around a grass to grace story – almost literally. He asserted he often had to walk barefoot because he ‘had no shoes’. While that story resonated as a touching account of a peasant navigating his path to the peak of public service we often ask how special the narrative is. After all, Mr Jonathan grew up in a time when shoes were almost unaffordable luxuries for many of his peers; in fact, during his generation you would only be shocked to know a child actually had shoes! Still, we cannot discount the humble upbringing of the man. For some moments during his presidential campaign in 2011 I must admit I often made analogies between his story and that of Barack Obama. Couple of months on I will not demean one of America’s finest president by putting him on the same par as Mr Jonathan.

Still dwelling on the past I must say that it was almost inevitable that Mr Jonathan would win in 2011. This was not hard to fathom given the array of persons who contested alongside him. First, there was Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s most wanton opportunist. He was in many respects a distraction, the equivalent of an MTN ad displayed during a live English premiership game. I am not saying Mr Ribadu is not intellectually sound. To his credit, during the presidential debates he was able to string words you could applaud to – if you looked at things from the literary point of view. For instance he famously said in effect, “Nigerians are not corrupt; it is the system that is corrupt.” Such semantic gibberish only goes to show he did not and still does not understand the uniqueness of Nigeria and Nigerians.  The recent episode of how his subsidy- probe committee concluded their findings is another testament of a quixotic, opportunistic man who lacks the wiles that defines Nigerian politics. But this article is not about Ribadu.

The other option was Mohammad Buhari. He seemed to spit fire everywhere he went. Running alongside Tunde Bakare, it was a combination of firebrands, which in some respects represent something we would like to see in a Nigerian presidency. However, Buhari said little of how much difference there would be if he became president. He never really discussed issues affecting Nigeria and how much differently he would tackle them without resorting to a de facto dictatorship – something akin to what Mohammed Mursi has become in Egypt. At any rate, Buhari surely had the trappings of an ex-serviceman who could not stand to see ‘bloody’ civilians take charge of government and needed to come and show them what discipline is. Nigerians surely need discipline but to what measure Buhari would have enforced it is what tilted the tides against him.

Of course, there were other aspirants:  Shekarau et al who really did not have a shot at anything beyond their places of birth. Like Ribadu, they were all distractions.

The five-trillion-naira question is this: Who comes up against Goodluck Jonathan – forget all those political façade of him not yet declaring his intention – in 2015? Before I describe the ideal opponent let me emphasise how important that question is. In 2011, civil rights group achieved something significant in Nigeria: they emphasised the need for Nigerians to cast their votes and protect it. This was largely achieved. However, they forgot another element of efficient electioneering: ensuring you have the right candidates. If James Ibori and Diepreye Alamiesiegha came out for a particular office, it won’t be enough to have free and fair elections. A further step will be to emphasize their non-eligibility and fine-tune a process that will bring out a worthier contestant. It is the latter we failed to discuss in 2011 and should start doing something about now. Yes, now.

I am not going to publicly endorse anyone even though I know some Nigerians who would be perfect as Nigeria’s president. The risk of an endorsement is that it compromises the quality of the bigger message which I wish to pass across. But for an ideal Nigerian president we need

1. Someone stainless. I’ll be the first to admit that it will be tough. Is it impossible? No. It takes only a spotless man to point out dirt in others.

2. Someone detribalised. Enough with talks of what tribe should produce the next president. Would you rather we enforced federal character or personal character? It’s 2012. Nigerians cannot afford to have another effete president all in the name of zoning.

3. Someone with ideas. Goodluck Jonathan is famously described as clueless not because he is uneducated but because he does not resonate with flourishing ideas: Ideas about how to transform the power sector, how to use intelligence and counter-intelligence to end terrorism and financial crimes, how to invest in research and development etc etc. Goodluck Jonathan’s default solution to all problem is to set up committees, an act that, given how Farouk Lawan went scot-free,  has become synonymous with sweeping under the carpet.

4. Pragmatic. It’s not all about having ideas. Ensuring those ideas become beneficial economic tools is far more important. Also, pragmatism would involve cutting the cost of governance in every possible way. Ideally, we would want someone who has successfully managed people and resources at a large scale beforehand.

5. Someone who does not give a damn about whose axe is gored for doing right. Goodluck Jonathan has godfathers who call the shots from behind. It’s sickening! If a president cannot do what is right without considering how someone like Mr Edwin Clark will react he deserves to remain shoeless.

6. Someone willing to accept nothing in return. If our senators and legislators will be forced to reduce their salaries and allowances then they need a president who leads by example. A Nigerian president who accepts nothing but the mandate of Nigerians to lead them will not tolerate financial inefficiencies. Write that down!

7. Someone who knows government owes the people nothing but the best. Enough of that “it’s not what your country can do for you” crap! Our country is blessed with plenty of mineral resources. Our country can – and must – do things for us. If those in charge cannot use it to develop Nigeria then don’t quote JFK to me. Quote Chairman Mao!

2015 is upon us. We cannot continue to tweet Nigeria’s problem without doing anything about it. Nigerians should know that at the rate we are going with the current administration our futures are at stake. Let all of us: civil right groups, activists, political commentators and so on look from amongst ourselves. Surely, there is a man or woman who fits this description and can steer our rudder to greater heights!  

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GOOGLE OR NIGERIAN GRAINS: MONOPOLY’S THE DRIVE

If Larry Page had his way we would live in a world where we used chromebooks to send gmails about the latest posts on YouTube. In this world of his, we would not need to stray too far to know when our friends’ birthdays are because Google calendar would sync that information from our Google+ account; then Google maps would direct us to the closest gift store. And yes, we would only make calls with Android-enabled Google smartphones. Larry Page, co-founder and chief executive officer of Google, would not just rock our world, he would rule it!

Some may call it entrepreneurial genius but with that graphic description of how a monopolistic technology industry would look like I can exclaim with free-market pride, “Thank God for competition!” In truth, however, I am not really bothered about the economics and dynamics of Google’s ravenous disposition. Even though I had to cross-check several facts in this article by googling – Microsoft Office join the times: ‘google’ is now a verb! – as a free-lancer living in Africa’s most populous nation, namely Nigeria, the most immediate concern I have about monopolistic tendencies is that currently held by the Dangote Group of Companies. Often heralded as the beacon of entrepreneurial success in Africa, the Dangote Group has business concerns in a number of industries ranging from oil and gas to agricultural products. Unconfirmed Wikileak reports in 2007 show that the group got the exclusive rights to import cement, sugar and rice into Nigeria, a country known for its culture of consumerism. This import-driven business sense has been tagged as a laudable entrepreneurial manoeuvre. While that accolade reeks of controversy, a clear indicator of how well Dangote group is doing is seen in the personal fortune of the president and chief executive officer, Alhaji Aiiko Dangote. Forbes Magazine recently tagged him as the richest man in Africa. His wealth, how it was acquired and how he expends it has been exhaustively covered in the media, most famously in that glittering MTV interview on YouTube where he tells of buying a $50 million private jet, referring to it as a toy. In fairness to Mr Dangote, in this same interview he told the bevy of young panellists that he worked 18 hours a day!

What’s particularly fascinating about Aliko Dangote’s business acumen is how he handles the craft of business in an economically-hostile terrain where others have tried and failed. Not a keen politician, he is, however, never out of the political picture completely, courting political rapport explicitly, like when he made huge donations to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s library project; and, implicitly, like he did when he was recently made the co-chairman of the National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation and made a N200 million donation to the victims. Passive lookers-on have described this as a well-meaning gesture by the man famously described as Africa’s Richard Branson while cynics reckon this is just a façade, a front to his exploitative intentions. An online commentator responded to that with the quip, ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison.’

For the most part, I reckon Dangote and his company may have genuine interests in helping victims of the floods. The Dangote group is renowned for its donations to charities and other CSR acts. Still, the conspiracy theory making the rounds that the company only intends to benefit from the impending food shortage following the massive destruction of several hectares of farmlands in the floods may not be far-fetched. Some days ago Reuter’s news agency reported the assertion by Nigeria’s president, Mr Goodluck Jonathan that the country had “enough grains in our reserves.” The country’s minister of Agriculture has corroborated this report but therein lays the fan for the rumour mill. Enough grains in our reserves?  Really? I am just a netizen who knows little about Nigerian agricultural stock but living in a country where measures taken by government are almost always reactionary and hardly ever pre-emptive, I am forced to regard the claim with the minutest pinch of salt. One would have been a little placated if the president had given details of where these reserves are rather than just smile lopsidedly as he patronised gullible Nigerians.

For now I choose to keep an open mind. Perhaps somewhere in Abuja, or Kano or Calabar there are pyramids of grains waiting to be deployed to the markets. If that is not true then it may just be a credible hunch that our president is fiddling with some businessmen to exploit the misfortune of Nigerians. If that is the case, then perhaps the reserves being referred to are container-load of grains to be imported from some neighbouring countries. Perhaps, Dangote group, firm of the kindly donor, Aliko Dangote, may be awarded the monopolistic contract to make such importation. The key words are ‘perhaps’ and ‘monopolistic’ but even Google’s Larry Page would agree that would be exploitation not entrepreneurship.

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LEAD POISONING AND REPORTAGE

Once in a while I check up on Nigerian dailies. I’ve become attuned to the new age of digitalisation so I find flipping through the spread sheets of a physical newspaper rather anachronistic. I’d rather just whip out my samsung note, go online and get the gists from across the federation. The only snag is that the culture of online media is yet to catch up with the routine of media house publishing. As a result headline news on the web-pages of Nigerian newspapers are not updated as regularly and judiciously as they should causing one to wonder whether they fully comprehend the meaning of the word ‘news’. This tardiness from local reporters always prompts me to check the web-pages of foreign news outfits like Reuters and BBC. I do this out of frustration rather than a craving for the exotic. Usually I’m enthralled to find news items about my country. The irony is that such features are sometimes not even reported by local media – online or on print.

One such story is that of lead poisoning in Zamfara, a state in Northern Nigeria. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reports that more than a thousand children are affected. In fact, in 2009 about 400 children died of lead poisoning in Zamfara. The scourge is linked to gold mining from ores which have substantial amounts of lead. Children are particularly at risk. It is also linked to the socio-economic status of the region. Since the price of gold increased in the international market more and more people are risking their lives for the business of mining. But it comes at a cost. Lead poisoning leads to serious nervous system defects. Also, death is not uncommon.

So it’s almost like being caught between a rock and a hard place. It is amidst this impasse that government should really step in and that’s what MSF is advocating. So far, government’s response has been half-hearted. They have begun a clean-up but this started only after immense pressure and the unsavoury publicity of the 2009 deaths. So if that is what goads them on why not have more of such publicity? Our media houses, however, seem not to notice and it’s hard to blame them with all the distraction and drama of Boko Haram in the north of the country. I reckon, however, that it’s environmental menaces as this that actually feed such radicalism amongst many northerners. Mounting poverty, disease, and neglect from government leads thousands into the hard life of mining. When they fall sick due to the hazards of mining and are unable to continue that trade organisations like Boko Haram seem like a worthy resort. Other connections could be made between poverty and terrorism but that’s not my immediate focus.

MSF has done a job of highlighting an incipient crisis. Who carries it on from there? Nigeria Medical Association? Maybe. The media, however, have to put emphasis on issues as this. Lead poisoning in Zamfara is like a time bomb – both literarily and figuratively. Our government places onus on only what is being talked about by pressmen while conveniently ignoring other issues which are no less pertinent. I see coverage of the entertainment industry, sometimes splurged across full pages of our dailies. This, in itself, is not bad in but at times when more pressing issues are on the horizon represents a misplaced sense of proportions that plagues the press today. What makes the front pages is usually determined by the mix of urgency, demand, and importance. News-worthiness however cannot be ring-fenced around those parameters at all times. Journalism serves a bigger duty other than a commercial enterprise. When we speak of transforming our nation the newsrooms have a role to play. Consequently, any transformation we speak of shall of necessity begin with our equivalent of Fleet Street. This is regardless of what form the news comes – in print or on an LCD screen.

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NGOZI’S MEAT, NIGERIA’S POISON

My elementary maths certainly disproves the notion that two wrongs don’t make a right. After all, multiplying two negative integers only yields a positive one. However, on an issue that pitches my self-interest as a struggling Nigerian with the self-interest of the honourable minister of finance, arithmetic has little to with the schematics of right and wrong. As such I have to be forward with this: I am selfish but so also is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala!

By now it’s no longer news that she’s been endorsed by some African nations for the presidency of the World Bank. While this would be big for her ever-rising career, the big ask is where her decision places us, Nigerians, in her scheme of thought. First of all, let me place myself in her shoes. However uncomfortable her stilettoes may be, the fact remains that when you commit your allegiance to a cause you should see it through – to the end. As a personal decision it is in the best interest of her curriculum vitae to take the World Bank offer but that would only mean that the cheap talk of letting go of her position in Washington to serve her motherland, fight corruption and lift the nation forward with her Ivy League ideologies was all a blithering rant. Service to Nigeria, then, must have been no more than a fill-in-the-blank stopgap to bigger roles. But ‘bigger’ is not always ‘better’ as any economist will tell you. She must recognise the anticipation and glad hand with which her appointment to the ministry of finance was met across the federation. For the most part Nigerians were very pleased. Some even said that was the only sensible appointment Mr Goodluck Jonathan made in his cabinet. We were even willing to indulge her tardy resumption to the executive council while she claimed she was clearing her desk in the US. At the induction ceremony Mr Jonathan was practically drooling with joy at the fact that she accepted his offer to work with him.

It’s been about one year now and the one tangible – and I do not use that word lightly – effect that we can experience from her tenure is higher price of petroleum products and a consequent inflation in market prices of most commodities. Early this year, this led to a string of protests across the nation which some chose to label as ‘Occupy Nigeria’. The protests may not have had the exact trappings of Occupy Wall Street but it certainly would have begot mock feeling of déjà vu to Mrs Okonjo-Iweala. The World Bank may not be directly responsible for the economic slump in the West but as people gathered in the streets of Manhattan the difference between investment banking and capital banking was vague, very vague. In large part, I reckon the removal of fuel subsidies, the brainchild of Ms Okonjo-Iweala, was a well-meaning attempt to rid the nation of a major source for defalcating government money. Having said that, it must also be put in context that such a policy is not one whose impact can be seen in the short term. It requires patience on the part of Nigerians, a message the Minister has been apt to preach on numerous occasions. If anything then we expect that the mastermind waits out the ‘patient phase’ of her policies along with us. It’s been only four months and now what? She bails. Apparently, her itinerary says her next port of call is the presidency of World Bank. That leaves us to wonder if she is no more than a raking opportunist, pursuing a personal project to expand her legacy. I am also forced to consider the viewpoint of a former boss of mine, very opinionated, who asserts that Westerners take the ‘weak’ amongst us, Africans, and give them mouth-watering appointments while they call the shot from behind the scene. As wild as that may sound, a minister leaving a job after making some potentially atrocious reforms only lends credence to that viewpoint. Ms Okonjo-Iweala must realize that Nigeria has always had a problem with continuity. As leaders change so do their policies and focus. For Ms Okonjo-Iweala, corruption is best tackled by removing fuel subsidies; to whoever replaces her it might be the reverse. Wouldn’t that be taking one step forward and two backwards, even as the man on the street struggles to understand why sachet water is now N10?

Then I am curious. Who in Nigeria recommended Ms Okonjo? I was very aware of the campaign by many groups on twitter and facebook clamouring that Barack Obama chose Jeffery Sachs who seemed to have a credible academic and practical standing. I had my reservations about Mr Sachs but none of it was related to the fact that he was going to be bailing out on a commitment he had recently made, not especially one that would directly impinge on the wellbeing of an entire nation. With Ms Okonjo it is vague. I’ve long known an Okonjo-Iweala-For-President group on facebook but I am positive the target is Nigerian presidency not the World Bank’s. Headlines suddenly sprouted talking about Nigeria and South Africa (a member of the famous BRICS) having a joint candidate in the person of Ms Okonjo-Iweala. Soon there was talk of Namibia, the African Union and a league of other people endorsing her candidacy. While that must be all too fascinating and enchanting for Nigeria, a country which still prides itself in Emeka Anyaoku’s headship of the Commonwealth of Nation, we must ask Nigerian leaders and led what their take is on this. Should they be negatively stunned? Yes, if you asked me. Her appointment last year came with a lot of drama. There were insinuations that Mr President indulged her tad too much. Certain reports suggested she was effectively in charge of the executive council, calling the shots on how funds should be ring-fenced even as other ministers sulked. To such ministers her departure might very well be greeted with good riddance but to Mr President this must be betrayal. For a zoologist, the intricacies of the economics parlance of government bonds, interest rates, and so on must have been a little abstruse. Ms Okonjo-Iweala broke it down in simple tenses and policies and, coming from a World Bank veteran, it just had to be right, no? So his reaction to her candidacy must be disgust. Yet, ironically, Nigeria first endorsed it! Mr President had to have presented her as ‘our’ candidate. She is jilting him and he isn’t lovelorn? Surely, he must believe a Nigerian heading the World Bank would portend better lot for Nigeria  – and, surely, someone dear to the president must have convinced His Excellency of such gibberish.

Now, it’s not that we don’t have a replacement for Ms Okonjo-Iweala. Nigeria is blessed with many captains of industry, who could fittingly serve as minister of finance. Additionally, many Nigerians would gladly accept her resignation letter. I just think it’s selfish that a nation invests so much trust and aspiration in a person and at the next sight of a greener pasture she leaves – or indicates an intention to leave – them in a lurch. It must be said that Ms Okonjo-Iweala is only here to fast-forward her career. The chance that she actually gets the job is slim – very slim going by the status quo of World Bank appointments. The American choice would most likely get the job but the episode would have taught us a crucial lesson that Ms Okonjo-Iweala has her mind resolved to help Nigeria but not her heart.

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NEW WORLD EQUATION

Throughout my living memory, America has always been the world superpower. From military might to cutting edge technology, the United States has been the most powerful force to reckon with. Hence, such monikers as the Free World, God’s Own Country, and the land of milk and honey. However, a quick rummage through history shows this was not always the case. World dominance by a sole country has always been transitory. Prior to the World Wars, before American supremacy became norm, Britain was the most domineering kingdom. Their navy was almost unassailable and their imperial reach stretched from India to New Zealand. They colonized many parts of the world imposing their language and culture on locals. The Commonwealth of Nations is a relic of that era. Still, before British hegemony was the Roman and Ottoman Empires amidst many others. What interests me is not what caused this change but how declining superpowers react in the wake of the change especially at its incipient stages. Specifically, I am interested in drawing a parallel from history with the decline of America and the simultaneous rise of China.

Today China is the second largest economy in the world. This status, according to many reports, is about to get even better. 20 years from now China is projected to be the largest economic market in the world. While this economic size is not yet commensurate with other parameters for measuring superpower status such as standard of living, international presence and military might recent trends indicate this is about to change. In early October, 2011 when the European Union was stuck in the economic quagmire of having to bail out Greece it looked to China as a potential buyer of its debts. Chinese companies are all over the world now dominating every industry from household appliances to software technology. In late October , 2011 a Chinese scientific research centre successfully made one of the fastest computers in the world. World media put emphasis on three words: Made in China. China now has the second largest number of billionaires as at September 2011. So, it’s incontrovertible. China has the trappings of a superpower but like a jealous sibling America seems rather unwelcoming. This does not come as a surprise.

In his book ‘The Challenge of Hegemony: Grand Strategy, Trade and Domestic Politics’, Steven Lobell asserts that the way a declining world power reacts to a new order largely depends on the nature of the latter. According to him, ‘hegemons’ are more accommodating of liberal challengers than they are of imperialistic competitors. While this theory can be argued extensively, we can certainly say that China tilts more towards the imperial than the liberal in a pendulum swing. So assuming Lobell is right America is more likely to resist any threat to its international dominance and recent happenings suggest that is just the case. At the end of the Asia-Pacific meetings at Honolulu the American president, Barack Obama called on China to act as a ‘grown up’ economy. While he may not have specifically noted any rules China is breaking American officials have always accused China of manipulating its currency and abusing the human rights of its citizenry. Therein lies the catch of this new superpower and the American hegemons are very quick to point this out. This was in the wake of Mr. Obama’s announcement in Australia that America would increase its military presence in the region. These sums up the American response to China: More offensive than defensive, and more assuming than necessary. Some pundits have called this attitude a condiment for something akin to the Cold War but I reckon that might be stretching it too far. While we certainly cannot overlook the shortcomings of China with regard to human rights abuse, aggression towards Taiwan, trade imbalance and so on it is just as fundamental that Westerners, particularly Americans prepare for a new world order were China is not just known as the most populous nation in the world but the most powerful. Chinese economy would be the most important, Chinese politics is most followed and Chinese the most widely-spoken language. Already a number of jobless Americans are headed East in search of greener pastures. So, instead of American leaders focusing so much energy on mudslinging it should put its house in order so as not to be taken unawares when it plays the role of second fiddle.

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SWISS INSULARITY: A MODEL, MAYBE

Reputed for its cheese, mountains and banks, Switzerland today represents a country whose long cherished culture of parochialism could serve as a template for the rest of the world. A small nation of about 7.5 million inhabitants, Switzerland boasts of a thriving gross domestic product and a booming economy. As of 2010-2011, Switzerland topped the overall ranking in the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum. Even as many nations in the EU zone grapple with a potential economic crisis many economic analysts have begun to look at Switzerland as a case study for emulation.

Switzerland interests me, however, not just for its wealth but its traditions ranging from her neutrality stance since 1815 to her insistence on maintaining the Swiss Franc in spite of the allure of the Euro. When key foreign policy issues is concerned Switzerland invariably resorts to an isolationist mode. This may have earned it a lot of flak like when it refused entry of refugees during the international wars but it has evidently served the nation well especially when viewed in the light of flagging world powers like USA and Britain. So the question is whether insularity is the ideal foreign policy every nation should adapt. To make a sweeping generalization from one nation is by no means a fair approximation. For instance, it would be imprudent to compare Israel surrounded by many hostile nations with Switzerland snuggling between France and Germany. So many other factors have to be weighed in before a logical conclusion can be reached. The foregoing does not in any way detract from the lesson that can be gained from studying this land-locked European nation.

Today the USA spends close to $700 billion annually on its military. Many American service men are strewn all over the world on military interventions or peace-keeping missions. Recently, the American president pledged increased military presence in the Pacific. Laudable as this may sound this belligerent airs which the American government asserts is having a huge toll on the American economy. Before any nation makes plans for foreign exploits, it is expedient it considers its own resources back home. America has ignored this rule, biting far more than it can chew. Not Switzerland. It spends less than $5 billion on its military and has maintained neutrality that exempts it from armed combats. From the American point of view Switzerland is not doing the world any favours but again from the American point of view the US spending is neither doing America nor, arguably, the world any favours. It would be sadistic to watch dictators across the globe kill and oppress subjects while we idly watch on but military intervention which USA exerts so flamboyantly is not the most efficient (economically and otherwise) stratagem to deploy. Switzerland is always at the fore of financial sanctions considering its financial institutions manage large amount of foreign assets. This action has helped cripple many despotic regimes. It may not be the most effective measure but when viewed from the entire context of national versus international interests it may yet be the most agreeable scheme to follow.

The EU was founded to serve the function of making war impossible and to make Europe economically vibrant. While the EU has largely fulfilled the role of the former, as trying times in 2011 Greece show there may be worse things than war. The euro is at the brink of collapse due to a multiplicity of factors from lax financial regulations to irresponsible fiscal policies of member states. With all the promise of a united Europe, Switzerland turned down the offer and we might just as well say it dodged a bullet. Safe in the haven of a stable Swiss Franc, Switzerland’s current anxiety is the value increase of its currency against the Euro which would make its exports to other countries more expensive and lead to trade deficit. Arguably, that is a better problem to have than the fear of government collapse which is a looming threat to Greece. Italy, once a marketing model, must have a chaperone in the IMF before it can make crucial financial decisions. Here again Switzerland demonstrates insularity has an advantage over outright internationalism.

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