In the midst of one of those long review-of-2016-preview-of-2017 interviews that fill space in the supposedly silly season, Nigerian Minister for Finance, Kemi Adeosun made a statement which should disturb us all.
Asked which development paradigm would work best for her country and Africa in the future, British-born economist Adeosun replied:
“I think every country has to work out its own model because the old global consensus is over. Every nation is looking out for itself. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are clear examples of that. So the question must be what works for Nigeria given its demography, endowments and needs.”
Words that would delight the likes of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and send shivers down the spines of those who believe that today, more than ever, there are global issues which have to be tackled by the international community acting in concert.
Yet who can blame Adeosun for taking this stand when the great powers are increasingly seeing the problems besetting the planet through the prism of their narrow national interests?
A United States President who tried to work through international bodies to promote sustainable economic growth and mitigate the effects of climate change is about to be replaced by one who says that in every case ‘America’s interests will be first’.
In celebrating the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Farage said he would continue to work to dismantle the EU altogether and to “return to the days of sovereign nations trading among themselves”.
That 1914 view of the world was a disaster then and would potentially be an even greater one today. There has never been a more pressing need for strong international leadership — and never a greater shortage of it among those who hold power.
A quarter of a century ago, French philosopher Antoine Cournot’s concept of the “the end of history” was in vogue as commentators began to talk of nations, if not united then working towards a common world purpose. Now a recent survey of 9000 people across nine countries found that most believe a harmonious future has never been further away and even a Third World War is possible.
It is no wonder that officials in developing countries, like Adeosun in Nigeria, believe they must look out for themselves in a world where nations are increasingly turning inwards and leaders are more intent on placating strident populism and sectional interests than seeking the greater good of all.