Next world power: Musings of a town girl – Omolade Afonja


I am not totally convinced my interest in international politics was by chance.   In fact, having the benefit of hindsight, I have come to know that the listening to the BBC on the small transistor radio and playing map game were carefully designed to arouse my interest in the subject. That was the original intention of my dad. Not that I regret it anyway.

Actually, it fascinates me. Now I do know that beyond every seemingly ordinary word lies a possible threat or warning; that some handshakes in a particular presidential resort camp are quite historical and goes a long way to change the course of lives of peoples thousands of miles away from the place of handshake.

But even more fascinating is the realisation that all countries are not equal. Some are superpowers, others are regional powers, while the rest … well, the rest are just the rest. It is clear, even to a little girl from a village like me. It is there in the little gestures: the gait, charisma, cocking of head, the handshake and the pat on the back of a head of state by.

…Of ancient lands and Knights

The thing is: the world had always at intervals been ruled by a world power and we have history to show it. For instance, the Assyrian empire situated at the northern end of Mesopotamian plains (modern day Iraq), was the world power some in 750 B.C.E, defeating the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Its demise saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire, known for its prosperity, rich knowledge of astrology and the “hanging gardens” (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). The empire was situated around the marshy plains of southern Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris river. The Empire invaded Canaan three times and was responsible for the demise of the Judah and its exile to Babylon in 607 B.C.E. Our next world power is the Medo-Persian Empire extending from modern day India to Egypt and as far as Turkey. Its capital, Susa, is the modern day Iran. One feature of this world power was the reign of King Cyrus who is now regarded as the author of the first human right charter: The Charter of Cyrus the Great, a baked clay aryan language cuneiform cylinder,*(discovered in 1879 and being kept in British museum) on which Cyrus declared his human right, referring to himself as the “king of the world”. It is most interesting to note that one of the world least liberal states (Iran) was the origin of human right as we know it today. The point becomes even more interesting when the people who formed the subject of the charter were identified as the Jews; that is, the modern day Israel!

Subsequent world powers included Greece under the rule of Alexander the Great who came to power in his early twenties in 334 B.C.E. The Romans were at the heels of the Greeks. France under Napoleon, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and United Kingdom were world powers of relatively recent history.


…Of the rise of the United States

“When Washington sneezes, Abuja catches cold” President Bill Clinton before the Nigeria National Assembly on the 26th of August, 2000

One of the most memorable events of my life was the opportunity to keenly follow the visit of the President Bill Clinton to Nigeria in the year 2000 and to read the transcript of his speech delivered before the National Assembly with considerable level of understanding of the significance of the event.* (Unfortunately, all efforts to retrieve the transcript of the speech from proved abortive.)

Obviously, the statement above is just one out of countless the United States had made to fellow sovereign states and of course, nothing speaks ‘superpower’ than this. But then everyone knows that already.

With careful planing, on-point economic and foreign policies and impeccable execution, the rise of The U.S. to the status of world power was actually inevitable. It was a continuous and concerted efforts of leaders and citizens over a long period of time. For instance, President Theodore Roosevelt’s (Teddy’s) foreign policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick” between 1901-1909 was quite evident in America’s approach to salient world issues even decades after Teddy’s tenure was long over. While in the wake of Hitler’s blitz attacks and defeat of several countries* (including Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Netherland, some part of France), the British Parliament carried-on a ‘patient air of skepticism’ even at the warning of Winston Churchill.* (Churchill warned, “Something quite extraordinary is afoot. All the signals are set for danger. The red lights flash through the gloom. Let peaceful folk beware . It is a time to pay attention and to be well prepared” Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill—The Prophet of Truth; emphasis mine throughout). It was the decisive attack of the Allied Powers (France, Britain) led by the U.S. which eventually defeated the Nazists. Almost simultaneously, a defining moment in the global history of warfare and weaponry was made with the ‘nuking’ of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in retaliation for Japan’s attack of the American ship, Pearl Harbour, in December 1941. This action was just the needed catalyst for the quantum leap into the stratosphere of world domination by the emerging superpower U.S.

Yet, the division of Germany into East (controlled by the communist Russia) and West (controlled by the capitalist U.S.) brought with it a peculiar but inevitable problem: The impossibility of having two world powers ‘proxily’ annexed to each other and the attendant era of intelligence, counter-intelligence, espionage, infamous cold war and proxy war. Yet, not even mother Russia could withstand the American stick. The sharp contrast of the prosperous West Germany situated beside an impoverished East Germany led to the unification of Germany in 1990 and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

…of the super power as we know it

It is the U.S of A; the free world, land of opportunities, of bling, swag, pump, pleasure and dream. And why shouldn’t it be?

Economically, U.S. enjoyed for several decades, the status of world largest economy and the U.S. Dollar was the choice Currency Reserve for most countries. A complex economy of intricately woven assortment of manufacturing, agricultural, finance and export sectors. American brands enjoyed patronage basically because of their attention to details and quality. It is the proverbial spoilt brat that had its hands in all the cookie jars. Thus, people see international institutions like IMF, world bank and United Nations as ‘fronts’ for the U.S..

Militarily, the U.S. is an influential member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and also a nuclear power with impressive arsenal of sophisticated weaponry greatly advanced in technology. Its show of military supremacy was seen in Operation Desert Storm (Gulf War) of 1991, the Iraqi Invasion of 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attack on the U.S. soil. Shall we forget its joint attack with France and Britain on Yemen and Libya during the very recent Arab Spring? What about its simultaneous maintenance of military presence at multiple key sea gates like South China Sea, Pacific Sea, Black Sea, Arctic, Gulf etc and countless peace keeping missions undertaken? This has obviously earned U.S. the infamous title of the ‘world police’.

…of bling, swag, hip hop, gay rights, animal right, liposuctions, Silicon implantation Valley, Olivia Pope, Hunger Games, Blue Ivy, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardarshian….” You get the idea. It’s simply U.S. the super power until….

…Of the stir from the East

More like a giant movement was noticed in Asia and Eurasia. But then, the movement in Asia was more interesting because Russia (Eurasia) did not completely leave the playing field. What? With Vladimir Putin’s continuous presence in the Russian political arena for the past 15years, he had been able to establish a firm hold on Russian politics and economy.

…Of Vladimir : I recognise him yet describing him could be difficult. This much I can say though: He is the Russian president; former KGB agent, intelligent, eccentric, rich, a thorn in the flesh of US, whose goal is to see the resurrection of former Soviet Union and oh… a bachelor!

While Russia is a force to reckon with, our attention is however engaged by the People Republic of China. The world is in awe of the tidal shift in global power unfolding before its very eyes as China metamorphosed from a country heavily beleaguered by its staggering population to a country which has turned such mammoth population into its greatest asset. It has become a country stirring from the position of irrelevance and below-the-line poverty and stepping confidently into the playing field, each step taken having significant effect of forcing the world to polarize as alliances are being made and sides are being chosen.

How ever possible?

The answer is: How ever not? It’s the same careful planning, policy an, but with the addition of one more thing: Discipline. China operates what I dubbed ‘Controlled Capitalism’. It is in actual fact a communist state, but hardly can we find any state practising strict communism in this 24th century. The Chinese trick was to open up certain sectors to capitalism to encourage growth. However, understanding the susceptibility of capitalism to abuse, it strictly controls the market. The country encourages manufacturing and technology making Chinese brands like Hiaer, Huawei, and Alibaba global brands.

The Chinese population is now one of its greatest economical assets, creating internal markets for its products thus making China less susceptible to foreign sanctions, global market fluctuations and other situations which may be detrimental. China also exports technological know-how and its companies are seen expanding beyond its national boundaries. In December 2014, Forbes ranked China the world largest economy over the United States.

In terms of foreign policy, it is a mixture of the big stick and handshakes. In respect of Africa and some Asian countries like India and Pakistan, it is a lot of handshakes. China also has penchant for supporting belligerent states like North Korea. We see China helping Liberia out with aids during the Ebola outbreak and evacuating Pakistanis from crisis-ridden Yemen just last week. Its relationship with the United States however, is filled with threats mildly served. China’s military strength has grown to an unprecedented record enough to challenge the U.S. presence in the Southeast Asia. The United State had also accused China of cyber espionage in relation to some if American companies. But the thriving Sino-Russian relationship is by far the most threatening move to the United States.

…of the Washingtonian flu

The 2008 economic melt down has attracted more microscopic study of the durability of the American economy than any nation had been subjected to. And rightly so especially where survival of the world’s financial system is concerned. The result is, many other extra-financial sectors were scrutinized.

To some, America spread itself to thin. The Iraqi war was a money-guzzling venture that left the economy so anaemic that the government had to engage in radical cuts of military spending. Also, there is a drastic shift from manufacturing economy to an economy based on just moving money around: banking and investment, hospitality and media.

“As a nation, our ability to create intellectual property is pretty much fundamental to continue to drive our economy, and we don’t want to see the U.S. fall behind there,” says William Swope, a vice president of Intel Corp. Unfortunately, the manufacturing sector has been on a rapid decline leading to even declaration of bankruptcy by manufacturing states like Detroit. To Joann P. DiGennaro, president of the Center for Excellence in Education, by 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia,” .

In my humble view, when people live beyond their means simply because of the use of credit cards, an economy based on illusion of wealth is created and such economy is bound to fail. A lot of blame on this culture of unbridled spending and materialism can be put on the entertainment industry selling the bling culture.

A lot can be said too about the usual gridlock associated with passing of bills in the congress, the systematic withdrawal of the U.S from Iraq and other strategic places and the decline in the quality of education as well as breakdown of family structure. My biggest problem however is the unlimited freedom. Just how expedient is unlimited freedom to the overall welfare of a country? How long can the U.S. maintain its global relevance? 20years, 50? 100? Or is it made to last forever?

Omolade Afonja is the Head of Chambers : Gani Fawehinmi Students Chambers


culled from Lex Observer archives 2015

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