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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Clinton: Nigeria Is at a Crossroads

Clinton and Yar’Adua shaking hands (AP Images)
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, is welcomed to Nigeria by President Umaru Yar’Adua on August 12.

Washington — Graft and corruption have eroded many good governments, but it does not have to be that way, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said August 12 at a town hall meeting on good governance in Abuja, Nigeria.

“We recognize, as I have told the government officials with whom I have met today, that Nigeria is at a crossroads, and it is imperative that citizens be engaged and that civic organizations be involved in helping to chart the future of this great nation,” Clinton said to civil society representatives. Good governance and transparency are major issues Clinton has stressed during her 11-day, seven-nation tour of Africa.

“I have seen the best and the most distressing of what is happening in Africa today,” she added.

Nigeria, she said, is a country that produces 2 million barrels of oil daily and has the seventh-largest natural gas reserves in the world, but according to the United Nations, the poverty rate in the country has gone from 46 percent to 76 percent in the past 13 years.

There are many reasons for that, she said, including the destructive legacy of colonialism, wars and some external forces. “The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria’s wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the local, state and federal level,” she said. “Some of that is due, as you know so well, to corruption, others of it to a lack of capacity or mismanagement.”

Clinton said the World Bank recently concluded that Nigeria has lost more than $300 billion over the last three decades as a result of the problems she cited.

“In order to create a peaceful, stable environment that creates development among the people, citizens need to have confidence that their votes count, that their government cares about them, that democracy can deliver basic services,” Clinton said. “The foundation of a democracy is trust.”

Citing a recent speech by President Obama, Clinton said Africa does not need more strong men, it needs more strong democratic institutions. “Without good governance, no amount of oil or no amount of aid, no amount of effort can guarantee Nigeria’s success,” she said. “But with good governance, nothing can stop Nigeria.”

Civil society groups — which include nongovernmental organizations, faith-based groups and citizen watchdog groups — must use the political system to encourage Nigeria’s leadership to serve the common good, she said. “The capacity for good governance exists in Africa and it exists right here in Nigeria.”

Clinton said that when she met with Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe earlier in the day, they agreed that a binational commission should be created to look at all of the issues confronting Nigeria. The United States can provide technical assistance and support as changes are made, she said.

“There is a way to begin to make this transition that will lead to free and fair elections in 2011,” Clinton said. “We will work with you.”

Clinton traveled August 13 to Liberia to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and to address the Liberian legislature. The final stop on her seven-nation tour is Cape Verde on August 14.

What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment onAmerica.gov’s blog Obama Today.

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