Forge a Special Relationship With Nigeria – U.S. News & World Report (blog)

The upcoming White House’s Leaders Summit presents a vital opening for the U.S. and Nigeria to address commercial and security priorities that are long overdue. Hosted by President Obama, the August gathering of African presidents, U.S. cabinet officials, members of Congress and business executives should help formulate a new American strategic commitment toward the continent. A revamped Africa policy is likely to be more commercially oriented and better positioned to compete with other world powers, particularly China, that have reordered their national objectives toward Africa in recent years.

After decades as an economic outlier, the continent is undergoing
rapid transformation. Put simply, Africa’s economies are growing, its sectors are diversifying and modernizing, and its global influence is rising.

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African governments are upgrading infrastructure through
global capital markets, issuing $10 billion in government bonds over the last 15 months. Africa’s rapidly growing consumer market will soon represent $1 trillion in spending power. A new class of African entrepreneurs, like founder Chinedou Echerou and Cameroonian presidential candidate Kah Walla, is emerging. Diaspora professionals who attended elite American universities are leaving places like Goldman Sachs to launch businesses or take senior corporate or government positions in Africa.

Even so, the trends shaping the “Africa rising” narrative have not magically erased all factors that spurred the infamous
“hopeless continent” characterization. As any region undergoing radical change, Africa’s economic gains and potential are complex and tenuous. And no country embodies the continent’s mixed bag of progress and challenges – of risks versus possibilities – more than Nigeria.

In April, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy, driven by a growing middle and entrepreneurial class. Nigeria’s startups are receiving
tens of millions in American venture capital dollars. It recently issued a historic $1 billion in government bonds to global investors, General Electric inked multi-billion dollar agreements to upgrade Nigeria’s electricity grid, and around $13 billion in foreign direct and portfolio investment is flowing into the Nigerian economy.

READ: Obama’s High Risk Africa Summit]

While these achievements have not abated the state’s well known shortcomings on corruption and economic inclusion, they have
elevated pressure on the government to deal with them.

The biggest threat to Nigeria, one that could reverse its recent achievements and destabilize the continent if unchecked, is the government’s failure to curtail escalating instability caused by the militant group Boko Haram. The ferocity of the Islamic extremist organization, whose main activities are kidnapping, murder and mayhem, has been on the rise for some time. And because most of Boko Haram’s activities have taken place in the north, away from Nigeria’s political and commercial power hubs, the government has applied a policy of benign neglect to the terrorist group, content to focus on the country’s economic success, without recognizing Boko Haram’s increasing brazenness.

This misalignment of business and national security came to a head at the recent Nigeria-hosted World Economic Forum Africa, when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls from a boarding school, embarrassing Nigeria’s government on a world stage. The crisis is now in its third month with no visible resolution, and experts worry about Boko Haram’s ties to a growing web of jihadi groups in Mali, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Somalia. Boko Haram’s attacks continue, including this week’s car bombing in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja

“They continue to deviate from any real religious or political message and are operating more like a criminal organization through kidnappings for ransom and bank robbery,” says Sahara Reporters’ Omoyele Sowore. “There’s potential for this to combine with some of West Africa’s existing narco-crime networks–a very dangerous mix.”

This issue must be prioritized in the agenda for the White House’s Leaders Summit, where three deliverables should be targeted specifically for Nigeria.

READ: How U.S. Counterterrorism Goes All Wrong]

First, new U.S. Nigerian Bi-National Commission directives should be announced toward greater military, intelligence and commercial cooperation to strengthen Nigeria’s capacity to take on Boko Haram. The president should consider asking Vice President Biden to chair the commission, giving similar priority assigned the U.S-South Africa post-apartheid commission that Al Gore chaired.

Second, Obama should seize the opportunity of assembled African heads of state to announce a formal African Union initiative, supported by U.S. counterterrorism assets, to combat Islamic extremist networks in Nigeria and across Africa.

Finally, Stephen Hayes noted here at World Report that Obama will forego individual meetings at the conference. An exception should be made for Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and a handful of other leaders who can best drive these efforts.

Nigeria’s failure to effectively address its Boko Haram crisis poses a major threat to its new economic status, its people and the stability of the continent. For the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to achieve its goals of advancing trade, investment and the security of Africa, the president must afford special focus to the challenges and opportunities in Nigeria.

Forge a Special Relationship With Nigeria – U.S. News & World Report (blog)

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