Nigeria’s 2019 elections, our major priority – U.S.

Nigeria’s 2019 elections, our major priority – U.S.

Engin OZER Engin OZER

06.03.2018 - Abuja / The United States (U.S.) has said that the 2019 general elections in Nigeria remained a major priority of the Donald Trump administration in view of the country’s strategic position in Africa. The US Department of State disclosed this during a background briefing ahead of the first trip of the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to Africa.

 The U.S., the brief said, was interested in a peaceful political transition in Nigeria in 2019. Tillerson arrives Africa today for a five-nation tour during which he would be meeting with the leaders and top government functionaries of Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria between March 6 and 13. The State Department said that the U.S. was increasingly becoming interested in political transitions across Africa because about two decades ago, there were only a few countries that had democratically elected governments in the continent, but the situation has improved tremendously in recent years. In the 1960s /1970s, a large number of African countries had transitions in their government through coup d’états and other illegal methods.

 Tillerson explained that a lot of these African countries were still fragile democracies and the U.S. was doing everything possible to strengthen them.

 However, it noted that about 20 African countries, including Nigeria, have scheduled elections in the coming months. 

 "As we look at the 20 elections, obviously Nigeria, though it’s not this year – it’s going to be next year – that really is a major priority focus, because that’s going to be the third most populous country in the world by 2050.

 "It has really very complex political issues and ethnic and tribal issues and security issues. And that’s an area that we really are focusing on how to do a peaceful transition, a democratic transition. But more important is how to hold governments accountable to the people,” the state department said. 

 According to the brief, the recent kidnappings of 110 schoolgirls in Nigeria will be one of the areas of focus when Tillerson meets President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja. The Department of State described the mass abduction of schoolgirls in the North-East of Nigeria as horrendous, unacceptable and the manifestation of a terrible security challenge.

 "But it’s also political issues and really building those institutions and political dialogue between north and south, and also with the region. So those are some of the things that we need to look at. It’s a comprehensive approach. 

"The other issue, too, is on economic development and education. So looking at the UN, we have fresh UN reports about some of the extremist operations in the G5 countries, the Trans-Sahel, is for some of these groups – it’s about getting jobs, it’s about looking at getting an income for families. And if terrorism or trafficking of persons, if that’s going to get them the jobs, then that’s unacceptable and we really need to find alternative ways to help the economic development in these regions.

 "The answer has to be developing institutions and also providing good police training, military training and having governments accountable to the people and having people really have faith in their institutions, and also having opportunities for job creation.

 "What happens in Nigeria is going to affect the Lake Chad region, and that includes Cameroon as well as the G5 countries. So those are some of the things that we’re looking at, much more broadbased, comprehensive, and really interrelated with security,” it said.

 The U.S. commended the most recent elections in Liberia, describing it as the first open, free, fair, and peaceful transition of government in that country in 75 years. It regretted what it called the "horrendous rule of Charles Taylor and the degradation of the institutions there, but expressed optimism Liberia will witness positive change with the election of President George Weah, a world renowned soccer star and politician. The U.S. also noted the election of Nana Akufo- Addo in Ghana, Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire and Macky Sall in Senegal, describing them as positive developments. It said, however, that Ethiopia remained a challenge for the U.S. as well and an opportunity to contribute towards strengthening democratic institutions, that could pave way for peaceful transitions and enable the citizens hold their government accountable.

 Tillerson said U.S. was also looking at how it could have reconciliation and dialogues between all of the different groups – the Oromos, the Amharas, the Tigrays, and also in Kenya with the opposition and the government in power.

 Meanwhile, the U.S. has expressed worry about the rising debt profile of many African countries a few years after they were relieved of their debts by international financial institutions.

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