By Owei Lakemfa
In our skewed world infected with conflicts, growing inequalities, and the right of might over right, we produced three new leaders in the last three weeks, none of which has promised to take a different direction.
The son of a former bloody dictator, whose parents, Ferdinard and Imelda Marcos, are some of the most infamous people in history, was elected Philippines President. Australia, still trying to come to terms with its racist past of genocides, managed to replace its Trump-like Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The United Arab Emirates, UAE, a monarchy, ‘elected’ a new President, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to replace Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who passed away on May 13. Apart from committing some of the most atrocious violations of human rights against their own people, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos who were backed by the United States, US, were accused of stealing over $10 billion from the Philippines.
In 1985, the American Ambassador to the Philippines confirmed this in an official report to the US Congress. A Peoples’ Power Revolution on February 25, 1986, led to the removal of Marcos and his replacement by Corazon Aquino, widow of Senator Benigno Aquino whom Marcos had shot dead at the Manila International Airport three years earlier.
On their overthrow, one of Imelda’s legacies was the over 3,000 pairs of shoes she alone had acquired. On November 9, 2018, she was convicted by a Philippines court on a seven-count charge of laundering US$231m and sentenced to 77 years imprisonment. She saw it as a joke that should not stop her party that night at the 63rd birthday of her daughter, Imee. Present at the party were former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo, and President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara, who is now vice president-elect.
After her return from exile, Imelda had undergone political rehabilitation, including being elected four times into the House of Representatives and running twice for the presidency. The greatest legacy of Imelda, now 92, is laundering the image of her family and utilising the looted funds to rebuild the political fortunes of the Marcos cabal which led to her son winning 59 per cent of the votes.
Imelda who is still appealing her 2018 conviction, was assisted to the platform where the Senate president and the Speaker raised her son’s hand as the next President. He is to be sworn into office in June, 36 years after his father fled the country into exile where he died.
The Philippines, given the 31 million votes cast for Marcos Jnr out of a total 55 million, returns to its vomit and burrows deeper into poverty. Those murdered by Marcos and those who resisted his bloody dictatorship seem to have done so in vain. If the Pilipino are subjected to human rights abuses and the looting of their national wealth as the new government is likely to do, they will have nobody but themselves to blame; they have brought maggot-infested wood home, and they will need to deal with their tragedy.
In Australia, Anthony Albanese of the Labour Party defeated Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal/National Coalition in an election on May 21. He took office two days later. Although his country was plagued by problems of climate change, including wildfires and temperature soaring to a record 41.9 degrees Celsius, Scott, like Trump, was a climate change sceptic. When his country was caught in serious wildfires in 2019, he took a family vacation. Although slavery was a way of life in Australia, Scott denied there had been slavery in that country. The interpretation is that those enslaved over the decades, especially the Aborigines, who were the Black indigenes of Australia, were not regarded as human beings.
While there might be a slight policy shift in Australia, the policy direction in the UAE is likely to remain unchanged. For instance, its breath-taking development strides are likely to continue, and so would its reckless foreign policy which may ultimately haunt it. For instance, the genocide it is perpetrating in Yemen, in alliance with Saudi Arabia, might continue.
In the past, it had allied with the latter to create the Islamic State, ISIS, which backfired spectacularly creating a Frankenstein monster. The UAE’s unbridled greed to expand its 83,600 square kilometres by stealing other territories is a danger to world peace. For instance, it has used the Gulf States’ invasion of Yemen to annex that country’s 3,600 square Socotra Island seeking to incorporate it into the UAE. It is also claiming to have bought land and the port of Berbera from the breakaway Somaliland.
A fallout of the ‘election’ in the UAE is that President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, May 19, flew out to that country on a three-day visit. His entourage was made up of the National Security Adviser, Major-General Mohammed Monguno (retired), Director-General, National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ahmed Rufai Abubakar and, the Ministers of State, Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada; Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Pantami, the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello and Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
The Presidency informed Nigerians that the President’s twin purposes for the visit were to extend his condolences and extend congratulations to the new President, renewing bonds of the longstanding friendship between Nigeria and the UAE.
First is that if Buhari were otherwise more constructively engaged, he would not embark on this trip. More so when he has not visited recent areas of conflict or disaster in Nigeria. Secondly, his messages of condolence and congratulations to the new UAE President which he had earlier sent, are enough. A follow-up phone call would have been the required follow-up. He does not need to let a debt-soaked country like Nigeria incur unnecessary expenses for a pointless three-day visit. I also imagine the UAE President would be too busy to entertain Buhari for three days.
Thirdly, even if going on jamboree is Buhari’s prerogative as President and he might be in touch with the First Lady who has since adopted the UAE as a second home, he does not need to pack strategic ministers and advisers along.
Fourthly, even if he had to, he needed to be sensitive at this point so as not to give added ammunition to increasing claims that his administration is in regional and religious terms, fatally sectional. Where was our Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama? Yes, Buhari was visiting a Muslim country, but he did so as President of a secular Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Who advises the Buhari administration? Is Buhari, as President, blind to the unfolding realities of this country; is he deaf to them, or does he care? If he cannot leave the country in the sorry state he met it in 2015, must he leave it in a far worse one?
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.