To protect your interest, learn to be cynical

The Indian TV host, Arnab Goswami, hosted a debate three days ago and had an exchange that completely encapsulated my position in this Russia and Ukraine matter. I particularly like this quote: “India has taken a stand Sean, and we have chosen to abstain. We did not cause this war Sean, and we will look out for ourselves.”

You can watch the full thing here, it’s 48 minutes long, and this theme by the Indians is the theme of my column in BusinessDay today.

In the piece, I touch on the hysteria around Russia’s apparent deployment of thermomaric bombs in Ukraine, and talk about how the Brits use the same weapons and call them “enhanced blast missiles”.

Unfortunately, in today’s cancel culture world, nuance has become difficult to come by, and I’m painfully aware that taking my position will be translated by some as siding with Putin. That could not be further from the truth. Vladimir Putin is as amoral as any other great power leader, and his actions must be viewed strictly from the prism of his interests, same as the actions of the other great powers.

Trying to make this a moral argument actually does us all a disservice because I can guarantee that in a few short years, we will have Western powers doing similar stuff with a straight face. This discussion isn’t about morals or justice. Heck, if there was any justice in the world, Putin, George W Bush and Anthony Blair should all be sharing the same leg bracelets at the International Criminal Court, but we all know that that isn’t going to happen. A few years ago, America revoked the visas of ICC judges to their country in order to prevent them from investigating American war crimes in Afghanistan. Imagine the furore if it were one of the “regular bad guys” that had done such a thing?

The bitter truth is that the ICC exists to flog the leaders of weak powers like Liberia or Sudan or even Nigeria, if we go too far out of line.

I’ll again quote the Athenians from the Siege of Melos 2438 years ago: “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

My big concern remains this: Nigeria is behaving like a weak country, and it is clear to me that Senegal and South Africa have a better handle on how to position themselves in this game, cynically. Here is the thing, one rule of politics, whether it’s Nigeria’s petty politics, or international geopolitics, is that people court those they think are not in their camp come-what-may. A politician, or a great power nation-state, has finite resources to allocate to their underlings. They will prioritise those who they allocate such resources to, and those whom they are trying to court to do their bidding will naturally get a bigger bite than those who they believe will be in their corner no matter what.

In the West, there have been moves to sanction India for abstaining in the resolution condemning Russia, and there has been condemnation of South Africa and Senegal as well. But after throwing their toys out of the pram over their abstentions, when things calm down, and they will, the West are going to court South Africa, Senegal and India. They won’t reward us for being loyal puppies.

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Cheta Nwanze

Using big data to understand West Africa one country (or is it region?) at a time.