We're only 3 months into 2009 and of the 4 changes (Ghana, Somalia, Guinea Bissau & Madagascar) at the helm of African governments so far this year, only 1 (Ghana) has taken place after democratic elections. I'm afraid that's a worrisome trend to start the year with, and I'm afraid there's more where that came from.
I remember when Barack Obama was elected US president, many were those among the African commentariat who said that this will signal to the old guard on the continent that Change was the new game in town. And I can't blame anyone who has been bowled over by Obama's emergence. But to think of it as a sign of things to come in Africa however, the reality on the ground - so far - shows that the signs are not looking good.
But things seem to be moving in forward in another area. Since Hillary Clinton came back from her 2nd set of foreign trips, she's began to find face time for African foreign ministers. First up was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's foreign minister who called at the State Department on Thursday, March 19. Next on the line will be Ojo Maduekwe, Nigeria's foreign minister who is due to meet Clinton today. Ahead of the meeting, a state department official quoted in Nigeria's Guardian newspaper referred to Nigeria as "the big boy in Africa." But expectations are being dialled down with talk of the meeting being more focused on multi-lateral issues such as Sudan than bilateral ones.
With Nigeria's US Ambassador having been recalled after a very public row with Maduekwe, I doubt how much if any groundwork has been done ahead of this visit. It remains to be seen if anything substantial comes out of this meeting on which the Minister is bringing along an entourage that includes the House and Senate Committee Chairmen on Foreign Relations as well as the Niger Delta Minister.
While Nigeria is going about it's affairs with Washington in typical boyish fashion, it appears to have relinquished the role of Africa's "big man" to South Africa. This will become clearer with the White House announcement on Friday of Johnnie Carson as the new assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Once he gets through his confirmation hearings, a key bellwether to follow will be where he touches down first on the continent - will it be Pretoria or Abuja?