Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria’s ruling party made clear this week it wanted to see another northerner as the candidate for the 2011 presidential election, according to its principle of rotating power. That makes it harder (if not impossible) to see how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan might ever contest the ballot since he is from the Niger Delta in the south.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s unwritten rule of rotating power through Nigeria’s regions every two presidential terms – for these purposes there are six regions – was thought up on the return to civilian rule in 1999 because until then power had largely rotated among northerners, most of them in uniform.
The ethnic mosaic in a country created as a colonial convenience presented a similar challenge to that across many other African states and it seemed as though this would be a fair way to ensure that everyone eventually got a ‘turn to eat’ - in the words of Michela Wrong’s book on Kenyan corruption.
But new questions, and some old ones, have been raised over the idea since Vice-President Jonathan had to step up as Nigeria’s leader because President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, fell ill and became unable to rule Africa’s most populous nation before the end of his first term in office.
My colleague Emma Farge has blogged on the confusion that arose in oil markets after reports of a coup in Niger caused erroneous rumours that last month’s military takeover had taken place in Nigeria, a similar-sounding country with its own history of interventions by the men in uniform.
This is not the first time the confusion has arisen. During my time as a correspondent in Lagos in the 1980s, a report appeared on the front page of a local newspaper saying Nigeria had rescheduled its foreign debt, an important issue at the time and a story I certainly did not want to miss.
The return of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua three months after he left for a Saudi hospital might normally have beeen seen as a sign that a long spell of debilitating uncertainty was over.
But this was no ordinary return for a long absent president with an army band and a red carpet.
Confusion over the names of two similar-sounding African countries may have helped boosted oil prices to near $80 a barrel this week as traders rushed to buy oil after reports of a military coup.
A Reuters reporter received a flustered phone call from a hedge fund partner who had heard animated discussion in the market about an incident in Nigeria, only to realise that traders had muddled up Africa’s biggest oil producer with its neighbour Niger.
The puns were too much for the Nigerian press (and me) to resist in headlines after Goodluck Jonathan quietly managed to get himself into the top job without even appearing to want a position left open for more than two months by the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Suddenly it seems that everyone and his brother is congratulating themselves on having found such a wise way out of the impasse that derived from the ambitions of those in the various camps and the ambiguity of a constitution that had never foreseen such an eventuality.
So Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has ended weeks of silence with comments on the BBC that he is getting better and hopes to be back home soon.
That at least appears to have answered speculation in local media that he could be brain damaged, in a coma or even dead.
All too often the Year of This or the Year of That fails to live up to the expectations of whatever we’re supposed to be highlighting or celebrating.
There is no doubt that 2010 is going to be a big year for Africa.
The question is whether in a year’s time we’ll be looking back and saying it was big in the right ways.
The foiled Christmas Day bomb attack on a U.S. airliner has put further pressure on ailing Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua to either confirm he is fit to govern or hand over to his deputy.
Yar’Adua has been in Saudi Arabia for more than a month being treated for a heart condition and uncertainty over how a succession would be handled if his health worsens risks plunging Africa’s most populous nation into political crisis.
Quite apart from the Nigerian would-be plane bomber’s lack of success, there are other reasons why Africa’s most populous nation cannot be expected to produce a rash of similar cases.
As this Reuters story from Sahabi Yahaya in the bomber’s home town of Funtua points out, it is Umar Abdulmutallab’s foreign education rather than his background in Muslim northern Nigeria that is seen as having radicalised him.
When white Zimbabwean farmer Irvin Reid arrived in Nigeria almost five years ago, he was given a set of grid references in the remote bush and told to find water and build a new farm.
His dairy farm now has 300 Jersey cows, some of among 800 imported from South Africa to start cattle farms in the region.