Cape Town, South Africa—The ruling political party, the African National Congress (ANC), turned 103 years old and held a big bash at the Cape Town stadium over the weekend.
The party of the late Nelson Mandela pulled out all the stops, bands, minstrel troupes, deejays, to commemorate the event and entertain hordes of party loyalists who poured into this city by trains, planes and buses in the days leading up to it. The entire affair reminded me of the World Cup celebrations in 2010, with all that dancing on the streets.
President Jacob Zuma is the de facto head of the ANC and chose Cape Town for this massive celebration, because in a sense it could be considered enemy territory. He wanted to send a message: The municipal government is in the hands of a minority party, the Democratic Alliance, and Zuma has an eye on reclaiming this Western Cape province for the ANC in 2016. So he brought his party here to tout his successes and respond to his critics. Before the bash he spent a few days in an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign, facing the voters here head-on.
This is the main difference between him and the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. Both men run Africa’s largest economies. Both men are controversial. But one man doesn’t hide from his foes.
For years, South Africa was this continent’s largest economy until it was overtaken recently by Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is up for re-election next month—but he would never be so bold as to enter a part of Nigeria where some folks don’t want to see him, the way Zuma did this weekend.
Indeed, those parts are growing. It appears Jonathan has ceded complete control of the northeastern Nigeria, to Boko Haram, the ultra violent extremist insurgents that want to destroy his government and establish a strict Islamic caliphate.
While the world wasn’t paying attention, Boko Haram now rivals Islamic State for deadly carnage on innocent citizens. Over the last few days:
Yesterday, bombs reportedly rocked Potiskum, bringing down buildings.
The day previous, Boko Haram strapped a girl, probably 10 or 11 years old with a bomb and sent her into a crowded market in Maiduguri, an ancient city. The blast killed 19 and injured many more. The new tactic of using little girls is particularly heinous and ungodly.
And it came just after many were reeling from what was supposedly the deadliest attack yet by Boko Haram, last week in Baga where scores, hundreds possibly up to 2,000 were slaughtered.
Baga is on the Lake Chad and many reportedly drowned swimming to an uninhabited island for safety. Those who reached the mosquito-infested destination were trapped without food and clean water. Many headed for buses that took them to Maiduguri—also the site of a Boko Haram bombing.
Is anyplace safe in Northeast Nigeria?
Bama, Baga, Damaturu, Chibok, Ngala, Dikwa, Banki, Gulak may not be familiar towns to the outside world but they represent places where this terrorist group has wreaked havoc, burnt down entire villages, and defeated the Nigerian soldiers.
And in the process displaced 1.5 million people.
But Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy. Where is Jonathan?
The world knows about the attack and kidnapping of 219 schoolgirls in Chibok and the resulting #BringBackOurGirls campaign, but Jonathan’s government hasn’t succeeded in bringing them home or remotely taming Boko Haram. It took the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafza’s urging Jonathan to even meet with the relatives of the abducted girls.
Last week Jonathan was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, but remained mum on Baga. This weekend, his dancing at his foster daughter’s wedding made the rounds on social media. He spoke about Nigeria’s “big challenge” but doesn’t appear to have named Boko Haram specifically.
Meanwhile, Jonathan continues to campaign for votes across the country, just not in the northeast.
Wouldn’t it be great for Nigerians there to see their president? Or for him to show solidarity with those people? Some believe those in the northeast won’t get to vote with bombs going off daily.
Last month, US presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Jonathan and his government had squandered Nigeria’s oil wealth. “Nigeria has made bad choices, not hard choices,” Clinton said. “They have squandered their oil wealth; they have allowed corruption to fester, and now they are losing control of parts of their (own) territory because they would not make hard choices.”
Jonathan seems to care only about squelching the campaign of his opponent, a former military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, who despite his brutal past, many see as a viable alternative to the current state of affairs.
Before the election next month, maybe he ought to go and explain himself to residents of northeastern Nigeria. Just like Zuma did to voters in the Western Cape. I won’t hold my breath.