Saturday, August 09, 2003

Can Nigeria Peacekeep Itself?

An interesting article by Chris Suellentrop in Slate asks the question, "sure, Nigeria can handle Liberia, but can it keep the peace within its' own borders?"

Asking Nigeria to bring stability to Liberia is a bit like asking Germany to bring some inefficiency, or Canada some excitement, or France some moral authority. Nigeria is an African Yugoslavia, an impenetrable stew of simmering ethnic divisions that many believe is heading toward an inevitable breakup. Writers sometimes try to convey Nigeria's national character by comparing it to the country's dazzling but inconsistent soccer team, tagged by one observer as boasting "gifted indiscipline and perpetual squandering of resources." In This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis, journalist Karl Maier made a similar point, explaining that Nigeria (the team and the country) "plays too often not as a cohesive unit but as a collection of individuals pursuing their own paths, constantly bickering over who is to run the show and how much the players, many of whom are Europe-based millionaires, will be paid."

The good news is that despite this justly deserved reputation, Nigeria will probably succeed in its effort to bring a short-term solution to the crisis in Liberia. Their 500 soldiers have already arrived, after all, while the United States and the United Nations dither about what exactly to do. The problem isn't whether Nigeria will be able to stabilize Liberia—the problem is that Nigeria may not be able to stabilize itself. And in the long run, that's a much bigger problem for Africa and the United States than Charles Taylor is.

Personally, I am extremely doubtful that Nigerian intervention can keep the peace in Liberia over the long run; it isn't as if it hasn't been tried before, to disastrous effect.