Baba – the world turns to a former warrior turned man of peace to calm the storm of violence

by MMC
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The world currently seems caught in a cycle of violence that is causing death and destruction on a terrifying scale. Africa is also locked in several such cycles across the continent. With the drums of war beating so loudly, it is peacemakers that the world needs to restore calm. Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a perfect example. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf profiles of this warrior who became a man of peace.

The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, “Baba” to his admirers, is Africa’s man of peace. How he came to this role is unusual, as it was through military training. But these two vocations share many skills, including the ability to bring people together, to prioritize and organize, and to put the common good of society, a country, and the African continent ahead of short-term motivations. term.

He is able to do this not only in his own life, but also inspire others to take the same approach. As another great statesman, Colin Powell, said, “leadership is about solving problems.”

Very few statesmen can reliably be called upon to intervene when conflicts seem incapable of resolution. Baba is the exception to this rule. His capabilities were recently demonstrated in Ethiopia where, in his capacity as High Representative of the African Union (AU) for the Horn of Africa, he continues to play an important role in the implementation of the ceasefire negotiated in 2022.

At the same time, the recent deterioration of relations between Ethiopia and Somalia is a significant source of concern in the region, with the AU once again placing its trust in President Obasanjo to help it find a peaceful way forward .

I witnessed first-hand his skills and impact in Liberia, where he was able to implement his vision. By offering one of the main perpetrators of the war, Charles Taylor, exile to Nigeria, he imagined a way to end a conflict that devastated my country, Liberia.

His detractors said he should not have offered asylum to a warlord, but I knew, and he knew, that without this compromise there would be no peace. He was prepared to resist criticism because he knew the outcome would be in the interest of the majority of Liberians.

History has proven him right. With Taylor in exile, Liberia was able to move forward and has now become a model of stable democracy in West Africa, with two peaceful changes of government in elections since then. No one would have imagined this possible just 20 years ago.

President Obasanjo’s ability to find a solution when there seemed to be none helped him bring peace across the continent.

While the war in Ethiopia between the central government and authorities in the Tigray region seemed set to continue indefinitely, becoming yet another conflict of attrition that could have dragged on for decades, the Peace and Security Council ( PSC) of the AU called on President Obasanjo to take action. In.

As AU Special Envoy, President Obasanjo brought experience, experience and composure to this conflict. His approach was to hear all sides, frequently traveling to the war zone to hear the Tigrayans’ point of view and consulting extensively with the government in Addis Ababa.

He summarized his philosophy as follows: “Everyone must accept the truth that there is ‘neither victor nor vanquished’ if the possibility of common peace, security and harmony is to be realized. shared prosperity, development and progress for all parties concerned. »

It took time, courage and perseverance to reach a settlement, and when the two sides found themselves in a military stalemate, President Obasanjo managed to bring the parties to an agreement to end the fighting.

The Pretoria Agreement of November 2, 2022 was formally facilitated by the African Union and signed by representatives of the Ethiopian government, the TPLF and the people of Tigray.

This was followed by an agreement, reached a week later in Nairobi, between military commanders on the terms of the ceasefire agreement. President Obasanjo continues to play an active role in implementing and maintaining this agreement, striving to protect the hard-won peace in the long term.

The recent deterioration of relations between Ethiopia and Somalia is a source of significant concern in the region, with the AU once again placing its trust in President Obasanjo to move forward on the peaceful path.

Lessons from the Biafran War

His ability to make such peace deals possible rests on the fact that he is a military man and fought in Nigeria’s Biafran civil war, leading government forces. When war broke out in 1967, Nigeria was led by General Yakubu Gowon and Biafra by Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka “Emeka” Odumegwu Ojukwu.

While the January 1967 negotiations between Emeka and Gowon had resulted in the Aburi Agreement, signed in Ghana, by which a new federal arrangement would have been implemented, this was stillborn. On May 30, 1967, Emeka declared Eastern Nigeria a sovereign state as the Republic of Biafra, and on July 6, 1967, Gowon declared war and attacked Biafra.

Nigeria’s civil war cost an estimated 100,000 military casualties in total, while the man-made famine left perhaps as many as two million civilians starving to death, with the scale of the devastation making Biafra synonymous with humanitarian calamity. Like the American war in Vietnam, the Biafran War was one of the first to be televised to a global audience.

Baba learned bitter lessons from this conflict. “Our first mistake was not accepting the Aburi agreement. If this had been accepted, we would not have gone to war. This would have renounced a less tight federation than the one we currently know, but a more flexible version, but it would have avoided war.

When war broke out, the former president said: “We were not strong enough and the coordination of the war effort was poor.” And, at the end of the war, “we failed to put into practice the lessons of peace and nation-building. We did not try to buy inclusiveness, which means that it is still part of the political problem today.”

Speaking of authority

Being able to speak about his experience on the front lines of a devastating conflict and the lessons learned gives him the authority to pressure conflicting parties to pursue peace in a way that few other leaders can . It highlights several key aspects to facilitate peace.

The first is the imperative for impartiality on the part of an external mediator, “not only in terms of what you do but also what you are perceived to do”.

There is, secondly, the need to “know both the remote and immediate causes of the conflict, which means “to understand history”. According to him, “we cannot tackle only the immediate cause, because this can often be overshadowed by the distant cause”.

His third piece of advice is to find the questions that can create momentum for the process and build trust, “if ramified among the rest of the points of difference.” In the case of Ethiopia, he recalls, by addressing the issue of humanitarian access to Tigray and having Tigrayans recognize the authority of the federal government on key issues, trust increased. “Nothing succeeds like success,” he notes, even “small catalysts like the delivery of a message from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy to Tigray President Debretsion Gebremichael can create goodwill.”

Fourth, we must be “aware of disruptions – national, regional and international, even local”. Although he was never concerned about having a large number of cooks with multiple fingers in the pie, “there should only be one head chef who will have the final say on matters.”

It is also necessary to ensure that the conditions that give rise to conflict are addressed at the root.

“Gender equity is an essential element, which I know all too well,” he says. He has been a strong supporter of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Center for Women and Development since its inception in March 2018.

Finally, President Obasanjo is careful to avoid the pitfall of nationalist pride. “For us in Africa, security means that we Africans must be on the front line, but we cannot do it alone.”

In the years I have known him, from our tenure to our efforts to improve the continent’s economic growth and development as a board member of organizations such as the Brenthurst Foundation, that he presided over for a long time, I came to appreciate Baba as a man of peace.

More than that, he is a man who knows not only how to plant the seed of peace, but also nurture it and see it flourish.

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