Lessons From The Architect Of The Velvet Divorce

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

November 29, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, turned out to be a unique day in the annals of international diplomacy, and for the organizers of the 9th Session of The Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe, EOOA, lecture series. It had a sitting head of state, Vaclav Klaus as keynote speaker. Klaus, a ‘free-market’ economist was credited with being the architect of the ‘velvet divorce’ of post-communist Czechoslovakia. But the topic that Klaus attended to, ‘Harnessing African capital that the people may have life and live it more abundantly’’ had nothing to do with a divorce. It provided invaluable lessons for the array of politicians like Goodluck Jonathan, vice president, Babagana Kingibe, secretary to the government, Ernest Shonekan, Ojo Madueke and a host of others. Klaus said that he understood the topic ‘harnessing African capital’ to mean that is an opportunity to create preconditions for positive and sustainable economic and social growth in African countries. These ‘preconditions’ according to Klaus are a tripod of interconnected elements which include a determination of what direction a country wants to tow, what strategy to adopt and making sure that everyone gets carried along. ‘‘The scope must be domestic because, democracy and market economy cannot be exported, and cannot be arranged at international conferences’’, Klaus said.

To achieve this, Klaus said that any change of ‘that type’ should be a sequence of policies that had nothing to do with a-once-for-all radical change. However, for that sequence of policy change to be effective, Klaus said that ‘’liberalization and deregulation are ‘’unavoidable’’ and must be done as radically as possible. Klaus enjoined the audience at the NIIA that they had nothing to fear from the over demonized term ‘’globalization’’. According to him, what they must be wary of is ‘’free aid’’, ‘’protectionism’’ and ‘’fair trade’’, terms which he said were constructions of developed nations to keep developing nations where they needed them. ‘The imposition of such standards – however messianically the rhetoric of various would – be globalists may sound – is an effective way to eliminate the existing comparative advantages of economically less developed countries and to block their successful participation in the world trade’’, Klaus said. According to him, developed nations are aware that there are huge discrepancies of income and wealth if they do not open up their markets for developing countries to be involved.’Either the goods and services move freely and the people stay where they are, or the movement of goods and services is blocked and the people move around, searching for better economic opportunities abroad. It is as simple as that’’, he said.

In the same vein, Klaus said that developing countries like Nigeria need political democratization and the creation of institutions of market economy to be able to break even in the world economy. Klaus also used the opportunity of the lecture to campaign against the role played by international environmentalists ‘with their new and very dangerous weapon called global warming and climate change’’. He said that at a conference of world leaders at the UN Global Climate Conference in New York City which took place in September, he had condemned the ‘’dictation of ambitious and for them entirely inappropriate environmental standards’’ for developing countries.

Michael Anyiam Osigwe, coordinator-general of the EOOA, said in a welcome address that one of the greatest obstacles to Nigeria’s development is ‘’entrenched poverty’’. ‘’It is therefore our sincere expectation that the presentation of our keynote speaker, would proffer invaluable insights on ways in which Africa can effectively leverage on partnerships to overcome this problem’’.

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