"This ain't 'American Idol' here."
So said Rep. Dennis Kucinich during last week's Democratic presidential debates in South Carolina.
The William Hung of Democratic presidential candidates is right.
Unlike presidential debates, Americans actually pay attention to "American Idol." Hell, my local paper sent a staff reporter to cover an appearance by Lisa Tucker at a local mall. Tucker finished 10th on "American Idol" last year. Unless he was standing on the counter at Sbarro singing "She Bangs," I doubt the paper would have done the same for Kucinich.
Fact of life. Americans don't pay enough attention to their own elections, and even less to elections in other countries. The popular media know this, so they don't bother covering foreign elections. That's unfortunate. Even if only for purely selfish reasons, Americans need to be paying at least some attention.
Take, for example, last month's presidential elections in Nigeria.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. It's the world's sixth-largest oil exporter and it supplies nearly as much oil to the United States as Saudi Arabia does. It's where the awesome bandleader Fela Kuti was born, and it's where Paul McCartney's best post-Beatles album was recorded!
Its elections on April 21 were historic, and not just because all the candidates were black.
It marked the first time in Nigeria's history that a civilian government handed power to another civilian government.
Nigeria has been ruled (badly) by its military for most of its postcolonial independence. The country's last military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, was thought to have personally lifted more than $1 billion from Nigeria's national wallet. After he died in 1998 (apparently of a Viagra-induced heart attack in the company of two Indian prostitutes – you go, Sani!), nearly $750 million cash was recovered from his family, including several suitcases of cash that his widow attempted to smuggle out of the country on a plane.
Abacha was replaced in 1999 by a civilian government led by Olusegun Obasanjo. By any other country's standards, Obasanjo's presidency would be judged a miserable failure. By Nigerian standards, however, he hasn't been so bad. Less corrupt than his predecessor and (somewhat) willing to challenge the mafialike corruption that cripples government and business at all levels in Nigeria, Obasanjo has earned a measure of international praise during his tenure.
All the international goodwill he'd been collecting vanished last month, however. The elections were an elaborate sham. European Union election monitors said it was among the most corrupt they'd ever seen. And the BBC reported ballot-stuffing so inept that voter turnout exceeded 100 percent in some districts. The preordained winner was Umaru Yar'Adua, Obasanjo's chosen successor (and brother of his former VP).
Opposition parties are demanding new elections, and street protests have already turned violent.
Why should you pay attention? Because it affects you whether you realize it or not.
Every time you fill up your tank with gas, you're sending cash to Nigeria's corrupt political system. Nigeria is a time bomb. Its leaders have pocketed tens of billions in oil money, while the vast majority of the nation lives in squalor. Nigeria is among the world's top energy producers, but electricity is so unreliable in Nigeria that nearly all businesses rely on generators.
An insurgency in the oil-rich Niger River delta has already hobbled Nigeria's oil production. Nigeria's oil production is especially closely linked to U.S. fuel prices. Interruptions or instability in Nigeria's supply can slow or potentially hobble the U.S. economy.
Insurgents are kidnapping foreign workers and using the ransom to buy more weaponry. Though their tactics are awful, their animating grievance is completely understandable. Billions in oil money is being pumped out from under them while they live without clean water or electricity. In the meantime, pollution from oil production has destroyed the rivers they rely on for food.
If Nigeria can't manage to put together a stable, decent central government, the insurgency will no doubt worsen – threatening Nigeria's economy, its overall political stability, the world economy and Darfur.
Yes, Darfur. Nigeria provides the largest contingent of peacekeepers in Darfur. They're not stopping the genocide, but they're the closest thing to a speed bump that Sudan's genocidal government currently faces. If Nigeria's central government withers, its effect can be counted with bodies in Darfur. This ain't "American Idol."
@jf Ferdinand pockets 25k or so per year in bonus money directly attributable to his…
Wonderful memories in that old Hotel..GREAT steaks at Dale's Cellar and some great entertainment at…
The real problem here is that individuals, like Ms. Stanford, have been allowed to hijack…
@ Mark from Atlanta "Billionaire should also not be allowed to buy elected officials." Like…
And yet the good citizens of Georgia saw fit to elect a guy who for…