By Owei Lakemfa
The bright stars of Nigeria shown again when two famous African-Americans and two illustrious Africans last Saturday received the Medal of Glory Award, MOGA, in Miami, United States. It is a prestigious award by the Foundation for Democracy in Africa. Past recipients include former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi, Abdou Diouf of Senegal and Alpha Omar Konare of Mali.
The new recipients included Reverend Jesse Jackson, the protégé of Martin Luther King, who in 1984 came third in the Democratic Party Presidential nomination and second, four years later, behind Michael Dukakis.
The second was Dr Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American to serve as the US Secretary of State. She had previously been American Security Adviser.
The third recipient was His Excellency Kingsley Jeremiah Nyamane Mamabolo, the United Nations and African Union, AU, Joint Representative to Darfur. He had been the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria and, now, to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
The fourth recipient was Ambassador John Kayode Shinkaiye, a giant in African diplomacy. He had been Nigeria’s Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1989, to Ethiopia and Djibouti from 2000 and Permanent Representative to the OAU/AU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
As Nigeria’s Ambassador in Addis Ababa, he was intimately involved in the transformation of the Organisation of African Union, OAU, to the AU between 2000 and 2003. This was aimed at transforming the OAU from what the Pan Africanist and former Vice President of Kenya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, used to call a “Trade Union of African Heads of State” into a peoples union.
Given his role in this transition, the new African Union snatched Shinkaiye and he became a sort of legend in the continental body. He served as the Chief of Staff of two AU Chairpersons: President Alpha Omar Konare of Mali, from January 2006 to April 2008; and Dr. Jean Ping of Gabon from May 2008 to October 2012.
As Chief of Staff, among other duties, Shinkaiye had the responsibility for coordinating the various partnerships between Africa and several countries and organisations. These included those with the European Union, the US, India, Turkey, China, South America and the Republic of Korea.
The new awardees on Saturday, October 27, 2023, received the awards for “their extraordinary contributions to democracy, good governance, and advancing trade, investment, and cultural ties between the United States and Africa.”
In the specific case of Shinkaiye, who is also the National President of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, ARCAN, his plaque was for: “Extraordinary leadership and a lifetime commitment to Democracy, the Advancement of Peace, Security, Stability, Economic Integration and Diaspora Engagement in Africa.”
In his acceptance speech, he paid tribute to Reverend Jackson and Dr Rice for helping “to uplift the profile and status of the Black Race in the United States and all over the world.” He also described Ambassador Mamabolo as a “worthy son of Africa”.
Shinkaiye said the award is not just a personal one, but also a testament to the collective efforts of people, including diplomats, statesmen, activists and ordinary citizens “who have strived to build a bright future for our continent”. He said recent reversals of the democratic process in some countries like Gabon indicate that democracy is not yet a given in the continent and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Shinkaiye posited that: “There is need to safeguard the principles of good governance, human rights, and the rule of law.”
The Ambassador had in recognition of his contributions in strengthening relations between Nigeria and Britain, been awarded the Lieutenant of the Royal Victoria Order, LVO, by Queen Elizabeth II and was also awarded in December 1993, Equatorial Guinea’s highest National honour: the Medal of the Grand Cross of the Order of Independence, GCOI, by President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. At home, he was awarded the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, in 2001.
A delegate to the 2014 National Conference, the country continues to tap into the rich reservoir of Shinkaiye. In February 2017, Nigeria suffered a humiliating defeat when it ran for the headship of the Peace and Security Commission, PSC, the most influential commission in the AU. Despite its campaign team being made up of heavy weights like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s candidate, Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed, was easily defeated by the Algerian candidate, Ambassador Smail Chergui.
Then President Muhammadu Buhari reached out to Ambassador Shinkaiye and four other special envoys to restore the country’s honour. So Nigeria re-contested the post in February 2021 with Ambassador Bankole Adeoye as candidate. This time, the Nigerian candidate got 55 votes out of 55; a first in in the history of the OAU/ AU.
A man of immense foresight, nine days before this latest award, Shinkaiye was the Distinguished Guest of Honour at the Society for International Relations Awareness, SIRA, lecture on: “Africa in the Turbulence of a World in Search of Direction”. At that occasion, he told the audience which included ambassadors and diplomats from 41 countries thus: “As we gather here, the world is marked by unprecedented change and uncertainty, and the quest for direction and stability is a challenge that transcends borders and continents. Africa, a continent of immense diversity and potentials, finds itself at the crossroads of this global turbulence.”
He pointed out that: “Africa’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths but paradoxically, that diversity creates challenges in achieving unity and common purpose. However, in a world where cooperation is increasingly essential, the turbulence in the world driven by economic, political, and environmental factors, affects Africa profoundly.”
In suggesting solutions, he submitted that: “In pursuit of direction, Africa should, therefore, not only focus on external factors but also on internal dynamics. Inclusivity, justice, and the empowerment of all segments of society, are essential components of a thriving Africa. As the world seeks direction, Africa can also lead in shaping global discourse. It has valuable insights into sustainable development, and in conflict resolution that can influence international policies and cooperation.”
Shinkaiye concluded his submission by telling the distinguished audience: “Let me say that the turbulence in a world in search of direction is a challenge that we all face. Africa, with its unique set of opportunities and challenges, can play a vital role in the quest for the right direction. For this to happen, African leaders, policy makers and the citizens must harness the continent’s potentials, promote unity, and engage with the global community to find shared solutions.”
I have no doubt that Ambassador Shinkaiye has a lot more to offer Africa and the international community; all that might be required is to ask.
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