Reflections on Elusive Diaspora Policy for Nigeria

Nigerian Diaspora Day today gives room for somber reflections as I did about this time a year ago through an opinion piece. I stated then “Despite its commendable vision and sparse achievements, the humongous shortcomings of the Diaspora Day are threatening in 2015 to explode in the face of all stakeholders” I concluded the piece with the following “to get the Diaspora Day right, you must first get the Nigerian Diaspora Policy right” Since then, not very much has happened around the Diaspora Policy. However the American idiom “a new Sheriff in town” typically used during periods of power transition could be applied to events surrounding the 2016 Diaspora Day in Nigeria. This adage is deployed particularly when the way things are done are experiencing some changes, or when a new person takes control. In the case of the National Diaspora Day of Nigeria it is a combination of a new operating environment and new persons wrestling back hijacked control from mini cabals of a national policy instrument.

This new Sheriff in town is dogmatic about corruption and has a very low tolerance level for it or anything resembling it. I am not sure how he did it but I understand that people around him are self-conscious to the point that they feel that if he looks you in the eyes, he might just read your mind and know if you are thinking of indulging in corrupt practices. That fear alone is already creating some saints around the corridors of power. That is very good because the culture of impunity and financial recklessness in organizing the Diaspora Day until 2013, the year I led the global Nigerian Diaspora delegation to the event in Nigeria, is deafening. I worry for most of the ‘organizers’ of Diaspora Day between 2005 and 2013 because should the new Sheriff decide to order an audit of what had gone on, some may either go on exile or commit suicide before the arms of the law catch up with them. That is how bad I believe it was. I am neither an investigative journalist nor a criminal investigator, so I might not have the capacity to deliver the evidence I hear you thinking about. However I have been a principal actor in the Diaspora politics since inception. Even at that I continue to have unanswered questions. The most cardinal of the questions are: what is the budget for the Diaspora Day event on annual basis since 2005? What have they being spending on and why has the budget remained a secret till date? Who actually manages the budget? How come there has never been a cost-benefit analysis of the annual event? What is the actual reason for the mushrooming of new proxy ‘Diaspora’ organisations, even based in Nigeria?

In public financial administration these questions are very basic. They should normally fall under the freedom of information principles of any democracy. A few times I have had conversations with Nigerian legislators and administrators in the Civil Service around these basic but pertinent questions, I am laughed off as one of those intellectuals in the Diaspora that has lost touch with Nigeria because, according to them “this is Nigeria, we don’t work like that here” End of story! Signs are emerging that the end of that story appears to come with the end of an era. It was an era of financial wastefulness, of arrogance of power, of imprudence, of treachery and of national disappointments. By design or accident, just as the new Sheriff came into town, other officials who appear to understand their briefs, who care more for national development than their narrow self-interest took positions in different offices related to the Diaspora. Two calls to mind. 

Permanent Secretary (Political) Key among them and I speak now as an outsider having taken the backbench after serving out my term as Board Chairman of the Nigerian Diaspora in Europe in 2013, is the Permanent Secretary (Political) at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Unlike those before the current Perm Sec, the gentleman understands that it was for good reasons that President Olusegun Obasanjo facilitated the establishment and recognition of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) as the official partner of Government on Diaspora matters. The gentleman understands that it is anti-government to work against the policy of the government that you are supposed to be serving.

House Committee on Diaspora Affairs & Senate Committee on Diaspora The current Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters seems to understand that micro-management of the Diaspora is not cut out for a federal legislator. The focus should be on the big policy picture rather than the mundane palaver of how the Diaspora should be sidelined in an event over which they should have control. A House Committee Chair who realizes that it is not within her priority space to determine which Diaspora gets which prominent speaking slot at the Diaspora Day. She seems to realize that while it makes sense to relate with all Diaspora organisations, due recognition needs to be given to the body recognized by government as official partners on Diaspora matters. The House Committee Chairman would not act in ways that appears that she encourages the set-up of phony ‘Diaspora Groups’ to unfairly compete with the official Diaspora body, thereby neutralizing their influence and playing into apparent divisions or actually playing a role in encouraging discords amongst different Diaspora communities rather than unifying them.

The Diaspora Body A body that appears immune to change both in attitude and strategic approach is the Nigerian Diaspora themselves as embodied by the official body called NIDO. The undemocratic tendencies of some of its leaders are the starting point of its ills. If the way and manner in which you came into office is questionable, you have lost the first major goodwill and recovering credibility and integrity, both ingredients needed to get serious people to believe in you and work with you, may prove difficult if not impossible. The truth of the matter is that lack of credibility and a bit of leadership mediocrity continues to deter popular qualitative participation in the organisation. Next to that, the debate has got to get more serious if NIDO is to move from point A to point B. By way of example, I shall underline two debates that were trending in the run-up to the Diaspora Day but also make the point that on those two occasions, two individual Diaspora provided at different times, two voices of reason. So hope is not entirely lost on condition that they do not shout themselves hoax and give up or that they are singled out by those given to shouting loudest and blackmailed.

In a trending discussion, many had decried the poor planning and execution of the Diaspora Day 2016. Just to give you an idea, like many others, I had personally registered on 10 July for the event within an hour of announcement that the online registration form was active. This was for an ANNUAL event holding just two weeks away. I had also indicated, as requested, that I was keen to make a presentation on a USD63 Million infrastructure investment under a private public partnership arrangement with Delta State government involving a number of foreign investors and because Diaspora equity participation would be a desirable thing for country and the Diaspora themselves, it made all the sense in the world to make a presentation at the Diaspora Day and also arrange a site visit to Delta State with interested Diaspora. Registration was not acknowledged until 21 July, three days before the event. Even at that, there was neither an event programme nor a confirmation that the presentation is programmed to hold. I could therefore not firm up arrangements with the project engineers and representatives of Delta State Government who were positively disposed to hosting a breakaway delegation in Asaba. Meanwhile I was torn between flying to Abuja for the Diaspora Day or staying back in Belgium to receive a powerful trade delegation that included serious-minded agricultural commodity traders and other non-oil magnates. Of course given the lack of demonstrated seriousness by the Diaspora Day folks, my decision was easily made. I was staying back in Belgium!

Meanwhile one condemnation followed the other about how badly organized the Diaspora Day is and how much it would continue unabated as long as the Diaspora are not in charge of the organizing. As long as the Civil Servants drive the Diaspora Day, one of the contributors interjected, we will end up this way! Then came a pointed analysis from a Diaspora, Sam Afolayan. Sam’s analysis categorized the Diaspora in six groups.  He submitted that out of these six categories, two were the most dangerous categories as follows:

  1. “The Owanbe Group: Those who see this event (i.e., the call for Diaspora support) as a jamboree and an opportunity to freeload on government’s program while attending to personal “businesses” at the government’s expense …skipping in and out of the event locations to “let their people know that they are very important to the nation’s development” …while having their feeding & lodging expenses paid by the Nigerian tax-payers. A considerable numbers of folks in this group are wont to pontificate on the irredeemable state of affairs in Nigeria! Great showmanship!”
  1. “everybody in-between: the fence-sitters and free-loaders; the emergency diasporas; the jobless diaspora opportunists who have been on the outside of the mainstream economy in their host countries and see the DD as way to present a false façade of having been in the diaspora; the somewhat dubious Diaspora-based ‘entrepreneurs’whose ‘businesses’ depend on government patronages and see the DD as an opportunity to feather their nests by showcasing their “services”; and the cynics who do not even believe in Nigeria or that the DD forum can lead to the configuring of any credible development architecture that can be used to re-engineer the polity or accomplish any useful purpose, etc., etc…”

Another instance of the sort of debate that tells you that the Diaspora needs to get their acts together but where in the end one single Diaspora provided a sane voice was in regards to the fight against corruption and how the Diaspora taking advantage of the Diaspora Day event, must use their combined forces to banish corruption from Nigeria. Note that the Diaspora Day is an ANNUAL event. Meanwhile in the wisdom of one of the leaders, a capital initiative like fighting corruption can be initiated, planned and executed about a week to the Diaspora Day. A curious mind will inquire where these fine brains have being since the last Diaspora Day, why is the life-changing idea coming just a little over a week to the event; where does the suggested action fit within the operational objectives of the Diaspora Day 2016 that is if there is any? As you shake your head in awe about such disjointed approach, one of the Diaspora joins the conversation and proudly reminds the audience that at the Diaspora Day, right there on the ground, he had proposed a placard-carrying action to show the Diaspora disapproval of massive corruption but that when the appointed time came, he was left standing alone with a lone placard as nobody showed up. What a strategically planned and executed anti-corruption crusade from the Diaspora.  Sure we could do better was what Kenneth Gbandi was saying when, like Sam Afolayan, he came out with a level head to remind the audience that four months earlier the German Chapter  had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). The MoU reads in part, “The Facilitator (Outstanding Nigerians professionals, academicians and business people in Germany as represented by NIDO Germany)  is desirous of contributing its quota to the fight against corruption both at home and in the diaspora by partnering with the Commission. The Commission shall collaborate and partner with the Facilitator in the provision of broadcast materials and assist in the enlightenment and education of the Diaspora about the work of the commission”

The expectation that a clear Diaspora Policy will emerge, in isolation or under the wings of a Diaspora Commission, is becoming more and more an elusive dream. In the interim, as the Diaspora converges in Abuja, my hope is that the fear of the new Sheriff will persist so that the financial recklessness surrounding the Diaspora Day will seize. My other prayer is that the Permanent Secretary (Political) is not moved off his course in maintaining cordial relationship with any and all Diaspora groups while making it clear that NIDO was established in the first instance to put paid to the polarization in the Diaspora community. I understand that the reason the Perm Sec was late in planning and execution is because his Diaspora Day budget was not released on time. Typical, I should say. Keep pushing for a change in that regards but be conscious of the fact that your chances of sustainably sorting that problem out is if you build a formidable coalition to bring about the effective signing into law of the Diaspora Commission. Under the wings of the Commission, the Diaspora Day budget could hang. The leadership of the House Committee on Diaspora should stick with the big picture and continue to reject every temptation to get down to petty Diaspora politics and micro-management. On its part, the Diaspora can use more Sam Afolayans and Kenneth Gbandis, who through their contribution to the debate have shown vision and strategic approach.

Brussels, Belgium 25 July 2016

The author, Collins Nweke served Nigeria’s official Diaspora body first as Executive Secretary / Chief Executive starting from 2004 and later as General Secretary of the Board of Trustees. He finally served as Board Chairman until November 2013. He holds a Doctor of Governance Award (Honoris Causa). A 2014 candidate Member of European Parliament, he writes from Brussels, Belgium where he serves as second-term Municipal Legislator at Ostend City Council.  

Breaking the Burundi Peace and Crisis Circle

Over the past year Burundi and its political crisis is degenerating into a sore on the collective conscience of the world. The relative silence of the international community has drowned the loud silence of the Bujumbura protesters who trouped out of the streets of the capital in their hundreds against the announcement by the ruling CNDD-FDD party that incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza would be their candidate for their next election. A lot have been happening since 26 April 2015 when 15 year-old Jean Nepomuscene Komezamahoro or Jean-Nepo to his friend, was tragically gunned down at point blank range by a police officer on his way back from church. The current social, economic and political abyss into which Burundi has sunk began on that faithful day, ushering in a period in Burundi history now referred to a Peace and Crisis Circle.

In the one year since the beginning of the current crisis, I have offered analyses and commentaries pointing to the measures required to install lasting peace in that beautiful but troubled nation with violent government repression pretty commonplace. It is estimated by international observers that around 1,500 people have died so far with a further estimated 700 people unaccounted for, perhaps executed. My consistent position has been that though the crisis in Burundi can only be sorted out via a genuine political dialogue, the international community has the obligation to push the Burundian government to return to the negotiations table for open, frank broad-based and credible discussions.

It is elevating to learn that an inter-Burundi Dialogue commenced in Arusha, Tanzania on 12 July 2016. The Dialogue is being attended by a broadly composed stakeholder groups including former Heads of State, the National Commission for Inter-Burundi Dialogue (CNDI), all Political Parties registered in Burundi, Civil Society Organizations, human rights and military observers of the African Union, Faith-based Groups, prominent Political Actors inside and outside Burundi, as well as Women and Youth groups. I was guest of Television Continental (TVC) at the conclusion of the first day of the Dialogue to evaluate the proceedings and to touch on the expectations out of the Dialogue. I have clustered the expectations out of the Dialogue along stakeholder lines including Civil Society Organisations & Opposition Forces, Donor Agencies and International Organisations and Government of Burundi.


After 10 years of steady economic growth, Burundi has experienced, expectedly, a negative growth of 4 percent in 2015. Starting with Belgium, funds for police, judicial, political and infrastructure reforms were withheld or withdrawn from international partners but not cancelled.  International donors are expected to use their seat on the negotiation table to spell out their benchmarks for re-engagement. In parallel to a political dialogue process, the Government of Burundi and international donors are expected to intensify their conversation on the socioeconomic impact of the crisis. It is perhaps reasonable to expect the government of Burundi to underwrite the pre-crisis conditions that will enable resumption of reforms which will in turn improve the socioeconomic situation of the population.


It is expected that the socioeconomic dimension of the current crisis would receive a robust attention. In line with the holistic approach of peacebuilding, the dialogue must serve as a platform to include the socioeconomic dimension into the international debate on Burundi. One can only expect that this dialogue will help to clarify mutual expectations. Government’s vision must be to reset cooperation with international partners. The Burundi Poverty Reduction Strategy is a crucial tool in this regards. The donor agencies and international organisations will seek to mobilize the combined forces of the Civil Society as natural allies to know precisely what they want to see in the strategy paper and use this opportunity to redefine and push through their demands.


Preliminary findings by the National Commission seem to indicate that a key request of the population is to amend the Constitution and to revise the Arusha Agreement particularly as they relate to ethnic quotas, term limits for the President, and dual citizenship. Some national and many international observers are expressing concerns that tensions in Burundi could rise if the current process evolves into a campaign to revise the Arusha Agreement. That notwithstanding, it may not be an unfair expectation for a roadmap to national unity to be achieved whereby the president is allowed to serve out the current term in exchange for an understanding on  the reversal of the Arusha Agreement.


The Collins Nweke interview on TVC News Hour on Inter-Burundi Dialogue is available here

Globalizing from the Left

As the world reels from the Brexit shock, it is dawning on economists and policymakers that they severely underestimated the political fragility of the current form of globalization. The popular revolt that appears to be underway is taking diverse, overlapping forms: reassertion of local and national identities, demand for greater democratic control and accountability, rejection of centrist political parties, and distrust of elites and experts.

This backlash was predictable. Some economists, including me, did warn about the consequences of pushing economic globalization beyond the boundaries of institutions that regulate, stabilize, and legitimize markets. Hyper-globalization in trade and finance, intended to create seamlessly integrated world markets, tore domestic societies apart.

The bigger surprise is the decidedly right-wing tilt the political reaction has taken. In Europe, it is predominantly nationalists and nativist populists that have risen to prominence, with the left advancing only in a few places such as Greece and Spain. In the United States, the right-wing demagogue Donald Trump has managed to displace the Republican establishment, while the leftist Bernie Sanders was unable to overtake the centrist Hillary Clinton.

As an emerging new establishment consensus grudgingly concedes, globalization accentuates class divisions between those who have the skills and resources to take advantage of global markets and those who don’t. Income and class cleavages, in contrast to identity cleavages based on race, ethnicity, or religion, have traditionally strengthened the political left. So why has the left been unable to mount a significant political challenge to globalization?

One answer is that immigration has overshadowed other globalization “shocks.” The perceived threat of mass inflows of migrants and refugees from poor countries with very different cultural traditions aggravates identity cleavages that far-right politicians are exceptionally well placed to exploit. So it is not a surprise that rightist politicians from Trump to Marine Le Pen lace their message of national reassertion with a rich dose of anti-Muslim symbolism.

Latin American democracies provide a telling contrast. These countries experienced globalization mostly as a trade and foreign-investment shock, rather than as an immigration shock. Globalization became synonymous with so-called Washington Consensus policies and financial opening. Immigration from the Middle East or Africa remained limited and had little political salience. So the populist backlash in Latin America – in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and, most disastrously, Venezuela – took a left-wing form.

The story is similar in the main two exceptions to right-wing resurgence in Europe – Greece and Spain. In Greece, the main political fault line has been austerity policies imposed by European institutions and the International Monetary Fund. In Spain, most immigrants until recently came from culturally similar Latin American countries. In both countries, the far right lacked the breeding ground it had elsewhere.

But the experience in Latin America and southern Europe reveals perhaps a greater weakness of the left: the absence of a clear program to refashion capitalism and globalization for the twenty-first century. From Greece’s Syriza to Brazil’s Workers’ Party, the left has failed to come up with ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond ameliorative policies such as income transfers.

Economists and technocrats on the left bear a large part of the blame. Instead of contributing to such a program, they abdicated too easily to market fundamentalism and bought in to its central tenets. Worse still, they led the hyper-globalization movement at crucial junctures.

The enthroning of free capital mobility – especially of the short-term kind – as a policy norm by the European Union, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the IMF was arguably the most fateful decision for the global economy in recent decades. As Harvard Business School professor Rawi Abdelal has shown, this effort was spearheaded in the late 1980s and early 1990s not by free-market ideologues, but by French technocrats such as Jacques Delors (at the European Commission) and Henri Chavranski (at the OECD), who were closely associated with the Socialist Party in France. Similarly, in the US, it was technocrats associated with the more Keynesian Democratic Party, such as Lawrence Summers, who led the charge for financial deregulation.

France’s Socialist technocrats appear to have concluded from the failed Mitterrand experiment with Keynesianism in the early 1980s that domestic economic management was no longer possible, and that there was no real alternative to financial globalization. The best that could be done was to enact Europe-wide and global rules, instead of allowing powerful countries like Germany or the US to impose their own.

The good news is that the intellectual vacuum on the left is being filled, and there is no longer any reason to believe in the tyranny of “no alternatives.” Politicians on the left have less and less reason not to draw on “respectable” academic firepower in economics.

Consider just a few examples: Anat Admati and Simon Johnson have advocated radical banking reforms; Thomas Piketty and Tony Atkinson have proposed a rich menu of policies to deal with inequality at the national level; Mariana Mazzucato and Ha-Joon Chang have written insightfully on how to deploy the public sector to foster inclusive innovation; Joseph Stiglitz and José Antonio Ocampo have proposed global reforms; Brad DeLongJeffrey Sachs, and Lawrence Summers (the very same!) have argued for long-term public investment in infrastructure and the green economy. There are enough elements here for building a programmatic economic response from the left.

A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right thrives on deepening divisions in society – “us” versus “them” – while the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left – Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state – both saved capitalism from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right groups, who will lead the world – as they always have – to deeper division and more frequent conflict.

This article was first published on 19 July 2016 by Dani Rodrik in Social Europe under the title ‘The Popular Revolt Against Globalization and the Abdication of the Left’  

Evaluating Africa-EU Climate Partnership Post-Paris

On the sidelines of the conference to launch the Covenant on  Demographic Change in Europe at the EU Committee of the Regions, I took some time out to speak to the EU Public Affairs programme, ‘Inside the Issues’ to evaluate the COP21 climate conference that took place in Paris, France. The broad focus of the brief but punchy talk was EU-Africa climate change relations within the context of the global discussions at COP21. On one hand you have African countries who do the least to pollute but pay the highest price in climate change terms. On the other hand you have the historical dimension of the EU that has been a leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Collins Nweke at Inside the Issues 4 Dec 2015

In this context the specific topics covered include:

  • The credibility of an EU-Africa partnership on climate change, given their divergent views.
  • Who were the winners and losers at COP21
  • Should developed countries, like the EU, pay the highest price in contributing to a better climate?

Click here or on the picture to watch the discussion, which also includes the perspective of a researcher, thus balancing politics with academics and in my opinion, excellently well delivered.

Collins Nweke at Inside the Issues Dec 2015

Focus on French-Nigerian Bilateral Relations

On invitation of President Francois Hollande of France, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria arrived France on a State Visit on Monday 14 September 2015. On Day 2 of the bilateral meeting, I was invited by TVC News for a policy analysis of the French-Nigerian bilateral relations.  The considerations that shaped  my thoughts in the run-up to the TVC NEWS policy analysis were:

  • the significance of this visit to Nigeria’s diplomacy,
  • its indications for Nigeria’s foreign policy ahead of appointment of a Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • a possible boost to the wider regional peace in Africa
  • a boost for French – Nigerian cultural diplomacy?

The discussion was clustered into three segments except the appointment of a foreign affairs minister. These clusters are diplomacy, trade relations and cultural diplomacy. On the appointment of a foreign affairs minister, there are indications that apart from reducing Mr President’s workload when a minister is appointed, not much difference is expected in the foreign policy direction of the country. Indeed in some quarters, there is the reasoning that delaying appointment of ministers may be a strategy to initially define all policy directions so that when the ministers assume office, they would simply toe the established line. If so, it may not be entirely bad as long as it does not stifle the policy creativity of the ministers.

Another aspect of conversation which I hoped an extra time would allow discussion on is the role of the Diaspora in Nigeria foreign policy. But it was not to be, which is not a big issue. All in all, I thought it was an engaging conversation. Watch the TVC News interview here 


Europe – an even bigger failure than Greece

Earlier in the evening I took a few minutes to study and sign an online petition on the Greece debt crisis. I also made the bold statement of changing my Facebook profile picture to a sticker expressing solidarity with the Greek people. As I went back to the desk to complete a report with an imminent deadline, I had problems concentrating because of the numerous questions and thoughts that kept whirling round inside my head about Greece. I am supposed to resist the urge to write about the unfolding menace until after the Sunday referendum, I reminded myself. What’s the point of waiting? The referendum won’t change everything, would it? And anyway, I need to clear my head of these nagging questions, these thoughts…

The founding fathers of the EU will be turning in the grave right now pondering about what has become of the Union they created? As if the inhuman treatment of refugees in the Mediterranean isn’t enough naked dances in the market square, there are subtle, yet concerted efforts now by the traditional conservative powers to oust the popular Syriza Government of Greece through sabotage. Truth be told, no government within the European Union has ever dared challenge the status quo in the manner that the current Greek government is doing. They are feared as the biggest threat to renewed growth, job creation, economic prosperity, political integration and peace in Europe. That is untrue and it reminds me of a Nigerian Igbo adage to the effect that when a peer fetches better firewood, he’s accused of fetching those in a forbidden evil forest. The truth is to be found in the story of how Greece got to where they currently are.

So how did the Greeks get here?

After Greece joined the monetary union of Europe in 2001, the tiny country of 10 million (about same population as Belgium and smaller than Lagos State, Nigeria) was flooded with money from elsewhere on the Continent. Over the course of the decade that followed, Greek leaders, who can’t be said not to be corrupt, ran an economy long rife with patronage and tax evasion. They borrowed billions from their imprudent friends at European banks, and then perfected a culture of non-disclosure to EU officials about mounting debts. When the financial crisis finally rolled into Greece in 2009 and 2010, the country was in an estimated $430 billion in debt[i], a staggering figure that imperilled the economic health of its near and distant neighbours — indeed, all of Europe. The European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (often referred to as the Troika) agreed to bail out the sinking economy by loaning it $146 billion. The bailout was not without a price tag, which was fixed by the bailers (Troika) and signed by the bailed (Greek Government).

A bailout with huge price tag

The strangulating price tag for the Greek bailout had nothing seriously to do with raising new funds, through proper corporate taxes or social security contributions but had mainly to do with austerity measures that meted out untold hardship to the hardworking Greek men and women. Let’s look at just a few of them and what they resulted in. One of the effects was reduction in state spending by slashing pensions and wages, eliminating jobs and unreasonable rise in wage taxes. As if the 2009 austerity measures were not bad enough, in 2012 an even larger rescue provided only temporary succour. Major infectious diseases soon came fully back in Greece, the figures for HIV and tuberculosis went sky high and malaria made a nasty return after 40 years of absence. Meanwhile spending on mental health care fell between 2010 and 2011 by 20%, and another 55% between 2011 and 2012 resulting directly in a rise in depression and suicides by as much as 45%. Very quickly it became clear that the spending cuts are producing what many Greeks consider to be a humanitarian crisis. It is apparent from all objective analyses that the core beneficiaries of the so-called bailout were Greek, German, Dutch and French big banks, who had to be rescued partly on the back of the ordinary Greek citizens. The best that could be said about the bailers is that they made some wrong choices but it could very well be a case of criminal negligence.

In my May 2014 bid for a seat at the European Parliament, I was asked during a debate with colleagues of the liberal democrats political family, to adduce the basis of my social policy agenda.  I recall drawing attention to the growing inequality between people within Europe, but also between European citizens and people from other countries. The traditional parties won’t ever own up the fact that their neo-liberal and conservative social and economic policy path since the 1980s is the direct cause of the financial crisis of 2008, the euro crisis of 2010 and rising poverty  (25% or 121 million poor Europeans) especially youths and infant poor. Today Greece has 59.1% youth unemployment, Spain 55.9%, Italy 38.4%, and Portugal 38.3%. All efforts by the European progressives, and the genuine humane reform agenda of the Syriza government to institute people-centered economic and social policy driven by fair and equitable policies were all thwarted then as they continue to be thwarted today.  The large European political families are award-winners in blocking progressive Bills.  Dr Elizabeth Mestheneos, an Athens based British sociologist couldn’t be clearer when she said “It is a nasty game and of course going to the Drachma (the Greek national currency before the Euro) is not easy. We have few resources and a very split society. Politicians have often colluded in taking loans nationally and using them inappropriately, appointing Kin to jobs – I think this is familiar in Nigeria! And still going on! There are too many ideologies of diverse types. We even have Stalinists, Nazi types and plenty of anarchists. Too few people who know how to cooperate. Too many (mainly but not exclusively) male egos. I think most of us want the EU to work but it has been hijacked and the politicians are another generation without the same commitment to the European ideals. We are fighting for a better Europe, not run by bankers and big businesses” Greek debt exploded over a seven-year period up to 177%. The huge private debts in Greece were built by irresponsible behaviour of large European banks providing cheap credits. Of all the billions that have been made available in recent years, about 90% flowed back to the banks and other creditors hence Paul De Grauwe, a  leading Belgian Professor of economics had this to say “The creditors have not learned anything from the crisis. With their demands they push the Greek economy deeper into trouble and yet they manage to make the media believe that the Greeks are unreasonable, and not themselves”[ii]

The Troika miscalculations

The way and manner Eurogroup Chairman, Jeroen Dijsselbloem and EU Finance Ministers are conducting their negotiations with Greek’s Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is as though economics is an end in itself. There is no realisation that economics should be fashioned to serve people. They are beclouded by a tunnel vision resulting in unacceptably high human toll. The authoritative medical journal The Lancet reported that since 2008 the number of stillborn children increased by 21%. More and more pregnant women lack the resources for prenatal testing. Infant mortality increased by 43%. In many schools, private sector food banks are organised to stop school kids from fainting during classes.[iii]

It is not only Greece that needs saving. Europe needs to save itself too and all attentive watchers of Varoufakis would notice that he’s determined to lead that agitation to save Europe from itself and by so doing save Greece and others along with it. He ran his 2014 election making no secret of his agenda. In a book[iv] he co-authored in 2010 and revised in 2013 I read the following “Europe is fragmenting. As this happens, human costs mount, and disintegration becomes an increasing threat. . . . The fallout from a Eurozone breakup would destroy the European Union, except perhaps in name. And Europe’s fragmentation poses a global danger.”

I share these sentiments and would see the Greece troubles beyond my nose. It is Europe’s troubles too and by extension a global trouble. As all hands are put on deck, whatever the outcome of the July 5th referendum, a write-off of some parts of the Greek debt should not be ruled out. Except of course we want to rule out a sustainable solution to the crisis.


The author, Collins Nweke, was a 2014 candidate Member European Parliament and currently serves as Municipal Councillor at Ostend City Council. He made this contribution from Brussels Belgium

[i] Suzy Hansen (New York Times, 20 May 2015)

[ii] Paul De Grauwe in an interview in De Standaard, Belgium of 16 June 2015

[iii] The Lancet medical journal 2008

[iv] Y. Varoufakis, S. Holland and K. Galbraith: A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis, 2010, revised July 2013


Greece under radical left: a start for EU reform?

greece in eurozone

At breakfast on Sunday, 25 January 2015, I made a remark to the effect that it is the big day for the Greeks. My son made a passing response about his distaste for political extremism, be it on the left, or on the right of the political divide. He is 20 years old, a bachelor’s student of Social Work, passively but maybe inevitably interested in politics. Inevitably perhaps because he and his brother couldn’t possibly escape my constant political jabbing and therefore have to deal or contend with me. His comment reminded me of several Brookings Institute analyses that I have been reading in the last several weeks on the Greek elections. Following his comment, my boy and I had quite a chat, with his mum more or less as the perfect umpire. Shortly I shall let you into the outcome of the debate with him but allow me in the time being to let you into the thoughts that preoccupied the guys at Brookings.

I am unsure if this is representative of a broad U.S. perspective, but the key question at Brookings seemed to be whether a radical left victory in Greece will reignite the euro crisis, producing recession in Europe and some level of financial instability and slower growth in the U.S. While they thought this is unlikely, they felt it is a possibility. They played with a number of scenarios but settled for the view that a Syriza (Greek radical left party) victory would be the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the rest of Europe. They added a prediction that there will be considerable turmoil in the months to come,  though terrible outcomes will likely be avoided, ultimately. These thoughts and more shaped my mind as I set the Sunday breakfast table, invited my folks, took a place on the table and thought aloud by way of the remark I made that prompted the debate.

I didn’t think that a Student Social Worker would be moved by the economic arguments surrounding Greece. I thought I might just demonstrate my point if I built my case around the wrong economic choices made, misplaced policy decisions taken, among others. These had resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Greece. I illustrated the crisis with two examples: over 40% of young Greek graduates can’t find jobs. Those who were initially under-employed eventually joined the joblessness. The zeal to undertake higher education was very low amongst the teenage Greek sons and daughters. Those who managed to stay in school had to study, not with their reading table alight with electricity but with candles because a serious austerity measure meant that electricity supply became a luxury rather than a necessity. I thought I managed to make the case that the situation at present is exceptional and extraordinary. Mainstream, everyday solution and policies won’t do it. This I argued was the basis of my Sunday prayers that the radical left not only wins, but wins big. I smiled when my boy finally said he was convinced by my arguments.

Now the results are in and my prayers, not the vision I saw in a dream, as some New Age Pastors will claim, have been answered.  The radical left took 149 seats, just shy of the 151 they needed for an absolute majority. Within hours, they announced a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a right wing anti-austerity party, giving their government a clear majority.  The question is how founded is the fear of the guys at Brookings Institute? Is the radical left victory a threat or opportunity for Greece and for Europe? My friend, Bart Staes, a three-term Member European Parliament, with whom I stood on the list in the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections, had released an unequivocal statement: ‘Syriza victory is an opportunity for robust Greek and European reforms’. I was also keen to know what my friend, an English Sociologist, based in Athens, whom I haven’t had contacts with in a while, thought about the situation in her adopted second home. She revealed that she reluctantly voted for the radical left. Reluctant because populism is not her cup of tea and she is curious to see if they can deliver. She, like many others were sick and tired of the old political ways. She’s reasonably confident about some able people with some experience who have joined the Syriza-led government. They do have the problem of the high expectations raised and pressures from supporters. She concluded that obviously the old system could not go further.  She also struck a note between caution and optimism ‘maybe they will play poker very well with the other Europeans and win a large gamble that some politicians realise  that the current system is not working for many in the EU especially in the Eurozone.

My English sociologist friend in Athens wasn’t particularly bouncing up and down with joy but I am! I am because like Bart Staes, I see this as a new start for Greece by getting rid of the old school.  Rather than the doomsday scenarios that some commentators have been painting, the victory of Syriza provides energy and optimism. Domestically one will hope that this wave of change will be the start of durable and robust reforms and greater social justice in Greece.  The incontestable fact of the Greek election result is that the vast majority of Greek citizens want progress, are impatient in their desire for genuine political reform and therefore want to break with an outdated, crippled political system where the oligarchs have basically ran the country aground.  Besides dismantling the ugly, capitalist fiscal and economic constructions of the oligarchy, that country has urgent need of fresh political ideas in the area of ​​sustainable economic development. Greece has enormous potential in terms of the generation of sustainable, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and tourism.

I guess that the yardstick with which the radical left success will be measured is their ability to end the current humanitarian crisis in Greece. This will unavoidably go hand-in-hand with renegotiating economic policies with the governments of other Eurozone countries, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and any other external forces whose conditionalities have meant that Greek men, women and children have lost human dignity and are dropping dead bit by bit. This is certainly an Herculean task but not an impossible one. I contested the European parliamentary seat in May 2014 under a strong reformist agenda. Little wonder that rather than calling a halt to the radical change as started on Sunday, 25 January 2015 in Athens, I can only hope that similar wind of electoral revolution also blows into Madrid as well as in Rome. This appears to be the surest way to get the core Eurozone countries to get serious about renegotiating the terms of the EU social and economic policies.

Like I told my son at the Sunday breakfast table as the good people of Greece were going to the polls, the choice is between the far left and the far right. I hope that the established mainstream parties in Europe realise that the failure of Syriza through sabotage or other unholy means,  is tantamount to handing victory to the far right. I know it is a dilemma, the prospect is unpleasant but it is also about making a choice. The Greeks made their choice on Sunday. Hopefully Europe will make theirs too because this is about reorganising for a better and fairer Europe.


Collins NWEKE | Green Party Councillor at Ostend City Council Belgium

28 January 2015