Wednesday 31 August 2022

Adieu Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931-2022), History-Maker

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev by Mark Hess (1985). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

From the moment Gorbachev appeared on the domestic and the international stage he was quite evidently a man who was bound to make history.

He was relatively young and exuded the sort of charisma unknown to the succession of Soviet leaders including Nikita Khrushchev who had made crudity an integral part of his showmanship.

When he took up the reins as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Gorbachev's vitality and reformist agenda immediately set him apart from the dour personalities he succeeded. Leaders such as Chernenko, Andropov and Brezhnev represented the stagnation of the USSR.

His by-words for reform Perestroika (“Restructuring”) and Glasnost (“Openness”) entered the lexicon of everyday discourse and his charm, magnified by his glamorous wife Raisa, was palpable when he engaged with ordinary people during walkabouts when making public appearances and while on state visits.

His ideas on politics and economics evolved from hard-line Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy to Social Democracy. Like Khrushchev, he sought to make amends for the victims of Soviet repression and rehabilitated among several figures Nikolai Bukharin, the Bolshevik who had championed the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the early 1920s; a model of market socialism which Gorbachev adapted during his tenure in an attempt to find an elusive middle ground between free market capitalism and the hyper-centralised Soviet-type command economy.

Together with US President Ronald Reagan, he ended the Cold War and buttressed the mood of peace by signing the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987 and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991 respectively with Reagan and Reagan's successor, George H. Bush.

But while eastern Europe became de-Sovietised and Germany became reunified, his legacy is a mixed one, particularly among the citizens of the Russian Federation for whom the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the coming to power of the ineffectual Boris Yeltsin inaugurated another Smutnoye Vremya ("Time of Troubles") in Russian history.

The Western overseen transformation from Soviet to Capitalist economy witnessed the massive pillaging of the Russian economy and the rise of the Oligarchs.

While it happened under the watch of Yeltsin, the destruction of the safety net of the Soviet system which led to widespread poverty and early deaths for many were blamed on Gorbachev's initial reforms. 

Further afield from Russia, many bemoaned the fact that the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a unipolar world in which U.S. policymakers, heavily populated by those subscribing to the philosophy of American Exceptionalism and the ideology of neoconservatism, decided that they would take the opportunity to pursue the path of militarism to keep at bay the rise of any power capable of challenging U.S. global hegemony.

Prior to the coming of Yeltsin, the prudent decision to finally withdraw Soviet Forces from Afghanistan underlined what many felt was the ominous loss of power and prestige under Gorbachev.

Still, the legacy of Gorbachev whatever the shortcomings of the man are still important: his determination to reform a moribund system and his efforts in making the world safer after decades of super-power rivalry and tension during the Cold War which threatened nuclear Armageddon, surely mark him as one of the most influential men in history.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He has an interest in history and geopolitics.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Don't be Fuelish: Another Energy Crisis Beckoning

Art Credit: Jack Davis, a Public Service Announcement in Newsweek magazine, September 15, 1975.

An energy crisis of the sort comparable to those which occurred in 1973 and 1979 is already germinating in North America and on the European continent in the form of rising utility bills which are set to reach astronomical levels starting in October.

In 1973 widespread fuel shortages were caused by the oil embargo that was led by Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War in October of that year, while in 1979, the “Oil Shock” or “Second Oil Crisis”, was caused by the reduction of oil production in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.

The causes are multifaceted and cannot be solely blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. These include economic policy pursued after the declared pandemic which has led to a steady rise in inflation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm got herself humiliated by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley when she tried to blame "Putin's War" for the rise in the cost of gas (petrol). When she explicitly blamed "the actions of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine" for the rise of gas prices in the US, Hawley was brutal in his comeback "With due respect Madam Secretary that is utter nonsense". In January 2021, Hawley reminded, the price of gas was $2.21 cents. But 8 months later "long before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine", the price was up over 30% and has been going up consistently ever since.

While the United States had to contend with the February “Texas Freeze” and the halting of oil production in the Gulf Coast owing to “Hurricane Ida”, a category 4 phenomenon, the boomerang effect of an ill-considered draconian package of economic sanctions which was placed on the Russian Federation.

The “shock and awe” nature of the measures was made with the intention of destroying the Russian economy which was expected to lead to the fall of Putin.

That did not happen.

But what is clear is that with the average consumer household being projected to spend close to half of their earnings on fuel costs, a bleak mid-winter lies ahead, and perhaps, a litany of Public Service Announcements of the sort which proliferated the media during the previous energy crisis’.

Expect a resurrection of the “Don’t be Fuelish” campaigns.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Wole Soyinka Returns To Biafra

Wole Soyinka, Lt. Colonel Emeka Ojuwkwu and Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon

An amalgam of a two-part BBC World Service Radio production featuring Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, retracing his journey from Lagos to Enugu, the capital of the newly seceded Republic of Biafra to meet Emeka Ojukwu, the former Lt. Colonel of the Nigerian Army and Governor of the former Eastern Region who had become the Head of State of what was intended to be a new nation. 

Narrated by Soyinka, it features interviews with the two main protagonists, Ojukwu and his nemesis, the then Lt.Colonel-turned-Major General, Yakubu Gowon who as the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria had jailed Soyinka.

Soyinka was arrested on August 17th 1967 and released on October 8th 1969.

The Nigerian Civil War which lasted from July 1967 to January 1970 ended with the capitulation of the secessionist state and Ojukwu fled into exile.

His book The Man Died was inspired by his experience of solitary confinement.

Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday 22 August 2022

The Misanalysis of Alexander Dugin as "Putin's Brain"

Those who bother to research these things will know that Alexander Dugin, the Russian ideologue, is not "Putin's Brain" or “Putin’s Rasputin”.

Dugin is a peripheral figure in terms of influence in the Kremlin. In fact, Dugin's neo-Eurasianist ideology was not compatible with Putin's cautious, pragmatic brand of conservatism.

Putin’s consistent links with the West and his constant yearning for the Russian Federation to be treated as an equal "partner" in international affairs was essentially inconsistent with Dugin's neo-Eurasianist philosophy of multipolarity.

It is only since the latest escalation in tensions between the West and Russia involving the "Special Military Operation", the Western package of sanctions including the cancellation of Nordstream 2, the West's seizure of Russian assets and overtly anti-Russian as opposed to anti-Russian government policies, that a final break with the West and a drive towards de facto multipolarity or bipolarity) has become the official policy of the Kremlin.

It is now with the drive towards creating alternative global institutions of trade in concert with China and other non-aligned nations that Putin can be said to be aligned in any form with Eurasianist sentiments.

The previous designation by some analysts of those in the Russian state who are "Euro-Atlanticists" and those who are "Eurasianists" will perhaps begin to make sense, although under the current climate it is unlikely that anyone near the seat of power in Russia could be classified as a "Euro-Atlanticist". Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who was claimed to be such has been revealed in recent times to be as much a hardliner as anyone in the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, the tragic murder of Dugin's daughter by a bomb attack intended for him is unlikely to put to rest the misanalysis of Dugin as "Putin's Brain".

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Visit to the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten in August 2015

The Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten, Berlin (Photo Credit: Adeyinka Makinde, 2015).

I visited the memorial during a holiday in Berlin in August 2015. 

It is situated in Tiergarten and is located between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate.

Designed by the architect Mikhail Gorvits, the memorial was constructed within the Allied occupation zone using a range of recycled materials including the concrete of the ruined Reich Chancellery building.

It was specifically erected to pay homage to the 80,000 soldiers of the USSR who died during the final days leading to the taking of Berlin. While it represents one of many monuments commemorating the enormous sacrifices of the Russian people during Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna (The Great Patriotic War), to many Berliners it was a reminder of the bestialities which accompanied the advance of the Red Army and they referred to it as the “Tomb of the Unknown Rapist”.

A column on top of which is the statue of a Soviet soldier stands at the centre of a concave colonnade of six joined axes. Underneath the soldier is a Cyrillic inscription that reads: 

Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union.

Closer to the adjoining boulevard from which it is accessed, the Stra├če des 17 Juni (the western continuation of Unter den Linden), are two ML-20 152mm gun-howitzer artillery pieces and two T-34 tanks.

. Arguably the best all-purpose tank of World War 2, the T-34 tank is viewed with a reverence and an affection that is similar to that which the Britons hold for the Spitfire plane. It had a powerful engine, was fast and extremely manoeuvrable. It was well-equipped and highly defendable because the high calibre anti-tank weapons of the day could not penetrate its armour. It was a tremendous piece of technology for its day and played a key role in the Red Army's defeat on the Eastern Front of the forces of Nazi Germany.

. The presence of the ML-20 152mm gun-howitzer artillery piece reflects the esteem to which successive armies of the Tsarist empire, the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia consider the artillery branch. The use of artillery is central to the way Russian armies conduct war.

Behind the colonnade is the final resting place of around 2,500 officers and men of the Red Army who died during the taking of Berlin.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday 8 August 2022

Thoughts on "The Supreme Undercover": Historical Fiction Novel Set During the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War

The Supreme Undercover by Valentino Alily published by John Bull Publishers, South Africa.

I was recently copied into a Facebook post regarding a newly published historical fiction novel set against the Nigerian Civil War, which was fought between the Federation and the secessionist Republic of Biafra between 1967 and 1970.

The publishers spiel went as follows:

“Intrigue, treachery, espionage and subterfuge are critical ingredients in this book that provoke deep questions:

. Did the Biafran High Command receive pre-Intelligence to enable the defeat of Colonel Murtala Mohammed at Onitsha?

. Did UK’s MI6 conspire in the death of Colonel Joe Akahan?

. Was the Abagana defeat of Colonel Mohammed a carefully planned plot to humiliate him?

. Why did Colonel Benjamin Adekunle ignore the battle strategies of his field Commanders, Colonels Akinrinade and Alabi-Isama to take Owerri and Uli and end the war earlier?

. Plus - who was Brigadier Ibrahim Saliba Dabar: a confidant of General Gowon’s, a double agent or BUFF’s deep cover operative at SHQ (Supreme Headquarters)?”

I quickly jotted down the following thoughts:

The subtext of the author's novel is intriguing. There has been little written about intelligence as a crucial factor in determining the course of the Nigerian Civil War, whether as the subject of scholarly research or as a project of popular fiction. Outside of matters directly impacting on the battlefield, the role of the Directorate of Biafran Military Intelligence in uncovering a plot to assassinate Colonel Emeka Ojukwu the Head of State of Biafra comes to mind.

Going through the selected points of intrigue one cannot help but think that intelligence in the form of deception on the part of the opposing parties played very little part in a war that was largely determined by materiel and numbers.

. Situating the idea of intelligence deceptions or espionage intrigues as influencing the complex and eccentrical behaviours of both Muhammed, the Commander of the Federal 2nd Division, and Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, the Commander of the 4th Division, would tax the creativity of the most ingenious of writers. Colonel Murtala Muhammed's failings in the attack on Onitsha were due to a manifestly flawed plan of amphibious attack, as well as the indiscipline of Federal troops when they did manage to enter Onitsha but could only hold it for a brief period. As for Adekunle, the most successful Federal commander of the civil war, a predisposition towards hubris and sheer bloody-mindedness arguably stand as the only plausible reasons for his ignoring the advice of his staff officers Akinrinade and Alabi-Isama, both of whom Isama related decades later had been set-up for death by Adekunle who had organised an ambush.

. The circumstances leading to the death of Colonel Joe Akahan, the Chief of Staff of the Federal Army, are fairly clear-cut in that he chose to fly by helicopter when it was dark and visibility difficult. Yet the book apparently provides an enticing plot involving the foreign intelligence service of Britain, MI6. It would be interesting to find out how this is woven into the story given that Britain was supporting the Federal side. A more credible line of MI6 involvement would be to reference the fact that Frederick Forsyth, a British journalist who was outwardly sympathetic to the Biafran cause and who had access to the highest echelons of the Biafran leadership had for the duration of the civil war being an agent of MI6.

. Perhaps the biggest test for the writer is how he can contrive a story to justify the plotline that a group of Biafran infiltrators at the Nigerian Army High Command helped prolong the war. How on earth could this have been accomplished? Sending out false signals? Issuing flawed battle orders? Disseminating false intelligence to the battlefield commanders? The premise of sabotage at the High Command would be hard to comprehend for the average person with some knowledge of the war because they are well versed with the realities of the autonomy exercised by the relevant war front commanders, each of whom conducted the war virtually independent of the control of the High Command in Lagos.

. One key factor which enabled the prolongation of the war was in fact a deal reached between mercenaries working for both Federal and secessionist sides to keep the runway at Uli Airport functioning. That, and the tendency of the Federal armies on the northern sector to inactivity especially once Biafra was encircled and the land and sea blockade effected.

The references to "treachery" and to "subterfuge" directed against the Federal side is I find most interesting given that these issues were a prominent feature in the Biafran war effort and played a significant role in the way the Biafrans conducted the war. The spectre of the "sabo" (spies and saboteurs working within the secessionist state to secure its destruction) was ever present. Unfortunately, the potential benefit of the Biafran state in weeding out potential saboteurs by encouraging vigilance among the general populace was overridden by a destructive and self-defeating form of paranoia which increasingly guided state policy and permeated the civil society.

The fascination among the reading public that the use and manipulation of intelligence can influence the outcome of war is an enduring one. But it is not based on the sound facts of military history. It is not intelligence but large armies who manoeuvre, attack, and encircle opposing armies that truly determine the outcome of wars. 

This was not lost on Ian Fleming who worked for British naval intelligence during World War 2. While he partook in formulation of "Operation Mincemeat", a successful plot aimed at deceiving the German Abwehr into planning for an Allied invasion of southern Europe via Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily, such intrigues were not the ultimate deciding factors. This might have motivated his creation of the figure of James Bond whose one-man-against-the-world efforts brought tangible victories for the British Secret Service during the Cold War era which was marked by the diminution of British global power.

Valentino Alily's novel may be rooted in a similar romantic rationale.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday 2 August 2022

To the Shade of "Abami Eda"

“Fela Kuti Painting”. (Credit: Dane Shue).

Twenty-five years have passed since the passing of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian creator of the Afro-Beat genre.

READ: Remembering Fela Anikulapo Kuti - Revolutionary African Musician.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday 1 August 2022

My Thoughts on the BBC Documentary Titled "The Bandit Warlords Of Zamfara"

Abu Sani, Bandit-Terrorist of Zamfara (Photo Credit: BBC).

Powerful, poignant and moving documentary.

It captures, almost perfectly, the overwhelming sense of pathos and anomie in a society driven to the point of total disintegration.

There is of course a background to this: the encroaching Sahara and its effect on nomadic cattle-rearers, the corruption of the state and the consequent entrenchment of poverty.

The tractor, the cow, the schoolbook and even the ethical & moral values that are the presumed proceeds of a people steeped in religious observance are all now firmly subservient to the rule of the gun.

For it is through the gun that the bandit perceives the ONLY means of enabling his making a living, while the vigilante believes it is the means of dispensing retributive justice or revenge. Meanwhile the ordinary bystander who is convinced that the state has forsaken him and cannot protect him can only conceive of his self-preservation as coming from the barrel of a gun. 

This is a tragedy of remarkable immensity.

It is a tragedy that would have been avoided if Nigeria had a different calibre of political and social leadership. Leaders who through decades-long planning could have met the ecological challenges prevalent in the Sahelian region by developing protective forest belts, instituted a system of cattle ranching and sought to construct an ambitious waterway like the Great Man-Made River project undertaken and completed during the era of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

But in the documentary, we see the hapless politicians with their vainglorious ways putting the released girls through the excruciating ordeal of a pointless public meeting.

I thought that the film perfectly summed up the anger and frustration of the society at large when the young men were captured hurling oaths in front of the camera as they complained about their worthless leaders, as well as the incompetence and cruelty of the state after a boy had been fatally shot during the protest about lack of security.

The question for me as always with these conflicts in contemporary Africa is not about focusing on the rights and wrongs of the threatened secession of ethnic groups in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia or Cameroon. Nor is it about being conscripted into supporting or debunking a narrative which demonises the Tigrayan and the Fulani.

It is simply to seek out any rumblings, no matter how faint, of the emergence of a special calibre of thinkers and doers who can become the inspiring statesmen and the productive social architects of the future. Men and women who will seize the reins of power and proceed to move Africa away from its largely regressive state and put it onto the path of substantive political and economic development.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022)

Lieutenant Nyota Uhuru of the Starship Enterprise (Photo Credit: CBS)

Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022) garbed in her career-defining role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhuru in the 1960s TV series "Star Trek".

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer.