Democracy & Governance

The Charade That is Chatham House -By Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor

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I have watched with evolving consternation, how Nigerians across social media space have dedicated their most valuable resource, which is time, to having endless discussions about the performance of one of the Country’s presidential aspirants at Chatham House. Each time I scroll past a post anywhere on social media, or I roll past a face-to-face conversation by people on this subject matter, my body, mind and soul screams one thing and one thing only! #contemporaryslavery!

I have never understood the perennial charade politicians, rulers and leaders from many of the countries that make up the African continent perform when they make coming to Chatham House a prerogative. In my opinion, it will do our continent a whole good for these people to speak directly to and engage openly with their populace at home or their populace in the Diaspora and not their old colonialists or via their old colonialists. Prior to my in-depth study of Modern-day slavery, I too may have thought nothing wrong of this trend.

However, since my doctoral research into Modern-day slavery began, I have come to have a better understanding of the murky waters of international politics today and from ancient times. I have found from evidence-based studies that perception and power gradients are the unspoken tools of politics across borders. Words are not even needed. Rather, sustained patterns of carefully planned strategic actions are all that is needed to erode the thought processes of a group of people. I am yet to see politicians, rulers or leaders who are aspiring for positions in western countries of the old colonialists, go to those countries they colonised in the past, prior to their apex elections to speak to them or engage with them. Slavery is a mental or psychological thing as much as it is physical. Today, we may not be seeing physical chains on the legs and necks of Africans however, there are heavy chains binding our hearts, brains and souls. This is the most insidious form of slavery; that which can only be stopped by the enslaved.

Given that the origins of Chatham House, are grounded in the Royal Institute of International Affairs meeting and the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, with the goal to advance the sciences of international politics, optimising the study and investigation of international questions with a view to providing global solutions, it was a laudable project. Furthermore, that number 10 St James’s Square in London, where Chatham House has been sited all these years, serving to push research and world publications as well as administer prizes for global good governance has served the world in some positive light, is not something I will dispute. However, I find it difficult to comprehend why it has not managed to maintain the non-attribution rule known as the Chatham House Rule, which it originated. This is the rule that prohibits discussing those who attend or disclosing what particular individuals say at the meetings in the house. This was to facilitate free speech and allow engagement on controversial subjects. Over the years, the Chatham rule has gone out the window and majority of the Chatham House events are held on record and transmitted for onward discussion by a global audience. The only reason I can postulate for this deviation from their own rule over time, is the needed increase in the push for more power gradient and the pull for profits against the backdrop of maintaining a certain continued perception in an evolving world.

It is this same evolving world phenomenon that makes my point of view differ. I posit that it is time Chatham House, seeks to set up sister bases on the African or Asian Continents, where aspiring politicians for apex country positions from the West, should come and speak as well. In the interim, prior to achieving this balance, other talks can keep going on at Chatham House but not the ones where aspiring rulers or leaders run there from African countries to speak. Those who aspire to lead a people should engage directly with the people they seek to lead. Engage with them within their countries in the markets, on the roads, in the schools and even in other halls or venues in the Diaspora.

Now you my dear readers can see why I will not indulge contemporary slavery mentality and begin to discuss the performance of any aspiring African country leader at a neo-colonialist platform. We need to hold our leadership accountable pre-elections and post-elections. Even more so, we need to hold them most accountable during their time spent in these positions of leadership. We must realise that we have to write our own scripts as a people and not act those which are handed down to us by others. I do not believe that any other person can love any country more than the citizens of that country.

Instead of deconstructing our focus by wasting precious time debating the performances of our potential rulers or leaders as the case may be, let us instead, work towards making our nations into the places where other world leaders come to engage with us. We must build our own nations to the point where these engagements become the global oxygen every world leader must breath thus they have to arrive in our named house to give account of their aspirations and make their plans known for when they get into positions of leadership… after all, Nigerians and by extension other Africans, have contributed and continue to contribute their sweat and blood towards the development of the Western economies… we too, deserve to hear from them. International diplomatic ties and relationships should be a two way street or even a multi-lateral phenomenon where those involved must always strive for ‘true’ balance. So as the world bids farewell to the twilight days of 2022 and midwifes the birth of 2023, those who run the affairs of Chatham House should consider a more altruistic review and auditing of their processes.

“What is more? Just in case they have not noticed, sometimes, half of the people at these meetings are hordes of supporters of speakers from resource poor nations, transported at exorbitant prices on first class flights and hosted in choice hotels at costs that could pay for educating children or upgrading primary healthcare facilities in their countries”.


Dr Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is author of the book My Father’s Daughter

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