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Mugabe told Obasanjo no successor was ready to take over

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told a United States congressman in August 2007 that he had discussed the issue of succession with President Robert Mugabe but Mugabe had told him what he had told him five years earlier, that no successor was ready to take over.

Obasanjo was briefing congressman Donald Payne on the difficult decisions he encountered in arranging his own succession, and how other leaders, like Mugabe and Guinea’s Lansana Conte, had not heeded his entreaties to do likewise.

Conte had bluntly told him: “This is not Nigeria”.

 

Full cable:


Viewing cable 07LAGOS609, A LOOK BACK: OBASANJO REVIEWS HIS PRESIDENCY WITH

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Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

07LAGOS609

2007-09-05 10:39

CONFIDENTIAL

Consulate Lagos

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FM AMCONSUL LAGOS

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9387

INFO RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE

RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 9167

RHEBAAA/DOE WASHDC

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH AFB UK

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LAGOS 000609

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR AF/W

STATE FOR INR/AA

STATE PASS OPIC FOR ZHAN AND MSTUCKART

DOE FOR CAROLYN GAY

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2017

TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM KPKO NI

SUBJECT: A LOOK BACK: OBASANJO REVIEWS HIS PRESIDENCY WITH

CONGRESSMAN PAYNE

 

REF: ABUJA 1876

 

Classified By: Acting Consul General Donald McConnell for reasons 1.4 (

B) and (D)

 

1. (C) Summary: In an August 21 meeting with HIRC Africa

Subcommittee Chair Donald Payne, former President Olusegun

Obasanjo said he would attend former President Clinton’s

Global Institute from September 26-28, dates which coincide

with the second week of plenary sessions of the U.N. General

Assembly. Obasanjo   Obasanjo told the Congressman about the

difficult decisions he encountered in arranging his own

succession, and how other leaders, namely Zimbabwe’s Robert

Mugabe and Guinea’s Lansana Conte, have thus far not heeded

his entreaties to do likewise. While not discussing

Nigeria’s own deeply flawed election, Obasanjo expressed his

support for elections as a way for a government to obtain

legitimacy. Obasanjo considered the situation in southern

Sudan graver even than Darfur, and said any attempt to deploy

Nigerian peacekeepers in Somalia would depend0 on funding.

Turning to the Niger Delta, Obasanjo clung to his insistence

the crisis was solely a product of criminality. End summary.

 

——————————

A Visit to Obasanjo’s Ota Farm

——————————

 

2. (U) On August 21 Congressman Donald Payne visited former

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Ota farm with the Acting Consul

General, Congressional Research Service Professional Staff

Member Ted Dagne, and Poloff. With former President Obasanjo

were Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. George Obiozor and

Personal Assistant Adeola Ojekunle. The farm is about an

hour and a half drive away from Lagos, and while the estate

is sizable Obasanjo’s home did not appear ostentatious.

Obasanjo, delighted to see a familiar face, greeted

Congressman Payne warmly and was effusive and hospitable

throughout the meeting. Obasanjo reminisced about important

decisions made during his presidency and reviewed some of

Africa’s trouble spots. During his review, Obasanjo

rhetorically asked the Congressman if he believed “we did the

right thing”, adding that “people like me are too directly

involved to be objective”.

 

———————————–

Obasanjo’s Activities Since Leaving

———————————–

 

3. (C) Obasanjo told Congressmann Payne that since leaving

Aso Rock he had occupied himself with various activities.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had appointed him

Chairman of its Board of Trustees, so occasionally he travels

to Abuja to attend the party caucus. Obasanjo had recently

visited Ghana to meet his “good friend John Kufuor”, flown to

the U.S. for a brief summer sojourn, and made a short trip to

Tanzania for undisclosed reasons. President Umaru Yar’Adua

has called him occasionally, Obasanjo added, telling Payne

that two or three weeks after the May 29 inauguration

Yar’Adua wanted to visit Ota but “I told him it was too

early”. However, Obasanjo insisted despite his special

access he has not interfered in presidential affairs,

claiming he “never has occasion to initiate anything”.

 

——————————————— ——-

Obasanjo Talks About Succession in Nigeria and Ghana

——————————————— ——-

 

4. (C) When Congressman Payne broached the subject of

Obasanjo becoming a senior statesman for the African Union,

Obasanjo sidestepped the issue and proceeded to discuss his

own succession. “My brother in Ghana (Kufuor) now has the

same problem I had here”, Obasanjo reflected. “Here we had

twelve governors”, Obasanjo stated as he glanced briefly at

Obiozor for confirmation, and “six or seven non-governors who

all wanted to be President”. “It was partly by an act of God

we pulled the succession off”, Obasanjo commented, adding the

key to choosing a successor was timing. In Obasanjo’s

opinion, selecting a successor too early would allow other

contenders to conspire, but being tardy was also a mistake.

(Note: Obasanjo kept his selection of Yar’Adua a secret until

about two weeks before the PDP national convention. End

 

LAGOS 00000609 002 OF 004

 

 

note) Kufuor said Ghana had a similar situation as all his

ministers wanted to contest for the presidency, and according

to Obasanjo, Kufuor asked him for advice on how to choose a

successor. “While Kufuor had narrowed the succession to two

candidates, he would not tell me whom he had chosen”,

Obasanjo chuckled.

 

——————————————–

Elections in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Togo

——————————————–

 

5. (C) Despite the widespread controversy over Nigeria’s own

April elections, Obasanjo stressed the importance of

elections to legitimize leaders. It was important the

elections in Sierra Leone succeeded, Obasanjo noted, and

while the elections in Liberia were “not perfect” they did

represent progress. Congressman Payne thanked Obasanjo for

taking in former Liberian leader Charles Taylor when no one

else was willing. In Togo, Obasanjo said he instructed

President Faure Eyadema to hold an election to replace his

father despite his initial reluctance and requests by Libyan

and Egyptian envoys not to intervene. When Payne queried why

Libya and Egypt had been so interested in Togo, Obasanjo

noted succinctly it was because both countries’ leaders also

wanted their sons to succeed them. After Obasanjo’s view

prevailed, Eyadema later thanked him; because of Obasanjo’s

insistence Eyadema could now proudly proclaim to be an

“elected president”, Obasanjo said with a hearty laugh.

 

———————————

Succession in Zimbabwe and Guinea

———————————

 

6. (C) However Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had

frustrated him when he broached the issue of succession,

Obasanjo said Mugabe gave him the same argument he had given

five years ago, that no successor is ready to take over.

Obasanjo related that when he approached Guinea President

Lansana Conte, regarding his successor saying Conte should

beware of the might of his enemies, Conte retorted “Whose

might? This is not Nigeria”, Obasanjo laughed. Fortunately,

Obasanjo said he asked former military ruler Ibrahim

Babangida to intervene with Conte, and Babangida “did a good

job”.

 

——————————————-

Assessment of Cote d’Ivoire, DROC and Sudan

——————————————-

 

7. (C) Payne again suggested these leaders would listen to

Obasanjo’s guidance on the succession issue, but this time

Obasanjo brushed aside the suggestion, saying he could only

“talk to those who want to listen”. Obasanjo was hopeful

about recent events in Cote d’Ivoire. As to the Democratic

Republic of Congo, he noted the collapse of the nation’s

infrastructure. He once told DROC President Joseph Kabila

how in 1960 he traveled across the DROC by train and Kabila

remarked that such a feat would be impossible today, Obasanjo

told the Congressman.

 

8. (C) The Darfur crisis was a consequence of the problems

in southern Sudan, Obasanjo said, adding that he believed

south Sudan would split off following the plebiscite.

Obasanjo predicted Darfur would get worse after secession,

noting despite all the attention to Darfur the graver

situation was in the south Sudan.

 

——————————————— —

Nigerian Peacekeepers in Somalia Possible, If…

——————————————— —

 

9. (C) Obasanjo asked Congressman Payne his assessment of

Somalia. Congressman Payne said he had appealed to former

Somalia Foreign Minister Ismail Mahmoud Hurre to include the

moderate wing of the Islamic courts into the government.

Ismail agreed with the caveat he would exclude extremists,

and Ismail would determine who was acceptable. Somalia’s

Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been equally

reluctant to accept the Islamists, Payne noted. Obasanjo

asked if it was possible to put pressure on Somalia through

Ethiopia, but the Congressman replied given the bitter

 

LAGOS 00000609 003 OF 004

 

 

history between the two countries he thought it preferable to

attempt to obtain a consensus among a group of countries to

pressure Ismail. Payne noted removing Ethiopian soldiers was

a priority, and asked Obasanjo about the idea of introducing

Nigerian peacekeepers to Somalia. While Obasanjo did not

dismiss the notion, he reflected the problem was finding

financial support for the troops, as the African Union could

not support them.

 

——————————————— —-

Face-saving Compromise Needed to Resolve Disputes

——————————————— —-

 

10. (C) Obasanjo thought in Western Sahara they could arrive

at a face-saving compromise, but did not discuss specifics.

Obasanjo suggested a similar approach in the Middle East and

criticized U.S. diplomacy, saying “not talking to certain

parties may be politically understandable but is not

sustainable”. Obasanjo did not support Ethiopian President

Meles’s stance in the border dispute with Eritrea, comparing

the dispute with a similar situation Nigeria had with

Cameroon over the Bakassi peninsula, a dispute which was

eventually resolved in favor of Cameroon.

 

————————————-

Niger Delta an “Issue of Criminality”

————————————-

 

11. (C) Obasanjo launched into a long discourse on one of his

major policy failures, the Niger Delta crisis. Appearing

irritated for the first time, Obasanjo contended to the

Congressman the Niger Delta crisis was purely the result of

criminality and there was no genuine political or social

agitation involved. The question, Obasanjo posed, was how to

treat criminality, since the militants had become so used to

large quantities of easy money. Obasanjo told the

Congressman that he asked a militant why he was involved in

kidnapping and other criminal activities. When the militant

replied he could make up to 500,000 USD in one day, Obasanjo

retorted that “on a very good day you could make that, but

some other day you are dead”.

 

12. (C) Obasanjo mused about work programs as a possible

palliative for the Delta, but noted that when an unnamed

Governor purchased militants’ weapons, the militants were

able to purchase two new weapons for every one they sold,

Obasanjo noted. Unfortunately, the armed forces,

particularly the navy, were unable to do little as they were

compromised, Obasanjo noted.

 

13. (U) Obasanjo mentioned he would travel to the United

States on September 26-28 to attend former President

Clinton’s Global Institute. Payne invited Obasanjo to attend

a September 28 session with his Africa brain trust. In

closing, Obasanjo thanked the Congressman for his support,

regretting that he somehow failed to cultivate the same

number of friends in Congress as he had in the Executive

branch.

 

——-

Comment

——-

 

14. (C) What Obasanjo says remains important, though given

his reputation for dissembling it remains to be seen where

his true sentiments lie on some of the topics broached.

Clearly he prides himself on his role in engineering

Nigeria’s widely criticized April election, and believes not

only that it provided his successor with a claim to

legitimacy, but that other African nations should follow

Nigeria’s lead. Obasanjo’s refusal to acknowledge the

legitimate concerns of the Niger Delta, which exacerbated the

crisis, contrasts with Yar’Adua’s current attempts to engage

the militants. While Obasanjo has seemingly declined to take

on the role of elder statesman in Africa, it is clear he

intends to remain actively engaged, as his announcement that

he will be in the United States on the same dates as the U.N.

General Assembly shows.

 

15. (U) Congressman Payne cleared this cable.

 

 

LAGOS 00000609 004 OF 004

 

 

MCCONNELL

 

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