Practitioners of international relations generally divide power, defined as the ability to influence the behavior and action of others, into two types. There is hard power, which derives primarily from the use of coercive forces, such as the use of military force and economic incentives or sanctions, to coerce desired behavior from other state and non-state actors. Then there is soft power, which is not coercive in nature, such as culture, values, sport and diplomacy, but which nevertheless allows a country to achieve the desired result. In other words, while hard power is overt and authoritative, soft power is benign and based on influence.
For Nigeria, hard power has not been of particular importance in recent decades. While it has often used its economic power to achieve desired ends in the West African region, such as unilaterally closing borders with its neighbours, it is unable to deploy it beyond its immediate geopolitical limits. This is even more true for its army which, for more than a decade, has been bogged down in the fight against internal insurgencies and terrorism.
Given the country’s hard power limitations, Nigeria has historically relied on its soft powers to achieve its stated foreign policy goals. Chief among them is diplomacy, where it is able to leverage its demographic gifts and avowed leadership among African nations. However, in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances and internal strife, even the effectiveness of his diplomatic soft power was significantly eroded. Worse, due to the security problems in the country and the involvement of some of its citizens in global financial crimes (419, Yahoo-Yahoo, trafficking in hard drugs, etc.), the image of the country has not ceased to be dented. Compared to its heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, Nigeria is much less considered in the concert of nations.
But there is hope. Hope is a new and growing lever of power that Nigeria can and should use to significantly rebuild its global image and fame. This lever is music, Nigerian music in general and Afrobeats in particular. The continued rise and global acceptance of the Afrobeats genre provides Nigeria with a weapon which, properly harnessed, can have a significant impact on its image abroad.
Certainly, Nigeria has always been endowed with very talented musicians. From colonial times, musicians from all over the country have thrilled audiences and helped maintain historic cultures. Highlife music has given us stars like Osita Osadebey, Oliver de Coque and Bobby Benson to name but a few. Juju music brought its own quota with the exploits of Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade and Shina Peters. Fuji Music gave us Ayinde Barrister, Ayinla Kollington and Ayinde Marshall. Some of them have achieved a semblance of world fame, the main one being Fela Kuti. His dexterity in combining African and Western instrumentation with lyrics of protest has earned him worldwide acclaim. Despite their diverse and varied successes, there has never been a time when it could be said that Nigerian music has arrived and taken over the global music scene as we are witnessing now.
Today, the American and European airwaves are filled with the music of young Nigerian superstars like Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy. Radio stations, television stations, airport halls, sports stadiums, etc. can hardly get enough. It was only recently that Wizkid sold out three consecutive gig days at London’s 02 Arena, an adjustment only truly global superstars can pull off. Indeed, watching young Nigerian musicians sell out iconic venues like Madison Square Garden, Royal Albert Hall and 02 Arena has been a joy. In the process, world famous stars like Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran have actively sought out collaborations with our Afrobeats stars. To top it all off, the global awards were streamed. Once Nigerians celebrated their musicians being nominated for an obscure category of Grammy awards, winning major categories is now the expectation. In the last edition, Burna Boy and Wizkid won prizes. Based on the current trajectory, they won’t be the last.
So how can Nigeria take advantage of this new power? We should start by learning from America. At the height of the Cold War, the US government unleashed the power of its cultural icons on the world stage in a global spectacle of public diplomacy. Cultural delegations were regularly led by famous names like Muhammed Alli, Louis Armstrong and Martin Luther King Jr., musicians were sponsored on tours, artists of all colors showed up in different parts of the world for exhibitions, lectures , performance, etc. sell the American way of life and gain allies for the country. The successes of these efforts remain evident to this day.
First, Nigeria should seek to put in place a national music strategy that is integrated with different elements of government, including foreign affairs, information and culture, youth development, education and finance. . With that in place, different programs to leverage our growing music currency locally and internationally can then follow.
One program that can be executed easily and quickly is the appointment of some of our global icons as cultural ambassadors. Right now, they represent the best of us in the eyes of the world and not only deserve to be recognized for their efforts, but also included in our efforts to rejuvenate the global image.
These nominations must follow detailed plans to bring them to the front page of national and international communication campaigns. There have been previous efforts for national branding, with campaigns led by politicians. One of them was the theme “Nigeria – Good people, Great Nation” which took place under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. None gained ground. A carefully planned advertising campaign, using our global music stars to tell the story of Nigeria as a multicultural nation of world-class talent, content creators and dynamic young people, should easily deliver the goods.
Such a campaign should be further supported by cultural visits, led by these new cultural ambassadors, to different parts of the world. This can be achieved by aligning these visits with their promotional tours, thus facilitating coordination and reducing costs. A Wizkid appearing and engaging thought leaders, influencers and young leaders, on behalf of Nigeria, in places like the UAE, Thailand and Brazil will stand a great chance of changing mindsets about Nigerians in general .
On the education and youth development front, many opportunities for mobilization abound. Nigeria is currently grappling with increasing instances of social ills among its young people including illicit drug use, online financial crimes and insecurity. Creatively deploying these stars to engage our young people on these issues to change mindsets and steer them towards more uplifting causes is one that relevant ministries should direct their energies to.
All told, with the growing profile of its young and dynamic musicians taking the world by storm, Nigeria has a unique opportunity. This is an opportunity that very few nations have. We must seize it and use it to regain some of our lost luster in the community of nations.
Adetayo is a communications manager and commentator on national and international affairs