Effective statecraft: Balancing meritocracy and partisanship
Constitutional historians, lawyers and scholars differ on what constitutes statecraft. This paper advances a thesis: in foreign and domestic affairs, the juxtaposition of vision, responsible leadership, proper strategic planning, sound policy development, coordination and execution, via the optimal combination of talents, including governance mechanics, fall within the realms of statecraft.
Whether its delivery model is exclusively via the public sector or under the auspices of public private partnerships, the overarching objective of statecraft is to secure a competitive advantage for a nation and its people. In that sense, competitive edge fundamentally entails consistently securing better socio-economic outcomes, safeguarding optimal strategic interests, security and well-being of the people and the nation.
Inferentially, it follows that economic statecraft entails pecuniary instruments nations deploy including loans, sovereign debt cancellations, overseas assistance, sanctions, bilateral and multilateral compacts to advance foreign policy objectives. In the defence province, that logical coherence applies via the policy instruments countries use to project their strategic defence priorities. For instance, possessing a nuclear deterrence capability, strategic ambiguity on the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles, aero-spatial, human, robotic and terrestrial intelligence gathering; intelligence sharing with allies; hypothecated budgetary allocations on defence etc. And yes, statecraft could be used for positive or negative objectives so long as it fits with the strategic aims of each country.
For Margaret Thatcher (Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World 2002), effective statecraft meant the deployment of power in advancement of UK’s geostrategic interests, without compromising democratic norms and the rule of law. That was a sticky balancing act, which the Iron Lady was not always able to achieve on the domestic front in her premiership (1979-1990). Partly owing to perennial labour union skirmishes, privatisation reforms and the resistance to it, IRA campaigns for a united Ireland, plus an underperforming UK manufacturing base. In her decade in power, the UK’s manufacturing output dropped 9% whilst Japan’s rose 50%; United States’ rose 17% and France’s gained 21%.
A characterisation of her modus operandi is muscular statecraft. Her foreign policy affords pertinent examples. UK’s victory over Argentina in the 1982 Falklands “Islas Malvinas” campaign, supplanting the Cold War with Western allies and securing beneficial deals with the European Union; with reductions in budget contributions to the latter are notable.
The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson’s (in office 1913 -1921) seminal 14-point plan to Congress on January 8, 1918, is a seminal exemplification of statecraft.
The latter outlined a coherent strategy for ending WWI (1914 -1918), which pitched Allied Powers (France, UK, USA, Russia etc.) against the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire et al), and the mechanism for its execution.
It included open diplomacy, freedom of navigation outside domestic territorial waters, equality of international trade and national armaments reduction. Plus, the adjustment of all colonial claims, cross European territorial adjustments, and robust proposals for the establishment of an assembly of nation states aimed at providing corresponding obligations on political freedoms and sovereign integrity to nations irrespective of size and clout.
The latter proposal resulted in the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920), which ultimately birthed the League of Nations, whose sole aim was world peace, on January 10, 1920. The League’s inability to fulfil its primary objective, of securing world peace, created the perfect condition for its supplantation by the United Nations; established post WWII (1939-1945) on April 25, 1945. The material point is that effective foreign policy statecraft, which underpinned the Wilsonian goals created the conditions for peace after WWII, the creation of the League of Nations, and eventually the United Nations. Statecraft is demonstrable with varying degrees of success in foreign and domestic affairs by governments across the world.
Likewise, the privatisation of telecoms in Nigeria under the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration (1999-2007) demonstrates the positive outcome of economic statecraft. That singular policy completely transformed the ICT landscape, catalysed entrepreneurial capacity and innovation whilst seeking to facilitate the growth of other critical economic sectors notably agriculture, education, energy, healthcare and manufacturing. Between Q4 2020 and Q4 2021, the sector’s contribution to GDP rose by approximately 5.3% from N2.463 trillion (USD 5.3 billion) to N2.563 trillion (USD 5.5 billion). Today, the country is Africa’s largest ICT hub attracting 82% of the continent’s subscribers and 29% of Internet usage. As at Q4 2022, according to the NBS, active voice subscribers were 222, 571, 568 up from 195,463, 898 in Q4 2021, an increased growth rate of 13.78%.
Conceptual clarity on statecraft thus established, what, then, invokes its effectiveness? Is it exclusively a function of political leadership or strategic leadership? How does meritocracy play out in statecraft within progressive societies? Should meritocracy trounce partisanship in progressive democratic statecraft? Should it be the converse? In what direction should the balance of meritocracy and partisanship tilt? For what higher purposive intent?
As the opening paragraph outlines, effective statecraft defies absolutism and is neither a one-track pony. Rather, it is a combination of policies, executed by the folks with the intellectual firepower, political nous, emotional intelligence, and the capacity to connect with ordinary people steered by the right visionary leadership that’s geared towards a predetermined objective. It is in that sense, a function of strategic leadership of which political leadership is but an important subset. Simplified, a strategy, goal or purposive intent precedes leadership of any kind and statecraft is no outlier in this particular context.
Given its natural meaning in this article, meritocracy objectively connotes excellence, superior quality, sophisticated thinking, fitness for purpose, evidence of successful policy development and execution. It encompasses proven delivery capacity, successful performance – the inescapable results of application, effort and skill.
Here, the barrister and conservative thinker Keith Joseph (1918 – 1994) springs to mind. Having previously served under four British Prime Ministers (Harold McMillan, Douglas Home, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher), he is credited with laying the intellectual foundations of Thatcherism’s economic statecraft evinced by radical neoliberal market reforms. The long serving Harvard economics Professor, US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) is in that noble pantheon of formidable thought leaders.
Galbraith’s tour de force, The Affluent Society (1958), sparked a lingering debate on the market power of large corporations in the United States and its constraining influence on consumer sovereignty. He presciently opines that “whether the problem be that of a burgeoning population and of space in which to live with peace and grace, or whether it be the depletion of the materials which nature has stocked in the earth’s crust and which have been drawn upon more heavily in this century than in all previous time together, or whether it be that of occupying minds no longer committed to the stockpiling of consumer goods, the basic demand on America will be on its resources of intelligence and education.”
Transformative meritocracy was equally evident in Nigeria’s post- independence statecraft with the heroic policy development contributions of Oxford, Cambridge and Yale University educated intellectuals at the Cabinet Office, then in Lagos. And, the country’s de facto policy think-tank. Sublime administrators and permanent secretaries of that era include Messrs C.O. Lawson, Allison Akene Ayida, Phillip Asiodu, Yusuf Gobir, Olu Falae, Umaru Sanda Ndayako (later Emir of Bida), Emmanuel Eniolorunda Ojumu, Patrick Dele Cole; Meshack Otokiti Feyide, Ibrahim Damcida, M.T. Usman amongst other greats.
Effective statecraft therein yielded positive outcomes with the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and, importantly, successful national reconciliation via execution of the “no victor, no vanquished” policy in the aftermath of the Nigeria vs Biafra civil war (1967-70). The latter claimed over two million lives (Stevenson, John A., Capitol Gains, 2014).
It is therefore political naïveté to assume that partisanship has no role. It plainly does and rightly too on three key grounds. First, meritocracy and partisanship are not inescapably mutually exclusive elements of sound statecraft. They can and often do co-exist in different degrees hence the utilisation of “special advisers” who advise political leaders wearing their political hats.
Second, merit-based appointees evince and or should evince ideological neutrality in policy formulation and execution. Their focus is bringing clarity of thought, evidence, objectivity and reason to statecraft, to accomplish the manifesto commitments and policy imperatives of the democratically elected government of the day. And third, partisan appointees have a direct connection with the electorate and can feel their beating hearts. They provide anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of policy execution and, by extension, the effectiveness of statecraft.
Hence, partisanship is reflected in certain appointments in the executive arm of government and cabinet. Of course, the very representation of parliamentary members – in the legislative arm of government- is underpinned by partisanship via direct elections. And the balance of appointees should not be skewed towards partisan appointees because that only undermines the quality and integrity of policy advice put to political leaders. That would be patently perverse and upend smart statecraft.
Closing, meritocracy and partisanship in statecraft does not constitute a zero-sum game. The key is fitness for purpose, co-existence, with the right mix of expertise and skillsets emanating from different quarters for optimum service delivery and to meet strategic intentions of the democratically elected government of the day in furtherance of geo-national interests. A point that’s well captured by the Indian billionaire entrepreneur N.R. Narayan Murthy: “you need to mesh the voices of the people with expertise and meritocracy.”
Ojumu is the Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners and strategy consultants in Lagos, Nigeria.