Nicodemus Minde says Steve Itugbu’s book is an excellent contribution to the FPA scholarship and especially in understanding the challenges of personalization of foreign policy in Africa.

Having worked as media and foreign policy aide to Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, Steve Itugbu analyzes the centrality of personality in Nigeria’s foreign policy. Drawing from official documents, interviews and unpublished documents during the tenure of president Obasanjo, the book contextualizes Graham Allison’s foreign policy decision-making framework in explaining president Obasanjo’s response to the crisis in Darfur.

This book contributes to the foreign policy analysis (FPA) scholarship which has previously been discussed exclusively in the Western purview. The dominance of FPA scholarship in the Conceptual West has in the recent past been challenged. For example, Klaus Brummer and Valerie Hudson (editors) have published an edited book Foreign Policy Analysis Beyond North America, which discusses among other things, the primacy of humans in foreign policy decision making, the ethnocentrism’s effects of FPA scholarship and the need for FPA theory to move beyond the North American enterprise. As such, Steve Itugbu’s book contributes to the literature gap in African FPA.

The central thesis of the book is a contextual analysis of Allisson’s decision-making models to African realities and specifically African Union (AU) response to the Darfur crisis (p.4). FPA as a discipline is characterized by an actor-specific grounding. The book analyzes Nigeria’s foreign policy decision making by examining the personality of Olusegun Obasanjo. With his background as a military ruler and his transition to democratic civilian rule, Obasanjo’s life according to the author, explains his cognitive consistency (p.16). Nigeria’s foreign policy is motivated by the Afrocentrism which places the country at the forefront of African matters. The Afrocentric theme in Nigeria’s foreign policy meant that it prioritized African interests above her national interests. Other than the Afrocentric principle in Nigeria’s foreign policy, the book also highlights the personalization of Nigeria’s foreign policy making (p.21). The book traces president Obasanjo’s international commitments to peace, security and development after he became president in 1999.

In investigating Obasanjo and Darfur, the book looks at Nigeria’s key foreign policy features under president Obasanjo which are Afrocentrism, personalization of decision-making and irrational decisions. The book examines Afrocentrism as a pillar in African countries foreign policies from the 1960s and how it also shaped Nigeria’s foreign policy. Obasanjo was a significant proponent of Afrocentrism which also shaped the continent’s call for unity. Pursuant to the Afrocentric principle, one of president Obasanjo’s foreign policy objective was to lobby for Nigeria’s membership to the proposed expansion of the UN Security Council (p.85). Personalization of foreign policy was another feature in decision making under president Obasanjo. The book argues that much of Obasanjo’s successes were not driven by pragmatic collectivism but by explicit personalization (p.100). Evidence of personalization of foreign policy decisions by president Obasanjo are well brought out by the authors’ analysis of interviews.

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The book critiques the effects of personalization of foreign policy decisions arguing that “…Nigeria’s foreign policy structure is severely impeded and faces challenges from personalization” (p.188). In the interviews, various international relations experts and practitioners give proposals to the challenge of personalization of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Some of the proposals include a citizen-led diplomacy, professionalizing foreign policy and making Nigeria’s foreign policy a reflection of domestic aspiration.

Steve Itugbu manages to critically analyze Nigeria’s foreign policy and leadership and the presidency of Obasanjo. The book offers an interesting alternative to the study of FPA by examining an African case study to foreign policy decision making. While many foreign policy analyses have tended to focus on the Conceptual West, Itugbu’s book offers an interesting alternative. Past FPA scholarship has analyzed foreign policy decision making such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (Graham Allison, 1971) and the Persian Gulf War (Steve Yetiv, 2011), Itugbu’s book will contribute to the literature of foreign policy decision making in Africa.

The book also offers a retrospection of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Despite its focus on president Obasanjo’s foreign policy successes and failures, the interview analyses point to the challenges that have faced and continue to face the structuring of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The personalization of foreign policy in Nigeria has made the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dysfunctional. This is a reflection of foreign policy management in many African countries.

Another strength of Itugbu’s book is the discussion around democratizing foreign policy. He contends that absence of a collegial setting and management in Nigeria’s foreign policy has construed the presence of pressure groups who can articulate diverse and differing views on the conduct of foreign policy. Obasanjo’s foreign policy, just like in many African states was characterized by arbitrary autocratic decisions. Democratizing foreign policy means pluralism in the decision-making process by including institutions such as parliament.

The book, despite its focus on president Obasanjo and Nigeria, can be used to explain African foreign policies especially on the challenge of personalization of foreign policy. The book draws our attention to the need for a restructuring of African foreign policies away from the individual nature of institutionalized foreign policy decision making.

Steve Itugbu’s book is an excellent contribution to the FPA scholarship and especially in understanding the challenges of personalization of foreign policy in Africa.


Nicodemus Minde (@decolanga) is a PhD student in International Relations at the United States International University – Africa (USIU- Africa)


The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog, the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa or the London School of Economics and Political Science.