The Oasis Reporters
October 17, 2023
By Prof. MK Othman
The 39th President of the United States of America, Mr. Jimmy Carter, turned 99 on October 1st, 2023.
He is a reputable champion of low-income earners, minorities, and colored Americans. We, fervent admirers of Carter, have every reason to celebrate this global icon, a Nobel Peace Prize Laurette, an ardent lover of Africa, and a dependable friend of farmers in Nigeria, nay Africa.
In Nigeria, Jimmy Carter will forever be remembered for his glorious role in ushering the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) into the country 31 years ago. SAA was the conception of three eminent personalities from Asia crossing over the Pacific Ocean to the US.
The trio, President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa, and Dr. Norman Borlaug, foremost goodwill ambassadors, philanthropists, and pillars of support to the downtrodden, have left indelible marks in the hearts of African farmers.
The trio had the same mission and belief that poverty and hunger degrade human dignity, which they conceived the idea to eradicate.
President Jimmy Carter, a legendary peanut farmer, and an accomplished diplomat-extraordinaire, provided leadership and direction for the trio’s activities in the mid-1980s to see the light of the day. He leveraged his diplomatic clout to create a desirable environment for the success of the Sasakawa and Global 2000 projects in Africa.
It is to his eternal credit that 35 years after the entry of SAA in Africa, the results are stunning, as at the last count in 2022, millions of farmers directly benefited and acknowledged livelihood improvements due to SAA interventions.
Carter’s love and desire to give Africa a helping hand could be traced to the early 1980s when Ryoichi Sasakawa invited him and Dr. Norman Borlaug to salvage Africans from the scourge of hunger that ravaged and claimed thousands of lives on the African continent.
Mr. Sasakawa mooted and nurtured the idea when he saw the gory pictures of dehumanized victims of Africa caused by the famine of the early 1980s.
The drought of 1983-85 caused poor harvest of crops, resulting in widespread famine.
In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia was the worst affected by the famine.
According to the United Nations, the worst famine affected 7.75 million people, with the resultant deaths of 1.2 million people and 400,000 refugees who crossed over to other countries.
Mr. Sasakawa was the visionary founder of the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation (JSIF), which later became The Nippon Foundation (TNF), the financiers of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA).
The union of Carter Sasakawa and Borlaug was a famously golden handshake from Japan to America, which brought the trio together to initiate the biggest, most diverse, and sustainable intervention in developing African Agriculture.
That handshake produced the now perfect 3-man team of hunger eradication warriors with Mr. Sasakawa as the arrowhead. The men were great with enormous influence and network, and above all, unflinching determination to conquer hunger in Africa.
It was a flawless team that combined a tireless philanthropist, a famous scientist, and an accomplished diplomat.
These men came to Nigeria in 1992 and signed an MoU for Sasakawa Global 2000, which later became SAA, with the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of Nigerian farmers.
The MoU was to provide technical and financial support to smallholder farmers, who constitute over 90% of the farming population in Nigeria.
It is on record that Jimmy Carter, in the company of his co-travelers, facilitated by His Excellency, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, made historic visits to obscure villages and rural communities in Nigeria.
Some villages visited were Daudawa, a colonial farm settlement center in Katsina state, Saminaka community in Kaduna state, Kadawa village in Kano state, and several other African villages and communities.
The visits of their excellencies, Carter, Obasanjo, and distinguished philanthropist Sasakawa and the father of Green Revolution, Nobel Peace Laurette, Dr. Borlaug, were to see firsthand the impacts of their laudable interventions and identify areas of improvement.
From then, Carter came to Nigeria a few more times. In the last 30 years, Nigeria has become Africa’s largest beneficiary and most impactful country of SAA interventions.
Thanks to the partnership of Carter, Sasakawa, and Borlaug.
Unfortunately, Daudawa village, one of the areas visited, is today a hotbed of banditry and kidnapping that deny farmers access to their farmlands for which President Carter and others invested their time and energy.
The activities of bandits should be a daring challenge to the Nigerian to immediately solve.
Before the first SG 2000/SAA mission in 1992, in which President Carter and his co-travelers visited Nigeria, Carter was the first American President ever to make an official state visit to black African countries in 1978.
On March 31st, 1978, The then Nigerian Head of State, Lt Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, received President Carter at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, who arrived in Nigeria from Brazil on a three-day official visit.
The only other American President to pass through a black African country was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who landed at Roberts Field in Monrovia, Liberia, for a few hours en route home from the Cairo Conference in 1943 and did not pay an official visit.
The 1978 President Carter’s visit to Nigeria was primarily to chart a new course in American foreign policy toward black Africa and to end a decade of hostility between Nigeria and the United States.
Carter’s historic visit provided an opportunity for meeting with several vital African figures – Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, the leaders of the Rhodesian guerrilla forces, foreign ministers of Zambia and Botswana, and a senior Tanzanian diplomat.
The then America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, was in the entourage of President Carter and was quoted saying, “politically and economically, I figured Nigeria was the key to our Africa policy; we want to establish a bridge of trust with Nigeria.”
The visit cemented the foundation of dismantling the apartheid regime of South Africa in addition to boosting and consolidating the diplomatic and economic relationship between Nigeria and the USA.
After President Carter’s historic visit, a few more American presidents including Presidents George Bush Jnr, Bill Clinton have also visited Nigeria. President Barack Obama went to Ghana and other African countries during his tenure.
President Jimmy Carter’s contributions to development in Nigeria are extensive, from economy, diplomacy, and agriculture to health. In 1988, Nigeria invited The Carter Center for nationwide Guinea worm eradication program.
Subsequently, the Center established six health program centers.
Although Nigeria achieved significant successes against Guinea worm and trachoma, the country became the Carter Center’s most extensively neglected tropical disease (NTD) partner country in Africa.
Nigeria had the highest at-risk population for river blindness (onchocerciasis) in the world, the second highest for lymphatic filariasis (behind India), the highest for schistosomiasis, and the fourth highest for soil-transmitted helminths.
The Center operated in nine states: Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Nasarawa, and Plateau, and targeted four diseases there. The Center worked with the Federal Ministry of Health and state and local governments.
It supported tens of millions of mass drug administration (MDA) treatments yearly, along with health education and disease impact assessments. Space and time cannot allow me to discuss several other areas where President Jimmy Carter proved to be a tireless supporter, trusted friend, dependable loyalist, and unbreakable believer in Nigeria, nay Africa.
At this significant turning point and a remarkable milestone, we join Carter’s immediate and extended family across generations and globally, the American citizens, to share the joy of the moment with Carter Center, felicitate, and celebrate our icon at his millennium age of 99. Hearty Cheers to the Champion of the Downtrodden, President Jimmy Carter!
M. K. Othman, MNIAE, MNSE, MASABE is a Professor of Soil and Water Engineering, NAERLS, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.