By Frank Garriba in Abuja, Nigeria
With an estimated $524 billion dollars GDP, South Africa is Africa’s largest economy. That is a fact. With more than 170 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous state, another fact. With a $377 billion GDP, Nigeria’s economy is smaller than that of South Africa but might catch up and even over take their South African counterparts in the years ahead. So, if for any reason these two giants are at loggerheads, Africa loses as a result.
South African President Jacob Zuma paid a one-day visit to Nigeria on April 16 to smoothen the strained relationship between both countries. Nigeria was not happy when South Africa unilaterally dispatched troops to the troubled Central African Republic to prop the government of now deposed president Francois Bozize. Nigeria also had an issue with the treatment of its nationals in South Africa.
The slow economic growth in South Africa and Nigeria as well as other parts of the continent could be in jeopardy if an unexpected resurgence of conflicts in places like Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, CAR, for instance, was not quickly contained.
It is therefore necessary that there are no arrears of friction between both countries so that they could also speak with one voice to resolve some of the problems that just keep popping up like a bad cough during the dry season across the African continent.
“It’s a complicated relationship, (between Nigeria and South Africa) marked by both co-operation and competition,” Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, told a local South African newspaper.
At the heart of the disagreement between both countries is the refusal by South Africa’s immigration department to grant entry visas to Nigerians who did not have yellow fever vaccination certificates.
South African authorities later backed down following protests from their Nigerian counterparts but like squabbling siblings, non of them will forget quickly that they had a row.
The sibling who thinks he was unnecessary injured, sulks and in the world of diplomacy, this could cause problems. Both countries could just start looking at African issues they should have been involved in resolving in from completely different angles.
Some Nigerians still think South Africa has not acknowledged the vital role Nigeria played in dismantling apartheid. There have been numerous reports of the ill treatment of Nigerians in South Africa.
Granted that some of the issues arise from Nigerians without regular Visa’s, some Nigerians still hold that their South African counterparts need to turn a blind eye to some of these issues.
The issue of Nigerians involved in criminal activities in South Africa is entirely different though. The Nigerian government does not condone crime in any shape or form and will obviously support any action geared at punishment their nationals involved in crime whether it is in South Africa or anywhere else around the world.
President Jonathan supported Mr Zuma’s successful but divisive campaign last year to get his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, elected as chairwoman of the African Union Commission. That was a sign that even when they fight, they can still take time to take common decisions
A presidential visit like the one Jacob Zuma paid in early April to Nigeria helps to cement bilateral relations between the two countries. President Goodluck Jonathan will pay a return visit to South Africa next Month.
Some critics believe that Messrs Zuma and Jonathan are less effective in international diplomacy as was the case with some of their predecessors. This has been mainly due to the fact that they do not cooperate as they should be doing in their positions of
“There is a sad decline of Nigerian foreign policy,” Dr Adebajo, a civilian society activist in South Africa, said. “Goodluck Jonathan doesn’t have a good grasp of foreign policy and the most dramatic example has been Mali, where France intervened and Nigeria quietly applauded in the background,” he added.
Previous Nigerian leaders, many of them military, regarded their country as being in competition in Africa with France. They would have wanted a central place in attempts to counter Islamic terrorists in Mali in their Sahelian backyard.
Similar suspicions about France’s involvement in the CAR appear to have been one motive for Mr Zeugma hugely criticised military foray into one of Africa’s least strategic countries. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in the CAR recently.
South Africa reportedly did the Nigerian government a favour when the South Gauteng High Court sentenced Nigerian national and South African resident, Henry Okah, to 24 years in prison for ordering bombings in his Nigeria in 2010 in which nine people were killed.
It was the first time a foreign national was prosecuted under the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act, which gives courts in South Africa jurisdiction to hear terrorism related crimes committed abroad.
The African Union (formerly OAU) is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary celebrations since its creation. Nigeria and South Africa have been close buddies during that time but there have been disagreements between both countries.
There are hopes the two giants of Africa will cooperate more in the next 50 years instead of always squabbling like children of the same father, with different mothers.