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Co-operation, not hostility, will help Africa thrive

Opinion
South Africa and Nigeria have not been dealing with each other with the demeanour befitting their significance as leading players on the continent, writes Victor Kgomoeswana

Johannesburg - At last diplomatic relations between Nigeria and South Africa are showing signs of maturity. This is long overdue and paves the way for stronger intra-Africa collaboration.

Hearing the joint commitment from Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and his South African counterpart, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to not let the recent Afrophobic attacks dent relations between the two countries was heartening.

The presence of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba further buttressed the prognosis for what has at best been an unduly stand-offish relationship between Abuja and Pretoria.

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South Africa's International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane shares a lighter moment with Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and (retired) Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Dambazau (in grey suit) after a press briefing in Pretoria. PHOTO: ANA

Why would improved relations between the two countries have implications for the entire Africa? Be it in a church or in the corridors of the UN, progress thrives when the powerful co-operate instead of throttling each other.

Whether it is a case of inmates trying to escape from jail or families attempting to build a lasting legacy, the only formula that works is for the senior members to be civil towards one another.

How much more does this hold good for a continent that is battling to foster optimal intra-Africa trade against the age-old remnants of colonial divisions.

Africa needs to appreciate that the reason cartels rule the world economy is collaboration, not sabre-rattling by the biggest boys in the cell.

The last time the super powers of the world tried dominating the globe, we had the Cold War, which led nowhere. That is why President Donald Trump is having to be congenial towards his Russian equivalent, Vladimir Putin.

Nigeria-South Africa relations have been characterised by incidents of negativity and, in each case, both sides have not demonstrated the public relations maturity required to reassure investors and ordinary citizens of their diplomatic commitment to collaboration.

Since the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on trumped up charges in November 1995 - a diplomatic snub of former South African president Nelson Mandela - by General Sani Abacha to the recent spat involving MTN over its failure to register SIM cards, Africa’s giant economies have always craved better ways to work together.

Whenever anti-immigration marches or Afrophobic attacks have happened in South Africa, we have done no better than explain the anger of those South Africans who blame their joblessness or failed small businesses on foreigners; or, even worse, simply stating that “We are not a xenophobic country”.

However, the actions of fellow South Africans torching foreigners alive or dragging them behind a cruising police van speak more stridently than our bland reassurances.

At least in public, South Africa and Nigeria have not been dealing with each other with the demeanour befitting their significance as leading players on the continent.

Our bilateral trade had already exceeded 1.3 trillion naira (R59 billion) by mid-2016.

Instead of working together, as respective leaders of our regional economic blocs in the south and the west, South Africa and Nigeria have been rather inconsistent.

It is regrettable that on the surface the relations seem strained, although beneath the surface there are lots of constructive engagement taking place. Since 1999 we have been conducting our business under the Bi-National Commission and have since signed 34 bilateral agreements, a double taxation agreement and so on.

But even as these agreements were being finalised, MTN was fighting off more than just a fine for unregistered SIM cards; it was fending off retaliatory attacks on some of its Nigerian offices.

SAnews.org says there are “120 South African companies doing business in Nigeria in various sectors, including telecommunications, aviation, tourism, banking, property, retail, entertainment and the fast food industry”.

Considering how many Nigerians are in South Africa, one would expect that there would never be instances of Nigerians battling to secure visas - especially when they need to travel here on business.

That is a sign of good policy intentions, but there is an absence of trust or commitment at operational level to effect what is on paper.

My trust is that there will be concrete follow-up to this round of our minister’s conciliatory posture - adding our combined weight to Africa’s much-needed unity.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs and a weekly columnist for African Independent. Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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