Finally, Pretoria and Abuja have renewed their diplomatic relations with the much-anticipated State visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa. This crucial visit has somehow eased up tensions between Africa’s big powers following weeks of sheer lawlessness in the streets of Johannesburg when mobs attacked foreign nationals and their shops.
In his weekly letter, President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote: “President Buhari and I both firmly believe that the prosperity and stability of our two nations, and all other countries on the continent, requires that South Africa and Nigeria have strong relations at an economic, trade, social, political, diplomatic and people-to-people level.”
Africa benefits tremendously whenever Pretoria and Abuja interests converge. Similarly, Africa will lose when these nations’ interests diverge - as it is the case right now.
South Africa has a very small market with 58 million people. This therefore means that for the economy to grow and be able to absorb high levels of unemployment at home, it must invest in Africa. With the largest market in Africa, Nigeria is an important player.
As it stands, South Africa’s 100 companies including MTN rely on the Nigerian market. Co-operation between these economies reached the R50billion landmark last year.
There is huge potential for both countries to have win-win trade relations which will ease tensions and strengthen the newly launched African Continental Free Trade Agreement. To do so, Nigeria should diversify its economy to competitively operate in South Africa’s advanced market, especially in the financial sector.
Pretoria and Abuja should work together to strengthen peace and security in Africa. This requires better co-ordination of efforts in advancing the African agenda. The starting point would be strengthening the African Union’s (AU) ability to finance its own peace efforts on the continent.
In the past, both countries contributed immensely to Africa’s quest for peace. Nigeria played a large part in the peaceful resolution of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean conflicts. South Africa, on the other hand, played a huge role in the DRC and Burundi.
South Africa should co-ordinate with Nigeria and other African countries in ensuring that the UN contributes meaningfully in Africa’s peace and security efforts. More importantly, Pretoria and Abuja should demand for speedy reforms of the UN, especially the UN Security Council (UNSC).
It is important for Pretoria to support Nigeria’s efforts to join these critical institutions such as BRICS and G20.
Nigeria should work hard to re-brand the country in the world. The perception of Nigeria as a country associated with corruption and drugs must change. Similarly, South Africa cannot afford the growing perception of corruption and xenophobia.
Although there are numerous challenges in South Africa and Nigeria’s diplomatic relations marred by the recent events, people-to-people relations appear to be stronger than their respective governments. The influence of both South African and Nigerian cultures among the youth is large.
This is particularly true in music, film and food. It appears that people-to-people strong bonds will withstand current challenges between the two countries.
It is important to realise that when South Africa and Nigeria work together it strengthens Africa’s integration agenda. Equally important, tensions between Pretoria and Abuja will derail efforts to unify the African market and silence the guns by 2020.
The two should take heed in the African proverb: “When two brothers fight to death, a stranger inherits their property.”
* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.