ISSUE 02 | 2016
SA and Nigeria: an indispensable partnership
[The article below first appeared in the Sunday Independent newspaper. It is circulated among Colleagues given its relevance to the work we do as a Ministry and Department.]
The recent historic state visit to Nigeria presents a new opportunity to build strong relations between two of Africa’s leading countries.
Relations between our two countries have been described as a mix of rivalry, tension and cooperation, but it is tremendously important for the African Renaissance project that they be henceforth defined by cooperation.
Nigeria and South Africa are two of Sub-Saharan Africa’s leading powers, based on power resources typically regarded as potent in international relations theory, such as economic and military strength, and population size.
Economically, our two countries represent just over half of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP of $1.7 trillion. Militarily, we have both maintained large, experienced armies with the willingness and capability to intervene and deploy peacekeeping missions regionally and elsewhere on the continent, in Sierra Leone, Liberia, DRC, Burundi, Darfur and CAR, among other conflict zones. Diplomatically, we have both led mediation efforts in these and other countries, and are active participants within our regional economic communities.
Africa needs its two leading powers to pull in the same direction if Agenda 2063 is to be realized. Africa’s endemic problems are well known. These include low levels of intra-African trade, net export of capital through illicit financial flows, weak industrial competitiveness and stubborn levels of conflict and political instability.
Of course there are also externally imposed challenges such as anti-developmental politico- economic relations between Africa and the West, as well as unfair and unrepresentative global governance institutions. The political resources available to Africa to address these challenges are scarce. We maximize our chances of achieving breakthroughs and developmental momentum if our most influential powers are working in concert.
The era of Mbeki and Obasanjo, whose time in the highest office largely coincided, vividly demonstrated the catalytic potential of a close bilateral relationship. The two leaders, whose relationship dated back to the 1970s when Mbeki headed the ANC office in Lagos when Obasanjo was the country’s head of state, collaborated closely in articulating and popularizing the African Renaissance, the birth of the African Union, forming and winning support for NEPAD, and peace and stability issues broadly. The two countries both supported the Ezulwini Consensus on the reform of the UN Security Council.
Presidents Zuma and Buhari have shown great courage, vision and leadership in renewing this partnership. They recognize that for a relationship as strategic as ours, commitment must start at the top. Along with my fellow ministers and the accompanying business delegation, we met with our Nigerian counterparts and shared perspectives on issues, challenges and opportunities. We must build on the momentum created by this visit by following up on these. For example, whilst in Nigeria, I heard concerns that many legitimate Nigerian travellers find difficulty getting visas to travel to SA.
I will be directing the Department of Home Affairs to speed up the implementation of measures to ease travel to South Africa for bonafide Nigerian tourists, businesspeople and academics. This is in line with efforts underway at operational and policy levels, to ease movement to SA for African visitors.
Growing and diversifying trade between our two countries is an obvious opportunity. Our economies have traditionally been tied mainly to the West, a large market but a low-growth one. The disadvantages of this became especially evident since the 2008 global financial crisis. China has emerged as an important trading partner, but our exports to her have been heavily commodity-based.
Our home continent, by contrast, has strong growth prospects and is our biggest market for manufactures, which is critical for our country’s industrialization. Nigeria, with its large, growing population of 178 million avid consumers, and an annual average growth rate over the past decade of 7%, exemplifies this African growth potential. Ultimately, Africa is the future and the future is Africa!
I was baffled in 2014 when commentators framed the rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP as a negative for SA. If anything, the realization that Nigeria’s economy is bigger and more diverse than previously recognized only emphasizes the enormous potential of increased economic linkages between our two countries. We must combine our different and complementary economic strengths.
SA has benefitted enormously from Nigeria’s economy. It is well documented that South African companies are major players and investors in Nigeria, with upwards of 100 companies operating in a number of sectors including retail, telecommunications and media.
Our economic relationship with Nigeria is, and must be, mutually beneficial. Our imports from Nigeria have predominantly been confined to oil and gas. We must expand and diversify this, and actively assist Nigerian companies to trade and invest in various sectors of the South African economy. Our trade relationship cannot be one way, and SA should welcome and learn from Nigeria’s diverse crop of black industrialists, of whom Aliko Dangote, Hakeem Belo-Osagie and Tony Elumelu are only a few notable examples.
The fine handed to MTN by Nigerian regulators has received much public attention, particularly regarding whether it has implications for other South African companies operating in Nigeria. Our Nigerian counterparts assured us that South African business is welcome in Nigeria, as we assured them that Nigerian business is welcome in South Africa. One hopes that a resolution will be reached soon which is acceptable to all parties. Several lessons, nonetheless can be drawn.
Firstly, South African companies must be responsible corporate citizens and follow the rules in the countries in which they operate.
Secondly, South African companies abroad represent South Africa. Their conduct affects perceptions about South Africans, and our government should engage business proactively as a partner in promoting our nation positively.
Thirdly, we must value the importance of our diplomatic corps. The cost of maintaining our diplomatic infrastructure is easily and frequently criticized, but instances like the MTN fine demonstrate the opportunity costs that robust economic diplomacy aims to avoid. Our diplomats’ understanding of political dynamics in host countries is a national resource that our companies should make better use of.
Malusi Gigaba MP
Minister of Home Affairs