Africa Watch

Africa needs a new start in SA/Nigerian relations

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A South African/Nigerian axis under the guidance of presidents Zuma and Buhari could help foster progress on many fronts in Africa, despite many challenges remaining.

This is the suggestion by Prof Khadiagala Khadiagala of Wits University in a thought-provoking article “Why Africa needs Buhari and Zuma to forge a strong alliance” in the latest Africa edition of The Conversation.

Buhari’s inauguration as Nigeria’s new president presents new opportunities for reinvigorating relations between Africa’s two biggest economies.

Rise and demise                                                         

Since the 1990s, the collective leadership of Nigeria and South Africa, he argues, “... has been vital in providing the foundations for African renewal, the creation of institutions on the continent and the mobilisation of African voices in the global arena”.

The hallmark of this leadership was demonstrated during the time of former presidents Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008) and Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007). Both played decisive roles and “were instrumental in crafting the current African security and development frameworks”.

These included the formation of the African Union (AU) in 2002, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

The reason why this duo could confidently dictate continental affairs was because they were elected by comfortable majorities at home and had solid control of their political parties, Khadiagala argues.

The Jonathan government, in contrast, collapsed partly because he lost control over the ruling People’s Democratic Party, while Nigeria was simultaneously descending into state failure, impacting on the West African region.

In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma must deal with a factious ANC and tension within the tripartite alliance. His own declining popularity and the on-going Nkandla scandal have effectively prevented him from playing a role in Africa similar to his predecessor.

Consequently the frameworks established during the Mbeki/Obasanjo era frayed and lost direction.

The AU remains underfunded, with little indication that the situation will improve, despite many undertakings. It remains dependent on donors, while members do not pay their membership fees.

Similarly, the flagship African Peer Review Mechanism program is short on money to conduct reviews to gauge adherence to good governance, while voluntary governments increasingly ignore the program and are showing less interest in participating.

Second attempt

Khadiagala is, however, of the opinion that it is not too late to return to the quest for African prosperity, security and dignity under a Buhari/Zuma leadership initiative.

President Buhari’s landslide electoral victory reinforces the consolidation of Nigeria’s credentials. The large election victory should also embolden him as he confronts the menace of Boko Haram and much-needed military reforms to restore Nigeria’s role as a force for stabilisation in West Africa.

President Zuma, according to Khadiagala, should seize the chance to reinvent himself as an African statesman, reaching out to Buhari in new initiatives to address the malaise facing African institutions.

In this regard he highlights certain issues he considers to be crucial:

  • They can provide optimal leadership when they work with other like-minded African countries in peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building initiatives;
  • The priority for both countries should be to return to the agenda of strengthening the security and economic capacities of bodies such as the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States, and the East African Community; and
  • Leading from the front in defending the sanctity of democratic values and practices in Africa.

In this regard Buhari and Zuma should step up to the plate to rescue the African Peer Review Mechanism from collapse, with pressure on all countries to sign up before the end of 2016.

How will Africa forge common governance values when half of AU member states are afraid to be reviewed by their peers, Khadiagala asks.

As part of fresh commitments to end impunity and enhance accountability and justice, Nigeria and South Africa need to marshal the authority to repair Africa’s relations with the International Criminal Court, after some serious setbacks in recent years.


Khadiagala’s optimism regarding a promising future for Africa and the role a close South Africa/Nigeria relationship can play is justified, as confirmed by the many positive verdicts during the recent World Economic Forum held in Cape Town. It should, however, be tempered by certain realities.

The following three examples give a glimpse of the enormity of the challenge:

  • The world is going through structurally lower economic growth, which means that also Africa will have to compete even more “vigorously and aggressively” to stake its place in the global economy;
  • Africa’s economic growth largely depends on exporting raw materials and most exporting countries are currently experiencing difficulties as a result of the decline in commodity prices. To remain dependent on exporting raw materials is risky if Africa wants to remain globally competitive in terms of attracting both foreign and domestic investment to reduce poverty and create jobs; and
  • Africa’s growth can no longer rely as much as it did on development aid, due to economic difficulties experienced by the US and Europe and competition from other regions for the same aid. Attention must shift to more private investment and the challenges in this regard are massive.

Reflecting on the World Economic Forum, Alec Hogg cautions: “The biggest reminder I’ll be taking home is the continent’s analysis paralysis. Everyone is fully aware of the challenges and their solutions. Trouble is, we Africans are first-class talkers but third-class executors. Whether it’s lack of political will, disinterest or just plain laziness, the steps just don’t get taken.”

A prominent Buhari/Zuma leadership initiative to move Africa forward also faces formidable challenges.

In the struggle for influence in Africa they are competitors and relations have in recent years deteriorated significantly. It will require much commitment and effort by both sides and it remains unclear and uncertain if both governments are willing and able to do what is necessary.

Both presidents also face daunting domestic challenges.

President Buhari’s immediate concern is finding a lasting solution to the threat of Boko Haram and the restructuring of the country’s military, which has not only shown much ill-discipline in that war but also stands accused of alleged abuses against civilians suspected of supporting Boko Haram.

His government is also under pressure to find a permanent answer to the country’s oil crisis. As Africa’s biggest oil exporter, Nigeria has to endure the humiliation of grinding to a standstill as result of an oil shortage. Its oil sector is in shambles.

The bulk of government’s revenues come from oil sales but there has been little oversight on how these are handled. It is estimated that US$20 billion in oil revenues went missing between 2012 and 2013.

In contrast, President Buhari’s South African counterpart is coming to the end of his presidency and is increasingly becoming a lame-duck president as a result of personal problems like the Nkandla affair, strife within the ruling alliance and dwindling ANC support, which will be properly tested in next year’s local elections.

The recent spate of xenophobic attacks further damaged South Africa’s image and status and might still prevent the country under President Zuma of playing, in tandem with Nigeria, a meaningful role on the continent, as envisioned by Prof Khadiagala.

by Garth Cilliers

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