The two continental giants of Africa, South Africa and Nigeria, have a complex relationship that is often misunderstood, leading some in public discourse to conclude that the relationship is chaotic, unruly, and riddled with hostility.
Much has been written about the perceived or imagined rivalry, competition and the pursuit of the hegemony of the continent by South Africa and Nigeria, and even less about their successes, cordiality and milestones over the years. Even less available work focuses on the socio-economic divisions between Nigeria and South Africa to project and encourage competition.
Formal diplomatic relations between South Africa and Nigeria were resumed in 1994 at the beginning of the new democracy in South Africa. The two countries have always fostered warm, fraternal relations that go back to the early days of the South African struggle for freedom and liberation, a dark time in which Nigeria stood by South Africa.
Inspired by their strong historical ties, the two countries founded the Bi-National Commission (BNC) of Nigeria-South Africa in 1999. Originally, the BNC was designed at the Vice President / Vice President level as a mechanism to manage their diplomatic relations. . It was only in 2016 that the two countries elevated the status of this mechanism to head of state. Since then, the mechanism has operated at the highest level between two nations that have diplomatic relations, and this alone indicates the strong ties and bonds that exist between the two countries and their people
There is no doubt that the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria is one of the most important on the continent because of its enormous economics, rich influence and striking stature. In his book The eagle and the springbok Professor Adebayo Adideji confirms the idea of two powerful states by stating: “The success of political and economic integration in Africa rests heavily on the shoulders of these two regional powers, those in a complex relationship, Africa’s most indispensable.”
To this day, that narrative has remained strong and, disappointingly, has produced a narrow-minded and short-sighted picture of the two countries and their mutual perspective. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that two or more nations that have relationships of any kind will always face challenges. These relationships will become impoverished if they are understood in the context of the narrow boundaries of their divergences rather than their shared history, aspirations, and global influence. It is important to change the existing narrative and focus on what challenges the two countries to share a common destiny, rather than what can potentially destroy the core of their relationship.
There is therefore an urgent need in the public discourse to overcome the lack of substantive theoretical framework conditions in the definition of the relations between South Africa and Nigeria and to contextualize them in the context of their intended goals. In this way, understanding the relationships within this framework will fill the existing gap in the inadequacy of the research that is being carried out to achieve greater social and economic value when the solidarity between South Africa and Nigeria for a concrete, stronger and revitalized economic one and social collaboration is used.
The Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan (NDP) states in Chapter 7: “The shift in global power towards developing countries offers South Africa the opportunity to maximize its regional and international influence over the next 20 to 30 years”. The other major strategic intentions of the two countries include their shared desire to advance and advance the AU 2063 Agenda. Promoting this agenda is vital to continental development – and the two countries are vital in this process.
South Africa’s international relations are guided by promoting the well-being and uplifting its people, protecting the planet for future generations, and ensuring the prosperity of the country, region and Africa. In order to achieve these goals, a critical and pragmatic assessment of the existing international relations and a disentangling of the “spaghetti bowl” of overlapping regional affiliations and obligations is necessary (NDP 2011: 217). It is in this context and in the pursuit of national interests that South Africa’s approach to cooperation with Nigeria must be understood.
As Africa’s growth expands the continent’s economy, that growth gives the continent a greater voice in global and economic institutions. To this end, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, remains a strategically important country for South Africa due to its large economy, population, power and influence on the continent. As such, this represents an opportunity for South Africa to take advantage of the opportunities available in Nigeria.
Nigeria and South Africa account for about a third of Africa’s economic power, with each accounting for 60-70% of the economies in their sub-regions (South Africa and West Africa, respectively). Both countries are former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth of Nations and the African Union. According to a 2013 survey by BBC World Service, 63% of Nigerians see the influence of South Africa as positive and 24% as negative. Still, it remains strategic for South Africa to maintain a strong presence in Nigeria due to its fast growing economy, the highest GNP on the continent and the third largest manufacturing sector. Nigeria also has the largest agricultural production and the highest numbers of cattle, but requires a partnership in agricultural research, which South Africa can provide through bilateral engagements.
According to US News and World Reports In the 2019 power ranking, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria are the three most powerful countries in Africa. Since the transition to democracy in different times in South Africa and Nigeria, they have been economic allies and are also seen as competitors. The leading South African investors in Nigeria are MTN Group, Remgro, Shoprite, Pick n Pay Holdings, Black Rhino, Pep, Standard Bank Group, Clover Industries and Naspers. Between 2008 and 2020, six Nigerian companies invested a total of 2.67 billion rand in South Africa. Dangote and GZI are the most significant, accounting for 95% of all foreign direct investment from Nigeria to South Africa.
Despite their steady economic growth, which may be well below their potential, South Africa and Nigeria remain central states in the continental firmament. According to Brand South Africa, total African GDP / economic output was $ 2,175 billion in 2017/18. South Africa’s production was US $ 295 billion and Nigeria’s US $ 405 billion.
Nigeria is a member of several international, regional and subregional organizations, including the United Nations (UN) and several of its specialized and related organizations: the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union (AU), the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Maritime Organization. In West Africa, Nigeria occupies a strong position as a member and host country in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). Ecowas strives to harmonize trade and investment practices for its West African member countries and ultimately achieve a full customs union. The West African country has also consistently committed itself to securing peace in the region.
On the other hand, South Africa is a member of SADC and remains one of the most influential member states in the regional association. Since resuming membership in August 1994, South Africa has taken a leading role in the region in addressing issues such as development and economic integration. Projections of the global power capacities of the SADC countries with the forecasting tool International Futures show that Angola will be the only country that approaches South Africa by 2040, but that the latter will have even more power potential. The only other country in SADC that will come close to these two heavyweights is Tanzania, largely because of its rapid population growth.
With the two countries wielding so much power and influence in the region and around the world, their relationship is gaining in importance, especially to fuel industrialization on the continent. It is therefore vital that their relationships are seen not just in the context of competition, but rather of a collaboration that benefits the entire continent. DM
Bobby J Moroe
Dr. Bobby J Moroe is the Deputy High Commissioner of South Africa in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has a PhD in political science.