Nigeria, South Africa and the Challenge of Our Generation

Nigeria, South Africa and the Challenge of Our Generation

Monday, November 30, 2015 10:51 pm


President Muhammadu-Buhari

President Muhammadu-Buhari


Osuolale Alalade

For some, South Africa has become the bogey state behind Nigeria’s every woe. The various hypotheses around this problematic concept of the rivalry over who bears the mantel of the chief of African minion states in the global system, Nigeria or South Africa, are based on the expectation that a credible challenger to Nigeria’s leadership role had emerged on the African landscape with the end of apartheid. Not that Nigeria ever enjoyed any semblance of unfettered leadership or hegemony in West Africa even in the now heady halcyon days of Apartheid. The dominant influence of France and its proxies such as Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal forestalled that prospect and claim. Admittedly though, the morality of the struggle against Apartheid put Nigeria on a special pedestal, enhanced by its capacity to fund campaigns and buoyed by the soaring national confidence in the after math of the triumph against France’s led machination to break up the potential hegemon in the sub-region. It is indeed true that the strategic landscape of Africa witnessed tectonic shifts with the end of Apartheid and the political liberation of such countries as Angola. Against this background, projections of behaviour of states in Africa, especially in relation to systemic engagements, can therefore not be based on the evaluations of just two units in an evolved complex mosaic of African states and their peculiar interests. These interests often reflected their status as proxies of more powerful neo-colonial metropolitan controllers, in particular Francophone Africa. Africa has thus become too complex for simplistic modelling and interpretations of the behaviour of its states. It is not unusual for realists to project behavioural expectations of the state on the basis on worst case scenario, since this theoretical tradition, with its unresolved internal illogicalities, is founded on the supremacy of the narrow interests of state in Hobbesian environment. But this is a false ahistorical and uni-dimensional discourse that flies in the face complexities of the African reality in the post Mandela world order. There is a problem with this thinking in the case of Nigeria and South Africa.

The nebulous and dichotomous perspective of implacable rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa has persisted in the face of contrary evidence. It is given that differences are normal in relations even between allies, as the description that most closely of captures the essences of relations between the two states. The agenda of South Africa and Nigeria converge in their Afrocentric postures. Accordingly, driven by agreements on the fundamentals of policy objectives, differential perceptions of facts and interpretation of the implications of preferred modalities in meeting specific challenges within the context broad agreements on policy objectives remain just that. Against this background, role attribution of South Africa as a conniving state against Nigeria’s economic and political interests smacks of profound ignorance of the nature, context and the historicity of the challenges facing this generation of Africa’s leaders and people. Above all, it is reductionist in its sheer lack of analytic sophistication of the challenges of black humanity. More unfortunate is that this false discourse is indeed a reflection of the gravity of the impact of the harrowing internal circumstances of Nigeria in the last four decades on the national psyche. Beyond that is also the constricted space for policy analysis in a country that long jettisoned robust and rational discourses as integral to policy formulation. This is thus a welcome opportunity to beam the searchlight on the broad evolution of South Africa’s foreign policy and tease out implications for the articulation of its African policy and in particular in relations with Nigeria.

South Africa’s foreign policy in the early post-Apartheid days was cautious, swinging between two polar ends- global institutionalism that was focused on more and more trade and an Afrocentric policy pole. The consolidation of two impulses, especially under the Thabo Mbeki presidency, heavily slanted South African policy towards the Afrocentric end of the pole. Liberties may be taken in citing Gerrit Olivier that Thabo Mbeki refused to accept Western political and cultural hegemony making strenuous efforts to mobilize the developing world, Africa in particular, to resist and reduce this hegemony by trying to reset the agenda, advocating more equity in world economic and trade policy, and advocating structural changes in the global financial structure. Gerrit Olivier again observes that whereas the apartheid regime identified South Africa intellectually, ideologically and strategically as a Western country, and followed a western centric foreign policy, post-Apartheid administrations generally have been guided by two tenets: pan Africanism and South-South solidarity. The key policy directive of South Africa is articulated as South Africa recognizes itself as an integral part of the African continent and therefore understands that its national interests as intrinsically linked to Africa’s stability, unity and prosperity. The implementation of these policy goals have been moderated by the limitations of the realities of Africa.

This Afrocentric slant however is seriously modulated by the realization that the necessary strategic transformation of post-Apartheid South Africa society, including economic empowerment of its long deprived masses, required jealously safeguarding the continued viability of the economy. That was only possible by maintaining the basic structure of its economic relations with the West and at the same diversifying these relations, especially in collaborating with China, both at the bilateral level and in the context of the BRICS. The main goal is to hedge against the hegemony of the West and liberate the space for autonomous political action. A second plank is South Africa’s strategic economic cooperation with pivotal African states such as Nigeria as an effort not just to link up trade relations, but begin the process of technology transfer. These all create what is called economic stickiness in a way that enables economic considerations to moderate a tendency toward political arbitrariness. With relatively inconsequential added value to raw produce in Nigeria, South Africa has been forced to accentuate wherever possible imports from Nigeria while Nigeria has benefitted from the transformed telecommunication industry led by South Africa’s MTN. Again, no major city in Nigeria or even in Ghana is complete without the South African brand Shoprite mall. These only work if the economy is buoyant and the purchasing power of consumer is strong. The end result today is that Brendan Vickers affirms that whereas no African country ranked among South Africa’s top ten import partners in 1994, Nigeria today occupies ninth position largely owning to imports of crude oil. In the same manner, two African countries-Mozambique and Zimbabwe-also feature among South Africa’s top ten export markets, especially for value- added products. Africa and the BRICS constitute the centrepiece of South Africa’s economic strategy. Finally, it is noteworthy that South Africa, not China, was the biggest emerging market investor in Africa between 2006 and 2008 with U$2.6 billion of average annual foreign direct investment (FDI) flows.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma .REUTERS

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma .REUTERS

In the context of its diversification policy, bilateral relations between South Africa and the United States have at best been unstable and testy. Reports indicate that U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship has been a diplomatic minefield. Controversies include everything from sale of military equipment and nuclear energy/weapons to oil, communication companies and the global north versus the global south. The sticking point of these problems has been South Africa’s trade relations with Iran. In October 2011, Sasol sat in front of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and were told of a risk that sanctions may be imposed on them by the U.S., the European Union and the UN as a result of its investments in Iran. Obama officially made his diplomatic threat on 31 December 2011 when he signed a law that may impose American penalties should a country not make “significant” reductions in Iranian crude oil purchases in the first half of this year. However, Washington, as an incentive, did offer countries assistance in locating alternative oil. This was offered to South Africa. South African Deputy Foreign Minister and member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Ebrahim Ebrahim told reporters that his country intended to follow the U.S. request. However, the Department of Energy later corrected his statement, saying that no decision had been taken, and that they will not decide whether to reduce Iranian oil imports until later. The essence of this report is simply that the United States often tightens the economic screw to promote its political interests. But this is always calibrated. Does Nigeria, especially under the Buhari administration that is on a rescue mission of a dilapidated state of Nigeria, pose such a threat to Obama America as to begin a clandestine campaign against buying Nigerian crude? It is plausible. But what is not plausible, and would require more than just a mere assertion, is the theory of connivance between South Africa and the United States to ruin Nigeria’s economy to advance the ascent of South Africa as the CHIEF Nigger state. That is a very profound and disturbing claim to make. It must be substantiated beyond conjectures. If the Nigerian economy is ruined, what happens to South African economic interests that are growing be the day in Nigeria? This conundrum, a variant of the chief nigger struggle between Nigeria and South Africa, has to be unravelled by those touting the chief nigger theory of bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa.

Meanwhile, this chief nigger theory of bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa is absolutely unfounded. This author just returned from a seminar in South Africa and was astounded, almost alarmed, by the depth of anger and suspicion against the United States. This was expressed by no other person than Thabo Mbeki publicly and echoed by all the major intellectuals in Johannesburg present at the seminar. This author was so surprised that he had to remind them that the challenge for Africa is to neutralize the first external power in Africa-French strangle hold- and in this Africa would need America!!!! While respecting the credentials of the discussants on this matter, the advocates of chief nigger theory got this one wrong. I think this flagrant error is a disservice to the common African agenda and the strenuous efforts of Africanists toiling to bridge the chasms of contrived misunderstandings pervading the continent. Yes, there are indeed South Africans intellectuals fancying South Africa’s leadership of Africa and I have seen a couple of articles in the South African Foreign Policy Review that allude to this, but the more discerning policy makers in that country are fully aware of the fickleness of the loyalties of Euro-America. Accordingly, they have clearly pitched their hope on China’s partnership as key to the eventual liberation of Africa.

In the hierarchy of impediments to Africa’s emancipation, France is clearly in the lead. The United States has its basic interests in weakening the stranglehold of France on the continent, while both France and America are sleepless over the incursions of China. China apprehensively looks back at India’s strides, its BRICS partner, in Africa. In all this, South Africa is lured by China. France is as determined in 2015 as in 1960 to consolidate its hegemonic stature in black Francophone Africa that makes it the foremost power in Africa. The United States is constantly probing all over the continent to build a credible leverage for action. In this miasma of interest articulation of external powers, Nigeria and South Africa have no choice than to build a formal alliance to wrestle the space for autonomous continental policy modulation from all these forces. I am always concerned about premising generalized chief nigger theory of bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa on episodic happenstances, especially when they are unproven. Africa should wean itself from this enervating discourse of a presumed rivalry. We must take deliberate initiatives to construct a narrative of common struggle premised on a common destiny of black humanity. The challenge of this generation is about launching the second phase of black humanity’s full emancipation beginning with geo-physical consolidation of the riling African space into one credible continental state space, capable of resisting the kind of divisive politics of external forces that only perpetuates our servitude. The decision of China to build a base in Djibouti epitomizes the challenges of continental leverage for autonomous action. Djibouti was a French outpost state, until the Americans came in, the Japanese came in and now the Chinese. Africa watches with a bemused smirk of helplessness.

In the hierarchy of impediments to Africa’s emancipation, France is clearly in the lead. The United States has its basic interests in weakening the stranglehold of France on the continent, while both France and America are sleepless over the incursions of China. China apprehensively looks back at India’s strides, its BRICS partner, in Africa. In all this, South Africa is lured by China. France is as determined in 2015 as in 1960 to consolidate its hegemonic stature in black Francophone Africa that makes it the foremost power in Africa. The United States is constantly probing all over the continent to build a credible leverage for action. In this miasma of interest articulation of external powers, Nigeria and South Africa have no choice than to build a formal alliance to wrestle the space for autonomous continental policy modulation from all these forces.

This political and economic context of the Chief Nigger hypothesis or problematic concept of the rivalry over who bears the mantel of the chief of African minion states in the global system raises serious questions. South Africa has its strengths while Nigeria has its own. Admittedly, the ruinous dispensations spanning the Olusegun Obasanjo up to Goodluck Jonathan presidencies somewhat left Nigeria gasping and prostrate. Yet, the challenge of Africa’s current generation is how Africa begins to first contain, and then neutralize the global loot machine operating in the continent. The cooptation of Africa by the External order has been relatively cost-free but with unlimited dividends for the aggressor. In another intervention by this writer, it had been noted that Africa is the best field in the world to gain optimal strategic dividend for the smallest investment. In Africa, the responses to the incursion of the external order span the formal and institutionalized subservience associated with most post-colonial francophone African states, benign complicity as in most Anglophone Africa states, through radical repudiation of the status quo expressed mainly through African liberation movements such as in Algeria in the 1960s, the African National Congress( ANC) of South Africa, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the Pan African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) of Amilcar Cabral. The range of responses from tepid or outright complicity and collaboration with the invader remains a fatal debilitating factor in entrenching Africa’s current situation in the world.

Fundamentally, the underpinnings of the African state and its systems are mortally flawed. Half a century into its fixations and non -evolutionary trajectory of socio-political stagnation, the African state and its inter-state system are in crisis. The crisis is reflected in the permanence of an industry like web of external interventions by state and non-state actors alike devoted to Africa across the total spectrum of human affairs. These interventions range from security, economic, political to humanitarian spheres. The fatal deficiencies of the African state and its state system have spawned the emergence of a global ostensible “do Africa good humanitarian syndrome”. This syndrome obfuscates and rationalizes the real strategic objectives of the global loot machine operating in the continent involved in the extraction of value. The “do Africa good syndrome” of NGOs is a potent complementary instrument of the penetration of a fragmented and fractious Africa for the necessary extractive operations of external operators of the loot machine. It is quintessentially an expression of the soft face of an essentially harsh system that provides succour for the worst victims of the global loot machine at work in all of Africa. Africa’s tenacious fixation with the retention of the fictive inviolability of the many putative sovereignties of its mainly inadequate states is a historic fallacy. This is even more so in an evolutionary climate with a continuing re-evaluation of the continued salience of state sovereignty in the affairs of humankind by more advanced communities. Finally, the dearth of depth of the African state and its states system eliminates it as a full participant even in the international liberal environment run on the basis of the soft protocols that protect the principle of equal rights of states with equal opportunities for all. Though like individuals, in liberal climes statuses and roles of states are to be attained, the force of the current disposition of Africa has ascribed to it a marginal role in the international system. Transcending these debilitating realities of Africa is the real challenge of the current generation of not only Africa, but black humanity as a singular whole. Nigeria’s and South Africa’s role lies in this historic collective engagement. Let us dispense with this dehumanizing quest of who shall be the chief nigger state.

Osuolale Alalade is an author and diplomat


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One Comment

  • Mike says:

    Good writing man

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