Nigeria/South Africa: The Rise of Bolekaja Diplomatists

Nigeria/South Africa: The Rise of Bolekaja Diplomatists

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 5:28 pm

Ademola Araoye

By Ademola Araoye

Nothing illustrates the nadir to which the feeble culture of our national discourse across all facets of human endeavor has sunk than the cacophony of populist and nationalist jingoisms that are being spewed in the name of policy recommendations to the Federal government over the latest attack on Nigerians by South African mobs in Pretoria and its environs. The lack of any robust interrogation, whether sound intellectual or even commonsensical, outside the now familiar diatribe that the slightest provocation or perceived offence between Pretoria and Abuja generates is revealing of the absolute denudation of a national culture of scholarly and rational engagement on matters of grave national import and policy concerns. Granted the need for cathartic outlets of a nation that perceives itself aggrieved, the public bravura and chest beating of individuals and institutions have puffed more smoke to our continuing struggle to comprehend this problematic phenomenon.

In fact, in instances, those with the formal institutional mandate to throw light on these issues have by the peculiarities of their interventions successfully advertized their personal and institutional lack of depth. Their resort to embarrassing display of crudity in their contemptuous dismissal of the Principal Representative of a major African power can only call to question their intellectual astuteness and appreciation of the nuances and adroitness in balancing conflicting imperatives of policy making. These are what higher education and thorough research and robust intellectual engagements with challenges are expected to imbue in individuals; the enhancement of cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity is the psychological characteristic or variable that shows how complex or simple the frame and perceptual skill of a person are. It is the extent to which a person differentiates and integrates an event.

The evidence so far shows a generally national low cognitive complexity resulting in a pitiable degree of social perception that has impacted deleteriously on our struggle to understand South Africa. Yet it is inevitable if we are to institute processes to boost the cognitive complexity on both sides as well as our own cognitive orientation in relation to South Africa. Orientation implies knowledge of our immediate environment, including the time, character, key personalities and groups and the nature of their interests and how they impact our navigation of that environment. In short we have not invested in properly orienting both sides as we operate blindly with a big lacuna on who the peoples of South Africa, their challenges in the post settlement and how to react to their historical and existential realities.

Tossed about globally and with a permanent focus on the immediate problems, we came up in quick succession with many thoughts. They were not well thought out and tentative ideational structures. How could one rationalize the avowed Citizen diplomacy when it is embedded in the Consular services that the Foreign Ministry of every state, including Nigeria, offer. It is axiomatic. Then there is the Diaspora office in the presidency manned by political jobbers rather than by trained and experienced diplomats is therefore anachronistic. And now, the grotesque lack of imagination is at play in the very simplistic call of indolent minds for the recall of the Nigerian Ambassador from Pretoria. And whining at the African Union? Lord have mercy!!

This is especially so in the face of unusually candid apologies rendered by the matured and restrained South African Ambassador. The South African presidency has also issued its own apology. Nigeria must be graceful and behave like a civilized nation. We must jettison the uninformed recommendations of Bolekaja diplomatists. Whatever the outrage, civilized pretend diplomatists would be restrained in their public pronouncements on the person of the Ambassador of a front line state that doubles as natural ally of Nigeria. Emotional outbursts, vituperations on public platforms are just the hallmark of commentators with tangential relevance to policy. These do not make a diplomat. It is throwback to the famous era of “area boy diplomacy”: a syndrome of Bolekaja.

Also on the decline of Nigeria’s stature that is clear to the informed and discerning, it is instructive to highlight that in the place of well thought out holistic and compelling policy templates for action, arose such concepts as Economic diplomacy, Democracy police, Citizen centered diplomacy and a host of atomized and disaggregated thematic ballyhoos bereft of any sterling substantive import for Nigeria’s Afrocentric policy. This was in response to pressing domestic agendas. However, it just demonstrated the erosion of serious intellectual capacity to fashion credible policies to move Nigerian forward given its debilitating internal realities. If the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs would look into publishing in predictable periodicity a worthy journal of international affairs, perhaps foreign policy making in Nigeria would move to rational spheres beyond simplistic vituperations as policy. Nigeria can certainly do better.

Economic diplomacy, Democracy police, Citizen centered diplomacy and the likes as policy frameworks represented policy setbacks. They reflected a weakening of coherence in the conceptual pivots of Nigeria’s foreign policy and illustrated a dearth of robust intellectual thrust of the more dynamic years of Nigeria on the world stage. Worse still, in focusing almost exclusively on slices of internal challenges that dominated only a few years, they repudiated the compelling understandings of the dominant historicity of Africa, the abandonment of authenticated historic impulses in favor of the ascendance of pragmatic political immediacy over the critical integrationist impulses. They therefore did not help to advance Nigeria as a serious player on the world stage. They were also very limited in their impact on national life.

On the current debacle with South Africa, the challenge of Nigeria South Africa relations is in forging closer interaction and coordination across the many formal and informal range of engagements that constitute bilateral relations. This is more true given the confounding nature of the perennial challenge of the South African mob. Without any semblance of a systematic interrogation and with almost moribund research culture, our national navigation of this challenge has remained bereft of the required clarity on the nature, context, undercurrents of the perennial challenge of South Africa’s mob mindset. We have indolently and probably embraced and uncharitably as well as wrongly, I believe, the characterization of South Africa as xenophobic. This indictment is convenient for us as it is escapist for a nation that has a problem of a small but devastatingly active minority of rogue characters with a voluptuous capacity to distort the image of the Nigeria all over the world.

Our instinctive emotional responses unfortunately applies also to institutional perspectives that have betrayed the hollowness in their abandonment of rigor, logic and positivism for scholarly exfoliation of layers of complexity in human affairs. In the current case, some interventions breach ethical underpinnings of good bilateral relations. The facile touting and specious regurgitations of ill digested principles and concepts, including the concept of reciprocity, that are distorted in the attempt to exploit them for hollow policy ends do not make for a scholar in more rigorous and demanding intellectual climes.

Yet still on the challenge of Nigeria’s relations with South Africa, it is affirmed that the normative groundings of the foreign and security policies of post-Apartheid South Africa and the Federal Republic of Nigeria are ahistoricist and therefore problematic. It bears repeating that in the grand sweep of human affairs, in particular in relation to the fate of black humanity, the only legitimate raison d’etre of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the post-Apartheid Republic of South Africa is their shared destiny as the only credible nucleus of a vanguard of an African force or a continental alliance for holistic emancipation of black humanity.

Between the two, they possess, with over 20 per cent of the continent’s population, the basic minimum demographics, common sentiments around the histories of their shared humanity, political consciousness, the two biggest economies of the continent, technological and crude power requisites of a credible African force to attempt the consolidation of the disparate assets of the continent for meaningful change. Behind Egypt (.3056) and Algeria (.4514), Nigeria (.7856) and South Africa (.8252) are placed third and fourth respectively in rankings of African firepower. Their axiomatic and sacrosanct responsibility essentially translates into leading, jointly and in a seamless manner, collaborative efforts of a coalition of progressive forces on the continent to change in a comprehensive manner the millennial existential realities of Africa and its peoples; political, economic and social.

South Africa has very high regard for Nigeria and what we represent. The evidence abounds for balanced observers o see and credible intellectuals. Relations between South Africa and Nigeria are critically important for Africa. It must therefore be conducted beyond the ambit of formal state affairs by factoring into the mix and constantly calibrating the informal interactions of the peoples of two countries. If not properly managed, these informal interactions can be stumbling blocks. That is where the main difficulty lies. The failure and incapacity to develop transnational social capital has been the bane of South Africa Nigeria relations. The incessant attacks on Nigerians and our interests may be mitigated in the long term through the establishment of multiple platforms to link various Nigerian professional bodies, umbrella trade unions, civil society groups, the military, women’s association, youth and student organizations, media practitioners with their South African counterparts. The idea is to build constructive transnational platforms to serve as bridges between South Africa’s society with Nigeria. Bilateral relations with South Africa should not be a mere institutional governmental affair. The lag or asymmetry in social empathy in national societies on both sides traceable to two main factors. The first is the nature of diplomacy as an inter-government al affair. This has implied the bifurcation of relations into a vibrant governmental relationship on the one hand. On the other hand are societies with antagonistic sentiments. This can only lead to the current impasse due to mutual lack of empathy of both sides for their respective internal challenges.

Transnational social capital generated by dense informal cross national interactions of common cause communities are known to underpin or even drive the direction of formal policy in very dynamic environments. By enhancing cognitive complexity of participants, trans-national common cause communities have directed the very evolution and transformation of the Westphalian state itself. The integration of common and inclusive African imperatives as the crucial foundations of a reconstructed and cultivated Africanist orientations and protocols of inter-state and trans-national societal relations between Nigeria and South Africa, and in fact among all progressive elements on the continent, has long been overdue. For now, relations between South Africa and Nigeria is characterized by low mutual social empathy resulting in a lack of optimal synergic interaction, even though that has evidently been the desire of both sides.

Against the continent’s debilitating almost transcendental challenges and the required search for new normative foundations of foreign policy in Africa, a constructive and selective adoption by the two countries of only conventional and institutional norms, protocols that promote mutual understandings is an ineluctable imperative in moving Africa closer to each other. It is also required in breaking Africa from its fossilized location in the global periphery permanently to a consolidated and validated partnership within the comity of nations and states. Above all, the axiomatic obligations of South Africa and Nigeria imply taking all necessary steps by all means necessary in transforming, or restructuring or realigning Africa from its entrenched status as no more than a number of consolidated subordinated spaces mainly acting as proxies of hegemonic forces. Redressing the proxy role of African spaces as extensions of their hegemonic controllers that is effectuated often against the will of its peoples and interests, is the historic task for a conscious South Africa and Nigeria determined to meet the obligations of their unique loci in Africa.

The policies of a euphoric, searching and cautious post-Apartheid South Africa and Nigerian foreign policies were respectively underpinned by perceived, even if misconceived, nuanced notions of national interests. Under the evolved circumstances, it was inevitable for the vision of a common destiny to be devalued, especially in the face of the incongruences of the historical conjunctures that characterized the beginnings of formal bilateral relationships between the two countries. It was ominous that South Africa emerged from Apartheid when Nigeria was under the incubus of a dictatorship determined to ruin anything and everything worthy associated with the Nigerian state and society.

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