“In diplomacy, do not fear to negotiate; but do not negotiate out of fear” – John F. Kennedy, former United States President.
It is stale news already to say that South African President, populist Jacob Zuma, zoomed in and out of Nigeria recently. But the sticky tale lies in the timeless socio-political and economic derivatives from such an August Visit.
Given that unspoken anger was fast brewing to the level of danger between Africa’s two most prominent and prosperous countries, Nigeria and South Africa. So much that the rivalry between the two continental giants has left the hill of hope for the abysmal slope of belligerence, if not outright war. Frosty thus became inadequate an adjective to qualify the state of diplomatic downturn between the two age long allies-turned-foes!
Indeed, the face-off had reached a rattling pinnacle between 2008 and 2015 when Nigerians were singled out for xenophobic attacks, which left both humans and businesses maimed and ruined. The embers of animosity was fanned and fueled endlessly as Nigerians called South Africans ingrates for their roles in provoking and oppressing the good guys who bailed them out of Apartheid regime.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, folks in South Africa saw in Nigerians boisterous impostors and job-jackers; some sort of unsolicited sophisticated economic migrants whose chief aim was to deny the barely literate but emancipated South Africans Blacks who felt they were the natural inheritors of the goodies of a freed country. The thought that some swindling smart Alec’s called 419ners shifted base pastorally from Lagos, Aba, Enugu, Benin City to the city centres of Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria, worsened the mutual mistrust. Free travel suddenly became a Herculean task if not nonexistent. For South Africa, at a stage, even impounded a Nigerian flight and deported 125 Nigerian citizens over a mere charge of non possession of Yellow Card vaccination pass! Another plane and portfolios of millions of dollars, belonging to Nigerians or its former government, were promptly arrested by Pretoria. The plane was returned but the dollars remain in South African vaults till date.
So the tussle as to who really is the African leader country-wise continued even at the level of United Nations and African Union. And before one could spell Madiba Nelson Mandela, South Africa had played into Nigeria’s steel hands, by committing “a sacrilegious trade cum terrorism crime!” Their Y’hello mantra telecom ambassador, MTN, fell foul of Nigerian anti- insurgency legislation which demanded that all telephone lines be properly registered and audited.
But the GSM giant took things lightly and flouted the law, which made President Muhammadu Buhari to inform Zuma during his recent state visit to Abuja that: “over ten thousand Nigerians died in terrorist carnage due to MTN’s non cooperation.” Impliedly, Boko Haram terrorists had taken advantage of unregistered SIM cards allegedly dispensed by MTN, to make their heinous and dastardly activities invisible and invincible. Hence, MTN was asked by the regulators (Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC) to pay a whopping sum of $780 million “ransom”.
That hard decision was like a puncture in the economic jugular of South Africa whose over 120 corporate companies ply their trades in Nigeria, at the expense of the host who cannot boast of same trade parity in the Cape of Good Hope. But this piece won’t fly on hatred but on the constructive progress that all can make out of it.
Like sports guru Puma, President Zuma raced into Nigeria as the chief salesman and brand marketer that wouldn’t want poor sales or bad market for his country or its companies. Hence he sauntered in on the back of his bosom friend and former Vice President of Nigeria, mercurial businessman and frontline politician, Atiku Abubakar; who’s fast becoming an unofficial ambassador plenipotentiary for Nigeria. Still fresh was his role in convincing Zuma’s South Africa to make Nigeria’s Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, a former Minister of Agriculture, the President of African Development Bank, AFDB. That mission is today a reality weaned in mutual benefit.
As they say, one good turn deserves another. Many have narrowed down the vital visitation by Zuma as a platform to seal a deal on MTN’s humongous penalty. It could be true, but is it a crime?
It was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a dashing American past President and philosopher king, who postulated that in matters of diplomacy “one should not fear to negotiate, nor negotiate out of fear.” Zuma, like Chaka the Zulu’s bullhead army battalion, has literarily taken the bull by the horns – by engaging a hitherto supposed adversary in a diplomatic truce. Ditto for Buhari’s Nigeria. There is surely an ample room for jaw jaw than war war?
For, insofar as every nation caters for its own core national economic interest; world diplomacy would continue to oscillate and orbit along the spheres of vested interests. After all most presidential shuttles the world over are often tilted towards the promotion and protection of local politics, security, trade and socio-economic commitments. No leader worth his salt would trade off his country’s overall best interest for a mere pot of diplomatic porridge. No wonder, diplomacy has no permanent place for an enemy or foe.
Undoubtedly PMB’s foreign trips, with a shopping list of Nigeria’s needs handy, cannot but be appreciated as a public relations push for a country in dire need of quick recovery from an ailing and severely battered economy, through corrupt practices that have lasted over a decade. Be it from America to Europe, Middle East to the Continent of Africa, PMB has been torch-lighting the salient ingredients for Nigeria’s ultimate growth within the comity of nations.
Same goes for the Zuma visit. The fact that the South African number one salesman was offered the joint seating of our National Assembly to ply his trade, duly attests to the importance that nations attach to economic survival via robust diplomatic maneuvering.
Truth be told, Zuma zoomed in on the cutting edge advantages of his country over ours in the key areas of power and energy, infrastructural development, mining technology, security and general industrialization. A mere denial of these facts would tantamount to cheap grandstanding.
Wisdom, therefore, would be for Nigeria to tap into the deep well of South African experience – by signing long term symbiotic bilateral business deals in the aforementioned areas of our national need.
The benefits of this are multifarious. Imagine resuscitation of Ajaokuta and the many steel rolling mills across the country. It would be employment galore and a breather for the manufacturing sector. Ditto for the mining and automobile industries. And a quick pathfinder to mechanized farming in Nigeria. A President that bails out Nigeria from epileptic power supply and paves the way for cottage industries will forever be remembered.
Finally, I commend that President Buhari would be receptive to President Zuma’s invitation to visit South Africa as soon as possible – to better the lots of Nigerians. The dividends of democracy is all about welfare, security, peace and progress. And wherever that comes from, local or global, means so little to a people craving emancipation from hunger and starvation. After all, two good heads are better than one. Let’s have a win-win socio-economic parley between South Africa and Nigeria.
The writer, Alaba Yusuf, is a journalist and publicist based in Abuja.