/ 10 May 2013

Nigeria, SA love affair reignited

­Nigeria's ­President Goodluck ­Jonathan and President Jacob Zuma at a state ­banquet in Cape Town.
­Nigeria's ­President Goodluck ­Jonathan and President Jacob Zuma at a state ­banquet in Cape Town.

South Africa smoothed over its differences with Nigeria this week during the state visit by President Goodluck Jonathan, paving the way for the two African giants to resuscitate co-operation in advancing the continent's cause.

While it might be expected that the two countries would co-operate on conflict resolution, peacekeeping and advancing democracy in Africa,  political differences have often created glitches. Several senior government sources said this week that the central message of the visit could be summed up as: "We do not compete against each other, we complement each other."

Zuma and Jonathan signed nine memorandums of understanding and bilateral agreements in areas that included oil and gas, mining and mineral processing, defence co-operation, information and communication technology and a waiver of diplomatic visas.

"Over and above these agreements, the state visit was more about politics. A lot of issues have been ironed out, where we didn't see eye to eye on the politics of the continent," said a senior official in the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) who was not authorised to comment officially.

South Africa appeased Nigeria by agreeing to relax some travel requirements. Visas for Nigerian citizens holding diplomatic and official passports will now be issued for an estimated three years and allow multiple entries. Obed Bapela, the ANC's head of the international relations subcommittee, said that Nigeria had wanted visas to be waived completely, particularly for business-people who frequent South Africa, but this was considered a security risk.

Creating tensions
"We can't just waive a visa," said Bapela. "Their [Nigeria's] systems are not really tight. You can't take issues for granted with that militant group [Boko Haram] bombing Nigeria all the time. A passport you can hold for five years and information on that might be stale. With a visa, information is checked and updated."

He added that South Africa had an up-to-date national population register but "we don't know if Nigeria has". Last month, Nigeria's National Population Commission said it expected to produce the first national population register after the 2016 census and that the registration of Nigeria's roughly 170-million citizens had begun last month.

It also appeared that political factions, within both South Africa's and Nigeria's ruling parties had played a role in creating tensions.

Jonathan is a close ally of Nigeria's former president, Olusegun Oba­sanjo, who was an ally of former president Thabo Mbeki. Zuma, on the other hand, had forged a close relationship with former Nigerian vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who fell out with Obasanjo in a way similar to how Zuma fell out with Mbeki. Abubakar was subsequently elbowed out of the presidential race in favour of Jonathan.

A top South African government official said: "Goodluck was still worried about Zuma's relationship with Abubakar. Zuma and Abubakar were very close because they worked together."

Zuma's charm offensive appears to have worked, and he often referring to his counterpart as "my dear brother" in his addresses.

The state visit also served as a public relations exercise. "Now that the politics have been sorted it becomes easy for businesspeople to work together. It was important for that message to reach businesspeople because politics have been hampering that part," said a senior government official.

Last year Nigeria deported 78 South African business executives in retaliation for South Africa deporting 125 Nigerians for allegedly carrying fraudulent yellow fever vaccine certificates.