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Nigeria and South Africa patch things up, but mistrust runs deep

By Eromo Egbejule
Posted on Friday, 4 October 2019 13:48

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari meets with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria, South Africa, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Cyril Ramaphosa and Muhammadu Buhari, the leaders of Africa’s two biggest economies, met in Pretoria to break bread and discuss trade and xenophobia.

The former trade union leader met with his retired general counterpart who is on a three-day state visit to the Rainbow Nation. The men co-chaired the 9th SA-Nigeria Bi-national Commission, signing 32 bilateral agreements and MOUs.

Buhari got into Pretoria on Wednesday and is expected to leave on Friday.

On Xenophobia

Attacks by South African nationals targeted at fellow Africans, especially Nigerians between August-September 2019 was high on the agenda for the Nigerian delegations.

Mobs of locals descended on the foreigners with weapons, looting and burning their businesses while also injuring some. At least ten people died in this latest wave of violence — which have previously been seen in 2008 and 2015.

  • It led to retaliatory attacks on South African businesses such as MTN and Shoprite in parts of Nigeria. Nigeria also repatriated hundreds of its citizens.
  • Ramaphosa, one of few inside his government to condemn the attacks, told journalists: “We have expressed our deep regrets at the attacks directed at foreign nationals and our condemnation of all forms of intolerance and acts of violence…We would like to assure you that South Africa is committed to the ideas of African unity and solidarity, to respect the human rights of others and to ensure that South Africa is ruled by the rule of law.”
  • He insisted that perpetrators of violence would be punished, adding that “Nigerians in South Africa must obey the law. South Africans in Nigeria must obey the law.”

For his part, Buhari also condemned the attacks telling his counterpart that his government had taken strong and decisive measures to stop the retaliatory attacks and prevent any reoccurrences. “It’s a question of competition at a very low level – whether they are barbers or have small shops, where they feel it should belong exclusively to the indigenous people, or it is open to all people.”

  • Ever the disciplinarian, the retired general then went on to scold his countrymen based in the host country, saying: “When you are in Rome, behave as Romans do.”
  • Presidential spokesman Tolu Ogunlesi also announced that both countries have agreed to establish “an Early Warning System/Mechanism to ensure that future potential outbreaks of violence are nipped in the bud before they degenerate.”

On improving bilateral business relations

Ramaphosa also called for more Nigerian businesses to invest in South Africa.

Today, the majority of Nigerian businesses in Johannesburg and environs are small and medium enterprises, unlike the reverse situation where MTN, Shoprite and other South African businesses contribute significantly to the Nigerian economy.

Buhari who was meant to deliver a speech at the South Africa-Nigeria Business Forum in Midrand to members of the private sector, but did not show.

  • South African paper EWN reported his speech was delivered by Ambassador Maryam Katagum, Nigeria’s junior minister of industry, trade and investment.

Buhari also met with South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation. Pandor has previously said on national TV that “Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices”.

Bottom line: The early signs are that Nigeria and South Africa are on the path to mending fences to increase trade and cooperation. Actions will speak louder than words, however.

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