Friday, July 4, 2008


Over the weekend, Bafana Bafana (the South African soccer team) played the Eagles (Nigeria) in a Cup of African Nations and World Cup qualifying match. The Eagles won 2-0 and continued their multi-year domination over South Africa. But the sports scene has obvious or not-so-obvious social analogies that play from it. And as the two biggest forces in Sub-Saharan African (Nigeria and South Africa) I would like to explicate a little of the history between the two countries and the rest of the continent in the latter half of the 20th century leading up to the 21st century. It may help explain a lot especially tying in slightly to the xenophobia and the validity of claims that other countries like Nigeria left SA helpless during apartheid. So for a brief moment we’ll leave where we were last time in the history section (we had arrived to somewhere around 500 BC on the African continent) and move to the near present in current events/history.

I’m taking much of my information and flow from a Dr. Adebajo, a Nigerian who works at the Center for Conflict Resolution here at UCT. We actually have a number of Nigerians in the country. Most of us have bad names. At a recent talk, Adebajo introduced himself by saying “First of all, I would like to say I’m a Nigerian and I don’t sell or traffic drugs. I’m an academic and I make an honest living. . .” I thought it was funny.

Anyway, like the US is the hyperpower (I love the word) in the world, some people thought and still do think that South Africa and Nigeria should be the superpowers on the continent. And the West has left the continent in recent years to its own facilities. This has created a sort of Africans-help-Africans dependency from times when there was no Western help (Rwanda 1994, Somalia 1993) into times when such help could be asked.

1960 – 1993

The year was 1960 and Nigeria was born with great expectations. Simultaneously, apartheid was strong in South Africa at the time and leaders there wanted to spread “Western” values in a proselytizing way into Southern Africa (remember Namibia was also under apartheid as a protectorate of South Africa). Nigeria’s West Africa trade bloc (Economic Community of West African States--ECOWAS) was frustrated by France’s intermingling in Francophone West African countries and France’s encouragement to create rival trade blocs. Contrastingly South Africa was able to dominate in Southern Africa, increasing in nuclear capabilities with a strong military and a large economy on the continent. And SACU (South African Customs Unit) fared much better than the ECOWAS, as Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, and Lesotho took part in a trading relationship that severely favored South Africa.

However it was Nigeria that came to the rescue in pushing for an end to apartheid in South Africa. Nigeria hosted a UN anti-apartheid conference in 1977, led a UN committee against apartheid, gave money and materials to liberation movements in South Africa, and gave scholarships and relief supplies to South African students. The list goes on: Nigeria was the mouthpiece for South Africa to the world. However, the president cut off aid to liberation movements in 1980, but it was resumed in 1983 to the end of apartheid. It was Nigeria that led a boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburg (protesting Britain’s refusal to levy sanctions against South Africa), Nigeria that was invited to meetings of the Frontline States of Southern Africa, Nigeria that sent visits to South Africa.

And in 1990, Mandela visited Nigeria within 3 months after being released from jail. There he received a $10 million ANC campaign contribution. De Klerk led a business delegation to Nigeria over which South Africans became chagrined because Nigeria did not inform its leaders. So this was the first minor issue. Seemingly though the Nigerian regime took issue with the South African regime, the peoples were friendly.


Well, this changed and it changed quickly. This was an issue between two countries but also between two men—General Abacha (ruled from 1993 – 1998 when he died) and Nelson Mandela. I would love to write more on each, but I’m sure you’re familiar with Mandela, the British-educated lawyer and “anglophile” from a royal Xhosa family, who united a country and received various international awards recognizing him as a great world figure. Abacha was a soldier who joined the army at 19, fought in the civil war (1967-1970) and rose through the ranks to become next-in-line under military leader General Babangida. He took power in 1993 after jailing the person who was believed to have won the elections.

Well, the “dangerous” and “ruthless” Abacha succeeded in creating a bad image of Nigeria from the rest of the world. It was repressive military rule filled with human rights violations. So Nigeria became isolated while South Africa became an example of virtue and the model to follow. Remember that many countries were embroiled in military regimes or civil wars (or coming out of them) while South Africa, after apartheid was unified and not only that, but democratically unified with free elections.

Adebajo carries the comparison further: South Africa had world-class universities (UCT) while Nigeria had. . . .well, universities in disrepair. South Africa had a GDP of $193 billion while Nigeria had only $53 billion (and Nigeria has around 3 times as many people as South Africa). You could carry this comparison further, but you see the picture.

Well, Mandela had been working on the release of political prisoners (including Obasanjo) in Nigeria. He sent Tutu and Mbeki to Nigeria. He thought he was reassured by Abacha that this would not happen. But they (the Ogoni ‘9,’ nine political prisoners who were campaigners for opposition) were hanged. Mandela was hurt—no that’s not the word. Well, he was mad at the least and felt that Abacha had gone back on his word. So he decided to rally the troops and “fight” Nigeria for such a gross human rights violation. He recalled his high commissioner to Nigeria (Nene) after Nene was accused of not reaching out to opposition people in Nigeria. And then Mbeki called an South African Development Community (SADC) summit in 1995 to take group action against Nigeria. Abacha didn’t let Nigerian soccer teams defend their Africa Cup of Nations title in the 1996 cup games.

In the end Mandela failed to get even one African nation to levy sanctions against Nigeria. He couldn’t even get one Western nation to do so as Western nations publically denounced Nigeria while continuing to do business with the oil-rich nation. Instead it was a disaster for Mandela who received criticisms

  1. Remember all Nigeria did for us while we were under apartheid
  2. What happened to African unity?
  3. You’re being used by Western powers to dismantle African unity.

This is where Mbeki came in and started his “quiet diplomacy” policy that you see today with Zimbabwe. Remember Mbeki used to work in Nigeria. During apartheid, Mbeki was the opposition guy who worked for the ANC from abroad. This of course can sit sourly with people who might feel you were not part of the revolution or struggle for liberation if you were not fighting at home. Mbeki was in Nigeria between 1976 and 1978 under General Obasanjo’s regime and so Mbeki knew Obasanjo well. Mbeki and Nene decided to engage and not confront Nigeria. So they did a few things:

  1. pulled out of the Commonwealth Action Group on Nigeria
  2. canceled a major conference of Nigerian pro-democracy groups (supposed to be in Joburg in 1996)
  3. and we had the first Nigerian ambassador in South Africa in 1996 as well

Mbeki said that South Africa had no leverage or strength to pretend to tell Nigeria what to do. So he rather engaged them noting that Mandela had been set up for failure by Western powers. So likewise in the 90’s and today, Mbeki ignored petitions by Western leaders to sanction Zimbabwe. Mbeki saw it as ineffective and hurtful to goal of leverage in the region.

Then Abacha died (with Indian prostitutes) in 1998 and the new military leader Abubakar tried to restore civil liberties and release political prisoners. He oversaw a real transition to democratic rule in 1999 when Obasanjo was elected. This mirrored De Klerk overseeing the transition from apartheid to real democracy in South Africa (or the beginnings of democracy).


Again you have the same contrast set up. There’s the Sussex-educated, elegant, pipe-smoking Mbeki who seems rather British (incidentally so is Robert Mugabe) versus the engineer and solider Obasanjo. And just as Mandela was invited by Abubakar to attend an ECOWAS summit in Nigeria, so Obasanjo used his first presidential foreign visit to attend Mbeki’s inauguration (remember they know each other from Mbeki’s time as head of ANC in Nigeria; Obasanjo also visited South African leaders as co-chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Person’s Group in 1986).

Mbeki is known as the architect for the African Renaissance which is a call for Africans to use and embrace democracy, globalization, and development without sacrificing representation and accountability. He also led the formation of New Partnership for Africa’s Development—NEPAD. Actually both helped as Abuja (Nigerian capital) hosted the first conference in 2001. Mbeki and Obasanjo both tried to lobby the West for Africa’s benefit at G8 meetings with little results though aid has increased over the past few years to be honest. Both work on peacekeeping in the continent. Nigeria led efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone (under ECOWAS) while Mbeki worked in Burundi (under the AU), but it is difficult as Nigeria’s military and economic might is not as powerful as South Africa’s. However Nigeria was unable to pacify regional war loads in those countries as well as attain logistical assistance. Its military was simply tired out and most of it was retracted in 2000. They now serve under the UN. Both Mbeki and Obasanjo would like to see more help from the UN while serving under it. Nigeria lacks the economic and military capacity to truly control the situation.

South Africa has the military might but not the regional legitimacy. They were involved in peacekeeping in the DRC and successfully led Rwandan forces to vacate the DRC in 2002. Mbeki knows that he must seek regional support for moves that he wants to make. In other words he needs multilateral diplomacy.

Both men were able to set up a peer-review system and found 28 signers (28 heads of state who are willing to be reviewed in their governance of their countries). They both support a gradualist approach compared to Qaddaffi (he wants an immediate USA-United States of Africa similar to the EU). They set up the BNC—Binational Commission between Abuja and Tshwane (another name for Pretoria). They held six meetings from October 1999 through 2004 (some in SA some in Nigeria). They discuss many areas like immigration and crime, trade, industry and finance, energy, environment, foreign affairs and defense.

But here is where the tensions arise. Nigerians don’t like that there are many Moroccans, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Russians, etc. that are trafficking drugs but are not painted desultorily by comments (people jokingly ask me if I push drugs). A radio station had to apologize after it stated that Obasanjo (on a visit in 1994 for Mbeki’s inauguration) was carrying cocaine. The Nigerian consulate in Pretoria sent out a notice warning people of ‘419’ scams in an effort to improve relations between citizens of both countries.

Moreover South African firms have invaded Nigeria—MTN (mobile phone network), Rand Merchant Bank, Protea Hotels, etc. Sasol (world’s largest converter of coal to gasoline) invested $1.2 billion to export natural gas, and I don’t know what the current figure is today. The list goes on: fast food chains, railways, etc. Nigeria send oil mostly to South Africa (as well as palm oil, textiles, cocoa). South Africa also exports wood, paper, spirits, tobacco, plastics, electrical equipment, etc.

Some Nigerians think it’s great while others see it as a type of neo-colonialism without reciprocal opening of the South African market to Nigerian goods. Though that may be true, I don’t think Nigeria currently can export (outside of oil) to South Africa in the same GDP terms. South Africans have trouble investing and developing companies in Nigeria due to lack of infrastructure, rampant bribery, ineffective law enforcement, weak judicial system, low level of technical skills, delays at ports, etc.

Two newspapers “The Day” and “FS African Standard” aimed at West Africans or Nigerians in South Africa both closed (in 2004 and 2006 respectively) after not enough financial backing or support. And SAA (South African Airways) ended its relationships with Nigerian Airways over stringent requirements Nigeria had over how much it should receive of the profits (Nigerian Airways is government owned).

Today, Mbeki will most likely be gone next year and a new president elected. And Obasanjo is already gone as Yar’Adua was elected last year. Mbeki and Obasanjo ended on a sour note because Mbeki wanted Mugabe invited to the Commonwealth Summit in 2003 in New Zealand, but Obasanjo (under pressure from Britain, Canada, and Australia) did not allow it as Obasanjo was hosting. They both wanted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for their respective countries. The rebel forces in Cote d’Ivoire removed their support for South African mediation and turned to ECOWAS in 2005 to bridge a way out of the mediation blockade. People criticized Mbeki for taking too much glory on peacemaking efforts and not reporting results back to Obasanjo the AU chair who appointed him. And Obasanjo, finally did not get the support from Mbeki for a third term as AU chair. In fact Mbeki strongly opposed it. Obasanjo left the AU summit meeting in 2006 early because of this.

Moreover 3 years ago in both 2005 and 2006 the BNC meetings failed to happen. There are reasons given for this but one would think you could overcome any issues to at least hold a BNC (Bilateral National Commission) meeting. So the two superpowers in Africa still have not reached the status of a superpower which has both recognized legitimacy (or at least respect from others) and economic/militaristic might.

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