When Two Elephants (Cat) Fight… (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Only a visitor from mars or better still, an individual who is totally unaware of Africa and its politics will regard the current diplomatic brouhaha between Nigeria and South Africa as an isolated incident. The deportation of 125 Nigerians by South African immigration authorities over “suspicious yellow fever vaccination cards” and the retaliatory deportation of 28 South Africans by the Nigerian government for “irregular travelling documents” is the culmination of the underlying mutual distrust between both countries. While both countries are eager to flaunt their “cordial relationship” that dates back to the struggle against apartheid, the reality is that both countries operate and interact within a highly complex matrix. Beyond bilateral initiatives, the volume of trade between both countries and the multi-billion dollar investment by South African companies in Nigeria, it is essential to tackle the underlying climate of mistrust, negative perceptions, direct and indirect xenophobic tendencies and unhealthy rivalry. As the two biggest economies in sub Saharan Africa, and occupying strategic geopolitical positions in both global and African realpolitik, both Nigeria and South Africa cannot afford to engage in periodic open and proxy cat fights.

There is no doubt that some of the contentious issues between both countries are very fundamental, yet they are matters that can be properly resolved if both countries are prepared to engage in a frank, heart to heart, qualitative and result-oriented manner. Such sustained engagement should not only be limited to improving economic relations or allowing investors to operate, it should touch on issues such as fair treatment of citizens, tackling negative perceptions through improved sensitization, cooperation on addressing factors that enhance criminal activities, relaxing bureaucratic bottle necks and encouragement of horizontal dialogues. The problem with the Nigeria-South Africa relations is that the leadership of both nations have always seen and conducted their interaction through a formalistic intergovernmental prism. Talks have always been dominated by investment opportunities, collaboration on regional and international issues and “exchange state visits”.

The current diplomatic row is thus an effect of the inability of both countries to seriously address widespread and sustained complaints on ill-treatment of Nigerians by South African authorities both within Nigeria and in South Africa. Nigerians will readily assume that the suspicion over the authenticity of the yellow fever vaccination card is in itself an affirmation of the generally held negative perception of Nigerians as criminals. Such assumption is further strengthened by the declaration by the Nigerian government that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has cleared Nigeria as a yellow fever free nation. From a South African perspective, it will also be argued that as a result of the misdemeanours of some Nigerians in South Africa, the authorities cannot be blamed for taking proactive measures.

The current dispute provides an opportunity for both countries to revisit the underlying factors of their relations. Beyond historical and economic factors, both Nigeria and South Africa must situate their engagement within the framework of current realities. As emerging economies on a global scale and “superpowers” within the African context, the two countries cannot afford to ignore issues that are capable of destabilising a mutually beneficial relationship that can also positively impact on the overall development of the continent. The regular cat fights over avoidable issues only expose the myopic vision of their governments and further worsen the already shaky horizontal relationship between their peoples. Both countries must realise that the quality of cooperation is not only affected by cordial intergovernmental relations, it is most importantly impacted by efforts to ensure smooth and durable horizontal relationships. It is shameful that in this day and age, two economic giants that should be leading the way in terms of entrenching African integration cannot agree on micro issues like visas and vaccination cards.

Follow this writer on twitter @BabsFagbayibo

  1. Phila says:

    as usual, you have outdone yourself.
    Trivial matters but that go a long way, problem is each one thinks they are better than they really are and yet it’s not about one, it’s about all (Africa). If we could just learn to work together, there is so much to learn and benefit from for the advancement of the continent

  2. Wonderful write-up.
    It’s about the vision and values that each of these governments bear.
    They must learn to resolve the minors as amicably as possible, with focus on their majors.
    Visit and follow my blog too on

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