9. The Eagle and the Springbok: Essays on Nigeria and South Africa

Reviewer: Agaptus Nwozor
Review Publisher: African Studies Quarterly
Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: May 2019

The significance of this book is underpinned by three interrelated factors, namely, the strategic importance of Nigeria and South Africa in their respective sub-regional spheres; their economic dominance of the continent as they account for a third of Africa’s economic might; and their seeming indispensability in forging political and economic integration both at the sub-regional and continental levels in Africa. Thus, the critical task of the book as outlined by the author is to comprehensively assess the political, economic, cultural, and leadership dimensions in Nigeria-South Africa relations with the aim of promoting greater insights into what he terms, “Africa’s most indispensable relationship” (p. 6).

Nigeria and South Africa share as much in common as in contrast. Both countries have recorded significant collaborations in: peacemaking and peacekeeping, the emergence of the African Union (AU) and its institution of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), bilateral trading partnership, and the quest for the securement of a stronger global voice for Africa. At the same time, both countries are enmeshed in intense rivalry which is driven by the quest for continental dominance. This rivalry has played out at several fora, including the UN, where both countries are at dagger-drawn for the occupancy of a permanent seat (for Africa) on an expanded UN Security Council; and the AU, where despite Nigeria’s vociferous opposition, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma emerged as African Union Commission’s chief.

In addition to covering the entirety of relations between Nigeria and South Africa, the book is refreshingly up-to-date in content as it deals with some recent issues including those prior to its publication. Structured in four parts, excluding the introduction and conclusion, the book has thirteen chapters that explore the various dimensions of Nigeria-South Africa relations. The first part, which has three chapters, focuses on the rivalries that underpin relations between Nigeria and South Africa with specific emphasis on politics, economics, and culture. These relations alternate between cooperation and competition as both countries engage in strategic pursuit of policies aimed at placing them in an ascendant position in African affairs.

The second part, which is preoccupied with issues of hegemony, dominance, and ascendancy, addresses same in three chapters. Within the confines of “Pax Nigeriana” and “Pax South Africana,” the chapters in this section explore the hegemonic ambitions of both countries beyond their sub-regional enclaves and the attendant rivalry that throws up inchoate and conflicting perspectives on the emerging norm of the responsibility to protect (R2P) on the African continent.

The third part, which encases four chapters, attempts a comparative evaluation of the leaderships of both countries in the immediate post-apartheid period between 1994 and 2008. The chapters focused on Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as South Africa’s presidents as well as Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigeria’s military Head of State and president respectively. While the patriarchal and reconciliatory persona of Mandela contrasted with the brutish, repressive and dictatorial tendencies of Abacha, the Mbeki and Obasanjo presidencies witnessed unity of spirit as demonstrated by the close cooperation that characterized relations between Tshwane and Abuja between 1999 and 2008. The author points out that Mbeki and Obasanjo “worked closely together in regional and global multilateral forums” (p. 22).

The fourth and final part, which consists of three chapters, beams its searchlight on three technocrats from both countries who are considered by the author as visionaries. They include Adebayo Adedeji, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who occupied top positions in their national governments as well as continental and international organizations. The contention of the book is that despite the heroic efforts of these technocrats at initiating and pursuing policies aimed at unleashing Africa’s development potentials, they fell short in realizing their respective missions.

Although the book provides an up-to-date and balanced analysis of Nigeria-South Africa relations in a wonderfully readable style, its treatment of the period between 2008 and 2017 is brief, perfunctory, and transitory thus depriving the reader of an in-depth analysis of the important events during that period. The book appears repetitive in several places. This could as well be a weak point of the essay type which the author courageously adopts as a rescue strategy to revive this genre of scholarship. The book is enthusiastically recommended as an invaluable addition to the corpus of scholarly engagements on Nigeria-South Africa relations.