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

Reviewer: Babatunde Fagbayibo
Review Publisher: 
South African Journal Of International Affairs
Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: 25 May 2018

ISSN: 1022-0461
(Print) 1938-0275
(Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsaj20

Relations between Nigeria and South Africa continue to generate mixed opinions. As the two biggest economies in sub-Saharan Africa, with keen interests and investments in sub-regional and continental processes, these regional hegemons would be expected to be at the heart of attempts to provide African unity with a much-needed thrust. However, the two have proved unable to forge the kind of reliable relationship that would serve as the nucleus of effective pan-African integration, and have been unsuccessful in putting into practice some of the ideas they have jointly pushed at the continental level. For example, the weak and disappoint- ing South Africa–Nigeria Bi-National Commission remains a talk shop that has largely failed as yet to provide for free movement between the two countries, come to an agreement on free trade, stem xenophobic attitudes or efficiently address constraints frustrating businesses.

Adekeye Adebajo’s The Eagle and the Springbok: Essays on Nigeria and South Africa builds on previous essays and op-eds the author has written on this subject over the years. The book is the first comprehensive volume on the subject (see p. 5) and, as such, it opens up ideas and angles that are bound to stimulate further exploration by researchers and policymakers.

The book adopts four discursive comparative lenses in dissecting Nigerian–South African (SA) relations: rivalries, hegemony, rulers and visionaries. Through these rubrics, Adebajo engages in a methodical analysis that critically examines a number of key issues. These include the colonial roots that shaped the hegemonic ambitions of both countries (Cecil Rhodes in South Africa and Frederick Lugard in Nigeria); the four phases of Nigerian–SA relations (1960–1993, 1994–1998, 1999–1997, 2008–2017); soft-power dynamics (Nigeria’s Nolly- wood and South Africa’s corporate expansion into Africa); the involvement of both countries in achieving sub-regional and continental peace and security; the individual temperament and relational dynamics between the presidents that have most affected Nigerian–SA relations (Nelson Mandela and Sani Abacha, and Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo); and the three technocratic visionaries most involved in shaping national and regional initiatives (Adebayo Adedeji, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala).

In this interesting comparative exercise, Adebajo reveals some of the nuances that continue to shape both countries’ approach to bilateral and multilateral relations. Domestic issues such as endemic corruption, insecurity, lack of physical infrastructure, lack of effective economic redistribution and the lack of sincerity in implementing bi-national strategies are some of the factors that inhibit both countries from engaging in robust and meaningful co-operation strategies. Yet even positive aspects, such as profitable bilateral trade (about R55 billion in 2016), the investment of about 120 South African companies in Nigeria and the fact that Nigerians and South Africans are increasingly visiting each other’s countries, have not translated into any meaningful enhancement of the relational dynamics. As Adebajo points out: ‘While South Africans tend to direct their negative stereotypes against Nigerian citizens, Nigerians tend to direct their wrath against South African companies’ (p. 2).

The chemistry between Mbeki and Obasanjo was responsible for shaping the golden years (1999–2007) of relations between the two countries, as both leaders took the driving seat in setting continental agendas and managing other bi-national issues. However, as this was essentially personality driven, with no serious accompanying investment in building robust institutional structures, their successors put little or no energy into entrenching co-operation between the states. Jacob Zuma turned to Angola and the BRICS for geo-strategic co-operation, while the governments of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari were – and in the latter case continues to be – bogged down by intractable domestic problems.

There is no gainsaying that both Nigeria and South Africa are indispensable to driving and deepening continental unity. Adebajo masterfully provides relevant statistics and analysis to buttress this oft-mouthed perception. He avoids jargons and tedious technical analysis by employing a simple but highly engaging writing style to drive home salient points. However, a major omission in this otherwise important and timely contribution to the body of knowledge is the discussion on how to sharpen bilateral co-operation between the countries, and how this could serve as a platform for deepening continental unity. Adebajo rightly notes that ‘there may be an opportunity in future for Pax Nigeriana and Pax South Afri- cana to upstage Pax Gallica and Pax Americana. The Nigeria–South Africa relationship will thus remain indispensable for the success of Pax Africana’ (p. 249). However, he fails to provide criti- cal steps for achieving this objective. Although his suggestions on the ‘Six Guiding Principles for Pax South Africana’ (p. 92) and on the future of the responsibility to protect in Africa (p. 106) indicate some of the critical measures in this respect, the author should have discussed these points in detail in a separate section or even a new chapter. This omission may be a bles- sing in disguise for researchers and policymakers, as it opens the window for them to design and test ideas that could prove useful in ensuring that the two regional hegemons sacrifice narrow interests for the bigger picture.