3. The Eagle and the Springbok: Essays on Nigeria and South Africa – Bhaso Ndzendze
The Eagle and the Springbok: Essays on Nigeria and South Africa
By Adekeye Adebajo
Publisher: Johannesburg: Jacana Media
‘The Nigerian eagle must soar and the South African springbok gallop in sync, if Africa is to be reborn’ (p. 249). With this sentence, Adekeye Adebajo concludes his book, capturingthe mainly prescriptive essence of The eagle and the springbok, a text set to become one of the most important on this relationship—billed by Adebajo to be ‘Africa’s most indispensable’ (p. 1).
The book is a collection of thirteen chapters which deal with the continent’s two major powers in great detail—from their tribal and ethnic compositions and their implica- tions, to their soft power and economic levers on the continent that they have so dominated. At once a set of historical accounts and economic analyses, the book also manages to tie in contemporary debates and discourses about the nature of African integration, xenophobia and the personalities of various leaders.
Nevertheless, one important missing feature is a connective tissue to show how this relationship is particularly ‘indispensable’. Moreover, the book is sometimes typified by paragraphs which could be construed as exaggerated in their characterization of South Africa’s relations with its immediate neighbours: ‘As Mexicans have noted in relation to the United States, Batswana, Swazis, Basotho and Namibians certainly have many reasons to complain that they are too close to South Africa, and too far from God’ (p. 37). Indeed, South Africa’s posture within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is defined as zero-sum and mercantilist—a continuation of Cecil Rhodes’s imperialism (p. 244). Nigeria, in turn, is congratulated as having escaped, or successfully reshaped, its colonial- era Lugardian grand designs and assumed regional leadership.
Another issue with the book is the absence of a definition of what hegemony consists of—instead it simply compares and contrasts Pax Nigeriana with Pax South Africana. Due to this, Adebajo misses the opportunity, in part two (tantalizingly entitled ‘Hegemony’), to elucidate exactly what hegemony (already an increasingly loose concept) is in the African context. Forced to read between the lines, one tentatively reaches the (performa- tive) definition of an African regional hegemon which lies in its comparative economic wealth, combined with a self-perceived legitimate sense of responsibility and a history of combining both to achieve a set of outcomes (p. 105)—by force and against domestic popular opinion if deemed necessary (p. 74). The chief immediate outcome for Adebajo of seeing the regional hegemon in this manner is that, in the next era, regional and eventu- ally continental integration must be achieved (p. 12). Although, these further loaded and contested concepts are not clarified in the book either.
However, this takes nothing away from the overall importance of the book. It is signifi- cant not only due to what it describes and prescribes, but also because of the questions it raises—the hallmark of International Relations scholarship by many accounts. Most important of all are critical questions about which of the two regional giants can claim to be Africa’s representative—and on what grounds they may do so—in international forums such as the G20, the United Nations Security Council and the BRICS association of emerging economies (pp. 40; 104; 245). This is an especially difficult question in light of the ambivalent economic fortunes of South Africa and Nigeria and their tug-of-war for Africa’s largest economy (between 2014 and 2017, they switched back and forth twice), as well as because of the slow but steady climb of Ethiopia—Addis Ababa is already dubbed Africa’s ‘capital city’ due to its status as the African Union’s headquarters—and Rwanda— led by the strong-willed President Paul Kagame—in their respective regions.
The eagle and the springbok also gives a great historical account of the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, by using a four-phased timeframe relayed in a dramatic fashion: the apartheid era (‘Act I’), the Mandela–Abacha era (‘Act II’), the Mbeki–Obasanjo era (‘Act III’) and the present era (‘Act IV’). Adebajo highlights the switch-up between acts one and two, where Nigeria and South Africa swapped their roles as prophet and pariah; designates the Mbeki–Obasanjo era as the highpoint of the relationship; and describes the 2008–17 era as a ‘decade of troubles’ (p. 8) because South Africa allegedly prioritized Angola over Nigeria. In fact, the book’s greatest strength is that it provides a registry of the past twenty- five years of relations between these states. Adebajo’s book is a much-needed corrective to the all too limited scholarly bibliog- raphy on the Nigeria–South Africa relationship. The eagle and the springbok will make a fine reference-point for debates on both emergent and longstanding politico-economic issues, as well as for the historiography of the relationship—including the roles played by the heads of these states—going right back to the foundations of these countries (pp. 3–4). Also not to be overlooked is its stylistic candidness—if Adebajo sought to revive the essay as a medium (p. 6), he has done so splendidly. This book should be read by any and all seeking to understand the intricate—and sometimes unbelievably petty (p. 11)—workings of Nigeria and South Africa’s relationship.
Bhaso Ndzendze, University of Johannesburg, South Africa