By Osuolale Alalade
The direction of Nigeria-South Africa relations can be better understood in terms of an evolved struggle for preponderant influence on the continent by these two major pivots of the emerged constellation of forces. Attempts to gloss over the underlying causes through diplomatic niceties on immediate and strictly bilateral contents of relations do not go far enough. South Africa’s continued successful assertiveness, reflected in the outcome of the election of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, have been largely aided by the deft use of economic leverage and sound policies that reflect its renaissance and, implied Africanist, orientation to African affairs. Its robust modalities to attain its objective have raised serious concerns though.
At the heart of Nigeria’s current predicament and the drawback in relations with South Africa is a confluence of a debilitating trinity: policy, personalities and history. These are expressed in a seeming cooptation of Nigeria to lead a historically conservative bloc of states, mainly francophone, who have a reputation of advancing the interests of foreign and neo-imperialist agenda on the continent. Through close association with these new friends, Nigeria would appear to have dissipated the political capital that it has forged over half a century of indisputable leadership of progressive forces on the continent. The emerging preponderance of South Africa has thus resulted from this major policy deficit of Abuja. These deficits were on display in the policy in Cote d’Ivoire and the amateurish handling of the challenge posed by the process of the Gadhafi ouster. These have begun to haunt Nigeria and may continue for some time to come. The undue passion generated by the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and its outcome and the sharp division that characterized the election of the Nigerian Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, Ambassador Aisha Laraba Abdulahi, revealed these emerged ideo-based differences. These differences in policy orientations drive the current relations between the two poles led by Nigeria and South Africa. Ambassador Abdulahi sailed through only by the grace of the bloc vote of the francophone Central Africans.
This may signal the end of the age of innocence in intra black African relations. Notions of the struggle over preponderant influences in spheres of sub regional influence came to the fore in the blunt disagreements between Nigeria and its francophone supporters in West and Central Africa on the one hand and the Renaissant/Africanist bloc of states led by South Africa and largely comprising Anglophone and Lusophone states on Cote d’Ivoire. The latter were pro Gbagbo. Nigeria was incensed that South Africa and Angola were playing a major role in its presumed back yard. It is interesting that most states in the Renaissant/ Africanist bloc went through many years of armed struggle to gain independence or statehood or have lived through internal upheavals or revolutions to realign their respective nationhood. The cast of leadership in these states is particularly determined to limit the role of foreign interventions in African affairs all over Africa. Their worldview contrasts sharply with the leadership of Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville).
The ouster of Dr. Jean Ping was the defining moment of how times seem to have changed for Abuja on the African scene.