If South Africa is really keen to assist its partner, Nigeria, in curbing terrorism it might consider initiating and consolidating negotiations and diplomacy with Boko Haram.
By Tendaishe Tlou*
The recent visit to Nigeria by President Jacob Zuma was welcomed with mixed feelings of optimism and pessimism. Following the MTN and refugee brawl between the two continental giants, much attention was directed to the long-awaited visit given the ‘Cold War’ between the two largest economies in Africa. The purpose of the visit was to repair and intensify economic relations, whilst showing other African countries that they are united and pursue a comprehensive continental agenda on internal security, infrastructural development and poverty mitigation.
This gesture by President Zuma is indicative that South Africa is capable of swallowing its pride to engage other emerging economies, despite being the most organised and sophisticated economy in Africa. Despite South Africa being mocked by its peer, it challenged the soon-to-be bride to a dance and Nigeria budged. Outwardly pretending to be composed, but inwardly burning with desire, South Africa finally chose to break the silence and propose a marriage of convenience. According to the West African beauty it had to be South Africa or none, and vice versa. The latter refused to play second fiddle to none.
Since both obtained independence, they have shared a reciprocal relationship measured through the lenses of bilateral investments, such as MTN, Multi-Choice among other hundreds of companies. However, the emergence of strained relations cannot be understood without a peak into the 2015 xenophobic attacks, especially against Nigerians. The bride accused the suitor that he allegedly didn’t do enough to protect her off-spring. This was followed by the closure and departure of the Nigerian Consulate form Pretoria, and a heated string of accusations. The courtship finally ground to a halt when Nigeria announced that it is suing MTN for US$3.9b for not disconnecting unregistered subscribers by the due date in October 2015, a penalty for increasing threats to national security. This gesture was perceived as calculated extortion. Both countries threw in their towels and gave their backs to each other. One big blow by Nigeria was enough for South Africa. The year 2015 was a deal breaker.
However, in 2016 South Africa re-engaged its bride-to-be to ease tensions and resume economic relations. These two economic giants are inseparable bed-fellows. It was no longer an issue of ‘how’ but ‘when’ this couple would resume relations. This gesture has deep-seated ramifications both to economical and political viability in the two States and the continent at large. Given the ailing South African emerging economy and its insatiable need for Foreign Direct Investment, Nigerian investments in South Africa are undoubtedly helpful in boosting investor confidence since the former is the largest economy in Africa, a force to be reckoned with regionally and internationally. Revisiting policy uncertainty, red tape and bureaucracy is indicative that South Africa and Nigeria are moving in a new but united trajectory which may get things moving in the right direction for both countries. Both countries might have triggered a synergy that may address long standing issues on the continent. According to Utomi (2016) “discussions between Zuma and Buhari are vital for the new competiveness the African Union aspires to achieve, with Johannesburg, Mauritius and Lagos in the driving seat.”
These new talks have definitely paved the way for new opportunities for both, facilitating the reinvigoration of both their weak economies. Nigeria is struggling to refine its oil into usable energy, and would benefit from the technology used by Sasol and other oil refining companies in South Africa. Given that South Africa is leading in investments, Nigeria can also invest more in the energy industry and stop importing fuel. More prospects lie in infrastructural development, where Nigeria also lags behind. Given the light import and export regulations that might be facilitated by the newly ratified treaties, Nigerians will soon be proud owners of some of the most technologically advanced electronic goods such as cell phones and laptops given that South Africa is the hub of Samsung and iPhone products. On the flip side, a benign equivalent for South Africa will be to re-engage the Nigerian government to ease its MTN fine to at least $1.51 billion which is under discussion at the moment (SABC News,2016) and expand its investment of more than 120 companies doing business in Nigeria in the telecommunications, tourism, retail and production industries. Food stuffs will also be imported cheaply from Mzansi by Nigeria which will also boost the much needed former’s economic growth. The US Dollar that will also be brought in by Nigerian business people will also play a pivotal role in igniting growth, shoring the shrinking South African economy and settling the debt deficit imposed by the Breton Woods Institutions.
During the meeting in Nigeria, a rumour leaked that South Africa was planning to send special forces to Nigeria to assist in the fight against Boko Haram. The South African Defence Forces (SANDF) refuted this claim, possibly because the Commander-in-Chief is yet to discuss this with his Generals. It is, however, not advisable for South Africa to engage in a military confrontation with Boko Haram. It is a direct declaration of war against the rapidly growing militia. Invoking the much acclaimed ‘war on terror’ will only intensify the situation. Violence begets violence. On one hand, given the state of the South African economy, fighting an elusive but powerful militant group will take a toll on the weak Rand. Any form of warfare, be it conventional or unconventional, is expensive, especially when there is no assurance of when the militant movement will be dissolved. It might take years to capture and diffuse terrorist fanatics in Nigeria.
On the other hand, interference in the internal affairs of another country will attract unwanted attention for South Africa. For example, the recurrent bombings of ISIS by France in assistance of its ally the U.S inevitably led to terrorist attacks in Paris. In the same way, Al-Shabaab launched pre-emptive attacks against Kenya for interfering in Somalia. Even though Boko Haram seems divided and uncoordinated, it will unite in the face of military excursions by a ‘foreign’ enemy. Boko Haram will retaliate heavily which will claim heavy casualties on the part of South African soldiers and civilians.
If South Africa is really keen to assist its partner in curbing terrorism it might consider initiating and consolidating negotiations and diplomacy with Boko Haram. Africa must drop the stance sold by the Americans that States ‘do not negotiate with terrorists’ because apparently efforts towards terrorist mitigation by military excursions are being frustrated and obsolete. South Africa must reconsider its decision before interfering in Nigeria. The increased influx of Nigerians to South Africa and heightened movements of South Africans to and from Nigeria after this visit gives Boko Haram a perfect opportunity to infiltrate its borders unabated. Opening up of opportunities to recruit and train youths cannot be dismissed given that populist movements in South Africa are growing exponentially. It is best that South Africa focuses on recuperating it economy rather than pursuing military excursions in unfamiliar Nigeria in pursuit of Boko Haram.
To avoid more financial losses, South Africa might opt to send a small contingent of military intelligence officers who can provide technical and operational support to the troubled Nigerian army. The presence of South African military personnel might as well harden Boko Haram. South Africa can also send diplomacy and negotiation experts in the same way it has done for Sudan and Israel to facilitate closed door meetings to end the conflict, which is less costly both financially and in terms of lives. Not the kind to deliberately meddle in domestic affairs of fellow African States and never happy to be perceived as the regional police, South Africa must continue on its path of negotiation and reconciliation which loosened it from the shackles of apartheid.
*Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.
- Utomi, P (2016) A Comment on Zuma’s Visit To Nigeria, Lagos Business School, Lagos Nigeria.
- SABC News (2016) President Zuma Visits Nigeria, SAB N ews Bulletin, Johannesburg.