LET LOVE RULE: A man holds up a sign as rights activists and protesters march through Johannesburg’s CBD to demonstrate against xenophobia. About 1 000 people joined the demonstration against the recent attacks on foreigners. Picture: AFP
The dust seems to have settled in the diplomatic spat between the continent’s two biggest economies and most influential countries, Nigeria and South Africa. This has paved the way for the pair to explore opportunities to increase bilateral economic relations.

The two countries have been beset by tension in recent months, triggered by the recenty attacks on Nigerians, particularly in South Africa’s economic hub of Gauteng, after locals accused them of running drug and prostitution rings.

In the wake of the violence, Nigeria claimed at least 116 of its citizens had been killed in South Africa over the past two years during attacks blamed on xenophobia.

The government of the West African country blamed South Africa for failing to handle the crisis effectively. It sent a delegation of legislators to address the issue. Scores were arrested and investigations are under way.

The upheavals were, unofficially, blamed on the two rival countries being eager to flex their economic and political muscles.

Nigerians insisted that South African firms must cease operations in their country, where a significant number of companies – over 100 – are dominant players in their sectors.

This included MTN, the mobile operator, which had its office in Abuja, the capital, vandalised and looted in a reprisal attack.

However, in spite of all of this, South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry recently organised a successful trade and investment mission to the West African country to promote bilateral trade.

The mission promoted South African products and service offerings, while exploring partnerships between local firms and their counterparts in Nigeria.

There were no signs the two countries were at loggerheads with each other as suggested by the events of the preceding weeks.

Addressing the trade and investment seminar in Lagos, South Africa’s high commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Mnguni, said the country was confident it would be able to consolidate economic ties with Nigeria.

He said the participation of business people from both countries had contributed immensely to the advancement of relations between South Africa and Nigeria, especially at an economic level.

The South African envoy, who had been summoned earlier by authorities in Nigeria over the xenophobic attacks, said working together and learning from each other, as the two economic giants of Africa, would not only benefit citizens but also the entire African continent.

“These two economies have one thing in common, which is relying heavily on commodity exports. South Africa can, therefore, learn from Nigeria on the entrepreneurial spirit that Nigerians have and Nigerian can also learn from South African on mining beneficiation, tourism and other areas,” added Mnguni.

Director of export promotion at the Department of Trade and Industry Seema Sardha also called for increased co-operation between the two countries.

“As various regional economic blocs in Africa move towards a larger and more integrated market, there is a need for adequate, effective, affordable and well-maintained infrastructure to support economic growth, attract investment and enhance service delivery, which currently impedes our competitiveness globally,” said Sardha.

Director of investment facilitation and incentive administration at the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Emeka Offor concurred with the leaders of the South African delegation.

Offor urged them to work together with Nigerian business people to explore opportunities and to invest in the Nigerian economy.

“Our government is working hard to continuously improve the environment of doing business in Nigeria.

“To this end, we have formed a committee that will de-bottleneck challenges in the areas of doing business,” said Offor.

Meanwhile, many of the businesses which travelled to Nigeria on the trade and investment mission were eager to overcome the challenges afflicting bilateral relations and expand to Nigeria.

Olivia Fuka of GET Mining Services described the Nigerian market as massive.

“The meetings we had through our participation in the mission will unquestionably yield positive results when the company seals the leads that emanated from the mission.

“The company is determined to take full advantage of the opportunities we identified in the huge Nigerian market,” Fuka said.

Nigerian businessman Chima Nwanu said he was hopeful Nigeria would go on a similar mission to South Africa. It is believed this is under consideration.

South Africa’s exports to Nigeria increased from R6,4 billion in 2012 to R8,3bm in 2015, declining to R6,4bn last year.

The two countries traded high volumes of goods over the period.

Nigeria has managed to maintain a trade surplus of R23bn in the past year.

Mnguni was at pains to emphasise that South Africa was not xenophobic but remained committed to “building a society based on democratic values of social justice, human dignity, equality, non-racialism, non-sexism and the advancement of human rights”.

He said Nigeria and South Africa were working tirelessly to address any differences between them and urged the business fraternity to play a role.

If the cordial atmosphere that prevailed in Lagos during the visit by the South African delegation was anything to go by, the two countries appear to be on course to a strong economic relationship.

“Let us work together in partnership towards building a better future for our people in our countries and Africa in general,” said Mnguni.

According to the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, a body which represents companies doing business or exploring commercial opportunities in the two countries, xenophobic and reprisal attacks posed a threat to Africa’s fragile economic recovery. – CAJ News