Can Ramaphosa Steer the South Africa-Nigeria Rivalry in a More Productive Direction?

Can Ramaphosa Steer the South Africa-Nigeria Rivalry in a More Productive Direction?
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Lindiwe Sisulu, the foreign affairs minister, during the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, Kigali, Rwanda, March 21, 2018 (AP photo).

Last week, during a press conference in Abuja, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he would “soon sign” the agreement creating the African Continental Free Trade Area, or ACFTA. His vow came nearly four months after the agreement was unveiled, and Buhari offered an unusual explanation for the delay. “I am a slow reader, maybe because I was an ex-soldier,” he said. “I didn’t read it fast enough before my officials saw that it was all right for signature.”

That may well be true. But it’s also true that Buhari had come under pressure from the man standing next to him at the press conference: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s two largest economies, were conspicuously absent from the list of countries that joined the free-trade deal when it was first announced, raising questions about how meaningful it would be. Ramaphosa, though, signed on earlier this month, and he was publicly lobbying Buhari to do the same, a development that would put any questions about the deal’s significance to rest.

Buhari’s comments on trade represented the most tangible piece of news to come out of the meeting between the two leaders—the first since Ramaphosa took office in February following the resignation of Jacob Zuma. Yet there were signs that it could be just one part of a larger story: that of a genuine rapprochement between Nigeria and South Africa. The implications of this, for the two countries and the continent at large, would extend well beyond economic integration.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.