How South Africa and Nigeria Can Repair Their Troubled Ties

How South Africa and Nigeria Can Repair Their Troubled Ties
South African President Jacob Zuma arrives for the inauguration of the new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Abuja, Nigeria, May 29, 2015 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

The relationship between South Africa and Nigeria, generally troubled since the end of apartheid in 1994, deteriorated markedly in recent years during the respective presidencies of Jacob Zuma and Goodluck Jonathan. This crisis in relations is not in the interests of either country or the wider continent, which needs its two hegemons to work in collaboration to address Africa’s myriad problems. Both sides seem locked into antagonistic postures from which there appears to be no easy exit. But there is a way out.

Ties already in a freefall under Zuma and Jonathan reached their nadir in May, when Nigeria temporarily recalled its most senior diplomat from Pretoria in protest at the latest wave of xenophobic attacks on African nationals, including Nigerians, in South Africa. Though Abuja did not sever diplomatic relations, the move did send an unmistakable signal of disapproval, triggering an indignant South African response.

The incident only added to increasing tensions in recent years over a raft of other issues: the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya; differences over who should be the chairperson of the African Union in 2012; and continued maneuvering around the question of African membership of a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council. Nigeria also objects to South Africa’s exclusive African membership in major international organizations like the G-20 and the BRICS, contesting Pretoria’s claim that it is equipped to speak for Africa within these forums. This resentment grew in 2014 when Nigeria supplanted South Africa as Africa’s largest economy.

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.

More World Politics Review