Nigeria and South Africa are no strangers to diplomatic disputes. Recently, the Nigerian government told its top diplomats in the South African capital to return home after a series of attacks on foreigners in South Africa. The South African government has sharply criticized the Nigerian action.
Many South African officials have criticized the attacks on African immigrants. At least seven people have died in the violence. Thousands of others were forced from their homes.
The governments of three African countries helped hundreds of their citizens to leave South Africa after the unrest. The three countries are Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But the Nigerian government was the first in Africa to withdraw its top diplomats from South Africa. Nigeria’s government says it did not officially order the diplomats to return home. It says they were asked to return to Nigeria for “routine” discussions.
But that has done little to stop the sharp disputes between Nigeria and South Africa. This week, the South African Foreign Ministry released a statement noting Nigeria’s failure to stop Boko Haram militants. The statement noted that thousands of people have died in the militants’ campaign of violence against the Nigerian government.
The South African Foreign Ministry also criticized Nigeria’s actions after a church hostel collapsed in Lagos last year. The building collapse killed 84 South Africans. “We did not blame the Nigerian government for the deaths and more than nine months delay” in the return of the bodies, the ministry said.
The diplomatic dispute demonstrates a complex relationship between Africa’s two economic powers.
Their open disagreement over who should head the African Union led to each country expelling the other’s citizens in 2012. Those people were accused of using fake reproductions of yellow fever vaccination documents.
Nigeria and South Africa also clashed over the South African science fiction film “District 9.” In the movie, Nigerians are treated like criminals and eat people. Nigerian government officials later banned the film.
Nigerian officials are unhappy about the inclusion of South Africa in the BRICS group of developing countries. The group’s other members are Brazil, Russia, India and China. Nigerian officials also have objected to South Africa describing itself as the “gateway to Africa.” They note that Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa last year.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries are cool, but business links have grown over the past 10 years. South African investments in Nigeria have risen five times between 2004 and 2010.
Last week, Nigerians gathered near the offices of a South African telecommunications company to protest the attacks on foreigners. The protest took place in the city of Kaduna outside the offices of MTN. One of the protesters, Yusuf Amoke, threatened to attack South African businesses in Nigeria.
“If South Africans are not ashamed, if South Africans are not reasonable enough not to kill our people, not to destroy our businesses, then we Nigerians will also not be reasonable enough to leave their businesses to survive in Nigeria.”
Shadrack Gutto is a professor at the University of South Africa. He notes that both countries would very much like to be named to a permanent African seat on the United Nations Security Council. But the Council’s current members have yet to approve such a seat. Professor Gutto thinks relations between the two countries may improve after a change of presidents in Nigeria.
I’m Jim Tedder.
This report was based on a story from Gillian Parker in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additional reporting came from Ibrahima Yakubu in Kaduna. George Grow adapted this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
strangers – n. people who you do not know or have never met before
foreigners – n. people from another nation; individuals who are not from one’s own place or country
complex – adj. of or having many parts that are difficult to understand; not simple
fake – adj. not true or real
gateway – n. an entrance or opening
cool – adj. not friendly