Thursday, May 13, 2021

Nigeria/South Africa: The Rise of Bolekaja Diplomatists

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By Ademola Araoye

Nothing illustrates the nadir to which the feeble culture of our national discourse across all facets of human endeavor has sunk than the cacophony of populist and nationalist jingoisms that are being spewed in the name of policy recommendations to the Federal government over the latest attack on Nigerians by South African mobs in Pretoria and its environs. The lack of any robust interrogation, whether sound intellectual or even commonsensical, outside the now familiar diatribe that the slightest provocation or perceived offence between Pretoria and Abuja generates is revealing of the absolute denudation of a national culture of scholarly and rational engagement on matters of grave national import and policy concerns. Granted the need for cathartic outlets of a nation that perceives itself aggrieved, the public bravura and chest beating of individuals and institutions have puffed more smoke to our continuing struggle to comprehend this problematic phenomenon.

In fact, in instances, those with the formal institutional mandate to throw light on these issues have by the peculiarities of their interventions successfully advertized their personal and institutional lack of depth. Their resort to embarrassing display of crudity in their contemptuous dismissal of the Principal Representative of a major African power can only call to question their intellectual astuteness and appreciation of the nuances and adroitness in balancing conflicting imperatives of policy making. These are what higher education and thorough research and robust intellectual engagements with challenges are expected to imbue in individuals; the enhancement of cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity is the psychological characteristic or variable that shows how complex or simple the frame and perceptual skill of a person are. It is the extent to which a person differentiates and integrates an event.

The evidence so far shows a generally national low cognitive complexity resulting in a pitiable degree of social perception that has impacted deleteriously on our struggle to understand South Africa. Yet it is inevitable if we are to institute processes to boost the cognitive complexity on both sides as well as our own cognitive orientation in relation to South Africa. Orientation implies knowledge of our immediate environment, including the time, character, key personalities and groups and the nature of their interests and how they impact our navigation of that environment. In short we have not invested in properly orienting both sides as we operate blindly with a big lacuna on who the peoples of South Africa, their challenges in the post settlement and how to react to their historical and existential realities.

Tossed about globally and with a permanent focus on the immediate problems, we came up in quick succession with many thoughts. They were not well thought out and tentative ideational structures. How could one rationalize the avowed Citizen diplomacy when it is embedded in the Consular services that the Foreign Ministry of every state, including Nigeria, offer. It is axiomatic. Then there is the Diaspora office in the presidency manned by political jobbers rather than by trained and experienced diplomats is therefore anachronistic. And now, the grotesque lack of imagination is at play in the very simplistic call of indolent minds for the recall of the Nigerian Ambassador from Pretoria. And whining at the African Union? Lord have mercy!!

This is especially so in the face of unusually candid apologies rendered by the matured and restrained South African Ambassador. The South African presidency has also issued its own apology. Nigeria must be graceful and behave like a civilized nation. We must jettison the uninformed recommendations of Bolekaja diplomatists. Whatever the outrage, civilized pretend diplomatists would be restrained in their public pronouncements on the person of the Ambassador of a front line state that doubles as natural ally of Nigeria. Emotional outbursts, vituperations on public platforms are just the hallmark of commentators with tangential relevance to policy. These do not make a diplomat. It is throwback to the famous era of “area boy diplomacy”: a syndrome of Bolekaja.

Also on the decline of Nigeria’s stature that is clear to the informed and discerning, it is instructive to highlight that in the place of well thought out holistic and compelling policy templates for action, arose such concepts as Economic diplomacy, Democracy police, Citizen centered diplomacy and a host of atomized and disaggregated thematic ballyhoos bereft of any sterling substantive import for Nigeria’s Afrocentric policy. This was in response to pressing domestic agendas. However, it just demonstrated the erosion of serious intellectual capacity to fashion credible policies to move Nigerian forward given its debilitating internal realities. If the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs would look into publishing in predictable periodicity a worthy journal of international affairs, perhaps foreign policy making in Nigeria would move to rational spheres beyond simplistic vituperations as policy. Nigeria can certainly do better.

Economic diplomacy, Democracy police, Citizen centered diplomacy and the likes as policy frameworks represented policy setbacks. They reflected a weakening of coherence in the conceptual pivots of Nigeria’s foreign policy and illustrated a dearth of robust intellectual thrust of the more dynamic years of Nigeria on the world stage. Worse still, in focusing almost exclusively on slices of internal challenges that dominated only a few years, they repudiated the compelling understandings of the dominant historicity of Africa, the abandonment of authenticated historic impulses in favor of the ascendance of pragmatic political immediacy over the critical integrationist impulses. They therefore did not help to advance Nigeria as a serious player on the world stage. They were also very limited in their impact on national life.

On the current debacle with South Africa, the challenge of Nigeria South Africa relations is in forging closer interaction and coordination across the many formal and informal range of engagements that constitute bilateral relations. This is more true given the confounding nature of the perennial challenge of the South African mob. Without any semblance of a systematic interrogation and with almost moribund research culture, our national navigation of this challenge has remained bereft of the required clarity on the nature, context, undercurrents of the perennial challenge of South Africa’s mob mindset. We have indolently and probably embraced and uncharitably as well as wrongly, I believe, the characterization of South Africa as xenophobic. This indictment is convenient for us as it is escapist for a nation that has a problem of a small but devastatingly active minority of rogue characters with a voluptuous capacity to distort the image of the Nigeria all over the world.

Our instinctive emotional responses unfortunately applies also to institutional perspectives that have betrayed the hollowness in their abandonment of rigor, logic and positivism for scholarly exfoliation of layers of complexity in human affairs. In the current case, some interventions breach ethical underpinnings of good bilateral relations. The facile touting and specious regurgitations of ill digested principles and concepts, including the concept of reciprocity, that are distorted in the attempt to exploit them for hollow policy ends do not make for a scholar in more rigorous and demanding intellectual climes.

Yet still on the challenge of Nigeria’s relations with South Africa, it is affirmed that the normative groundings of the foreign and security policies of post-Apartheid South Africa and the Federal Republic of Nigeria are ahistoricist and therefore problematic. It bears repeating that in the grand sweep of human affairs, in particular in relation to the fate of black humanity, the only legitimate raison d’etre of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the post-Apartheid Republic of South Africa is their shared destiny as the only credible nucleus of a vanguard of an African force or a continental alliance for holistic emancipation of black humanity.

Between the two, they possess, with over 20 per cent of the continent’s population, the basic minimum demographics, common sentiments around the histories of their shared humanity, political consciousness, the two biggest economies of the continent, technological and crude power requisites of a credible African force to attempt the consolidation of the disparate assets of the continent for meaningful change. Behind Egypt (.3056) and Algeria (.4514), Nigeria (.7856) and South Africa (.8252) are placed third and fourth respectively in rankings of African firepower. Their axiomatic and sacrosanct responsibility essentially translates into leading, jointly and in a seamless manner, collaborative efforts of a coalition of progressive forces on the continent to change in a comprehensive manner the millennial existential realities of Africa and its peoples; political, economic and social.

South Africa has very high regard for Nigeria and what we represent. The evidence abounds for balanced observers o see and credible intellectuals. Relations between South Africa and Nigeria are critically important for Africa. It must therefore be conducted beyond the ambit of formal state affairs by factoring into the mix and constantly calibrating the informal interactions of the peoples of two countries. If not properly managed, these informal interactions can be stumbling blocks. That is where the main difficulty lies. The failure and incapacity to develop transnational social capital has been the bane of South Africa Nigeria relations. The incessant attacks on Nigerians and our interests may be mitigated in the long term through the establishment of multiple platforms to link various Nigerian professional bodies, umbrella trade unions, civil society groups, the military, women’s association, youth and student organizations, media practitioners with their South African counterparts. The idea is to build constructive transnational platforms to serve as bridges between South Africa’s society with Nigeria. Bilateral relations with South Africa should not be a mere institutional governmental affair. The lag or asymmetry in social empathy in national societies on both sides traceable to two main factors. The first is the nature of diplomacy as an inter-government al affair. This has implied the bifurcation of relations into a vibrant governmental relationship on the one hand. On the other hand are societies with antagonistic sentiments. This can only lead to the current impasse due to mutual lack of empathy of both sides for their respective internal challenges.

Transnational social capital generated by dense informal cross national interactions of common cause communities are known to underpin or even drive the direction of formal policy in very dynamic environments. By enhancing cognitive complexity of participants, trans-national common cause communities have directed the very evolution and transformation of the Westphalian state itself. The integration of common and inclusive African imperatives as the crucial foundations of a reconstructed and cultivated Africanist orientations and protocols of inter-state and trans-national societal relations between Nigeria and South Africa, and in fact among all progressive elements on the continent, has long been overdue. For now, relations between South Africa and Nigeria is characterized by low mutual social empathy resulting in a lack of optimal synergic interaction, even though that has evidently been the desire of both sides.

Against the continent’s debilitating almost transcendental challenges and the required search for new normative foundations of foreign policy in Africa, a constructive and selective adoption by the two countries of only conventional and institutional norms, protocols that promote mutual understandings is an ineluctable imperative in moving Africa closer to each other. It is also required in breaking Africa from its fossilized location in the global periphery permanently to a consolidated and validated partnership within the comity of nations and states. Above all, the axiomatic obligations of South Africa and Nigeria imply taking all necessary steps by all means necessary in transforming, or restructuring or realigning Africa from its entrenched status as no more than a number of consolidated subordinated spaces mainly acting as proxies of hegemonic forces. Redressing the proxy role of African spaces as extensions of their hegemonic controllers that is effectuated often against the will of its peoples and interests, is the historic task for a conscious South Africa and Nigeria determined to meet the obligations of their unique loci in Africa.

The policies of a euphoric, searching and cautious post-Apartheid South Africa and Nigerian foreign policies were respectively underpinned by perceived, even if misconceived, nuanced notions of national interests. Under the evolved circumstances, it was inevitable for the vision of a common destiny to be devalued, especially in the face of the incongruences of the historical conjunctures that characterized the beginnings of formal bilateral relationships between the two countries. It was ominous that South Africa emerged from Apartheid when Nigeria was under the incubus of a dictatorship determined to ruin anything and everything worthy associated with the Nigerian state and society.

In Abuja, the protocols and hierarchy of engagements of the immediate post liberated South Africa in sub-Sahara Africa was registered, in the context of Abuja’s understanding of its vast comprehensive investments in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, with some misgivings. These beginnings have colored relations between the two countries. This beginnings may have been responsible for the devaluation of the authentic validating principles of Afrocentricity as both countries have sought in sometimes nuanced competitive postures of establishing quasi alliances or associations to assure strategic placement in global politics through ostensibly innocuous multilateral institutions. The core of relations between South Africa have been very nuanced in their great abdications of their historic mandates. Given the void in thinking big about their roles in Africa, quotidian policy pursuits of South Africa and Nigeria have been rather on ephemerals, characterized by unending petty squabbles.

The internal problems of South Africa, including a lumpen mass along the margins of society carry over from the Apartheid years, often interjects itself into the foreign policy arena. Official South Africa is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It must resolve the challenge of accommodating its sprawling mass disenchanted, a critical internal constituency of those who are left behind. At the same time, it must demonstrate sensitivity to African solidarity in managing the avalanche of fleeing economic migrants from badly managed African countries without provoking the kind of backlash that it currently faces. That is not all. Its balancing act is in the context of a very difficult national process. The current madness betrays the turbulent undercurrents of South Africa’s politics, in particular the structure of its economy and their impact on national life.

The horrendous hackings to death of foreigners, now symbolized by the brutal daylight stalking, bludgeoning and stabbing to death of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole, are strong reminders of the dire consequences of pervasive disillusionment of the black masses in post Apartheid South Africa. The attacks that seem to have acquired a xenophobic character are indeed the other side of the violence that seem to have become a quotidian reality of this land struggling hard to translate its vision of a rainbow nation into actuality. Nigerians, especially the badly behaved, have not been spared.

Violence has been integral to the many struggles of South Africa. The decision of the Youth wing of the ANC to in the 1940s to radicalize the anti Apartheid struggle formally legitimized violence for revolutionary ends. Half a century later, as the ANC negotiated a settlement to the post settlement era, a third force arose to challenge the leading role of the ANC. This Third force was responsible for horrendous violence aimed at political opponents. The “Third Force” was a term used by leaders of the ANC during the late 1980s and early 1990s to refer to a clandestine force believed to be responsible for a surge in violence in KwaZulu-Natal, and townships around and south of the Witwatersrand. The xenophobic pogroms in May 2008 were also ascribed to ‘the third force’.

In 2015 Malusi Gigaba also ascribed xenophobic violence to a “third force. The culture of violence is deeply entrenched in South Africa national life. It would be futile to expect that the violence prone disenchanted and marginalized South African lumpen masses, encountering Africans for the first time, would gladly embrace them. As is often the case, the works of the good Africans do not make headlines. Those of undesirable criminals do. The major challenge in the post settlement is to delegitimize violence as a currency for social transaction. A second is eradicate the psychological feeling implanted during Apartheid that South Africa belong to a different universe outside Africa.

But the situation has arisen not because of a lack of trying by the ANC. The ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program was designed to create a black middle class. This has attained some remarkable progress. The idea was that this new black middle class would create avenues for the empowerment to trickle down to impact the black community. This expectation of the cascading impact of the BEE has floundered. The black majority who were denied any education or who were outright victims of the Apartheid policy of deliberately stifling the development of the entrepreneurial capacity of blacks are no match for the more experienced Somalis, Mozambicans and Zimbabweans. As is often the case with immigrants, the foreigners are more motivated to work extremely hard and to save through self imposed privations. Often too these communities of foreigners are not integrated, especially the Somalis whose clannishness has no bounds. As for Nigerians, the proclivity of drug trafficking and underhand business is well known. While these are no excuses for the inhuman degradation of life that has been witnessed in South Africa, they are very important factors that fuel resentment of South Africans against Nigerians. Badly behaved Nigerians have devastated communities and established colonies notorious for drug dealing in South Africa.

What all this suggest is to moderate our sense of outrage against South Africa. South Africa must resolve its many dilemmas. Pretoria has to bite the bullet and institute an indigenization policy that must definitively restrict the activities of foreigners to more advanced and relatively capitalized ventures and sectors of the economy. South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. For one thing, unemployment is a staggering problem especially as the unemployed are often also unemployable, except probably in the mines. Even by official estimates and it tends to be conservative, unemployment rate in South Africa decreased to 24.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 from 25.40 percent in the third quarter of 2014.

Unemployment rate in South Africa averaged 25.25 percent from 2000 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 31.20 percent in the first quarter of 2003 and a record low of 21.50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Another source highlights that by 2014 the black African unemployment rate had declined from 43% to 40%. It notes that this is of no comfort to the additional 3.1 million black African workforce unemployed. Since many in this category are unemployable and have no history and culture of working, it would require some measure of affirmative mobilization to inculcate a new working ethic, create self employment niches and nurture this category of deprived South Africans into constructive participants in society and economy. Therefore, an open door policy to all of Africa’s poor and wearied cannot be an option. As it currently stands, this kind of selfless solidarity is very unrealistic and can only sharpen current antagonisms between poor black South Africans and other Africans. Solidarity unlimited is a politically defeatist route for the ANC. South Africa must find creative alternatives to pacify its roaring mass disenchanted. It is an imperative to defuse the ticking time bomb.

Some sacrifices are therefore required. South Africa must close some of its soft sectors to foreign participation as we theoretically did in Nigeria years ago. The retail sector, with clearly specified limits that are within the capacity of the marginalized South Africans, should preferably be closed to foreigners. Also, at the next level, Africans who so desire should enter into partnerships with South Africans in bigger wholesale outlets to enhance the stakes of South Africa blacks in these joint enterprises. This would be nothing innovative as it is the practice in Ghana. SADC or no SADC, AU or no AU, some soft sectors of the economy that have the potential to serve as platforms for the apprenticeship of the most business savvy of the lumpen mass lot should rightfully be reserved for nationals. The South African government should also provide lending facilities that are accompanied or preceded by training in management of small businesses with economic outreach officers from financial institutions to provide advisory services to this new cadres of Small and Medium young black entrepreneurs.

Also directly relevant is the need to reorient South Africans psychologically to begin to see themselves and their nation as integral part and parcel of Africa. The entrenched notion of South Africa as an autonomous social universe vis-à-vis the rest of the Continent should be addressed through formal and informal engagements with South African society. In this connection, Africa has the technological infrastructure to begin the cultivation of transnational people to people networks in the continent. As for the rest of Africa, it is high time we learnt that we cannot continue to shirk our responsibilities at home and expect others to clean up after us. We are daily assaulted on our television screens by the consequences of the pervasive irresponsibility of our states and leadership as Africans choose to expose themselves to unimaginable risks of near certain death only just to earn a menial living in Europe.

African governments must empathize with the situation in South Africa and work to ensure that the solidarity of official South Africa is not be abused any further. There is so much official irresponsibility in our national lives. An anecdotal point here illustrates this. Nigeria must continue to de-incentivize Nigerians from seeking all manner of criminal escape valves from home, including drug trafficking in South Africa. As the latest deportation of bad Nigerians this week illustrate, criminal Nigerians are not welcome anywhere in the world. We have seen beheadings of Nigerians from Saudi Arabia to the Philippines for the same drug offences at the heart o our problems in South Africa.

Buffeted by this persistent ill wind, it should be official policy that Nigeria’s consular help to its citizens abroad in cases involving drug trafficking should be scrupulously limited to and stop at ensuring that rule of law and the judicial processes are meticulously adhered to. Finally, Nigeria must learn to be more mature in handling challenges thrown up by the kind of situation we are faced with in South Africa. To threaten to close South Africa’s investment in Nigeria on account of this unfortunate development does not reflect the sophistication one would expect of a country of our stature and experience in navigating this matter. Knee-jerk responses to crisis are not indicative of measured and reasoned leadership.

Since the South African government has tacitly acknowledged that some wrong has been done, we may seize the opportunity to begin to build transnational social capital between the two societies. The idea is to diversify integrative communication channels between the two countries, while spreading pressure points to avoid or mitigate potential recurrence of this challenge. The two countries must invest in robust joint early warning systems. Otherwise, these avoidable irritations would continue to impede the articulation of more serious strategic challenges that require urgent attention of the two leading black African states.

Some practical steps that are required would be the creation bi-national platforms to enhance interaction, formal and informal, understanding between South Africans and Nigerians. The recall of our Ambassador canvassed by bolekaja diplomatists should be rejected. It is meaningless symbolism. It has no significance at a time when you need the full complement of the High Commission to douse the current situation. The Nigerian legislatures, both at the federal and state levels, should establish formal and personal ties with their South African counterparts. The Nigeria Trade Union Congress may follow up its recent public condemnation of the attacks with a formal and permanent engagement with the powerful Coalition of South African Trade Union (COSATU).

Our most senior traditional chiefs should be encouraged to develop ties with influential monarchies in that country. These should facilitate visits on both sides. The National Association of Nigerian Students may consider establishing a platform with the Federation of South African students union. The Nigerian media form a bi-national body to share information and enhance understandings or at least eliminate some of the alarming falsehood. Let there be a proliferation of such structures to engage each other and identify causes that touch both countries and Africa. These would advance the cause of both countries and also serve as proactive mechanisms to resolve emerging challenges to our bilateral relationship. Finally, it is not convincing that the African Union is in a position to provide meaningful intervention on this matter.

Political structures dispense politics and the deliberations of the African Union on the specific case of Nigeria would only politicize and muddle up the situation only further. It would an admission that Nigeria, the leading African state, lacks the capacity to find creative solutions to the menace. We could also be embarrassed should the South Africans are forced to go to town with our dirty linen. It would require no evidence because the widespread perception of Nigeria is not salutary, even in Africa. Many thanks to the sterling determination of our bad minority. In the final analysis, Nigeria and South Africa must find the will to transcend this difficult challenge. That is why I commend the Nigerian Foreign Ministry for its matured handling of this emotionally charged problem. The Ministry must not succumb to the assault of uninformed and uncritical bolekaja pretend diplomatists in our midst.

Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine

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1 COMMENT

  1. Ademola Araoye, is an object of envy given his impressive grasp of the language and his articulation in a very lucid and yet forceful manner of facts as they obtain on the ground – here in South Africa. The depth of thought that characterize the subject, he deals with is evidence of a great mind that is rare to find in this period when superficiality amongst reporters run the roost. His article, bereft of the antipathy, venomous and crude generalizations of all South Africans as bloodthirsty and sub-human – single-mindedly intent on shedding the blood of fellow Africans, that seem to have become the norm for mainstream Nigerian press (judging by the online articles of Nigerian newspapers), and actively espoused by some citizenry, is what is needed when lunatics run the asylum. It is regrettable that in this frenzy of jingoism, the rational voice of the astute Nigerian High Commissioner and the diplomats serving under him who have a better vantage point than the ordinary Nigerian (whose reactions to these attacks in South Africa seem to be seen through the prism of violent propaganda videos purporting to show attacks on Nigerians) has been marginalized and perhaps denigrated. I salute the writer for the incisive treatise penned.

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