Olamide Atoyebi, a videographer in Lagos Nigeria, said she met a Johannesburg-based South African lady, simply identified as Lindiwe, on Facebook. Atoyebi was 19 years old then while Lindiwe was 27. Their friendship blossomed to the point that Lindiwe took a flight from Johannesburg to Lagos to meet her and cement a relationship that would last for over five years.
Atoyebi recalls how Lindiwe spoke so highly about Nigerians, and she reciprocated while nurturing a plan to return the visit as soon as possible. But the plan will be paused because Lindiwe, who was usually active online, suddenly went off social media and would not return messages on WhatsApp.
It’s been three years, and Atoyebi says it is as if she disappeared; Lindiwe locked her usually open and active Facebook and Instagram accounts, and every effort to reach her through close friends has yielded nothing.
However, Lindiwe left a love for South Africa in Atoyebi, who has vowed to still visit the country. The problem, however, is she will need to apply for a visa and there are no guarantees her application will be approved. Her being African is not an advantage. She has been told that a citizen of the United States, which is in North America and has the largest economy in the world, has a better advantage. US citizens visiting the Republic of South Africa for 90 days or less for tourism or business purposes do not need visas.
Her friend, Richard Onuoha, a content creator, had to forfeit a business trip to the US because the South African Consulate General in Lagos held his passport for over a month. By the time his visa to South Africa was approved, he had missed two US visa interview appointments.
Last year, Onuoha also missed a trip to South Africa because the same consulate did not approve his visa on time for a music festival he was invited to attend. He had to write to the consulate to return his passport two months after the event and with no feedback from the embassy.
He was later told by others with similar experiences that delays were normal with the Consulate General in Lagos. Caleb Efosa, a businessman in Oyo State, said he has passed on any business travels to South Africa because he wouldn’t want them to delay his passport and cost him opportunities to other countries.
Unlike South Africa, Nigeria makes provision for an eVisa for many African countries. For example, with a South African passport, travellers can enter Nigeria without much trouble because they can apply for an eVisa, either for tourism or for business, on arrival.
As of 2022, the combined GDP of Nigeria and South Africa was nearly $900 billion. In 2023, their combined GDP is projected to hit $1.8 trillion, accounting for over 30 percent of Africa’s total GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund and positioning them as economic leaders of the continent.
The two countries are also among the top venture capital investment destinations on the continent, making up 36 percent of the top 10 investment destinations in 2022, according to a recent report by the African Private Capital Association.
Trade between South Africa and Nigeria paints a picture that things are going well between them. The main products exported from Nigeria to South Africa were crude petroleum ($2.17 billion), petroleum gas ($4 million), and rubber ($8.8 million) during the last two years.
The exports of Nigeria to South Africa have increased at an annualised rate of 24.7 percent, from $7.25 million in 1995 to $2.23 billion in 2021.
The exports are dominated by crude petroleum, which make up 97 percent of Nigeria’s export value to South Africa. Experts say there is more room for growth in bilateral trade, considering that it is only 4 percent of intracontinental trade.
Years of mutual suspicion, xenophobic relations and adverse competition continue to rob the continent of much-needed leadership. The two countries are busier cementing relations with partners outside the continent rather than addressing the divisions in Africa.
It is this failure to lead that continues to drag the progress of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) two years after it was launched with great expectations.
A World Bank report at the time indicated that the income levels of African citizens could be enhanced by 7 percent up to $450 billion by 2025 if the free trade deal was implemented and this would reduce extreme poverty in Africa by 40 million people.
A more recent World Bank study done in association with the AfCFTA Secretariat indicates that other benefits that could accrue would include foreign direct investment, both within and outside Africa.
This is due to the regional markets created by the AfCFTA. Experts believe that attracting FDI is the most viable way the continent can replace dependence on aid and grants.
But two years later, the AfCFTA is struggling to make these opportunities a reality. Gurjit Singh, who served as India’s ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union, noted that a big drawback for the agreement is a lack of popular perception about its advantages across the board.
“African businesses in particular are not fully aware of the advantages of the AfCFTA. Protectionist policies followed by African countries have taken time to reduce. Moreover, persuading them about the advantages of the AfCFTA is refocusing from exports to Europe for instance, to their neighbours, have taken much more time than anticipated,” Singh wrote in a recent research.
The fractured relationship between the continent’s biggest economies is deeper than their leaders want to project. Abraham Ugonna, a lecturer in one of Nigeria’s private tertiary institutions, suggests that resolving the differences between the people is the best place to start.
There is mutual hostility between people from both countries. Many South Africans blame Nigerian nationals for the spike in drug-related crimes in the country.
“Don’t you ever think that maybe, just maybe, there’s too many of you (Nigerians) and are actually suffocating the poor country (South Africa),” said Koomza Mthembu, a South African who was responding to a post by a Nigerian urging resolution between SA and Nigeria. “Your presence doesn’t benefit SA; it’s the opposite.”
However, a 2022 report by the Institute for Security Studies showed that many South Africans exaggerated the number of migrants in their country. According to the report, there were about 3.95 million migrants in South Africa, making up 6.5 percent of the about 60 million population.
This number includes all migrants, irrespective of legal status or where they come from.
But there is a way out for the two countries. According to experts, it lies with promoting those things that unit the people, like in the entertainment industry. The increasing dalliance between Afrobeats and Amanpiano should be encouraged, said Jermain Sanwo-Olu, special adviser to Lagos State Governor.
According to him, when the two “powerhouses” work together, Africa benefits. He envisions a prosperous Africa where cooperation and collaboration between Nigeria and South Africa lead to emergence, uniting the continent and showcasing its immense potential.
T.D. Mseleku, South African High Commission in Nigeria, also agrees. According to him, the continent’s emancipation requires strong bilateral relationships, especially between leading nationals like Nigeria and South Africa.