Nigeria and South Africa, as the dominant economic powers in Africa, play a significant role in the continent’s economic, political and cultural diplomatic realm. Together, their projected combined GDP is expected to reach an impressive $1.8 trillion in 2023, comprising over 30% of Africa’s total GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Additionally, Nigeria and South Africa were among the top investment destinations in Africa by venture capital deal volume, making up 36% of the top 10 investment destinations in 2022, according to a recent report by the African Private Capital Association.
Beyond their economic ascendancy, Nigeria and South Africa have been instrumental in establishing critical multilateral institutions in Africa, including the African Union, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the AfCFTA Secretariat. These institutions owe part of their existence to the collaborative efforts of both countries. Furthermore, they have joined forces in diplomatic initiatives aimed at addressing conflicts and promoting peace and stability in Africa. In the last five years, both countries have contributed short of $2 billion to peacekeeping efforts, showcasing their commitment to democratic values, security and stability while respecting the sovereignty of African Union member states.
However, despite these collective endeavours, significant differences of opinion persist between the citizens of Nigeria and South Africa, often fueled by gross historical ignorance and stereotypes. These misunderstandings impede progress and cooperation, hindering the overall objective of African economic and political integration.
Unbeknownst to many, Nigeria and South Africa engage in cultural diplomacy through Nollywood movies and Mzansi’s Musical (Amapiono, Gqom, Afropop) and Choreographic genres. These cultural expressions have created a shared and recognisable identity between the citizens of both nations. Regrettably, Abuja and Tshwane (Pretoria) have yet to leverage this cultural synergy to promote people-to-people relations and mutual understanding. Another stark similarity between the two countries is their cultural practices related to facial scarification. Igbo and Zulu people practice facial scarification, a cultural practice that involves making incisions or cuts on the face and applying substances to create permanent scars, notwithstanding their different meanings depending on the specific patterns and locations of the marks.
Cultivating cultural diplomacy between these two sister nations presents a golden opportunity to bridge the gaps in national identity, dispel misunderstandings and overcome implicit biases that often arise from a bewildered herd mentality between Nigerians and South Africans.
By fostering more profound understanding and empathy between their citizens, the Nigerian and South African governments can strengthen their partnership and contribute more effectively to the entire continent’s economic development.
The recent inauguration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is a concrete symbolic step for these two nations to bolster their political, economic, and cultural ties. By presenting a united front politically and economically, Nigeria and South Africa can drive Africa’s economic agenda, particularly the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and pave the way for lasting prosperity for their people. Overcoming stereotypes and misconceptions among their citizens is crucial to create the Africa We Want.
Khumalo is a corporate diplomacy enthusiast