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New allies in Africa

A new understanding is being forged between sub-Saharan Africa’s regional superpowers South African and Nigeria on a joint approach to solving conflict on the continent.

Speaking at a news conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said the relationship between the two countries had to be one of collaboration and not competition. “With the on-going conflicts in Africa today, unless we really cooperate there is no way that we can see an end to many of them.”

He added: “Our two countries can be instruments of assistance and a vanguard of hope for the management and resolution of conflicts.”

Policy analysts told IRIN that with the end of military rule in Nigeria, and the close personal ties between Obasanjo and former president Nelson Mandela, a new strategic relationship based on a commitment to peace and economic development in Africa could emerge between the two regional hegemons.

“South Africa and Nigeria want the relationship to work. This was emphasised by Mandela cutting short his election campaigning to attend Obasanjo’s inauguration. And Obasanjo will be attending (Thabo) Mbeki’s inauguration,” John Strimler at the South African Institute of International Relations said. “One of the most obvious and natural relationships would be for the two to work together in peacekeeping.”

According to Chris Landsberg, an analyst with the Johannesburg-based Centre for Policy Studies: “This week will produce a clearer picture of what the proposed relationship would be. Mbeki and Obasanjo are expected to spend quite a lot of time together so as to start giving substance to the proposed strategic relationship.”

Population size, economic strength and military power leaves the two countries head-and-shoulders above their respective regional neighbours. Nigeria has a history of peacekeeping and, particularly under Obasanjo’s presidency in the late 1970s, a tradition of a pro-African foreign policy. South Africa still benefits from the international cachet of the Mandela transition, and the clout of the biggest economy on the continent.

But smaller countries could resent the domination of the big two, analysts pointed out. However, “if the two start to work together within such a forum as the UN and OAU (Organisation of African Unity), we could see greater consensus from Africa on certain issues and have a kind of united voice,” Landsberg said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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