|Nigeria's finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. AFP PHOTO|
The country’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, put her finger on a sore point on Monday, underlining how political and diplomatic relations have lagged behind commercial ones.
A real effort has begun to try to warm things up. President Jacob Zuma went to Abuja last month to ensure that his opposite number, Goodluck Jonathan, would be coming for a full-blown state visit to South Africa followed by participation in the May 8-10 World Economic Forum on Africa 2013 this week. Mr Jonathan flew to Cape Town airport last night.
By an increasingly important barometer - money - the links between South Africa and Nigeria are strong. The value of bilateral trade rose to R36.6-billion last year, five times the 2002 level. Nigeria’s soaring oil exports meant trade last year was heavily in Nigeria’s favour, by a ratio of five to one.
But crude oil and cruder cash are not the only yardsticks. After rattling off a long list of Nigeria’s attractions to investors, Ms Okonjo-Iweala dwelt on Monday on a more human problem.
"Nigerians do not feel very happy when they go to get a South African visa," she told a breakfast in Johannesburg organised by the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce. In its efforts to rebuff Nigeria’s flotsam and jetsam, South Africa’s consulate in Lagos has angered the much larger numbers of legal and usually affluent applicants.
"We know we have elements within our society who are up to no good. We are sorry about that. But that should not (serve to) make policy," Ms Okonjo-Iweala said. The issue blew up last year when South Africa’s immigration authorities refused entry to Nigerians who lacked yellow fever certificates. There was an immediate tit-for-tat response and the South African authorities backed down.
"It’s the country that is the most profitable for us in Africa. In 20 years, we think it will be the most profitable in the group, including South Africa," said Helmut Engelbrecht, Standard Bank’s head of investment banking in Africa.