CAPE TOWN (AFP) – The leaders of Africa’s two largest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, are meeting Tuesday in an effort to improve sometimes patchy ties.
Jonathan will also hold separate talks with the South African-based MTN telecommunications company, as well as representatives of car manufacturers Toyota and Nissan in South Africa
South African President Jacob Zuma and his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan are expected to sign several pacts in a display of warming relations between the two African powerhouses on the heels of a trip last month by Zuma to Lagos.
Zuma welcomed Jonathan — on the first state visit to South Africa by any Nigerian leader since 2009 — with red carpet pomp and ceremony including a 21-gun salute, navy band and guard of honour.
Nigerian and South African flags lined the road to parliament in Cape Town and were also hanging outside the National Assembly where Jonathan is due to make an address at 1200 GMT.
“I think symbolically it’s very important to indicate a growing closeness between the leadership of the two countries,” said Dianna Games, honorary chief executive of the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce.
“There is a kind of a rivalry that has dogged the relationship over some time, and as a result the two countries are not speaking with a united voice on issues affecting Africa, let alone issues in the relationship itself.”
While South Africa is still the continent’s biggest economy, Nigerian business activity is set to grow more than twice as fast, by 7.2 percent, this year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.
Total two-way trade has risen to $4.1 billion, with a surplus in oil-rich Nigeria’s favour, according to South Africa’s department of trade.
Nigeria is the continent’s most populous country and its biggest oil producer.
The two states, which both want seats in an expanded UN Security Council, were at loggerheads last year over who would become head of the African Union’s commission.
“It created a very frosty relationship between the two countries,” said Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari, analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
“My view is also that South Africa has also been trying to overstretch its role on the continent by trying to play a very important role” in countries in Nigeria’s backyard such as Ivory Coast and Mali.
An embarrassing tit-for-tat row also broke out over yellow fever vaccinations that saw passengers turned away at airports in both countries in March last year.
The fact that there had not yet been an official state visit between the two countries was “abnormal for two continental powerhouses”, said Hengari.
“Ordinarily in his first year in office, Jonathan Goodluck should have been to South Africa and President Zuma should have been to Nigeria. That is a symbol of a very very strong bilateral relationship.”
South Africa’s “charm offensive” pointed the way to a more cordial relationship where cooperation could be deepened and contentious issues discussed, he said.
While courting the emerging BRIC markets — Brazil, Russia, India and China — South Africa has not shown the “same political eagerness on the continent” with Nigeria an obvious target, said Games.
“If this is the start of a closer relationship, then I think that would be a very good thing all around for both countries and the continent as a whole because they are the two big powers in Africa,” she said.
The two leaders will attend a meeting of a bilateral business forum, while Jonathan will also hold separate talks with the South African-based MTN telecommunications company, as well as representatives of car manufacturers Toyota and Nissan in South Africa.