Africa’s two powerhouses, Nigeria and South Africa, were embroiled in yet another diplomatic spat this week following the deportation of citizens from each country.
South Africa threw the first blow on Friday 2 March when it deported 125 Nigerians from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg for allegedly having fake yellow fever vaccination certificates. A spokesman for South Africa’s home affairs department said the decision was necessary at the time as it remained a health issue. This week, Nigeria responded tit for tat by deporting 84 South Africans for alleged inadequacies in their travel documents.
The incident immediately grabbed the attention of diplomatic and business circles as Nigeria accused its southern rival of xenophobia whilst many South African businessmen worried about access to their investments. In this regard, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria himself, Olugbenga Ashiru, declared that his country could take broader retaliatory measures including a clampdown on South African companies. Nigeria has long accused South Africa of exploiting its market and denying locals employment opportunities.
In an act of good faith, South Africa issued a formal apology this week and has decided to send a special envoy to its West African counterpart in the next few days to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan. The two countries have also decided to hold a meeting of their joint Binational Commission to address all areas of contention, especially that of yellow fever card certifications. South Africa may consider re-opening its vaccination clinic at OR Tambo International.
This is not the first time Africa’s two biggest economies have been at loggerheads with each other. Over the course of the past year, for example, Nigeria and South Africa have disputed the role of the continent in resolving various conflicts in Libya and the Ivory Coast.