Nigeria and South African Deal and Development of Visa Diplomacy as Basis of Citizen Diplomacy


 Bola A. Akinterinwa; Telephone : 0807-688-2846  e-mail:

Gradually but unconsciously though, emphasis is being placed on the need for development of citizen diplomacy as an approach to the management and conduct of Nigeria’s foreign relations. On Wednesday, 8th June, 2016 South African High Commission in Abuja was reported to have unveiled its plan to facilitate the processes of issuance of visa to Nigerians.

In reaction to the many complaints by Nigerians not only about the difficulties and the mistreatment they often go through in the South African Commission, as well as the complaints similarly leveled against the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa, Mr. Lulu Mnguni, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, has acknowledged that ‘there has been growing concerns from Nigeria and South Africa on the issue of visas.

There have been complaints by Nigerians on how they are treated when seeking visas.’ In this regard, he made two important points. First is that the South African President ‘has indicated that Nigeria and South Africa need to intervene by making it easier for our nationals to have visas to our two countries and we came to an agreement that business people and frequent fliers between South Africa and Nigeria will qualify for long-term visas of two, three, and five years’ (Daily Sun, June 9, 2016, p.13). This simply means, in the eyes of Mr. Mnguni, that both countries ‘have totally moved from political diplomacy to economic diplomacy and to promote this economic diplomacy, there is need for smooth movement of people between our two countries.’

The second important point is derived from the first. The High Commissioner had it that ‘we need a friendship that resides with our people. Nigeria and South Africa need to criticize each other in a constructive way. We need to look at how we can unplug some of the irritants that have undermined our cohesion.’ Mr. Mnguni cannot be more correct and patriotic. Objective criticisms help the development of objectivity of purpose in reactive foreign policy making. Reactive foreign policy necessarily sends correct signals to whoever is concerned or targeted.

One truth about Nigeria-South African relations is that most of the irritants in their bilateral ties are majorly created by South Africa. It is useful to recall the most critical one, which is the place of Nigeria in South Africa’s history of liberation as told since 1994 when the obnoxious policy of apartheid was partly nipped in the bud. Both the political and academic elite in South Africa have consciously or unconsciously ensured that the name ‘Nigeria’ does not appear in official documents as a major anti-apartheid fighter. When official speeches are made during public events, Nigeria is hardly recognized, even at times at the level of preliminary protocol. In fact, is Nigeria recognised in the teaching books on anti-apartheid struggle as one of the Frontline States as officially recognized by the United Nations?
What about the unethical attitude of many South African businessmen in Nigeria, especially the economic and security sabotage by the MTN telecommunications.

The MTN was required by Nigerian regulation to ensure that all its subscribers are officially registered, at least, for control and security but the MTN simply opted to undermine the official regulation. In fact, on the specific issue of visa, the South African Commission authenticated visa applicants’ yellow fever vaccination cards before issuance of visas and yet, at the point of entry in South Africa of the holders of the card, the same vaccination cards were categorized as forged documents, thus giving Nigeria and Nigerians underserved bad name. These actions prompted the application of the rule of reciprocity by the Government of Nigeria which should not have been.

The point being made here is that the efforts of both governments in not only seeking to unplug the irritants but in also seeking to predicate the friendly relationship on people-to-people cannot but be most welcome. Citizen diplomacy is essentially about people-to-people relationship. It is another acknowledged tract of diplomacy which is generally used to complement official diplomacy. Even though Mr. Mnguni equated economic diplomacy with citizen diplomacy, there is no disputing the fact of his very good intention and his quest for improved ties between his country and Nigeria.

Beyond Economic and Citizen Diplomacy
Economic diplomacy can be considered in terms of pursuit of economic objectives. It can also be explicated in terms of development or foreign policy tactics. The main thrusts of economic diplomacy include the attraction of new flows of direct investment in order to grow the economy and create wealth. In this regard, it is to enable economic diplomacy to achieve its aims that the facilitation of issuance of visa is also relevant. Thus, issuance of visa is nothing more than an instrument or pillar of economic diplomacy.

On the contrary, citizen diplomacy is about the involvement of the people of both countries in the management and conduct of non-governmental affairs but which have implications for government-to-government relations. Professional bodies, for instance, can be required to relate with their counterparts in other countries on behalf of the government but in an informal or officious form. We do agree therefore with the South African High Commissioner about the need to specially promote people-to-people relationship, especially if there is to be any concrete meaning to Thabo Mbeki’s quest for African Renaissance, as well as African Union’s efforts at continental integration.

It is from this perspective that we believe that Nigeria and South Africa should not only move from political diplomacy to economic diplomacy but should also make strenuous efforts to move from bilateral to a plurilateral or multilateral framework, by seeking to coordinate their visa relationships with other countries like China and the United States for one main reason: Hilary Clinton is very likely to be the next President of the United States. As the first female President of the currently most powerful country in the world, the implementation of the US foreign policy is likely to change. China is also likely to be the successor to the United States as a super power from the look of things. This simply means that there will be two main countries to contend with in terms of Africa’s international relations in the near future.

Since South Africa and Nigeria are two main leaders amongst Africa’s Big Five (the three others are Libya, Egypt and Algeria), it is therefore a desideratum for Nigeria and South Africa to begin to coordinate their policies at the level of both the United States and China. In fact, Nigeria and South Africa ought to actively support the election of Hilary Clinton mainly because the emerging attitudinal disposition of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is much likely to be more hostile to Africa than that of Hilary Clinton for one major reason: racism.

Lewis Obi, in his “Trump is Ripe for Shaking” (Daily Sun, June 9, 2016, p.14), traced his racist attitude to 2009, ‘when Trump emerged as the uncrowned head of the “birther” movement in the US, a white racist vanguard dedicated to the de-legitimization of the Obama presidency.’ The movement does not believe in any black person becoming the president of the US. In other words, Lewis has it that racism has been the main animating factor of Trump’s politics. And true enough, Donald Trump, from his public campaign appearances, has been presenting himself as a pathological racist. In one of his most recent appearances, he reportedly described a US District Judge, Gonzalo Curiel as a Mexican judge and also accused him of bias against him (Trump) because of his ethnic heritage.

In this regard, even though millions of Americans in the Republican Party might have voted for Donald Trump as their flag bearer, majority of Americans are not likely or expected to vote him in as American leader to succeed Barack Obama for obvious reasons. Voting him in cannot but serve as a catalytic agent of American decline in the management of world affairs. The era of racism or renewal of obnoxious policies of segregation has already been thrown into the dustbin of history. What makes the US great and source of inspiration in international relations is its ethnic and cultural diversity. With a racist inclination, all Americans must expect unprecedented hostility, even from their European allies.

To a great extent, it cannot be rightly argued that Americans are increasingly becoming racist. However, if we do admit that an increasing number of them have now become racist by voting for Trump, there is no way a country like Nigeria can be expected to accede to policies for which she was internationally recognized to be against and for which she was duly honoured and respected: anti-apartheid policy. We therefore believe that the whole world, in spite of would-be global political hypocrisies, is much likely to condemn the US under Donald Trump. By so doing, the image of the good people of America can only be tainted.

It is also important to note that the election of Donald trump cannot but be an expression of God’s anger against the US, the consequences of which will include sadness. Consequently, if Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were to be considered as two devils and we are required to make a choice, it will be commonsensical to take the better devil. More so that she is the wife of Omowale Clinton, that is, another Nigerian, and therefore, an African by conferment, courtesies of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.


Issues and the Hilary Clinton FactorIn the foreseeable future, politics in the US cannot but raise the issue of arrogance or superiority between and amongst Americans. American proponents of equality, fairness and justice are very likely to seek to show the whole world that the US still remains the world leader and therefore will take all efforts to sustain the leadership. In this regard, they are likely to give active support to Hilary Clinton being the first woman rather than Donald Trump whose campaigns are directly anti-America outside of the US.


Secondly, Hilary Clinton has an immigration policy that Africa should support. She not only supported the 2007 plan of President George W. Bush to normalise the irregular situation of some immigrants but which plan was eventually killed in the Senate, she also supports President Barack Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) programmes aimed at waiving the deportation of children brought to the US or who are parents of lawful residents.

In fact, when elected, her agenda is expected to include the closure of all private immigration detention facilities, as well as allow the undocumented immigrants to buy into Obamacare. As Clinton put it herself, there is the need ‘to make America once again a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws’ and ‘to restore America’s standing in the world… and to join with our allies to confront our shared challenges, from poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming.’ These are problems that are also of concern to the people of Africa.

Thirdly, and perhaps most disturbingly, Hilary Clinton’s foreign policy and social security questions are likely to also create some irritants in her relations with the whole continent of Africa because of their conflicting nature. For instance, she supports same sex marriage and abortion. This policy disposition necessarily antagonizes the position of Nigeria, in particular, and most African countries, in general. Same sex marriage is a criminal offence in Nigeria.

Again, even though she supports a two-state solution to the Israelo-Palestinian dispute, one issue that has always made all negotiations for peace impossible, she also supports Jerusalem as ‘the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel. She is on record to have supported the legislation requiring the US government not only to identify Jerusalem as the capital but also to move US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestine also wants Jerusalem as its capital.

In this regard, US policy is not likely to be helpful to the quest for peace in the region. Two operational words are noteworthy in her statement: eternal and indivisible. The implication of these two words cannot be far-fetched: US foreign policy under Hilary Clinton will always oppose any attempt to divide Jerusalem into two for the purposes of the two-state-solution. That is, for as long as the policy disposition is sustained, the hostility of the US will remain, but not necessarily until eternity.

Additionally, Hilary Clinton’s declaration of the South China Sea as a ‘vital American interest’ has the potential to bring the US and the Chinese into a deep-seated conflict, mainly because of the location there of an island over which China and Japan are claiming sovereignty. Without doubt, the US supports the Japanese in this matter even though records clearly show that the island originally belonged to the Chinese, but attached following the defeat of China by Japan in a war, but again recaptured by China, a testimonial to which the US government is also on record to have given. China does not appear to be prepared to seek any negotiation with anyone on the matter. Consequently, should the Americans try to challenge the legitimacy of China over the territory or seek to control the South China Sea, a situation of order and counter order amounting to an encounter and disorder may not be ruled out. African countries will be required to take side in this regard. This is where again Nigeria and South Africa will need to strengthen their strategic partnership in the defence of African interest especially that the Chinese have told the Americans not to ‘recklessly practice militarism.’

Triangular Visa Diplomacy and Citizen Diplomacy
One important linkage between visa and citizen diplomacy is the objective of regional integration for the purposes of economic growth and development in Africa. Citizen diplomacy is about people. Movement of people from one country to another cannot be possible without removing the immigration barriers through the issuance of visas. The Nigerian-South African entente on long duration visas for business and frequent fliers is good but not good enough. The way Chief Olusegun Obasanjo envisaged it when he was in power was to have no visa issue for visiting Africans to Nigeria if the visit is for a short stay. This should be the new target of both Nigeria and South African leaders.

Additionally, the privilege should not be restricted to government officials or businessmen or frequent fliers. Every African must be able to move freely within Africa. In the same vein, nothing should be made difficult for any African seeking to travel to the US or China or any other country for as long as he or she does not constitute a security threat. This is why there is the need for a sort of special visa diplomacy in which Nigeria and South Africa will provide leadership for Africa and the US and China, on behalf of their allies, will make the so-called free world truly free, by removing all international obstacles to global migration. It is by so doing that citizen diplomacy can be developed and that people-to-people cooperation can also assist official diplomacy.