1 June 2012

Africa: Nigeria Nips At South Africa's Heels

Photo: AkwaIbom.com
A Nigerian oil refinery.

With Nigeria's GDP set for re-basing this year, South Africa's economic dominance is under pressure

Notwithstanding its role as political mediator, agenda-setter and Africa's (somewhat tenuous) foothold into the BRIC group, South Africans are famed for viewing themselves as somewhat delinked from their continent - an economic giant among minnows.

But awkwardly, the rest of Africa is growing faster. Speaking on the sidelines of the African Development Bank annual meetings in Arusha, Tanzania, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan bristles at the implication his country has lost its step.

"Most of our neighbours are operating off a much lower base than South Africa. Secondly, South Africa is still the largest economy on the African continent and will be for some time to come. Thirdly, we've got our own constraints, based in our history". He cites deep inequities in education as particularly salient.

Yet South Africa's dominance is far from assured. Nigeria is set to re-base its GDP later this year, which could prompt a 40 percent jump, taking it from $250bn to $350bn and putting it within spitting distance of South Africa's $360bn economy.

The genial Mr Gordhan is non-plussed. "It's good to have competition, and Nigeria and South Africa see themselves as important partners. You saw us cooperating very closely in the candidacy of the [Nigerian] minister of finance for the World Bank position and we intend to continue along that path".

Nigeria has also voiced its support for South Africa's home affairs minister - and former wife of Jacob Zuma - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's candidature for the chairmanship of the African Union.

The two countries cooperated a little less during a recent diplomatic spat, when 125 Nigerians were expelled from South Africa for carrying fake yellow fever certificates. In apparent retaliation, Nigeria expelled more than 50 South Africans for a lack of proper documentation.

The Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's loss in the race for the top position at the World Bank is Nigeria's gain. She joins an elite cadre of respected technocrats, including central bank governor Lamido Sanusi, minister of agriculture Akinwunmi Ayo Adesina, power minister Barth Nnaji, and Olusegun Aganga, minister of trade and investment.

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