Nigeria and South Africa: The Horse in the Ditch By Pius Adesanmi

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[Analyses]–These two countries sha! Nigeria and South Africa… Always at each other’s throats, always pretending to dislike each other, yet they avail the world of eerily similar plot lines…On TV, in my hotel room in Pretoria, I am trying to get some rest before talks and lectures begin. I have done Accra to Ottawa, Ottawa to London and Johannesburg in a week and it is starting to tell on the body and the system…

Then I hear on TV that South African Airways is a failing enterprise existing only on bailouts. I am dazed. SAA resides in my imagination along with Ethiopian Airways and Rwandair as evidence of this continent’s ability to manage global business brands. You think about these companies and it wipes away the embarrassment of all the national carriers in Africa who followed Nigeria’s lead: Ghana Airways, Kenya Airways, Cameroon Airways, Air Afrique, etc.

Now South African Airways? I hear that the latest bailout is 12 billion rands to help the company offset bank loans. I hear the billions she is losing per month. I hear that the bailout funds being thrown at it is derived from cuts in education, health and infrastructure spending.

It seems to me that Nigeria Airways is a story that is being relived here.

Then the news anchor moves on to an ongoing scandal about the Gupta family; their hold over South Africa’s economy; their privileges and prebends, etc. And the Vaswani brothers of Nigeria jump at me. Same story, same plot.

Then the news anchor moves on to a scandal about coaches improperly and fraudulently purchased for the Railway network here. It appears that the trains are too high for the existing rail tracks in South Africa and were bought the wuruwuru and magomago way. So they are starting to do to their railway what Nigeria did to hers in the 70s and 80s? Is there any limit to the Nigerian path here?

There is hardly any story, any news item out of this news anchor’s mouth that does not take you to a very familiar terrain of 1970s and 1980s Nigeria. The drip, drip, drip towards the edge of the precipice and the avoidable but predictable plunge into the abyss.

It is this “home familiarity” of every story on South African TV, this deja vu, this knowledge that you’ve been here before in Nigeria, that scares me to death. I self-describe as a humanist pan-Nigerian, pan-Africanist.

This means that the success of South Africa is my success. In so many ways, South Africa is the black man’s last submission in the argument over modernity. If this 21st-century infrastructure crumbles, we are cooked as black humanity.

We have been saying this and we say this again: when the horse leading the pack falls into a ditch, the horses following it must stop, learn from its fall, and avoid the ditch.

No genuine Nigerian pan-Africanist wants to visit any African country and see them taking the road we took, see them not taking the road we did not take.

I noticed recently in Ghana that they have largely overcome their electricity woes. Two years ago, when their electricity black outs came dangerously close to Nigeria’s levels, I noticed the emergence of Mikano generators all around me in Accra.

I warned folks I was interacting with in Ghana’s academic community. To solve your electricity problems, you guys have a choice between Nigeria’s route and the options of the 21st-century. You can go the Mikano way of Nigeria and a generator and diesel cartel will emerge to ensure that you never have regular electricity in Ghana in the next 100 years. Members of the cartel will be in your Presidency, in your parliament, in every sphere of political and business influence in your country and it will not be in their interest for Ghana to have electricity.

It seems to me that Ghana avoided the generator ditch…

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