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While South Africa sees itself as a pre-eminent actor on the continent, its foreign policy has wisely been driven by its national interests, mainly economic interests. The post-apartheid government believes that successful exploitation of economic opportunities ‘in Africa’ will trickle down to the poor black majority who are the target of the country’s controversial Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme. Ironically, Nigeria’s emotion-driven foreign policy has become an unmistakable appendage of South Africa’s economic diplomacy in West Africa.
Nigerian military making West Africa safe for South African business
Lagos: Seven Nigerian soldiers, part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cote d’Ivoire, were killed in an ambush on June 8, 2012 while they were on patrol in the town of Tai, near the border with Liberia. Threats of attacks against civilians had prompted the UN operation to strengthen its presence there. The UN Secretary-General warned that more peacekeepers (who have been in Ivory Coast since 2004) may be in danger.
They remained after the 2010 presidential election, when the country was thrown into crisis after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. More than 100 UN peacekeeping personnel have died in that country since 2004.
Nigerian troops have also died while guaranteeing peace and defending democracy in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and elsewhere. Former Chief of Army Staff, Victor Malu (Lt. Gen.), disclosed that some 800 Nigerian soldiers were killed in the 12-year ECOMOG peacekeeping operation—some say it’s more than 1,000. They were shockingly given a secret and pauper’s burial upon being flown home for fear of stirring up public indignation.
Till today, nobody knows the actual number of Nigerian casualties in conflicts, let alone their names. Few, if any monuments in their memory can be found in the beneficiary countries, let alone in the country that sent them to die. Only their families mourn and remember them. A similar fate is likely to befall the recent casualties of the Ivorian mission.
Some have argued that because Africa is the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy and because of its economic and military power, Nigeria has a duty to police West Africa, if not the entire African continent. But, Nigeria is not the only regional ‘giant’ or ‘hegemon’.
While South Africa sees itself as a pre-eminent actor on the continent, its foreign policy has wisely been driven by its national interests, mainly economic interests. The post-apartheid government believes that successful exploitation of economic opportunities ‘in Africa’ will trickle down to the poor black majority who are the target of the country’s controversial Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme.
Ironically, Nigeria’s emotion-driven foreign policy has become an unmistakable appendage of South Africa’s economic diplomacy in West Africa. In addition to at least $1 billion peacekeeping costs, Nigerian officers have served as chiefs of defence in these countries - Maxwell Khobe (Brigadier-General) as Sierra Leone’s chief of staff in 1998-1999 and Nigerian officers acting as Command Officer-in-Charge of the Armed Forces of Liberia from at least 2007.
Few Nigerians have, however, derived much economic benefits from the peace their compatriots died – and have continued to die — for in these countries. Instead, the primary beneficiaries have been South Africans—and of course the Chinese, Australians, Canadians, the United States and the European Union.
I focus on South Africa because of its regional aspirations. An analysis of its business interests in post-conflict Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire suggests that the Nigerian military’s peacekeeping role has indeed made West Africa safe for Mandela’s children and the offspring of Cecil Rhodes. Rather than Nigerians, it’s South Africans who are having a prominent seat at the Liberian economic table.
The most recognizable symbol of South African dominance in a region without a single South African military death is MTN Group, which serves more than one million subscribers in Liberia. ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, is big in northern Nimba mines, the scene of severe fighting during the Liberian civil war. Mano River Resources, which originally held the assets in 2003 when Liberia was still a conflicted no-go area, is back in full force.
Johannesburg-based BHP Billiton has applied for a mining licence, while Mano River Resources, a mining exploration and development company, was granted a two-year extension to its Putu Range iron-ore exploration licence in 2008. Delta Mining Consolidated, a mediocre mining company, surprisingly won the bidding for Liberia’s 207,58-km2 Western Cluster, but its winning bid in the home of the country’s most valuable natural resources was later quashed by government over allegations of bribery and kickbacks, and loud media outrage over why a company that lacked credentials prevailed over other iron ore giants that competed for the bid.
South African banks have followed the trail of the mining companies. In March this year, they were engaged to raise $113 million to fund Liberia’s first commercial gold mine, South African miner, Aureus’ New Liberty project. Situated 100 km north of the Liberian capital of Monrovia and expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2013, the project has a reported pre-tax net present value of $260-million.
Despite—or because of—of their red-carpet treatment by Liberians, South Africans have earned a reputation for arrogance and reapers from where they hardly sow. MTN is currently embroiled in court battle with Liberia Telecommunication Authority over the latter’s decision to suspend MTN’s operating licence for two weeks after the company cut-off its competitor, Comium, accusing it of unpaid interconnection fees. MTN is also under scrutiny in the wake of its partnership with Lonestar Cell, a huge loss to the Liberian government as Lone Star did not report the deal to LTA; neither did the company pay the ten percent fee into the government‘s coffers.
Lonestar Cell is the brainchild of Taylor who reportedly still has hidden shares in the company. Similarly, Delta has launched an application for judicial review of the government’s refusal to award it the Western Cluster Iron Ore Deposit concession. Most Liberians believe that concerns about ‘dirty’ connection and shady deals rank low in the social license considerations of South African companies operating in post-conflict West Africa.
* Part 1.