At the recently-concluded annual South Africa Tourism (SAT) West Africa Trade workshop which held at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, the agency responsible for the marketing and promotion of the national destination of South Africa did not mince words when it declared that Nigeria will remain the hub of all its marketing activities on the West Africa sub-region.
“Nigeria as a hub for South African Tourism marketing activities will cater for countries in the West African region including Ghana which has been identified as a tactical market for SA Tourism marketing initiatives”, Mr. Phumi Dhlomo, SAT Regional Director for Africa & Domestic had said.
From January to December 2011, about 64, 402 Nigerians visited South Africa. The figure compared to the 2010 Nigeria tourists arrivals for same period represented 37.5 per cent increase. This year, there has been 21.4 per cent increase on Nigeria arrivals in South Africa from January to May 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.
Such is the position of South Africa in Nigeria and among Nigerians that it also presently hosts well over a million legal Nigerian residents, including a large Nigerian artiste community who have temporary homes in parts of South Africa following a preference for that country for locations shooting.
Increasing too, South African artistes now see performing in Nigeria as a hallmark of craftsmanship and professional endorsements in the careers. As it is, a South African artiste who has not performed in Nigeria does not feel appreciated enough. Such is the level of Black experiences among nationals of both countries.
South Africa today remains one of the country’s top sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) on the sub-Saharan region as the level of horizontal, vertical or platform foreign direct investment (FDI) between Nigeria and South Africa alone, is astounding, with net capital inflows into Nigeria from the businesses of the country’s nationals resident in South Africa accounting for an appreciable figures in the sum total of Nigeria’s net capital inflows. In the same way as significant returns on investment (ROI) annually declared by most South African private businesses operating in the country can only mean increased net capital inflows to the southern African country.
Relations between both countries at the diplomatic level may have taken a turn for the worse in the wake of March 2012 following the embarrassing mass deportation over 100 Nigerians by the South African Immigration department on the suspicion of possessing fictitious yellow cards, as well as the retaliatory action by Nigeria of deporting nearly 30 South Africans.
However, and commendably too, high-level genuine moves by both governments aimed at improving relations have taken place with the Nigerian government officially commencing the distribution of a new encoded international certificate of vaccination and prophylaxis (yellow card) for Nigerian international travellers in March, this year.
On its part, South Africa may have even kicked off moves at exploring the full potential of relations with Nigeria with the official outsourcing of visa processing by the government back in 2010 following the opening of an independent South African Visa Application Centre to handle the well over fifty thousand annual South African visa applications and operated by the VFS Global Services, Ikoyi, Lagos aimed at ensuring efficiency and timeliness in the issuance of visa to potential Nigerian travellers.
In addition, the country has moved to formally commission the new South African Chancery and residential building in Abuja, its equivalent of the South African Culture and Tourism House.
Huge arrivals into the country as a result of the draw of international entertainment events organized by international broadcast groups and telecommunications outfits account for more than 50 per cent tourist arrival figures which has also regularly seen jumps in South African artistes who storm event centres across the country, in the same way as Nigerian artistes do in South African stages.
Observers believe President Jonathan’s official state visit to the country planned for this May from 6 to 8, represents a huge step in the direction of actualizing the tenets of his administration’s much-touted Transformation Agenda which by extension seeks to position the country’s economy at proper perspective among the comity of major players in the global economy.
That direction was earlier signposted as members of the organized private sector had begun making appreciable strides at exploiting the huge economic benefits of tapping into the potential that formal platform for full bilateral relations between both giants in the sub-Saharan economies portend.
Recall that in October last year, the very best of Nigerian and South African traditional lifestyles and art as well as fashion sense, cuisine, business opportunities, among others were on showcase as Lagos-based Inspiro Productions with the full endorsement by The South African High Commission in Lagos presented an exposition of tourism and business in a fiesta tagged; A Tale of 2 African Cities.
That event which featured an exposition of arts/culture, tourism and business and with participants from both countries followed in the wake of a renewed vigour to strengthen relations between the two countries after two editions of the Nelson Mandela International Day celebrated were elaborately commemorated in Lagos.
“This promises to be an exciting cultural exchange extravaganza in Lagos by showcasing both countries’ cultures through art, music, fashion, South African and Nigerian cuisine and so on, which will without doubt remain a footprint of two countries in action for positive change. Our view is that this is an opportunity for south Africans and Nigerian to come together as Africans and share life experiences, appreciate each other’s culture but at the same time showcasing other talents in various facets,” said South African High Commission (SAHC) Counsellor-Political and Head of Lagos Office, Ms Thandi Mgxwati, while declaring open that showpiece.
“It will further showcase both countries’ rich cultural heritage and by extension promote the African agenda’, just as it noted that it remains committed to advancing the objectives of the African Agenda through partnerships with like-minded Nigerians,” Mgxwati had said at the event.
That showcase also explored arts and culture, business and tourism initiatives by creating platforms for exchange which is expected to open up insights into both cultures, their heart beats and dynamism and help build capacities through Knowledge transfer and ideas exchange/interaction.
Nigeria has consistently provided the biggest grounds outside South Africa itself and within the sub-Saharan Africa for the annual commemoration of the Nelson Mandela Day held regularly at the Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“The essence of the celebrations is to acknowledge and recognize the significance of Dr. Nelson Mandela’s life journey especially as it concerns the event holding in Nigeria because we all know Nigeria occupies a very important place in the history of the South African struggle. Unity and love are two other things that Mandela stood for which this event represents and which we are also highlighting,” said Mgxwati.
Such is the place of Nigeria to the culture of the new South Africa that the planned President Jonathan’s official state visit from May 6 to 8 is even viewed in some quarters as long overdue, going by the huge similarities in culture and traditions, lifestyle and music characterized in both countries in terms of their multi-cultures, as stronger ties between both countries stand to provide the fulcrum to drive Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda while also boosting South Africa’s economy in the long-run.
Last year alone, Nigeria’s prevalence and conspicuousness on the entertainment scene is credit to a whole plethora of artistes who all combined to register the country on the map of world recognition whether via the movie or the music industry.
Nigeria film industry’s repute went global for the 2012 when even the World Travel Market (WTM) 2012 Industry Report and WTM Global Trends Report which was released at the last quarter of last year acknowledged the country’s booming film industry on tourism.
The report clearly stated that the popularity of Nollywood all over the continent (in such countries like Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and The Gambia) means ‘that Nollywood films on their own attract domestic and regional African tourists to Nigeria, visiting film locations’.
The report went on to predict a three per cent rise in tourism to Nigeria in the next four years – claiming that in addition to leisure tourism drawn by the industry, the growing revenue generated by Nollywood will attract business travel.
Also, Nigerian fashion designers on the continent with most of them based in South Africa have consistently raised the bar in performance and turnover for indigenous African designers in sub-Saharan Africa. Designers like Remi Lagos Collection, Rouch By Ronke, Adebayo Jones, Adaora’s Collections, have proved their worth and credibility on the international scene.
This revelation informs therefore that there is an increasing need for Nigeria to formally enter into more bi-national agreements with its African community in order to expand the market for its growing entrepreneurial base, which by extension therefore justifies the Jonathan state visit to South Africa, that is also turning into a huge business hub (although unofficial) for Nigerian business concerns particularly in the informal sector.
For instance, Nigerians visiting South Africa have continued to top arrival figures of all foreign nationals entering the country since 2010, according to statistics released by both South African Tourism (SAT and the South African Immigrations, in the same way that Nigeria has benefitted from the technical expertise imparted on various works of art by Nigerian artistes, especially musicians, who have found the country as choice locations for their music videos in recent times.
However, the rate of growth has sadly not been matched at the .diplomatic and political levels, up until now, of course, hence the visit by Jonathan is appreciated as it is expected to kick-start formal networking with a view to officially straightening out grey areas clogging the wheel of development in the areas of culture and arts seen by many as presenting the bulk of benefits especially for Nigerian entrepreneurs who have of late discovered South African as abounding in opportunities for them.
It would be recalled that in 2011 during a meeting between the Nigerian tourism media and some national agencies in South Africa, including the South African Tourism, South African Airways and the South African High Commission in Nigeria, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Mr. Kingsley Mamabolo immediate past South African High Commissioner in Nigeria, who now presently serves as his country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in New York, had described the lull characterizing the full implementation of the Bi-national Commission agreement signed by governments of both Nigeria and South Africa in 1999 as having to do with bureaucratic challenges for both countries.
The pace of implementation which he described as ‘slow’ needed to be changed, as according to him, it was in the best interest of both countries to work together as the agreement touches on every aspect of relations.
“In 2009 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of that agreement in both countries. It is a very compressive agreement that touches on everything and every aspect of life. The implementation of that agreement has largely slowed down. South Africa will by October this year issue an invitation to President Goodluck Jonathan aimed at revisiting and speeding up the agreement. We say by October because by then new President would have settled down in office with his new cabinet,” said the envoy.
The South African envoy however, noted that though both countries have failed to speed up the actualization of the contents of the agreement, some agencies and private firms in South Africa have already gone ahead to explore their own opportunities.
This development may have also in part informed a September 2012 meeting held in Pretoria, South Africa, last week between top level officials of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation led by the minister Chief Edem Duke and his South African counterpart Mr. Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
The meeting also had in attendance Nigeria’s High Commissioner in South Africa, Ambassador Sonni Samuel Yusuf and the then Permanent Secretary Mrs Ibukun Odusote.
At that meeting, both governments agreed to accelerate the implementation of the ‘Cooperation in the field of Tourism Agreement,’ earlier signed in 2008 and designed to deepen tourism relations between both countries and the rest of Africa.
The meeting on its part formed highlight of the official four-day working tour of South Africa by the Nigerian Tourism ministry on the invitation of the South African Tourism minister, van Schalkwyk.
The tourism bilateral agreement between South Africa and Nigeria which covers interactions between tourism and travel trade officials; the exchange of tourism research, statistics and human resource development, also includes investment, exchange programmes, joint marketing, and establishment of a joint commission, entry formalities and environmental matters between the two countries.
Minister Duke stressed the need “to continue to forge partnerships and working relationships between Nigeria and South Africa to further boost and grow our tourism sectors to provide employment opportunities, as well as to contribute a significant percentage to the economies of our dear nations”.
“Both Nigeria and South Africa have seen a tremendous partnership and significant engagements in areas such as telecommunications, media, tourism and aviation. This has led to more than US$3 billion in trade volume between South Africa and Nigeria. And there is further rich potential for both countries not only to maintain this mutual and symbiotic relationship, but to up the ante too,” Minister Van Schalkwyk disclosed.
The planned state visit by Jonathan is therefore expected to aggregate all areas of both countries’ economies including the arts and culture industries which has steadily seen financial growth and volume in terms of figures from events and meetings sub-sector driven by the creative industries of both countries.
Currently the two biggest economies in the sub-Saharan African economies, Nigeria and South Africa stand to benefit from an improved and all-sector based bi-national cooperation and agreements that is expected to open doors of opportunities to the over one million legal Nigerian residents in that country, while also clearing the part for more FDIs into Nigeria from South Africa, in the same way as the capacity is anticipated to receive a boost in the technical arts.
At the present level, many frown at the lack of proper framework that should see a better level of cooperation and also among artistes in the creative industries, cultural exchanges, training and capacity building agreements and exhibitions with the result that the two of the undoubtedly, most gifted countries on the continent can share, grow and diversify potential in the creative sector.
“Wrong perceptions, are long embedded in the minds of South Africans. We need to change the stigma, stop illegal immigrants to South Africa because they are the ones that give the bad name to Nigeria. We need to find a way to make the Nigerians in South Africa understand that illegal business just gives their country a very poor name and status, there must be some literature to all travellers on this matter,” posited a South African travel and hospitality consultant, Elisha Maistry.
Expert have also stressed that only a strong show of intent by Nigeria can breathe life into any previously signed broad-based bi-national agreement with South Africa, as Nigeria is still regarded by many as stalling or dragging on either commitment or full implementation of these agreements.
A Jonathan state visit should send the message across that the country is now ready and fully committed to executing and implementing those agreements with South Africa, as there is still plenty of time to rectify grey areas in those agreements in the light of the historical experiences that Nigeria still shares with the African National Congress (ANC)-led government of President Jacob Zuma.