Why Africa needs Buhari and Zuma to forge a strong alliance

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Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration as Nigeria’s president presents new opportunities for reinvigorating relations between Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s biggest economies.

Since the 1990s, the collective leadership of Nigeria and South Africa has been vital in providing the foundations for African renewal, the creation of institutions on the continent and the mobilisation of African voices in the global arena.

The hallmark of this leadership was demonstrated during the time of former presidents Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008) and Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007). Both were instrumental in crafting the current African security and development frameworks.

These frameworks have frayed and lost direction on the watch of Goodluck Jonathan and Jacob Zuma.

The African Union remains underfunded and has made paltry efforts to generate additional resources. The flagship African Peer Review Mechanism program has no money to conduct country reviews to gauge adherence to good governance but it is not too late to return to the quest for African prosperity, security and dignity under a Buhari-Zuma leadership.

Mbeki and Obasanjo led confidently on continental affairs because they were elected by comfortable majorities
Efforts to find multilateral approaches and reverse Africa’s international decline hinge, more than ever before, on vigorous leadership, backed by solid domestic support for promoting Africa’s development. Without domestic backing on African issues, Nigeria and South Africa will not succeed in projecting their power on the continent.

The Mbeki-Obasanjo alliance was propelled by the demands of the early 2000s, particularly the need to reshape African institutions in the direction of renewed mandates and responsibilities.

These goals were achieved with the formation of the African Union in 2002, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the African Peer Review Mechanism, the voluntary body for assessing Africa’s performance.

Mbeki and Obasanjo led confidently on continental affairs because they were elected by comfortable majorities at home and had solid control of their political parties.

In contrast, Jonathan’s regime collapsed partly because he lost control over his People’s Democratic Party. Under his presidency, Nigeria was gradually descending into state failure, with dire consequences for the region.

Zuma has faced a fractious African National Congress, but so far has survived internal challenges to his leadership.

Buhari’s electoral victory reinforces the consolidation of Nigeria’s credential as Africa’s largest democracy. This victory should embolden him as he confronts the menace of Boko Haram and much-needed military reforms to restore Nigeria’s role as a force for stabilisation in West Africa.

Zuma is still distracted by the Nkandla scandal involving public money being spent on his family home. Questions over the expenditure have led to unruly scenes in Parliament but Zuma should seize the chance to reinvent himself as an African statesman by reaching out to Buhari in new initiatives to address the malaise facing African institutions.

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