President Cyril Ramaphosa is hosting the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari for a state visit. The visit marked the 20th anniversary of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) between the twin economic titans of our continents, which was raised up at heads of state level in 2016.
This visit is of great importance to both countries, and the two regions where they are the most sophisticated and emerging markets, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Looking at the resent violence against foreigners in South Africa that ignited diplomatic and economic tension between these two countries, it is an obligation to ask important questions that do not necessarily ask for a response as Phil Mckinney suggested.
For example, tag questions!
Tag questions are accounts that look as if they are questions, but do not open a room for any kind of answer except agreement. Listening at press briefing at the Union Building this morning, the two president’s declarations do not portrait the seriousness of issues and frustration from the street where the root causes of the violence are based. In short, the two leaders did not bother to explain clearly their people’s frustrations and complains. Their diagnosis of the problem does not reflect much of what is happening in the street. It is all about economic benefit, geopolitics and continuity of their state to state aspirations.
Smiling at the above diagnosis, one can ask few tag questions, you can answer them if you can:
- South Africa and Nigeria are African economic power house, isn’t?
- They both cannot allow street narrative to damage their economic aspiration, and bilateral history, do they?
- Nigerians are warmly welcomed in South Africa, and South Africans are warmly welcomed in Nigeria. The only thing they should do is to respect the rule of law of both countries, is that enough?
But the above tag questions are problematic, they are just declarative statement of the two presidents turned into a list of questions, that aimed at validating what can be called Economic-diplomatic positions that have muted social economic conditions of the citizens of the two dreaming economic giants in the eyes of hustlers in Johannesburg and Lagos.
From the above assumption, one is obliged to reject the introductory position of this peace. It can then be argued that looking at socio-economic conditions of Nigerian and South African grassroots whom Frantz Fanon would call the “Wretch of the Earth,” the questions that must be asked have to be factual and investigative.
The objective of a factual question is to get information that can allow state institutions to develop and formulate sustainable solutions to the issues affecting the country and the region.
Some of the factual questions can be:
- Looking at the living conditions of most Nigerians and South Africans in their respective countries, is it socio-economically correct to agree with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest World Economic Outlook report that considers Nigeria and South Africa as African economic power houses.
- Is it sustainable to mute street narratives that reflect citizens frustrations in the name of economic aspiration, and bilateral history?
- Are Nigerians warmly welcomed in South Africa? Or Are South African warmly welcome in Nigeria?
An investigative question, in the other hand, cannot be answered with a yes or a no and is much more useful for the purpose of President Buhari’s visit in South Africa. By definition, it is a divergent question, meaning that there is more than one correct answer (unlike factual questions). It cannot be answered with one phone call or a quick check at some stats or figures, and it open-up a room for an investigation of all possibilities.
However, listening at the presidential press briefing today, it can be said that President Ramaphosa’s special envoys, former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe, ambassador Kingsley Mmabolo and Dr Khulu Mbatha, did not take at their heart the street narratives and frustrations, theirs was to serve economic aspiration, and bilateral history. That is why both presidents Buhari and Ramaphosa are trees that hide the forests. If they were to be the forests, their press briefing and positions could reflect the realities of the living conditions of majority of their people.
Which questions do we ask?
Feruzi Ngwamba Foze
University of KwaZulu Natal