Nigeria woos SA investors
Moyiga Nduru
Published: 30-AUG-05

Johannesburg - A three-day conference which took place this week in Johannesburg has highlighted the possibilities for increased trade between South Africa and Nigeria.

The 'Nigeria and South Africa Business Investment Forum 2005' kicked off on August 24 in Johannesburg, mostly with the aim of attracting South African entrepreneurs to the west African country. Over 300 delegates were in attendance.

Nigeria is currently South Africa's biggest trading partner in west Africa and its third largest on the continent after Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Nigerian ambassador to South Africa Tunji Olagunju told those at the gathering.

Still, "Nigeria's trade is mostly with Europe and North America," he noted. "This must change."

Figures provided by Nigerian officials indicate that the value of South Africa's exports to the country increased from US$45 million in 1998 to $456 million last year.

Imports have also increased - from $76 million in 1998 to $800 million in 2004, with oil accounting for the lion's share of this rise.

"South Africans have come to me in greater numbers. Next to them, I would say, are the Chinese," Mustafa Bello, chief executive of the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission, told the conference.

Investment forums

Nigeria is also planning to hold investment forums in China, India, the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

"We have a lot to offer," said Bello. "We have proven crude oil reserve of 24.1 billion barrels, 120 trillion cubic feet of gas and 72 million hectares of arable land. We also have minerals like gold, coal, iron ore and manganese."

Those South African firms which have established a presence in Nigeria include leading supermarket chain Shoprite and telecommunications giant MTN - which now claims to have 6.3 million mobile phone subscribers in the west African state.

In an effort to attract investors, Nigeria may offer a five-year tax holiday to firms that are prepared to set up shop in the country, and a seven-year tax holiday to companies that locate themselves in under-developed regions.

However, such initiatives have yet to change the perception that Nigeria is a risky destination for foreign capital.

Last year, the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Nigeria as the third worst of states surveyed for its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

This study ranks countries according to the levels of graft that are believed to exist there. Of the 146 nations evaluated, only Bangladesh and Haiti fared worse than Nigeria.

"Corruption (in Nigeria) remains a big problem. Infrastructure demands urgent attention. Bureaucracy is entrenched and electricity is erratic," Phil Dean, a South African businessman who deals in farming equipment, told IPS at the gathering.

Nigerians who make their way to South Africa are also seen as importing the ills of their country.

During a meeting on xenophobia held in Johannesburg last week, Khathu Mamaila, deputy editor of the weekly 'City Press' newspaper, noted that South African readers now had fixed expectations about nationals from Nigeria - notably that they were at the heart of the narcotics trade in South Africa.

Nigerian diplomats at the investment forum said they were aware of these views.

"We are working to correct this image," said Michael Kuforiji, consul general at Nigeria's embassy in South Africa. "I have been traveling around South Africa and advising Nigerians living there to obey the laws of South Africa."

"We are not going to correct this perception about Nigeria overnight. It's going to take some time."

Olagunju also blamed people from other countries for tarnishing the image of Nigerians in South Africa: "These are citizens from other African countries who pose and claim to be Nigerians."

"We need to travel to get to know each other," Olagunju added. "Journalists (from South Africa), for example, should travel to Nigeria to get to know the country and its people."

Mamaila has also urged the South African media to shun stereotypes when reporting on the activities of foreign nationals in South Africa. - IPS

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