Pakistan, belatedly, turns to Africa’s top economy

ISLAMABAD: President Mamnoon Hussain’s three-day official visit to Nigeria has been rescheduled from June 9 after being postponed due to the security situation there on April 21.
The president will fly to Abuja today (Sunday) with 70 government officials and textile tycoons on the invitation of his Nigerian counterpart Jonathan Goodluck. The first presidential sojourn to Abuja in last three decades may not attract much attention of the media and the public alike. Africa, like South America, is a God forsaken land for many Pakistanis, including bureaucrats and politicians. Projected to rank amongst the world’s top 10 economies in a decade but currently firmly holding 16th slot in G-20, Muslim-majority Nigeria is an active member of Developing 8 and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Abuja is the chair of D-8 bloc till 2014.
Though heavily influenced by United States, the UK, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan’s foreign policy-makers have hardly exploited its goodwill, courtesy its contribution to decolonisation struggle in Africa in the late 40s and 50s, and peacekeeping services in the later years. The president’s stay in the Nigerian capital is overloaded with important meetings, ranging from one-on-one with President Jonathan Goodluck, cabinet members, military leaders and businessmen. 
Besides governors of several states of Nigeria and Sultan of Sokoto calling on him, Mamnoon will address the Business Forum. Later, he will also announce establishment of commercial section in Lagos. Sources say that Abuja and Islamabad will hold discussion on Free Trade Agreement. The president may have to listen to complaints from the Nigerian government concerning mishandling of Nigeria’s national ID card contract, which was won by the National Database Registration Authority. The project, which if carried out rightly, can prove a strong bridge between the two nations, has unfortunately fallen victim to lack of decision-making by the authority’s ad hoc management. 
The total volume of trade between the two countries almost doubled recently from earlier $30.677 million in 2011-2012 to $67.361 million in 2012-2013. Nigerian High Commissioner to Pakistan Dauda Danladi has been advocating the various chapters of Pakistani chambers of commerce’s to organise a single-country expo in Nigeria and explore investment opportunities to strengthen bilateral trade ties. “Nigeria can assist Pakistan in energy sector as it has vast natural resources of oil and gas and provide fertilizer to Pakistan to overcome its shortage,” he recently said.
Nigeria hopes for Pakistani investment in areas like oil and gas, minerals and mining, agriculture and livestock, poultry and fisheries. To boost foreign investment, the Nigerian government has created free zones where Abuja expects Pakistan’s business community to pay attention to. Though marred by sectarianism, ethnicity and corruption, Nigeria has overtaken South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy. Like Pakistan, tax collection in Nigeria is poor. However, hydrocarbons share in national income only amounts to 15 per cent. To a resource rich but ill-managed Pakistan, Nigeria offers an excellent model of diverse economy.
Both Pakistan and Nigeria have similar corrupt elite which sucks national resources with impunity while playing musical chairs in the power corridors. Nigeria, like agrarian Pakistan, has paid little attention to education, health facilities, infrastructure building and urban renewal. Like Pakistan’s decade-old militant problem in the tribal areas, Abuja had to deal with a fierce insurgency in the Niger delta until a peace agreement could be reached and oil pipelines and economy secured. Though some Muslim regions in north remain impoverished, the country has been investing in infrastructure but in extremely unsynchronised manner. 
The northeast brings bad news, owing to havens for extremist Boko Haram. Much like Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions, the poverty rate in Nigeria’s northeast is 60 percent. Agriculture remains a largely ignored sector while income distribution worsens by the day. Yet fledging Nollywood (Nigeria’s Lollywood) fuels the rich-poor divide by idolizing the filthy rich families embracing European lifestyles. Just the way, backward and isolated tribal areas became safe haven for religious extremists; Nigeria is receiving its share of indifference.
For both Pakistan and Nigeria, there is much to share and learn on issues ranging from governance to social cohesion and integration of their diverse people. Nigeria has capital to invest overseas while Pakistan needs foothold in Africa to exploit the continents projected or potential growth. President Mamnoon is setting out on a trip to open Africa’s doors for Pakistan at a time when the west has stereotyped the entire country as Waziristan.
There is a visible realization of significance of economy diplomacy at the Pakistan’s foreign ministry. The Africa Day function at the foreign ministry on May 23 not only brought together many ambassadors from the continent but was also attended by Sartaj Aziz, prime minister’s advisor on security and foreign affairs. Pakistan seems to have subscribed to the prediction that Africa holds the promise of becoming engine of the world economy for decades.

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