While Jacob Zuma was marrying another wife, Nigerians were reorganizing their economy and transforming their informal sector in arts-movies, telecoms and retail which could be calculated and add to Gross domestic product (GDP), a key economic indicator of a nation’s standard of living.
When Jacob Zuma was first elected the president of the ruling ANC it meant naturally that he would become the future president of the republic of South Africa. South Africa was the last African country to gain independence from colonialism and apartheid so Economists warned that Zuma who was a populist would enact policies that would derail the ‘thriving’ economy to satisfy his ambitions.
Well, the South African economy is slipping but not for the reasons that the economists cited. In the early years of South Africa’s independence when the world used terms such as First world and third world, South Africa was the only country on the continent that had the esteem of being known as a second world country. Today it enjoys status as one of the BRICS the foremost emerging economies on the global marketplace that are now taking their place in global economics. South Africa has enjoyed its place as the best place to do business in Africa but all that is changing as Nigeria has reported that the West African country’s GDP has eclipsed that of South Africa for the first time. Nigeria’s GDP stated is $509.9bn, in comparison to South Africa’s GDP of $370.3bn at the end of 2013.
This rise of Nigeria’s economic prowess overshadowing South Africa does not come as a surprise to anyone because in recent years, Nigerians have stopped coups and started to make progress towards democracy and good governance the kind that allowed foreign Nigerians to invest in their home country and signaled to the rest of the world that Nigeria is open for business. The South African story is not the same. The handwriting was always on the wall that Nigeria would soon topple South Africa a sign was the sheer number of billionaires coming out of Nigeria compared to South Africa.
While some economists are quick to point out that it does not really change anything for ordinary citizens on the streets of Lagos it is significant nonetheless. After all if it was inconsequential why would economists measure GDP? The fact of the matter is that the once golden economy of Africa is trailing behind Nigeria and the rest of Africa is rising and reshaping their economies for the modern world. South Africa has to address youth unemployment, education and income disparity. The country relies heavily on foreign labor to fill skilled job requirements. South Africa has to figure out how the vast mineral resources can be channeled onto main street Johannesburg and more importantly Soweto.
The difference between the two countries is simply leadership. While Mr. Zuma shared solidarity with Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his failed economic policies and refused to go to Brussels to the European Union to seek partnerships that could help his stagnant economy while other African countries seized the opportunity and years from now South Africans will look back at the Zuma years as years of lost opportunity.
By Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2014