In the difficult moments of our history, precisely during Nigeria’s war of unity, Egypt proved to be a strategic partner by helping to train our military and providing support in the form equipment and aircraft maintenance. In the course of his bilateral meeting with the Egyptian leader, Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, President Muahmmadu Buhari recalled that he, too, received military training in Egypt.
The 24-hour visit to the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al-Shaikh was not just a ‘trip to Egypt’ as wrongly portrayed. The purpose was to promote investment and job creation in Nigeria and throughout West, Central and East Africa.
The Sharm el-Sheikh ‘Africa 2016’ conference was aimed at tearing down trade barriers between North and sub-Saharan Africa – a partnership anchored by the continent’s biggest and third-biggest economies (Nigeria and Egypt) by the injection of life into a 26-nation free-trade pact signed by half the number of countries on the continent a year ago.
The organisers of the conference brought together more than 1, 200 delegates to Sharm el-Sheikh, including eight Presidents and Prime Ministers, ministers of trade and investment, representatives of global financial institutions, businessmen and investment executives.
It is expected that this new pan-African initiative will directly benefit Nigeria in its efforts to expand and diversify jobs and exports beyond the oil industry – a core component of President Buhari’s economic vision for the country. Knocking down trade barriers within Africa will create new markets for Nigerian farmers, manufacturers and other businesses.
In his opening remarks, Egypt’s President El-Sisi said that the forum aimed at “pushing forward trade and investment in our continent to strengthen Africa’s place in the world economy.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who touted an extensive economic agenda, said that this was not without challenges.
“The new problem affecting investment is international terrorism. Lots of resources that could be used for development are being diverted to address security issues,” he said.
As Buhari and many others noted, the only way that this can be redressed is by widening the participation of the private sector in African economies, the very idea behind the conference in Egypt.
One shining example of how this could be done came from the African Development Bank, which announced through its president, Nigeria’s Akinwumi Adesina, that it would be investing $12 billion in the energy sector in the coming five years to provide access to electricity. There are 645 million Africans without access to electricity.
President Buhari’s visit to Egypt was not limited to the business of ‘Africa 2016’ and its success, as it turned out to be one that is a remarkable watershed in bilateral ties between the two states.
While it was not surprising that El-Sisi rolled out the red carpet for President Buhari, in line with what many describe as a plan by Egypt to rebuild the country’s money-spinning tourism industry, which has been in tatters since the mid-air bombing of a Russian plane in October and the resulting deaths of all the 223 passengers and crew on board; the truth is that these two of Africa’s three biggest economies have been too far apart when it comes to trade. The two leaders also bonded well with each other at their first meeting in Addis Ababa early in the New Year.
By the last count, bilateral trade between the two states amounts to a meager $100 million, with Egypt drawing about 80 percent of the benefit. Egyptian pharmaceutical companies are making good sales in Nigeria and Egypt is Nigerians’ preferred destination for medical tourism.
Linked to this is the Middle-East country’s successful airline business trade in Nigeria. Egypt Air makes seven weekly flights to Lagos and six each to Abuja and Kano.There is little or nothing to show from the Nigerian side and this is one of the things that Buhari wants to change.
In welcoming our President to the bilateral discussion, the Egyptian leader did not hide his joy at the acceptance of the Nigerian leader to visit. The two leaders agreed to strengthen ties between their two states, to re-establish that historical closeness which helped Nigeria to remain a single country some decades ago. They talked about doing this through enhanced partnership and cooperation in the areas of trade, security and defense.
President Buhari welcomed Egypt’s decision to strengthen strategic cooperation and intelligence sharing with Nigeria and from this, a framework for dealing with terrorism would emerge. For this, he gave instructions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow up with a meeting. Further progress is expected to follow on security and trade issues. In addition, the President requested El-Sisi to promote Egyptian investment in education in Nigeria.
The two leaders also discussed a range of regional and global issues. As to be expected, terrorism topped them all.
They both expressed concern that the anarchy in Libya, a disturbing situation that had provided a great impetus to terrorism in areas far and around the failed state. The leaders also emphasized their cooperation on climate change and energy issues.
Experts in the field of diplomacy say that personal bond between two leaders can help pave the way for better relations among states. In Nigeria and Egypt relations, there is a good chance of this working to the benefit of both countries.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity
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