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Nigeria: Is South Africa really joining the fight against Boko Haram? 0

According to the headlines in Nigerian newspapers on Tuesday, South Africa has declared war on Boko Haram, and will be helping the Nigerian government in its efforts to combat the Islamist militant group.

“South Africa’s Special Forces to fight Boko Haram,” said The Punch. “Nigeria, South Africa to collaborate on war on terror,” wrote Premium Times. “South Africa to work with Nigerian military,” reported Channels TV.

The stories all offered the same evidence for their conclusions — a press briefing delivered by Nigerian defence minister Dan Ali after a meeting with his South African counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nquakula. A senior South African delegation, headed by President Jacob Zuma, is in Abuja for a state visit designed to repair fractious relations between the two countries.

At the briefing, Ali said the two ministers had spoken about a longstanding proposal for South African Special Forces to assist the Nigerian military.

“That one will come into being between the two countries as soon as possible,” he said.

There are several things to note here. First, Ali’s statement is hardly an announcement that the deal is done. There’s a reason that this proposal is longstanding: while it makes a nice soundbite for officials from both countries, it is fraught with political, diplomatic, legal and financial difficulties that would make it very difficult to implement.

Second, no confirmation was forthcoming from the South African side. When the Daily Maverick contacted defence ministry spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini, we had to send him the articles from the Nigerian press because he knew nothing about the alleged deal. After looking it up, he said: “There is no such decision to send any military elements by the RSA to assist with the fight against Boko Haram.”

Third, even if some kind of deal is on the cards, there is a very low chance South African Special Forces will be involved directly in fighting against Boko Haram. Previous discussions on this subject have envisaged South African support for training and technical assistance, not fighting.

In other words, no matter what the Nigerian media might be saying, South Africa is not joining a war. Even a deployment of South African Special Forces as trainers seems unlikely, given the personnel and resource constraints under which the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is operating.

The SANDF budget was slashed recently by Pravin Gordhan, while there are only an estimated 100 Special Forces commandos in active service.

Continue reading on The Daily Maverick

by Simon Allison

Photo credits EPA/Elmond Jiyane/CGIS

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi