SADC to hold emergency summit after row over South Africa ban on West Africans

Southern African leaders have agreed to hold an emergency summit after a row broke out over a ban on West African nationals traveling in South Africa, which sparked a protest outside the Nigerian Embassy in Pretoria last week.

The announcement comes after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) chair for 2018, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, requested a meeting for Friday, a day after Nigeria suspended a travel ban imposed by South Africa on two Nigerian citizens it said violated a visa condition.

Kagame urged the group to resolve the row that has raised “mounting tensions” between South Africa and its neighbors.

The SADC summit could come to a head on Saturday, as Angolan President Joao Lourenco told diplomats from several African countries in Lisbon he would meet Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari and others on Sunday in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon to resolve the issue.

Angola also backs the Nigerian travel ban against South African nationals, a diplomat said.

South Africa blocked Nigerians and West Africans from traveling between May and August this year because the visa-free travel agreement signed in 2008 does not extend to these states.

It was down to Nigeria to make the visa request, just as it did when it said it had found the visa status was being abused by Zambians, Zimbabweans and Namibians.

South Africa suspended the travel ban on Nigerians and other West Africans with residence and work permits in November, saying their applications had been “voluntarily denied.”

But South Africa said they could travel as long as they had a valid South African visa.

Kagame and Angola’s president, Joao Lourenco, the SADC chair, on Saturday met with regional leaders, including Zambian President Edgar Lungu, to discuss the South African travel ban.

After the meeting, Lungu said the rule would “ultimately raise tensions.”

If the summit does not help resolve the row it is likely to follow other SADC travel ban resolutions.

In December, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe issued a joint travel ban on South Africans for a few days after Namibia complained its nationals were being evicted from South Africa.

Zambia on Saturday supported the Nigerian travel ban, a diplomatic source said.

South Africa and its neighbours say the South African visa situation has affected people’s livelihood and trade in the region.

Elders in South Africa have said their relations with southern African neighbors were at risk as it has left many of their citizen blocked in the region.

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