The past few weeks have pushed Nigeria’s capacity for stark juxtaposition to new heights. Just as its economy leapfrogged South Africa’s to become the largest in Africa and the World Economic Forum gathered in Abuja, more than 200 school girls are kidnapped by Boko Haram, whose leader then posted a distressing video laughing at their likely and grisly fate.
Nigerians are rightly proud of the progress their economy has made in recent years. They have been in equal measure frustrated that Nigeria’s international image – too long a by-word for the corruption and decadence brought on by the narrow distribution of vast hydro-carbon wealth – has not kept pace with the shift in the economic fundamentals. Many feel that the dynamism and prospects for such a remarkably vibrant and naturally entrepreneurial country are a secret that is too well kept. Rebasing the GDP data to reflect more accurately the non-oil sectors’ contribution to the country’s economy has gone some way to making the wider investor community sit up and take notice. And then all the positive coverage of Nigeria as the new darling of international investors was replaced by the visceral horror of what is happening in Borno state.
So which is the Nigerian reality: vibrant market leading the African renaissance or a state on the brink of failure that cannot fulfil its most basic obligation to protect its children while they attend school?
The answer is both and Nigeria is not alone.
Mexico lives with similar contradictory realities: dynamic emerging market and narco-courier state. The existence of one does not preclude the existence of the other. The fact that it should be a rewarding place to invest does not diminish the seriousness with which the Mexican and the American government should search for a lasting solution to their mutual drug trafficking problem. Equally, our experience of helping companies manage their risk profile in Mexico demonstrates that gory headlines about highly localised drug violence need not deter from commercial success. Similarly, the terrible news from Anbar Province in north west Iraq with violence spilling over from the conflict in neighbouring Syria is poles apart from the relative peace of Iraqi Kurdistan a few hundred kilometres to the east.
Sometimes the binary nature of external analysis makes it difficult for outsiders to hold both realities in their head at the same time seeing such sharp contrasts incorrectly as alternative and mutually exclusive realities. Bad news monopolises the headlines. That is often a good thing particularly when it serves to galvanise the international community to mobilise resources to assist the Nigerian state to resolve the hostage crisis. But it also distorts the reality of countries whose obvious and very public problems need not deter nuanced investors from embracing opportunity.