- Nigeria must learn appropriate lesson from the crisis this time
The apartheid regime in South Africa created a fertile ground for the seeds of xenophobic attacks to germinate in the region. In the discriminatory regime that reveled in divisive political economy based on the colour of the skin, the black South Africans found it very easy to develop their own form of retaliatory socio-economic tool as the assumption was that citizens from other African countries were preying on the economy of South Africa, to the detriment of the impoverished black population.
As if to give vent to the axiom that “a hungry man is an angry man”, a series of xenophobic attacks was recorded before the emergence of post– apartheid African National Congress (ANC) Mandela government in 1994. Several citizens of neighbouring but equally impoverished South African countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and even some East African countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda and Botswana were all targeted by South Africans who felt they were usurping their means of economic survival.
However, the fact that the xenophobic attacks continued to escalate in a post – 1994 South Africa and has now festered into a huge diplomatic problem between the country and virtually most African countries, especially Nigeria, has become very worrisome. Worrisome not only for Nigeria but the whole Sub-Saharan Africa that is trying at best to gain some form of regional economic muscle in a world where the other countries outside the continent seem to be holding the longer end of global economic power.
In the past weeks, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa have escalated as more people, especially Nigerians, were reportedly killed and some properties burnt or looted in the aftermath of the chaos. Most African countries have expressed displeasure over the incessant attacks.
However, despite the row in the diplomatic circles over the reluctance of the South African government to rein in the perpetrators of violence, including the police, we believe that the attacks go beyond mere dislike of foreigners as the meaning of the word, ‘xenophobia’ suggests. The word ‘xenos’ comes from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘strange’, ‘foreigner’ and ‘phobos’ meaning ‘fear’.
We find it curious that the attacks are mainly on black Africans in a country with multiple immigrant nationalities like the Asians, Americans, Europeans, Indians, Australians, etc. The government of South Africa led by Cyril Rhamophosa might have surreptitiously ignited the fire of the recent attacks with his subtle campaign rhetoric targeted at ridding the country of ‘illegal immigrants’.
In making such unguarded statements, especially for a country still recovering from centuries of repressive minority notorious apartheid era, the president seemed to have thrown the continent under the political bus, literally. His understated ‘endorsement’ of the attacks through very lethargic reaction to the series of killings of multiple nationalities of African descent is best summed up by the very pan-Africanist ex-ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, who aptly termed the attacks ‘self-hate’, given the targets.
The diplomatic faux pas would seriously jeopardise the continental and regional cooperative efforts that can aid the continent’s development. The attacks, especially on Nigerians, is a display of crass ingratitude and lack of any sense of history given the role played by Nigeria to end apartheid through donations, scholarships, homes for exiled freedom fighters, etc.
While the economic, social and political assistance were not necessarily given in anticipation of eternal gratitude, we believe also that the attacks tend to rubbish any sense of continental brotherhood, making the continent again vulnerable to outsider attacks, economically and politically.
While we acknowledge that some immigrants might have broken the laws in some instances, we equally believe that they must be arrested and prosecuted accordingly, instead of the present mayhem in town.
As Nigeria begins the evacuation of its citizens from South Africa, the Federal Government must begin to work towards stemming the migration problem, as the most productive segment of the population are leaving in droves and choosing even to die in the Mediterranean and Libya, than stay in the country without opportunities to survive. This, to us, is the biggest lesson to learn from the crisis.
We equally advise all African countries to be more Afrocentric in their foreign policy choices so as to promote continental development and work towards preventing the predatory economic issues that leave the continent devastated by strife and poverty. Africa’s socio-economic problems must be diplomatically handled in a way to give it the needed peace that precedes development. More opportunities must be created too for the South African youths to thrive.