WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Xenophobia is the expression of antipathy and fear against people from other countries. This discrimination which sometimes proves to be deadly and unholy is a phenomenon that the global community must prioritise its energy and resources towards bringing to a halt.
Xenophobic attitude is not new to the Republic of South Africa as a nation; hatred and violence toward perceived foreigners began in the pre-1990s. The existence of anti-immigrant policies that favoured the white immigrants of labour at the expense of black immigrant workers from Lesotho and the Mozambique with the mine and farm workers of that time bearing the brunt of the race driven policy is one of the roots.
The concept of targeting and denoting others as being different and parasitic became ingrained in the fabric of the people notwithstanding the post-1994 opening of South Africa’s borders to the world for the very first time. The country was free from the apartheid rule; the “slaves” were free to enjoy the freedom of lords as lords without proper re-orientation and withdrawal of the etched mentality of hatred for foreigners. The need for addressing the entrenched mentality of the once-besieged people, who feel threatened and naturally become instinctively offensive to prevent a return to “slavery”, was never addressed.
Nelson Mandela’s imposing charisma subdued the deadly virus long enough to create a temporal sense of internal unity, friendliness and acceptance of foreigners, but the great Mandela is gone and the bottled Leopard broke free. That is majorly why the incidences of xenophobia were on the increase after the majority rule of 1994. On the record, between 2000 and March 2008, above 67 people were killed in various attacks identified as xenophobic. Only in May 2008, 46 foreigners were killed across the country in yet another xenophobic raid.
In its various forms, Africans have, over time, manifest disdain for themselves on several fronts. According to the International Organization for Migration and Refugees, Libyans did not only kill and loot migrants from other Africa nations, but turn them to slaves. The report of Amnesty International states the horrific cruelties faced by women and children trapped in Libya with no way out. Since the onset of the crises in Libya, Nigeria had to forcefully bring back hundreds of Nigerians from the country.
The reflection of racism, ethnicity and xenophobia in Cameroon was recently discussed. In 1983, the Nigerian government had reason to turn its back on Ghanaian citizens living in the country and forced them out of the country. Early this year, the federal government of Nigeria decried the increasing attacks on Nigerians across West African countries including Ghana and Togo. This is excluding the Republic of South Africa which has been heating up. Nwagbara, a Nigerian Professor of English at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana was relieved of his job earlier this year in a situation which had the semblance of xenophobic attack. The list is endless; we have shown much more unfriendliness for ourselves on the continent than friendliness.
It may be South Africans who are manifesting racial intolerance openly today, but the disposing factor is not limited to the country. These happenings are a wakeup call to the African continent that all is not well. The continent has over the years failed woefully in efficient service delivery to its people as well as in effective continental and regional coordination. Today, the socio-economic conflicts in South Africa has widen the gap between the haves and have-nots and has exposed the government’s inability to dutifully serve the people which has turned its citizens to unreasonable thoughtless animals rampaging the streets looking for who to blame for their woes.
We should attempt naming one country in Africa where the citizens are not grumbling under the heavy weight economic woes and social development insensitivity of its leadership: very rare. Our continent is a help-seeking beggar where the leaders ignore or mismanage our unparalleled endowments at the expense of the citizens who become predominantly impoverished. Imagine the Nigerian scenario where two per cent of the population controls more than 90% of the nation’s wealth. That is the symbolic representation of our continent, Africa.
We are a continent that prides itself in producing leaders who consciously strategize the use of public funds to enrich themselves and roam the globe without developing their home states. They continuously stock the wealth of the continent in foreign private accounts.
Home is the place to a struggling population romancing poor standards of living which the states do little to ameliorate. It is the place where there are cries for sustenance in the midst of plenty with the youth roaming about unproductive streets in search of non-existing jobs birthing an angry population set. A typical South African youth, like his counterparts across the continent is filled with anger against the perceived sources of his travails from one perspective he berates his government, but what can he do beyond getting angry? From another perspective he vents his anger on the man next door, accessible and defenceless; he must be the reason for his unemployment. Why is he sharing the limited resources with his neighbour? If he were not there, perchance things would have been better?
A case study of the Africa continent, great black populations of African descent are so submissive, lazy, full of inferiority complex and would ironically choose to tow the path of mediocrity, jealousy and barbarism rather than venting their bottled anger on their leaders and real oppressors, attacking the lowly who, like them, are equally subject of societal deprivation.
We fail to recognize what and who our oppressors are. We fail to recognize that our problems are our ruling class and those who have used their positions of authority to loot our national resources dry. We fail to realize the people that deny us job opportunities are the policy makers who would rather line up their bank account with state money than create industries and enabling environment for commerce. These are the oppressors who took the jobs: they are the people who deserve our anger. Perhaps the fear of our oppressors has drowned us to the level of disdain for our fellow men; our fellow African brothers.
There is nothing that breeds the hatred we have for ourselves: whether xenophobic, racial, inter-ethnic or inter-religious, as much as corruption. The poor African is in desperate search for a way out of poverty, yet they only dream of the good life and affluence around them. In South Africa, apartheid did so much damage to their psyche and like the majority of Nigerians, continue to hope on government promises. When these promises fail to come, they turn to the person next door for way out. If the help does not come, hatred and crime develop; looting, robbery, pickpocketing and other societal crimes. The fact is, most time, what we christen xenophobia is majorly an economic problem and no amount of diplomatic “Jargon” can resolve it.
Another factor predisposing our continent to what we are experiencing now is the unscrupulous behaviour of African nations towards one another as well as that of African citizens in the diaspora. If we had responded accordingly to certain abnormalities within the AU when necessary, so much of the bottled anger would have been dissolved without getting to the point we are now.
At what time has the government of both Nigeria and South Africa made any serious concerted move to address the menace of few Nigerians (in partnership with South Africans) who were turning the streets of the country to a drug market? The African Union has equally failed in its mandate of coordinating the economic, social and physical integration of the continent: rather the union ignores nations taking advantage of other nations within the union and citizens abusing their freedom in another man’s land within the union.
When, for decades the government of Benin Republic and other immediate neighbouring countries to Nigeria intentionally allow their systems to continuously damage the economy of Nigeria by encouraging mass smuggling both into, and out of Nigeria (to their countries) via their borders; when Benin Republic became the 6th highest importer of rice in the world only to smuggle over 80% of the same into the Nigerian market at the expense of Nigerian local rice production; when the same country literally encouraged the smuggling of refined petroleum products that the Nigerian government has already subsidized (for Nigerians) illegally into their countries and are as such surviving on the dilapidating consequences of their sabotage on Nigeria, we didn’t anticipate the possibility of Nigerian government and citizens’ reprisal response, and maybe it would not just end at border closure.
If Nigerians got angry enough at the Beninese today and attack a few in Lagos, the world would shout xenophobia; but what about the continuous, perennial behaviour of Benin Republic and its citizens that has over the years jeopardized their country’s economic development. I am not raising a defence for xenophobic attacks anywhere in the globe. It is barbaric, uncivilized and nations and individuals must come to terms that it must be stopped in totality in all its form.
However, we must set in place conducive environment for people to live together anywhere on the continent. Those in positions of authority must be compelled to create enabling environment for all to thrive socially and economically. Nations must respect nations and relate symbiotically and reduce parasitic relationships. Immigrants must live strictly by the rules of their host nations and we must altogether seek and protect the welfare of each other.
Xenophobia is a child of hatred. We complain about South Africans hating and killing our brothers and sisters in their country while all what we manifest toward ourselves as Nigerians is hatred along every demarcating line. How much do we preach split-up of our common entity? We may not be killing non-indigenes on our streets now, but we know what hatred is capable of breeding and so many of our people wish they could do. How many Nigerians have been killed by fellow Nigerians because they belong to a different religious group, different ethnicity or different political affiliation? We preach separation; we preach hatred openly so much that the unity of our nation seemed threatened beyond repair, yet like the true hypocrites we all are, we still have the audacity to condemn others who are just the mirror image of what we are.
Just as our continent cannot grow on hatred so also will our nation not grow on the bitterness we create, breed and nurture within our system. Up North, the Boko Haram and armed bandits are busy killing and maiming innocent citizens; in the east, MASOB, IPOB, BIM are non-relentlessly agitating for separation of the country, with many lives lost already and still counting. Some criminally minded people never stop sabotaging the economy of the country. The Tiv and Junkus killing each other denotes ingrained hatred beyond the one exhibited by the South Africans. A good number of states in Nigeria have, in the recent past, mulled the possibility of sending off non indigenes from their states; if that is not xenophobia, what is it?
Oneness has since become a rare attribute of our society, religion that should be used as a rallying point for preaching peace has become the most deadly front for preaching hatred. Without restraint or consideration for national cohesion, revered men of God openly preach religious animosity. Today, we suffer from ethno phobia, religious discrimination, racism and even hatred for one’s own country.
We must find a way to wriggle ourselves out of the cluster of hatred we are currently enmeshed. We cannot and we will not progress this way. We must rediscover the factors that bind us together. We must discover the elements and factors sowing the seeds of discord and separation in our country, these we must weed off.
Nigerians want to remain Nigerians and are still very happy being Nigerians; the individuals who have sold their souls to the devil and would not care if the nation breaks as long as they can achieve their selfish evil plans are the ones we must fish out and treat as the enemy of our commonwealth which they are.
I was equally in tears when I read of Nigerians returning from South Africa reciting the National Anthem in the joy of returning home. Some of these people would be wrongly called IPOB members, who don’t believe in Nigeria any longer, but that is wrong. Today over 95% of Nigerians of south-eastern origin still believe wholly in Nigeria and would not give the country up for anything.
The manifestation of this love for the country must begin to be the force that drives all of us. That is the only way we can overcome the seed of hatred already sown by our enemies. When, like Mr. Allen Onyema said, we all manifest open love for the fatherland, hatred would become a thing of the past.
It is a fact that posterity will tell the story of Peace Airline which volunteered to airlift Nigerians from South Africa without recourse to their tribal affiliations. My central message is this: Let us love and treat one another right at home, so that no one dares hate us or maltreat us outside.