I hereby reproduce an article that was first published on March 17, 2017, on the subject matter of xenophobia in South Africa, which I consider relevant today.
Once again in the Republic of South Africa, the frustrations of the majority Black people have found violent expression in the killing of fellow Africans of foreign nationality and the destruction of their properties. This expression of hate and intolerance is fast becoming an alias for Black South Africans. Unfortunately, xenophobia has been elevated to state policy as demonstrated by the denial of its occurrence by no less a person than President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma. He said, “I think we love using phrases in South Africa that at the time cause unnecessary perceptions about us. I think we are not (xenophobic), it’s not the first time we’re with the foreigners here.”
Therefore, nobody is likely to be brought to justice for murder and arson against foreign nationals. The foreign ministry was also quoted as saying all illegal immigrants should leave the country. Mass protests and rallies have also taken place specifically asking for the revocation of citizenship to fellow Africans from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, etc. The ruling ANC in South Africa, which has failed to improve the lot of the majority black population since the end of apartheid in 1994, may have found a convenient alibi in its frustrated citizens blame of helpless foreigners for their economic woes. It is clear from the recent happenings in that country that they are united in this unfortunate act of xenophobia.
Nigeria is one of the countries worse affected by these recent xenophobic attacks. Scores of Nigerian lives, properties and business premises were reportedly attacked by the xenophobic mobs of South Africans. Nigerians were particularly accused of the crime of drug trafficking and running a prostitution ring. Back home, reactions to the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have been more emotional than pragmatic. The general public in Nigeria are lamenting the ill treatment meted out to their compatriots by fellow Black Africans in South Africa. They are particularly miffed by the fact that Nigeria stood shoulder to shoulder with Black South Africans during the dark days of apartheid. Whatever happened to African solidarity and unity? The most amazing of all is that citizens of some western countries who supported the apartheid regime in South Africa were not attacked, which has left many wondering.
The federal government’s reaction, like others before, followed the usual slap-on-the-wrist pattern of non-engagement of the government of South Africa in a manner that conveys a strong displeasure over the incidents. From the cacophony of voices condemning the unity of purpose on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, it is easily discernable that vital lessons have not been learnt from the bitter experiences of Nigerians in the diaspora.
While the violation of human lives and properties under whatever guise is strongly condemnable, it is important to realise that the greater blame for the ill fate of Nigerians in the diaspora is that of the Nigerian state, government and people. The failure of the Nigerian state to provide adequately for its citizens has created a large population of immigrants seeking economic refuge all over the world. This is made worse by a system that has created social inequality and injustice based on tribe and religion, the imbalanced structure of the Nigerian state, coupled with such policies as quota system and federal character, which give the unique advantage of eating the cake and having it by geo-political zones with more states and local governments and a limited opportunity at accessing state resources by geo-political zones with fewer states and local governments. A situation where a region is perpetually designated as educationally disadvantaged but uses its structural advantages to get prime advantage over areas that are educationally advantaged is grave injustice that has led to the shutting out of a large productive population of Nigerians, particularly of South East origin, whose energy cannot be adequately contained by their disadvantaged structure of having the least number of states (five) and local governments (95); they are left with no option but to scavenge throughout the diaspora for survival. The poverty and underdevelopment of the Nigerian people caused by a succession of inept political leadership have made Nigerians in the diaspora victims of not just xenophobia but racism and all forms of discrimination not because of the colour of their skin but because of their wretched background, which makes them easy suspects in affluent countries.
Before we condemn xenophobia in South Africa, let’s resolve the issues of sectionalism, religious bigotry, indigene-settler dichotomy and other internal apartheid-like policies of state that have prevented Nigeria from evolving from a geographical expression of ethnic nationalities into a united modern nation state.
The internal fault lines within Nigeria are clearly visible in its naïve and ineffectual foreign policy direction. Since independence in 1960, the Nigerian state has not been able to realistically calibrate its foreign policy direction as a function of its economic prosperity. Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust has been overtly moralistic to the detriment of its national economic and security interests. From the era of non-alignment and pan-African solidarity to the era of the new world order of a sole capitalist superpower, Nigeria has always been taken advantage of in all external relations without any tangible achievements to show for all our Big Brother role on the continent of Africa. Nigeria is a country without a clear-cut immigration policy, thereby making it one big thoroughfare. It is very naïve to declare our foreign policy as being centred around Africa by way of fighting colonialism, apartheid and other forms of perceived Western influence on the continent of Africa.
In a globalised world such as we live in, international relations are key to the economic development and prosperity of any nation. Nigeria’s foreign policy direction should centre on Nigeria and not Africa. There is no such thing as African solidarity as evident in the xenophobic attacks against fellow Africans in South Africa. The African continent is made up of nation states all competing for resources and economic advantage. Nigeria must realise that African states, like other nations of the larger world, are competitors and not comrades. Therefore, in dealing with any nation within and outside Africa, Nigeria’s national economic and security interests must come first and only. Nigeria should not have been a member of the non-aligned movement. Nigeria should have aligned properly with either of the superpowers. Nigeria should have made a clear choice between being an outpost of Soviet socialism in Africa, by aligning with the eastern bloc with all the benefits accruable, or a bastion of free market economy in the black world by aligning with the western bloc and also help in containing the spread of communism on the continent.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, in a world that has gone capitalist, Nigeria should have aligned firmly with West like Singapore, South Korea, Japan, South Africa and Taiwan that are today economic miracles in prosperity. Nigeria should have put its economic interest ahead of African solidarity in the same way Anwar Saadat of Egypt and the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia put the national economic and security interests of their respective nations first ahead of Arab/Muslim solidarity. Similarly, Nigeria should not have, among other naïve diplomatic excursions on the continent of Africa, opposed the Western-backed National Party-dominated apartheid regime of South Africa. Nigeria should have engaged the apartheid regime and its prosperous allies in mutually beneficial relationships that would have guaranteed her economic advantages. If Nigeria and Nigerians had prospered like other Western allies of apartheid South Africa, the black populace would have respected us more because we would not have been economic refugees in their country and hence would not have unleashed xenophobic attacks on us. There are only two races in the world; rich and poor.