The spate of xenophobic violence by native South Africans against other African that’s currently sweeping across the country has left me convinced that we, Africans, are our own worst enemies and we urgently need a messiah to save us from us.
It doesn’t really make sense at all; does it? If one African calls another a ‘foreigner’ on the same continent; what, then, should Americans do to Africans in the United States? What should Europeans do to our relatives out there hustling to earn a living?
Remittances by overseas Africans were $32 billion in 2013; they’ll surge to $41 billion in 2016.
Ironically, when Africans bump into each other in Asia, USA or Europe, they immediately seek out each other like long lost siblings, ‘brother/sister nice to meet you, you’re from which country in Africa?” The camaraderie is epic!
And I enjoyed that sense of belonging and the friendliness from my African colleagues when I was in Asia for my studies, it kept me going through times of homesickness. It didn’t matter that we were from different countries in Africa, we were brothers and sisters.
I was window-shopping in Macy’s, a large clothing store located at the Herald square in New York City when an elderly black man approached me beaming with a wide smile, he asked me whether I was from Africa to which I answered in the affirmative; we hugged.
Winter was on the way so he was shopping for some cold-proof clothes; after the hug and the small talk, my new ‘brother’ who was 52 years old told me that he’d stayed in the States for almost two decades having fled from Liberia during the long civil war.
He shared a two-bed room apartment with another African settler, a lady from Senegal, in Sunnyside, a neighborhood that’s located about 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan; they paid $1500 a month, incredibly cheap considering New York’s mad real estate prices.
The point here is that everyone is a foreigner somewhere. Our relatives are out there in Europe yet people there tolerate them and some even fall in love with them and make families; so South Africans have no right to turn against their own brothers and sisters.
If I had that my Rwandan cousin or Ugandan sister has been burned alive in Durban, should I revenge on my South African workmate in Kigali? It’s a shame that this madness is happening in Africa’s most industrialized nation and until recently, the largest economy on the continent.
But emotions aside, we must focus on the causative factors that have gotten us here. In most cases, politics is cause and everything else effect.
There’s an underground argument that South Africa is experiencing effects of its unfinished revolution to end apartheid two decades ago.
Nelson Mandela’s critics charge that he used shortcuts to a solution when he decided to reach a compromise with the Apartheid establishment; the results of that deal benefited the elite native South Africans who joined their former white tormentors on the high table at the expense of the poor native masses.
Now that Nelson Mandela is gone, this frozen anger is beginning to unfreeze taking advantage of the corrupt and populist maladministration of President Jacob Zuma. I’m told a statute of the late Mandela was even attacked, accusing the fallen statesman of having sold the nation.
Unfortunately, this ’native-foreign friction’ isn’t limited to South Africa; it’s alive even here in East Africa.
The continent is undergoing integration but the people seem not to be prepared for the consequences as many fear competition and when they can’t thrive anymore in competitive common markets, they look for someone to blame for their misery .
I have noticed similar sentiments in this region, and these could get worse as integration deepens. For instance, last year, a prominent Ugandan journalist with a major newspaper authored a long angry xenophobic rant against Banyarwanda (Rwandans in Uganda) which he posted on his Facebook page.
’Banyarwanda’ is one of Uganda’s constitutionally recognized tribes but this journalist was blaming all the country’s problems on them arguing that unless they were pushed back to their country, they’ll continue controlling Uganda.
The post provoked public anger with people demanding the sacking of the journalist, but he claimed his account was hacked and survived on that account.
You might also remember the infamous expulsion of Rwandans in Tanzania; this too was a low moment for East Africa’s integration efforts.