A decade ago, The Economist described Africa as a hopeless continent. As expected we spent nearly a decade denouncing the description as unfair and inaccurate. Then a decade later the same magazine declared that Africa was indeed rising. Like the biblical story of Saul turning into Paul, we all embraced the new tag and ran with it.
The basis for the statement lay in new developments such as the discovery of more natural resources like oil and natural gas in several countries that had endured years of poverty. There was also the spread of democracy, which is often just referring to frequent peaceful elections where incumbents lose and concede defeat even when there is no significant improvement in the welfare of the voters.
The new resources have seen the continent getting new suitors like India and China. This has inevitably threatened the previous condescending relationship that Africa has endured with the west. China for example stands out with its unprecedented infrastructural and financial support to the continent without having to prescribe how the receiving countries should conduct themselves.
What seems to bother me lately is that the Africa rising song does not seem to say much about the value attached to the dignity of the lives of Africans. Recent events around the continent have compelled me to worry that indeed the value we attach to an African life is not really rising that much.
My fears are buttressed by ongoing worrying events in three countries that are spread across the continent. To the north we have Libya that has not only been reduced to a war zone but also the departure point for thousands of African immigrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better life in Europe in a journey that has literally turned the sea into an African graveyard. Why do we still have people willing to risk their lives fleeing a continent that is rising?
Closer to home, Burundi is slated to have a general election but there is more news about violent demonstrations and refugees fleeing to Rwanda than who the candidates will be and what policies they are bringing on board.
How come after 50 years of independence, elections remain a do or die process on this continent? Over 4000 Burundian refugees are already in Rwanda with the majority being women and children.
Further south is where the real shocker is. South Africa has exploded with xenophobic attacks mainly targeting fellow African immigrants hence the reason why some prefer to refer to this as Afrophobia. A lot has been said about this especially the usual blunt chorus of ‘we hereby condemn in the strongest terms possible…”
I happen to have very close relatives living in South Africa some of whom speak very fluent Xhosa. I also know of friends who also moved there in search of work opportunities. However the news from down south is very disturbing especially because it is not the first time that African immigrants are being used as a scapegoat for the socio-economic imbalances in the so called rainbow nation.
In 2008 we were treated to the same scenes with immigrants being burnt alive and their shops looted. This kind of behaviour is also not unique to South Africa since blacks were also victimised in Libya during the overthrow of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. In such cases, Africans are hardly the cause of the problems but are unfortunately the softer targets.
I don’t think it is helpful to remind South Africans of what the rest of Africa contributed in ending apartheid, as it was not done in expectation of free jobs down south. In fact, South Africa already has one of the toughest visa regimes for fellow Africans.
What is important is here, is the dignity of African lives. African leaders need to do more than just condemn the violence. If we really value the lives of Africans then South African needs to be pressured to contain the violence.
If it had been white people under attack, South Africa, like was the case in Zimbabwe, would be choking on sanctions right now. I am happy to hear that some countries like Nigeria, Malawi and Mozambique are already threatening to take drastic measures to put pressure on South Africa to stop the violence. We cannot however keep just talking. Action is needed to save lives and dignity or else we continue to vindicate those who think this is a hopeless continent.