Immigration is a word frequently in the news these days. Migrants, whether they are refugees or people in search of a better life, are unwanted in many places, especially by conservatives and racists in Europe and America.
American President Donald Trump has been the loudest and most powerful anti-immigrant voice. He has vowed to keep them out of the United States, although his efforts so far have met legal obstacles. Still, he swears he will keep them off American soil.
For this he has been roundly criticized around the world.
In Africa, however, we have not heard the same criticism, particularly from political leaders. The reasons are understandable.
Firstly, the silence is acknowledgement of the status of the United States as the most powerful nation on earth and a big donor to most African countries. Obviously no sensible person goes around poking fingers into the eyes of a giant who also happens to be a benefactor.
Secondly, not saying anything about what is happening elsewhere is more a reflection of what they are themselves than simply good manners. Hatred for foreigners, even here in Africa, is more widespread than we care to admit.
Many of our countries, even those purporting to be working towards greater integration, have anti-immigrant regimes.
Travellers are treated with suspicion as if they were criminals.
Long-term residents or citizens have been subjected to constant harassment and are sometimes even killed.
There are even “foreigners’ within a country, where one national or ethnic group claims exclusive rights to a given territory and therefore reserves the right to bar other nationalities from it.
It is therefore prudent for some of these leaders to keep their mouths shut and let Trump mind America’s business as he deems fit.
This anti-immigrant hysteria that has led to violent xenophobia in some places, isolationism and country first policies in others, and a resurgence of nationalism or populism in Europe and America is not a new phenomenon. It has always existed, manifesting at different times depending on prevailing economic conditions.
At the personal level, whether it is in Africa or Europe or America, anti-immigrant feelings are often fuelled by a sense of insecurity and fear. You hear things like this: they are coming to grab our land, steal our jobs and reduce opportunities that should be exclusively ours.
At the national level, there are different kinds of fear. One is the fear of the loss of greatness or power, either because of perceived or real stagnation or more likely due to the rise of a competing power.
Reaction to a shift in power or loss of dominance takes different forms. One of them is to blame foreigners or immigrants for the shift or loss. This is followed by a ban on them. In extreme cases, violence against them follows. Other forms include erecting various kinds of protectionist barriers.
Another is the prospect of the loss of identity arising from the thought of being swamped by hordes of people who do not share the same culture or values.
This, of course, is unfounded because there is no record of any instance where immigrants have so dominated the way of life they found, or so diluted it, that it is no longer recognisable as what it was initially. In fact those who want to be successful are likely to integrate more into the national life.
But even minorities that tend to keep to themselves usually do not interfere with the way of life they found. They are more likely to leave things as they are.
The fear is actually about not being the dominant nation but just being one among a group. And so you hear a lot about lost greatness and to look back to the glory days of the past.
All these fears are irrational and, more than anything else are the result of a feeling of helplessness due to reduced fortunes and inability to adjust to new circumstances. In fact, historical evidence shows that immigrants bring certain benefits.
One of them is revitalisation of the nation. People coming to a new place are often eager to improve their lot. They have no other support system except their own labour and intellect. They have to work hard if they are to survive. Because of this, penniless immigrants, especially in the United States, have become billionaires.
Others come with super brains and other skills and have gone on to make a mark in science and the arts, as well as in politics and the military.
Of course, none of these facts prevent hatred of immigrants. Nor do they endear them to their hosts. That is how things have always been, especially when times are hard, whether it is in Africa, Europe or America. We should not blame Trump alone.Follow https://twitter.com/jrwagatare