Knee-jerk emotional reactions to xenophobic killing of Nigerians in South Africa are understandable, but they are in danger of clouding the underlying issue. It’s important to bear in mind that all foreigners are being targeted not only Nigerians. Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.
There is a ridiculous assumption that because Nigeria assisted in the fight against apartheid, South Africa owes an eternal debt. The truth is that African leaders fought against Apartheid to check the insult, rather than better the lives of black South Africans. Most of the time when Nigeria was assisting the Anti-apartheid movement the nation was under despotic military dictatorship.
The issue wasn’t democracy or good governance, the thinking back then was simply that even if an African government was bad, at least it should be a bad government led by blacks! At the core of Apartheid was the belief that Black people shouldn’t rule themselves because they don’t have the brains and mental capacity to govern a society. P.W Botha leader of South African from 1978 to 1989 said “Give them guns, they will kill each other; give them power they will steal government money; give them independence and democracy, they will use it to promote tribalism, ethnicity, bigotry, hatred, killings and wars”. Regrettably the truth of Botha’s assertion has become self-evident.
Subsequent to independence and self-government many Africans fled from bad governance and impoverishment in their countries to seek a better life elsewhere. The end result for Nigeria is that its citizens became objects of global contempt. In Libya Nigerians are now sold as slaves, in the Mediterranean Sea they drown in search of a decent life in Europe; in Thailand they are executed by firing squad, in the USA they are arrested for massive fraud, in Saudi Arabia they are beheaded, in Ghana they are being persecuted and humiliated, and within Nigeria they are slaughtered daily by bandits, armed robbers, Boko Haram and trigger happy policemen and soldiers.
The self-righteous indignation of government officials is inappropriate. Far more innocent Nigerians are being killed daily within Nigeria than in South Africa. Calls for the Federal Government to protect its citizens overseas are wishful thinking. A government which fails to protect its citizens at home can hardly be expected to protect them abroad. Calls for reciprocal violence or boycotts of South African businesses in Nigeria are counter-productive. Nigerians work for these companies and benefit from their services and no one has been forced to patronize them.
Any attempt to nationalize South African businesses in Nigeria would be crass stupidity which will only lead to more unemployment because the Nigerian government has serially proved itself incapable of running any business successfully. It’s also pertinent to note that rejecting foreigners didn’t start in South Africa and Nigeria is now reaping what it sowed. In the 1970’s the nation experienced an oil boom and employed “poor” Ghanaians to do menial jobs. When recession came in the 1980’s the then Nigerian Military Dictator General Buhari expelled all foreigners including those with resident permits. Many of them suffered brutality and victimization during this “Ghana must go” action which was condemned globally. It signposted the death throes of Pan-Africanism ideology (also called Pan-Negrism) which started in the late 19th Century as a search for a common identity to fight slavery and Colonialism.
In the 1960’s after many African nations gained Independence it evolved into a search for good governance based upon the belief that independent African nations had common interests and should be unified. It aimed to create a sense of brotherhood and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent. Unfortunately the dreams of a brighter future for Africans were crushed by post-independence dictatorial kleptocratic leaders who had neither the intellect nor desire to implement concepts of social engineering and national boundaries restructuring. As a result the African Continent remains the least integrated in the world and continues to experience outbreaks of xenophobic violence of black Africans against each other.
In Nigeria in particular the practice of politics without philosophy or genuine good intentions has led to “internal xenophobia” with respect to the Fulani. South Africans believe, with some justification that Nigerians have messed up their country and are now messing up South Africa! The pertinent question is did South Africans begin to hate us all of a sudden, or have they hated us all the while? The answer is that the loss of respect for Nigerians is a fairly recent phenomenon cause by the fact that even though racism, discrimination, segregation and economic hardship still thrive in that country, Nigerians are migrating there due to bad leadership and lack of prospects at home. Indeed to paraphrase Seun Kuti son of the late Afro-Beat King Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Nigerians don’t “migrate” overseas they “escape”! Until such a time as Nigeria becomes a prosperous and democratic homeland, Nigerians will continue to be disrespected worldwide. However there can be no justification for xenophobic murder and the South African government is culpable in this respect.
The saddest aspect is that despite the killings the majority of Nigerians living in South Africa have no desire to return home. Considering the atrocious conditions in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), the negligible assistance given to victims of natural disasters, the epileptic electricity supply, poor infrastructure, comatose economy, substandard medical services, and general insecurity in the nation this is understandable. Until poor governance throughout black Africa is confronted and ideologies of Pan-Africanism re-awakened, general prosperity will continue to elude the African continent and it will be difficult to stop xenophobia. The likes of Marcus Garvey, W.E Dubois and Kwamne Nkrumah must surely be turning in their graves at the death throes of their great ideology.