AU must tackle xenophobic attacks head-on
South Africans are at it again! Across the townships and in the low income areas marauding gangs are going from hamlet to hamlet looking for anybody that looks different than they are and then venting their frustrations on the hapless individuals.
It is not the first time this has happened in the land of the legendary Nelson Mandela.
It is easy for Africans elsewhere to point accusing fingers at South Africa. But it is difficult to see how different the rest of the continent is.
Here in Nairobi, not too long ago, a politician pointed fingers at Tanzanians in the city as the source of economic frustrations for some Eastlanders and it had to take diplomacy at the highest levels to cool the rising temperatures down. This thing, xenophobia, is not a preserve of one country.
The attacks in South Africa are causing havoc across the continent. The fiercest response has come from Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and the unofficial guardian of the black people.
South African business in Nigeria has come under attack and extra security has had to be summoned to safeguard these interests.
Abuja is demanding explanation from Pretoria. It is even emerging that the President of Nigeria will be visiting South Africa shortly to discuss the matter.
Technically, and to put it simply, the challenge of xenophobia is one of economic depravity. People living at the margins of a society’s economy look at others who have only recently settled in their midst and seeing how well they may be doing economically begin to imagine that the natives could be doing better if only the settlers had not come.
There is something to be said about migrants. Wherever they are, they tend to work harder, to take up any job however menial, and most likely jobs that locals do not want to take.
In the US, for example, migrants are likely to be found working in the farms and, in the stores, as helping hands.
It is no different in Europe. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is the fear of the immigrants that is partially driving the Brexit debacle that has placed one of the world’s oldest monarchies sitting on the edges.
Yet, there is no history that getting rid of immigrants will suddenly put food on the table.
If anything, nations that have nurtured the force of migrants have ended up doing better. Think of that melting pot called the United States.
On the honour roll of the nation’s leading achievers sits names of immigrants, some of them first generation. Of course, the US is no longer a model.
Back to the mother continent. There is little sympathy for the South African marauding youths led attacks.
In Nigeria the response has been swift. Zambian football team that was scheduled to play a friendly match in Lusaka against South Africa’s national team, Bafana Bafana, has since cancelled the match.
At the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the response has been, as usual, rather timid.
Yet only the other day the continent was celebrating our Africanness with the unveiling of one big African economic market.
If Kwameh Nkurumah and his brothers in arms that championed Panafricanism did not realise much, at least the African Union is moving even if only slightly. But just when they appear to be doing so, then this.
Xenophobic attacks are not new, but Africa has not responded to them as strongly as it should in a manner that would stem them.
It is possible that nobody has been brave enough to face each other and seek to address how Africans can exist side by side.
This matter of xenophobia should have been an agenda at the AU parley along time ago.
In a matter of months, the African Union leaders will be converging at their headquarters in Ethiopia and this thorny issue needs to be tackled head-on.
If Africa is going to be an open market then African people must open up their arms to others, including their brothers from across their own borders. —The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University