Xenophobia or Crisis of Governance? By Issa Aremu

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  • Comrade Issa Aremu

Let’s get it right! It’s the poor Africans that are up in arms against the poor in the guise of xenophobia! Rich South Africans and Nigerian businesses do also cry but hardly on account of xenophobic attacks on each others’ enterprises and lives. At the height of the MTN’s   scandalous SIMs infractions, which criminally fuelled insurgency in the North East, MTN masts were never pulled down but the communication giant was rightly slammed with some N330 billion fine by the National Communication Commission, NCC in 2015. Poor-on-Poor xenophobic violence and looting which recently engulfed  parts of Gauteng, Johannesburg, Cape Town and other cities of South Africa  with attendant  cycle of reprisal attacks on South Africa’s  businesses in Nigeria  points to deep crisis of governance and  leadership in Africa. In this case,  one indifferent  approach to conflicts involving   the poor Africans, another rule for big businesses and private capital. SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa belatedly addressed the nation on  the fourth day, (Thursday night) on the crisis which reportedly claimed some double digit  African lives (almost some 1000 since 2008!).  You don’t assuage grief and prevent conflagration of reprisal anger with unacceptable slow response to an unacceptable serial madness, which xenophobic populism has tuned to be.

In 2008,  late Nelson Mandela (though in retirement!) together with his Foundation promptly and spiritedly damned “Africans-on-Africans”  violence.  A  content analysis of  the  20-minute address broadcast of President Cyril Ramaphosa on TV indicated that it was inspired by ever worsening domestic SA’s violence against women than a decade long orchestrated assault on African immigrants. Thousands of protesters had marched on Parliament two days in a row demanding a more urgent response to violence against women, the recent casualty being the murdered University of Cape Town (UCT) student Uyinene Mrwetyana. I just returned from CapeTown and Durban. I bear witness that there is a perception that President Cyril Ramaphosa just recently elected is fatigued on arrival. “There can be no excuse for the attacks on the homes and businesses of foreign nationals, just as there can be no excuse for xenophobia or any other form of intolerance,” Ramaphosa said. He   added further: “Equally, there is no justification for the looting and destruction of businesses owned by South Africans”. And that is the real problem! Are Africans “Foreign nationals” in Africa, South of Africa? ANC is the oldest political party on the continent formed in 1912. It was so-named African National Congress, (not South African National Congress) by the founding fathers who are all Africans. The Freedom Charter opens with the declaration that:  “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. Same with SA’s celebrated 1994 non-racial, non-sexist democratic constitution. What has then happened to pan-Africanism just 25 years apartheid was proclaimed constitutionally dead in 1994? Are Malawians, Ruwandans and Nigerians  foreigners in Africa? Are Afrikaners and British  more African  than Zimbabweans and Somalis?

Kwame Nkrumah, on the 24 May 1963  envisioned a continental Union of African States, when Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed. Kwame Nkrumah, a key proponent of OAU must be alarmed in his grave to hear that Africans in 2019 are erecting new Apartheid  walls against each other. As far back  as  1973  Europeans copied Nkrumah’s  idea, signed the treaty of Rome that led to the formation of European Union (EU). Today, Europe parades common citizenship, common market, common currency and common front against individual African countries with adverse implication for worsening terms of trade. More frightening was the alleged official sponsorship of xenophobia by some SA’s politicians and leaders.

In a statement issued, “Right2Know” a non-governmental Organization, NGO, said it held Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and Ramaphosa personally responsible for the violence. Witness the group: “The recent xenophobic attacks on non-South Africans can be directly linked to calls by politicians to ‘defend the sovereignty of the state’ and confirms a dangerous emerging trend of xenophobic populism which leads to attacks on foreign nationals. The xenophobic intent was, and still is, very clear. It wanted to do what the state had failed to do: remove foreigners from the city,” the statement read.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to South Africa next month is very timely. After the recent diplomatic heat, President Buhari must shed light on the new reformed relations between the two biggest economies in Africa. The President must do some  quality control of the current  incoherent official responses informed by legitimate anger against senseless xenophobic attacks. It’s time for an informed foreign policy and strategy. President Buhari must offer some concrete initiatives that would facilitate movement of labour and capital in Africa on the continent within the context of the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement, ACFTA, the Constitutive Act of the Africa Union (AU) launched in 2002 by the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and of course NEPAD. Where President Cyril Ramaphosa miserably failed in  initiatives, President Buhari must make a difference.

The point cannot be overstated: AU was inspired by the noble ideals of African unity, solidarity, cohesion and cooperation among the peoples of Africa and African States. President Buhari must also offer to urgently  revive Nigeria-South Africa bi-National Commission. The commission must address all issues between the two countries. It must also involve organized businesses and organized labour. So far the relations between the two biggest economies has been transactional between businesses driven by profits, profits and profits, not the PEOPLE. President Buhari must champion peoples-to-people relations with eye on investment, trade and mass job creation in the two countries. Both SA and Nigeria need a new development agenda from the existing neo-liberal market economy which has produced almost 60 per cent youth unemployment,  70 per cent in poverty, shameless inequality and the  great-divide between the two countries’ 1 per cent super rich and 99 per cent poor. Xenophobia will persist as long as many Africans hunt for limited indecent jobs as industries close down. SA and Nigeria are the only two countries better positioned to ensure the implementation of AU’s AGENDA 2063, Africa’s strategic framework  aimed  to delivering  on inclusive and sustainable development.

Issa Aremu mni

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