By Jeanne Ongiyo
“I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses” Nelson Mandela.
The late Nelson Mandela must be tossing and turning in his grave following the ongoing xenophobic attacks in his beloved South Africa. The definition of xenophobia might be unclear to some but in simpler terms it is the fear or dislike of people from other countries. The media, both local and international, has made an effort to bring to light what is happening in South Africa even as countries are planning to evacuate their nationals from the rainbow nation. Social media platforms, some free from the ethics of journalism, have painted the situation in gruesome images of torched property and injured individuals fleeing for safety. Others have asked for all South African products to be boycotted in protest to the attacks and others watch helplessly, fearing for friends and family caught up in the storm.
Some may reason that this is a common phenomenon blown out of proportion because it affects one of the most influential nations in Africa. I mean, Xenophobia in Burundi might be treated on the same level as a village dispute sorted by a few quiet sanctions. But not South Africa; that’s the place we get diamonds from so it must be well covered. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but let us take a critical analysis of some attacks where countrymen turn against each other. To shed light on the relevance of the problem at hand, we will look at the impeding dangers on not just the Rainbow nation but on the entire continental block.
The stability of South Sudan in recent years opened up career opportunities for not only Sudanese nationals but also other regional as well as international entrepreneurs. Kenyans from far and wide were one group of such individuals who took the bold step in seeking employment in South Sudan with professions spanning from teaching to business. Violent attacks broke out in the year 2012 where these foreign nationals were forcefully evacuated from South Sudan under allegations such as encroaching on South Sudanese territory and taking up jobs that belonged to the local populace. The government officials as well as the Sudanese nationals were however quick to explain that some of the people being attacked lacked the necessary permits to be in the country. This begs the question why not just deport them on grounds of not having proper documentation rather than subjecting them to such hostility as to cause death?
Another instance of such inhuman attacks that has been replayed throughout history is ethnic based violence. These include the 1994 Rwanda genocide that constituted the systematic massacre of approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the span of 100 days. Rwanda’s population is primarily composed of two ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. It was therefore heart-wrenching to see such orchestrated violence harming citizens who had been living in perfect harmony with no tribe being superior to the other. With lessons to learn from the Rwanda genocide, ethnic based violence still crept into one of Rwanda’s neighboring countries in the year 2007/2008. After the disputed 2007 general elections, all hell broke loose as violence threatened to tear Kenya apart. With the international media highlighting the course of violence and Kenya’s electoral commission’s ineptitude, it is clear to all like minded Kenyans that the root cause of the violence was the test of power between the two perceived ‘influential’ communities in Kenya. Despite calls for equality among all ethnic groups in the country, Kenya’s are yet to effectively come to a common agreement and set their unsupported and far-fetched differences aside.
Religion has also in served as a catalyst for war and the violation of human rights in several African conflicts. The Central African Republic under the leadership of President Michel Djotodia has faced a series of ‘religious’ wars between the Christian anti-Balaka and the Séléka rebel coalition who are believed to be from the Muslim minority. The disagreement began in December 2012 where the Christians seemed to be given special duties and privileges as opposed to the minority Muslim community. This sparked off concerns of government discrimination against the population. This is a case of the government failing to uphold values of equality as well as religious diversity. The case of the Central African Republic is a classic example of how leaders can influence how we, the electorate, relate with one another.
With most of these problems being considered ‘African problems’, the underlying consequences do not just affect Africans but the Western world as well. This may be through interactions like trade and others meant for the sake of economic growth and stability. Every independent state is governed by a constitution and every constitution guarantees a national freedom of association, freedom of worship, freedom of expression and most of all…the right to life.
No man is an island and that is why we need each other to soar to greater heights. Just as Kenya needs a place to export her renowned tea to boost her economy, so does Turkey need to export her silk. We should therefore learn to live together in harmony embracing diversity and accepting changes where necessary. All respective governments should forge regional as well as international interactions to ensure the peace and well-being of their citizens as well as prospective investors. Following the popular saying “do unto others what you would like them to do unto you…” every individual of sound mind should strive to be hospitable to their neighbors despite difference in age, race or religion.
Xenophobia is not an African problem, neither is terrorism or poverty. However, Africans can solve these problems in Africa.