Skip to Content

The causes of xenophobia

Africans living in other countries which are not their countries of origin are grimly accustomed to invectives like "fucking foreigner"; "parasite"; "alien"; "refugee", etc. But it appears matters have been getting out of hand in recent years. Xenophobia is on the rise, making nonsense of the catchy phrase "Africa for the Africans".

In sub-Saharan Africa this phenomenon raised its ugly head with the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president who was quite continental, nay internationalist in outlook. In 1969/70 the government of K.A. Busia (which replaced the Nkrumah regime after a short period of military rule) came up with the infamous and disgraceful Aliens Compliance Order which saw the brutal and compulsory expulsion of "aliens" mostly from Nigeria and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). In the early 1980s, Nigeria followed suit (and more brutally) by burning alive hundreds of Ghanaians in Nigeria in an attempt to flush them out as "aliens". Today it is the same story in the Republic of South Africa. And quite recently, Malians were given a similar treatment in the wake of the struggle for political leadership between Laurent Gbagbo and Alasan Watara in the Côte d'Ivoire. This prompted President Abdoulie Wade of Senegal to make the rather myopic remark that racism in the Côte d'Ivoire dwarfed that found in Europe. He obviously intentionally forgot to mention the deep hatred and inhuman treatment meted out by his stone-cold immigration officers to anglophone West Africans entering or passing through Senegal. A few months ago people in Gadhafi's Libya took up arms against African immigrants, exiling quite a large number to the "next world", all in the name of this issue of "fucking foreigners". And yet Gadhafi, after having accused his brothers in the Arab League of being sell-outs to America, is busy trying to organise a Union of African States to replace the toothless bulldog, that the Organisation of African Unity has become! Interesting, isn't it?

The unfounded truth
The reasons for these internecine expulsions and violence are almost always the same in each country. "Patriotic" citizens are quick to assert, nationalistically, that the "aliens" have come to take over their country, their resources, their jobs, their culture, and what have you.

In Ghana the raison d'être of the Aliens Compliance Order of the Progress Party was to have Ghanaians control business which the authorities claimed had been dominated by "aliens" (most of whom actually were farm labourers in the cocoa plantations). In the Côte d'Ivoire, though the xenophobic pogrom was purely political, Ivoriens attacked and looted the shops of "foreigners". In the Libyan case, and in Gambia where a few months ago bars and public houses belonging to "aliens" were vandalised, the reason was that the "aliens" were encouraging immoral and un-Islamic practices in their countries.

However the reality is that all over Africa the business, hotel and tourist industries which are the breeding grounds for alcoholism and prostitution (male and female) are mostly controlled by non-Africans. Big business is the exclusive domain of American, European and African businessmen who reap all the profits and repatriate them leaving Africa worse off. Yet they are never touched, nay, never seen.

Therefore, though the grievances of the masses may be related to economic factors, it is unreasonable to blame it on their fellow poor. This is especially so considering the fact that most "aliens" are engaged in lowly jobs which "citizens" may consider below their standard. Most non-citizens are engaged in such menial jobs as carpentry, masonry, shoe-repairing, cleaning drains and sweeping streets and markets. Those in what may be considered as decent jobs are the teachers, and no one has illusions as to the economic clout of a group who are consoled by the words that their reward is in heaven.

 

The real situation
As already hinted above, xenophobia cannot be divorced from the economic life of the masses. But how the one influences the other is what most people fail to understand. This can be explained from a two-dimensional plane: official policy and mass reaction.

In the first place it is important to understand that society today is divided into the rich and the poor. The rich, who are few, own the means of production and distribution of wealth whilst the poor, who are the majority, own nothing except their ability to work. Again, every political party is owned and controlled by the rich who contribute money to it which is used to canvass the support of the poor masses. Thus a party in power is in reality the executive committee of the rich people behind it. Such a party therefore rules in the interests of the owners. All its policies are consequently aimed at the welfare of the rich. Now, since there will arise a conflict of interest between the rich owners and their poor followers, the ruling party or government will have to spend huge chunks of the country's money on arms, maintenance of the army, the police, prisons, etc to hold down the masses so that the rich can make their profits without hindrance. In the process basic necessities such as food, shelter, healthcare, education are underfunded. The little that is provided can only be afforded by the rich. The result, undoubtedly, is discontent, alienation and disobedience among the masses.

In order to ward off unrest various tactics are employed by governments. One of them is creating divisions among the suffering masses by, for instance, blaming foreigners and whipping up nationalistic feelings. This diverts attention from misrule and mismanagement. Secondly, and in response to the official lies, the masses who are hungry, sick and illiterate are taken in by the government's ploy. Now, since a hungry man is an angry man and since anger is emotional and overpowers reason, the least provocation can result in violence-often misdirected. Such violence can be vented against fellow citizens usually manifested in riots and civil wars. The violence is also invariably be turned loose on the "aliens". This is the real cause of xenophobia-the rich pitting the poor against the poor. In fact wealthy "aliens" are not usually affected.

What is to be done?
In the past when Africa did not have artificial boundaries such as there are today, wars and hatred were not as rife. Therefore it appears that dismantling the boundaries, drawn up by non-Africans, would minimise violence. But will that abolish xenophobia? No. As has been noted above, it is the problem of "the haves and have-nots" which is central to war, violence and hatred. Thus the real solution will be to eliminate the present situation of a minority owning the means of production and distribution of wealth whilst the majority owning nothing, have to work for the few. In other words money, buying and selling, commodities and the like must be done away with. Humanity must commonly own the means of production and must have free and equal access to the produce. Under such circumstances there will be no want and consequently no war and hatred.

But this type of system can only be possible when people make efforts to understand it. When they understand and want it, they can organise to usher it in.

SUHUYINI