KAD in Kumasi
South Africa is home of mixed migration. The Apartheid struggle was fought with the support of most African countries and today, people of different nationalities turn to the Rainbow nation for greener pastures. Others are also living as refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from African countries.
But these immigrants experience xenophobia, which can at times turn ugly. The widespread xenophobic attacks of 2008 did not spare any of these groups – 62 people died and hundreds were displaced. The 2010 soccer fever is believed to have helped calmed the situation, but African migrants in South Africa cannot be comfortable. This is because of rumours that the attacks may erupt when the tournament is over.
Organizations like the African Diaspora Forum, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Migration Organization (IOM) are working with the South African government to stop the attacks on migrants. But the issue of xenophobia is not peculiar to the Rainbow nation – a cursory observation indicates that similar jingoistic practices abound in other African countries.
In the beginning
Slavery, Colonialism and Racism have emerged as the tripartite phenomenon the African has had to contend with over so many years. While formal slavery and colonialism have been laid to rest, the issue of racism, accompanied by its horrific experience of injustice to human dignity, continues to afflict the African, both on the continent and in the Diaspora.
The promulgation of some international human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human and Rights (UDHR), explicitly identify the numerous rights to revolve around the dignity and reverence of the individual personality, irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion or sex.
The issue of racism and its impact on human beings has been of paramount interest to the United Nations to the extend that its General Assembly designated the year 1971 as the International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. It has since designated three Decades of Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1973–1983, 1983–1993, and 1993-2003).
The Third World Conference Against Racism, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, focused on developing practical, action-oriented measures and contemporary forms of racism and intolerance. The general question, however, is what type of Racism exists today on the African continent?
Article 1(1) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) define the term “racial discrimination” as ‘any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life’.
Historically, racial discrimination has been identified on the level of White-Black basis, especially during the colonial, apartheid and segregation eras. The White against Black paradigm has occupied our minds to an extent that contemporary trends of racism on the African Continent, which needs urgent address, have been overlooked.
The xenophobia within
Today, the expression of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance reign supreme on the entire continent of Africa. It is very much clear that most Africans are racist without necessarily being aware. These forms of racism are mostly carried out along tribal, ethnic, religious, gender and national and economic circles.
Tendencies for racism exist owing to fear or uneasiness toward other group of people; instituted intolerance resulting from a calculated effort to put the person down; and lack of knowledge or education to foster inter-relationship as well as provide understanding of difference among tribes and nationalities.
It is expedient to note that the African and the African continent are on the threshold of time. Times have past when all our woes and tribulations were attributed to the Western world. Gone are the days when racism was a White and Black issue. It is now time to reflect on what is actually afflicting the African on a Black-to-Black basis. There is a pertinent need to seriously examine our Religious, Economic, Political, Educational and Family institutions with a view to addressing the present predicament of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance badly affecting us.
The effects of xenophobia and intolerance have resulted in bloody ethnic and religious clashes, which in most countries ended in civil wars and genocide. It has also culminated in severe hostilities among nationalities and continues to be a major factor in inter/intra border clashes between nations. Ethnic conflicts, religious fundamentalism and arm struggles continue to have negative impact on the rule of law and fundamental freedoms of the African. Factors such as exploitation, environmental degradation, demographic boundaries, ethnic composition, migration flow, marriage patterns, unequal distribution of state portfolio, other cultural and religious issues can be subdued to enable the continent achieve economic prosperity, peace and harmony among its peoples’. What can therefore be done to curtail these “reservoirs of hostilities” among Africans?
The canker can be overcome!
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned… until there is no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation, until the colour of a man’s skin is of no significance than the colour of his eyes… until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race ... and until that day, the dream of lasting peace, rule of international morality will remain nothing but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained”.__ Robert N. Marley.
In a plan of action, the African must understand that the fear of the unknown is a symptom of ignorance and to curtail the anomaly, each individual in a community must learn to respect the views and ways of life of other persons or group of people, no matter how absurd such lifestyles or opinions may appear. Appreciating the difference and dynamism of cultures and religions of other people is a sure way to building lasting relationship between nations in Africa. We must also realize the fact that we had been living together before the partitioning of the continent which led to the creation of artificial boundaries.
If there is going to be real African Renaissance, governments of Africa must inculcate real commitment and zeal towards the implementation of policies. The expression of hypocrisy must stop and selfish interests shunned. It is very expedient that the entire segments, institutions and bodies on the continent of Africa and interested bodies in other places be carried along in the new African Union. For this to be achieved, there must be effective measures aimed at tackling corruption, nepotism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, which promote widespread hostilities. Peaceful co-existence must be ensured in each nation of the continent, because if one group feels threatened, bullied or relegated, integration would certainly end up in a fiasco.
The African Union must consolidate democracy, bring lasting peace, eradicate poverty, tackle diseases and sustain development, thereby bringing the continent into the mainstream of the world economy.
In conclusion, it must be pointed out that real Union is attainable if issues of power equity are well addressed. The selfish sought for power must not be allowed to overcome the collective interest of the people of African. This generation cannot be wasted!
“If Africa unites, it will be because each part, each nation, each tribe gives up a part of its heritage for the good of the whole. That is what Union means, that is what Pan-African means”, says William B. Du Bois.
Xenophobia and intolerance, especially on economic, religious and racial levels, leads to nothing but havoc, not only to the mind and personality of the subject but also of the perpetuator. Let’s adhere to the stipulation of article 1 of the UDHR that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience and must act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.
Let us be our brothers’ keeper in all its importance, and the dream of a United States of Africa would be a reality!
Story by Kofi Adu Domfeh