We Have Our Problems, But Xenophobia Is South Africa’s Can To Carry

By Uche Nnadozie

It will be tragic if by the turn of events last week, Nigeria did not have a comprehensive and strategic response to the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. I began to worry when the administration was slow if not lethargic to what the South African regime did or failed to do following continuous targeting by her mobs of foreigners who live and work with them. Let it be clear, there are now in the open many instances that unfortunately show us that the government in Pretoria gives under-the-table support or acquiescence to that country’s embarrassing hatred and violence against foreigners. Nobody can tell what exactly has happened to previously arrested hating thugs. Their Foreign Minister has not hidden her disdain for “foreigners” through her own rhetoric; same is true of the deputy minister of Police and indeed the president, Cyril Ramaphosa. All of them talk about foreigners who have come to take small jobs which should have been left to indigenes. They talk about domination of communities and how that is dangerous to the future of their country’s people.

I have also read Nigerians who try to justify their reflex response to anything Nigerian. They tried to rationalize what Nelson Mandela’s country has done for more than a decade. Truth is, xenophobia is not something to be joked about. South Africans have shown that they hate foreigners, as a result have planned out a strategy to violet them in order to force them out of their country. Make no mistakes; the country belongs to South Africans of many ethnic groups, Afrikaans, Indians and a few African ancient immigrants who are not of the major tribal groups. Therefore, visitors to their country are expected to obey their laws. When you don’t, you have the law to contend with. Nigeria has never been such a country that interferes on domestic matters of foreign countries (in that regard). We even tell foreign countries to solve criminal matters that are brought to our attention following their own due process. Just recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI released names of alleged internet fraudsters, since then Nigeria has arrested several of the culprits at home. The same applies to persons accused of drug peddling, who we do not plead for instead we go a step further to help foreign countries to gather evidence. Unfortunately, South Africa is not interested in resolving xenophobia or criminality as they prefer to call it. They complain about crimes as though they don’t have laws that punish crime; or as if they don’t have homegrown criminal elements. Instead they enable their mobs to do for them what they are ashamed of doing themselves. I hear, pressure of inequalities which the ruling party has failed to address over time make them allow xenophobia to fester in order to split attention and ease pressure.

After years of painfully watching the shame in South Africa, Nigerians in Lagos State decided to retaliate. That retaliation would have been avoided if government had taken some steps to show that it was offended by South Africa’s conduct. Nigerians waited for too long to hear from their leaders. It was a needless wait. Some will argue that it took just three days for the government to take a decision, but that is if the latest attacks in South Africa were the first. No they are not. Consequently, the federal Government should have had a ready-made response if the attacks were going to happen again. Also when the president met with his vice and the Foreign Affairs Minister, I was surprised that the National Security Adviser was not in the meeting. I was surprised that the police, Department of State Security, DSS and the National Intelligence Agency were not in the room for the meeting. In fact, the DG NIIA was supposed to be there too. We downplay issues that matter to our people with so much disdain and sometimes ignorance. The Nigerian “street” was very angry with South Africa, therefore government needed to act some symbolic disavowal for the people to see that their government was doing something.

As they say, diplomacy is war by other means. Diplomacy is not necessarily the absence of hostility and there is what is called cold war- It is a war! Haven been provoked countless times, Nigeria should have acted much earlier and swiftly. Also the choice of tools to use to deter South Africa from condoning or continuing the barbaric xenophobic attacks should also have been thoroughly debated previously. While I support the boycott of the World Economic Forum held in that country, we should have been the one to lead other African countries away from the Forum. It should not look as if we were led. It is bad optics. A leader should not be led.

Nigeria and South Africa should always have a good intercourse in the international system. But it appears both envy and pressure from within have conspired to keep us at this low key cold war. Yet we should not beg to be friends with those who we have generously supported. This is why the photos and reports of what happened in Lagos as reprisal to what has happened in South Africa for so long miss the point. Nigerians are angry and that is putting it mildly. I will not blame the Nigerian government because they are not the ones that caused the xenophobia of South Africans, but they share part of the blame for “loving” Pretoria more than our citizens. Yes I agree, there are over 400 South African firms doing well in Nigeria, that country is one of the leading customers for our oil, the country also has more than 800, 000 of us living legally and more than 200, 000 undocumented. There are dual citizens too, that is Nigerians who now hold South African passports. At least 1 million Nigerians live and work in SA. Among them are some criminally minded who deal in narcotics, scam people or run prostitution rings. No question about that ugly dent, but they are far below minority and the law is there to deal with any lawbreaker. It does not warrant a phobia and attack on foreigners.

Nigeria must recalibrate the now worn out “Africa is the centre-piece of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy.” Nigerians should be at the core of our international relationships. We should strive to uphold the Nigerian value and protect those who willy nilly send something home. Diaspora remittances are a major chunk of our foreign direct investment and Gross Domestic Product, GDP, totaling about $20 billion per annum. Therefore we must lend our voices to ill-treatment meted to our people abroad. We do not condone bad behavior, but the courts are there to resolve criminal conducts. Finally, Nigerians must not leave South Africa. Their stay there is guaranteed by United Nation Convention and the African Union Charter. Foreigners are guaranteed protection in their host communities and contrary to the talk at home that if everything was alright in our country, our people will not go out…that is a fallacy! The wealthiest, strongest and most influential country in the world, United States has her citizens living in Nigeria too. They are here eking out a living too, some doing illegal business; the same with China who is the second most influential and wealthiest. We see Chinese nationals everywhere even in my village.

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