‘Xenophobic’ violence: African Leaders wrongly keep SA accountable in dishonest debate!

– African leaders must own up to their role in this violence –

In the aftermath of the unfortunate and supremely worthy of condemnation recent ‘xenophobic’ attacks, we saw some fellow African countries exerting themselves in almost demanding an explanation from SA. We heard how Mozambique among others insisted on engaging SA on the subject matter.

Firstly, I think it was important to keep SA accountable as the nation in which these ‘xenophobic’ violence occurred. It was necessary and a sign of attempted leadership by our fellow African leaders to be less intimidated by SA, its perceived stature real or concocted in the context of Africa and to ask for clarification. I also think South Africa as articulated by its president and those mandated to handle these regrettable incidents did an excellent job of responding to the crisis.

Initially the SA Government only sought to appease foreigners yet later, as raised by some of us early on in the debate, it became apparent condemning the violence is one part of the responsibility. The SA government has a fiduciary responsibility towards its own citizenry first and such necessitates upon it to also prove conscious to clearly pronounce on its policy on migration. Activities around Operation Fiela are condemned by leaders of the African Diaspora (Civil society group) however SA is less intimidated and continues governing in eradicating lawlessness as it manifests in illegal migration.

However, keeping SA accountable for these discomforting events, is one side of the proverbial coin, that is necessary for our ongoing discourse. Perhaps this citing from an era in the Angolan setting articulates the reality of the African dream for self-determination.

“In reality, the MPLA’s policies had proven disastrous. For fifteen years it had enforced a Soviet – inspired system of centralized planning and nationalisation, causing the collapse of both industrial and agricultural production. Oil revenue was the source of wealth. Oil enabled the government to prosecute the war against Unita, to pay for food imports for the urban population and to provide the nomen-klatura with extravagant lifestyles. The rural population was meanwhile left to fend for itself. Even in Luanda there were constant shortages. While the MPLA elite enjoyed the use of their own super- markets, ordinary people spent hours each day in queues – bichas- hoping for a modicum of rice or potatoes. – When public services disintegrated, the elite used education and health facilities abroad, paid for by public funds.” Martin Meredith (The State of Africa pages 604/605)

Citing Meredith here is to give content to the potential for mass-exodus in pursuit of greener economic pastures. We have long agreed that what we have as phenomenon is not mere refugee but economic refugees, for which there exist no explicit conventions.

The missing part in this is our debate on xenophobic violence as sought for in claims of clarifications by African leaders in this season is that we have yet to hear our fellow African leaders owning up to its role or deficit of leadership that constitutes primarily a direct responsibility for the challenges of illegal migration and even crisis that beset the African continent in manifestations of country context.

When African leaders in this season attempt soliciting clarifications on these attacks we not sure if it is predicated on what happened or in willingness of engaging on the gambit of what ultimately manifests in what is referred ‘xenophobic’ violence.

These unfortunate incidents of occurrence lend us opportunity to reflect however that reflection must find meaning in honesty on what it is we dealing with. It is incumbent on African government leaders to engage on the subject less from a prism of fact-finding similar to voter –observer-context but from its genesis in an ontology.

African Leaders firstly owe it to their own citizenry to be honest in asking how did we arrive at a place where our citizens leave in mass exodus, how is it that our citizenry cannot make a living in the confines of our geographic and sovereign borders? It must ask the tough questions of accountability in economic development as an experienced reality and not a philosophical by-product of the elitist chit- chat. African leaders must ask how after more than 50 years of Nigeria’s independence the economic reality of lack of infrastructure, capacity and unlocking for the poor remains that of agony despite a claimed economic growth of 7 %.

African leaders must ask how old colonialism – not even colonialism of special kind – is still a functional reality and kept alive by an unconscious African leadership who has proven insensitive to the plight of their own poor and necessarily caught up in political power games in which the economy is accessed only by an accredited handful. African leaders must honestly ask and answer why its road infrastructure still is dependent on donor contributions and not taxes as Uganda attests. African leaders must ask where they have failed and how they have failed their own citizenry who ultimately flee their country of birth and make their way to South Africa where we had seen at least three installments of these ‘xenophobic’ attacks.

It cannot be that African leaders demand answers how their citizens legal or illegal were affected when they refuse to engage with the debate from a fair and honest platform in its totality.

We dare not afford African leaders the right to escape from their conjoined if not natural original role of these unfortunate events that occurred in the geographic confines of a South Africa.

The debate is perpetually and deliberately clouded with a claim SA’s indebtedness of an era of liberation struggle, which may have absolute irrelevance and can hardly be given significance in this era. It is also shaded with a claim of Africa knows no borders, defying the sovereignty of each state. The debate is hardly honest if we approach it from guilt, blame and ludicrous claims of a borderless Africa prism.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in this false debate is the fact that African leaders unconsciously demand of SA to be the ‘superpower’ and ‘big brother’ of Africa when it suits them. They expect South Africa to raise its hand in AU forums on a plethora of issues that works for democracy and stability in SA, to make the investments where necessary. It appears African leaders naturally expect SA to underwrite its challenges in terms of social ills affording them opportunity to walk away and return as observers in a proverbial elections.

To blame South Africa with its own very well documented social ills, economic redress challenges and a multiplicity of apartheid structural realities is short-sighted and not an honest debate.

To seek clarifications on what happened as an event, is to have an investigative mind only to the extent that you assume the role of investigator in which you naturally exonerate yourself from any and all role in this plight visiting Africa.

An honest debate is further clouded by the convenient voices of some of the African Diaspora Leadership perhaps hell-bent on analyzing SA and not their own countries. These are willing, capable and ever- ready to pontificate on what is wrong in SA, when they silent on their own leaders of their countries of origin. We dare not allow the chattering class of civil society of Africans who claim a moral high-ground of analysis and comment to prove pretentious and above rebuke. We dare not allow victimology to dictate the meridian of conscious engagement.

It is my plea that our collective African leaders engage the subject of a xenophobic violence less from a what-is-comfortable-for-us approach but a real and honest reflection. It is time African leaders stop proving romantic about the heroes of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Nelson Mandela as an annual calendar event, but give content to the dream of a functional Africa, where its citizenry are proud to eke out a living in their country of birth because the conditions for that living is made possible by a conscious and visionary leadership.

I therefore welcome the fact that our government proved vigilant, responsible and conscious to condemn the violence meted out to fellow Africans, I welcome the fact launched campaigns to energise the message that South Africans are not violent towards the fellow Africans.

Yet I also welcome the fact that our president made it clear that African leaders of government must own up to their role in this violence for the circumstances they preside over that result in mass exodus as a result of

Unless African leaders from sovereign African states are prepared to engage honestly on the subject for the true cause of xenophobic violence, we must assume so – called demanded clarifications in almost -voter – observer status mindset- on xenophobic violence in SA remains a luxury ill- afforded.

South Africa must remind its fellow African country leaders, that we did not invent xenophobia we are victims but we are all victims of the agony of failed leadership in African context.

Clyde N.S. Ramalaine

Political Commentator