Genuine independence for any country means being in control of one’s destiny without an anxious dependence on other countries. Sadly, the ‘independent’ Africa today sees itself increasingly dependent on other regions for support to keep itself barely on its knees always staring at the prospect of lying flat on its belly. These are worrying times of widening social, economic and human rights disparities across the continent and between Africa and Europe.
Our people are caught up in a morass of slow growth and low investment economy which is literally causing a flight of young skilled Africans to Europe while those who cannot make it to Europe move to South Africa. As such, South Africa has seen a disproportionate increase in the number of immigrants from within Africa. Unfortunately, with the rapid increase in immigrants has been the rise in attitudinal orientation of hostility against foreigners by some sections of the South African society as competition for limited resources escalates.
While the recent xenophobic attacks are arguably a consequence of poorly managed migration, they were wrong, vile, inhuman, inexcusable and unjustifiable. Nobody denies that, indeed the South African presidency has conceded that fact.
The anger of governments whose citizens were affected is understandable but emotions should not be allowed to dictate policy. Diplomacy should be allowed to prevail and pave the way forward; we need to identify the causes and work on the steps to avert similar challenges showing their head in the future.
In diplomacy one has to know when to hit, when to run and when to show grace; in short, one has to get the movements right or they lose balance together with the focus. I respect the Nigerian government’s decision to recall its ambassador to South Africa and accept it is customary in diplomacy to recall officials to express outrage. I however, argue that political maturity, sober minds and not rushed decisions are vital for the continent to confront its challenges.
The use of armed police officers and military personnel cannot be the long-term solution, certainly not after the Lonmin Marikana mine disaster. If we are looking at ‘exorcising’ South Africa of the culture of violence and promoting safety for both locals and foreigners long-term, the policing techniques need to change as well; that requires reducing guns in the hands of both the police and the public. For South Africa to reach that stage it requires the unequivocal involvement of other African states.
In a world of complex challenges and intertwined needs, national security is increasingly dependent on countries working together and not isolating themselves. Nigeria has to appreciate that the safety of its citizens in South Africa requires Nigerian input in finding long-term solutions. Instead of playing diplomatic gimmicks, Nigeria should be working with South Africa and other African states to address migration challenges in the continent.
The South African government has already started consultations with various stakeholders including representatives from the immigrant community. I hope African governments including Nigeria recognise that recent xenophobic attacks were not South African state creation but an unfortunate and unwarranted consequence of uncontrolled, poorly managed migration. Countries need to start working together towards identifying the causes of migration and move towards a strategy that strengthens continental co-operation in the management of migration. South Africa cannot be left to bear the burden on its own while everyone else plays victim.