03 Jun 2015

Africa needs to free itself from the hold of the 'Dark Continent'

Written by  Paul Mulindwa

No. 336: Africa needs to free itself from the hold of the 'Dark Continent' / Paul Mulindwa / Cape Times
3 June 2015

The recent outburst of xenophobic attacks on nationals of other African countries living in South Africa has raised debates globally, casting doubt on the problem of an "African brotherhood" founded on skin colour and a common experience of colonial servitude.

These incidents have almost strained the African fraternity, especially as the scale and virulence of the attacks surpass the previous incidents of xenophobia in Africa.

Such experiences are not new on the continent. Expulsions and deportations, for any reason, are common means of chasing away migrants in Africa, as illustrated by the waves of expulsions of non-nationals by Cameroon in 1967; Equatorial Guinea in 1974; Ghana in 1969; Guinea in 1968; Kenya in 1977, 1978 and 1981; Liberia in 1983; Nigeria in 1983 and 1985; Senegal in 1967 and 1990; Sierra Leone in 1968; Uganda in 1972 and 1982; Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in 1970 and 1973; and Zambia in 1971.

In the late 1950s, Côte d'Ivoire expelled about 16 000 migrants from Togo and Benin, and in 1964 again expelled Beninios and Ghanaians. In 1964, Zaire expelled Rwandese; in 1978, Burundi expelled Zairians, in retaliation for which Zaire expelled Burundian farmers. The 1969 compliance order in Ghana (which requested all aliens who did not possess a residence permit to obtain one in two weeks or leave the country) resulted in the expulsion of migrants, especially from Nigeria. In 1971, Zambia expelled Zimbabweans, Batswana, Zairians, Tanzanians, and Somalis.

In 1982, Sierra Leone expelled the Fula community from neighbouring countries, prompting Ghana to close its borders with Togo. The expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 remains the most dramatic compared to other expulsions of migrants in East Africa.

In 1969, Ugandan President Milton Obote ordered the registration of all Rwandese in Uganda, a first step towards their expulsion. In 1982, Rwandese were forced to leave Uganda. Intimidation, accompanied by beatings and killings, precipitated the large-scale displacement of about 75 000 people. Banyarwanda fled from their homes, some into the refugee settlements and others across the border into Rwanda. Prior to the displacement of Rwandese, and with the collapse of the East African Community (EAC) in 1977, Kenya, without giving any notice, expelled about 2 000 Ugandan and Tanzanian workers. Also in the 1980s, oil-rich Nigeria expelled three million West Africans.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya, many Somalis, including Kenyan Somalis, are being threatened with expulsion.

Africans crossing immigration checkpoints into a neighbouring African country are made to feel vulnerable. Every African entering Ethiopia, for example, must pay $20, and this is the country in which the African Union (AU) headquarters is located, an organisation which is supposed to ensure free mobility of Africans.

In South Sudan, the registration fee for immigrants (alien registration) is nearly $100, in addition to the cost for visas that must be obtained prior to crossing the border.

Xenophobia cannot be explained away by violent attacks and expulsions only. The practices and the reception given to foreigners in countries is also a matter of concern. In 2014, the South Sudanese, who had been hosted and accommodated by Uganda since the early 1980s, asked Ugandans to leave their country. If the African Union is unable to define the rights and duties of Africans on this continent, and unable to define the standards for crossing colonially imposed borders, its relevance in relation to its mandate, as stated in the AU Constitutive Act of 2000, is diminished.

Reasons given for these massive expulsions in Africa seem to suggest that migrants pose a threat to nationals. It seems that Africans find lessons hard to learn when it comes to foreign immigrants. But perhaps something positive can emerge from the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. We need an African Union action plan on xenophobia.

Let us tackle the reality as it is. No African is a foreigner in Africa! No African is a migrant in Africa! Africa is where we all belong.

We need to free ourselves from the historical hold of the "Dark Continent", to free ourselves from its negativity. African governments, and the African Union itself, must wake up to the reality that freedom of movement for Africans is the response to the poor management of our natural resources and our low expectations of our own citizenry. Let us resuscitate the pan-African spirit of our "Founding Fathers," Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah.

Paul Mulindwa is a Senior Project Officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR), Cape Town.

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