My tuppence on the South African xenophobic issue
By Kweku Y. Paintsil, Esq
I personally think that the South African “xenophobic” issue is being treated unnecessarily from a sensational and emotional standpoint.
The claim that we all contributed in all kinds of ways to their independence is true, but when offered as a response to the current events unfolding in South Africa, it amounts to EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL. That response makes us mistake the symptoms of a disease for the root or actual cause of the disease. The two are different, and unless we carefully delineate and define the confines of the issue, we all risk missing the jugular vein.
So what am I saying? African Unity has been a political ideal since Nkrumah’s days. Indeed, the 1960 Ghana Republican Constitution went as far as introducing an Article to make it possible for our Parliament to cede Ghana’s sovereignty towards the creation of a continental Federal African State (along the lines of the USA).
However, the long road to that one African State (assuming it is possible in our lifetime) is for the strengthening and integration of the economies of African countries. That is the substructure, the concrete pillar(s) upon which the superstructure of a one African (Political) State or Government could be built.
In the meanwhile, all African countries have been busy protecting their local turf. Without exception, each African country has passed laws that pretend to allow the free movement of people, goods and services along what we call “free” boundaries.
But once you move in, the real hustle begins. So far, I do NOT know of one African country that has legislated to permit non-citizens to live within its boundaries and have the same (economic) rights as its citizens.
Among or within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region, the citizens of one country can only stay in another country for not more than six months, but only as (a kind of) tourist. The “freedom of movement” is heavily circumscribed by local legislation that prevents non-citizens from engaging in any, or most commercial activities that the citizens of that country can freely engage in (You can imagine the revulsion that builds in a citizen when he sees, contrary to existing legislation, that the visitor/tourist has set up shop under the visa regime and doing the very things that (s)he is prevented from doing).
So we find ourselves with national laws that recognise non-citizens as tourists, and the reality of these non-citizens competing with the citizens in all areas and spheres of life, including crime!
When Dr. K.A. Busia sought to address this dilemma via the infamous Alliance Compliance Order in the 1970’s, he became an outcast and much-reviled politician.
So, as a matter of political expediency and convenience, we have the politicians who are well placed to enforce our immigration laws, but dare not do it.
At the same time, when the citizens take the law into their own hands to enforce existing laws, that has also become an anathema.
This brings us to what is currently going on in South Africa. We have seen it enacted over and over before our very eyes on the local scene by Ghanaian traders taking the law into their own hands and attempting to close down shops belonging to “foreigners”. The fact that our brand of vandalism does not attract bloodshed and mayhem (like that of South Africa) does not, in my view, diminish the severity of the problem.
So we ask, where do we go from here? How do we resolve this perennial, almost predictable, showdown? We require knowing what causes the mass movement across borders, if not for economic reasons, as claimed by some, and the eventual concentration of migrants in a few countries. We require understanding why, in spite of the quest for a continental African political union, each country has made local laws that prohibits non-citizens from freely engaging in their economies on the same level as their citizens? Must these local laws go away? We need to understand why our governments will look the other way rather than tackle the issue of foreigners who overstay their welcome and are no longer covered by local legislation. Perhaps, the most important of all, are citizens obliged to enforce the local legislation that favours them as against non-citizens, and how must they do it?
Speaking for myself, I guess that one of these days we all have to make a choice; either the laws go down (to give equal rights to all), or the laws must be enforced to the hilt. If we choose the first, we must have our economies in mind. If we choose the latter, we must be ready for the political fallout. So far, pretense is writ large all over the place. We pretend the problem does not exist.
Yes, the European Union is a shining example of what true freedom of movement of people and goods within the union means. But it is only so, because their economies are strong and can absorb shocks.
Despite Nkrumah’s much-vaunted Pan-Africanist views, he did not hesitate to DEPORT non-Ghanaian journalists who became a thorn in his political flesh.
Yes, I don’t like what is going on in South Africa, but that is not the issue. It is merely the symptom of a bigger disease. The real issue or disease lies unattended to like a top-dried cow dung.
Unless we awake from our deep Rip Van Winkle slumber and decide what our priority is, we will have this problem recurring, not only in South Africa, but in Ghana as well. As I have said already, the mode of expression of the deep-seated sentiment may not be the same or uniform, but they are both fuelled by the same feeling of being “over-taken” in one’s own country, contrary to the local laws.
Heads or tails, something must be done, not only in South Africa, but in Ghana also.