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Opinion – South Africa: Beyond Xenophobia and ‘Market Dominant Minorities’

Jideofor Adibe.

The wave of attacks against foreigners in South Africa, mostly migrants from other African countries, has attracted justified condemnation from around the world. Seven lives have been lost in the orgy of violence, with soldiers now (rather belatedly) deployed to some of the key flashpoints to help contain the mayhem.

In 2008 a similar anti-foreigner violence left 62 peopledead with over 100,000 displaced. The Economist of 25 April 2015 quotes one Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society in Johannesburgas estimating that at least 350 foreigners have been killed in xenophobic violence in South Africa since 2008. But Mr Misago told The Economist he only heard of one conviction for murder.

Xenophobia or Afrophobia? How can one characterize the episodic anti-foreigner violence in South Africa, which some call Xenophobia and others Afrophobia? A starting point is to understand that in South Africa, the term ‘foreigner’ has a pejorative meaning and usually refers to African and Asian nationals.

Other foreigners, especially Whites from America and Europe are usually seen and treated as “tourists” or “expats”. Some have called the attacks ‘Afrophobia’ (hatred of Africans) because they target essentially enterprising African immigrants from Somalia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Malawi who often own shops and other businesses in the country’s informal economy.

But this is not quite the full picture since nationals from Bangladesh and Pakistan are equally profiled and targeted. Certainly hatred of Africans is pervasive as are also hatred of Asians. To call the violence ‘xenophobia’ in the sense in which the word is usually defined as “the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange”, will also not be quite correct since White people from Europe and America are usually exempt from such attacks. Perhaps a more apt term will be ‘Afro-Asiaphobia’. ‘Market Dominant Minority’ In her very important first book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), Amy Chua, Professor of Law at Yale Law School explores the ethnic conflict caused in many societies by disproportionate economic or political influence wielded by “market dominant minorities”. She notes for instance that though the Chinese Filipino community is 1% of the population of the country, it controls 60 percent of the economy, with the result being envy and bitterness on the part of the majority against the minority. Again in Indonesia, while the Chinese Indonesian community makes up only 3% of the population, it controls 70 % of the economy. Other examples of ‘market-dominant minorities’ given by Chua include overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia; whites in Latin America and South Africa; Israeli Jews in Israel and the Middle East; Croats in the former Yugoslavia; Yoruba, Igbos, Kikuyus, Tutsis, Indians and Lebanese, among others, in Sub-Saharan Africa For Chua tension and conflicts are often inherent in the relationship between the ‘the economic dominant minority’ and the poor majority in the context of liberal democracy.

For her, when “free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash” because “overnight democracy will empower the poor, indigenous majority. What happens is that under those circumstances, democracy doesn’t do what we expect it to do – that is, reinforce markets. “Instead,] democracy leads to the emergence of manipulative politicians and demagogues who find that the best way to get votes is by scapegoating the minorities.” She further notes: “As markets enrich the market-dominant minority, democratization increases the political voice and power of the frustrated majority.” (p 124).

In essence what we call xenophobia or Afrophobia in South Africa, as condemnable as it may be is actually part of the problems of globalizing the markets in an era in which liberal democracy has become triumphant. South may be different only for not having done enough, early enough, to prevent the deep-seated anti-foreigner sentiments from flaring into uncontrolled violence. In South Africa, the latest violence flared up in the Durban area earlier this month after King Goodwill Zwelithini, the traditional leader of the Zulus, reportedly compared foreigners to lice and said that they should pack up and leave. And the environment for the majority poor is very fertile for such messages. According to The Economist of 25 April2015, unemployment in South Africa runs at 24%, though the real figure could be much higher, with more than half of under-25-year-olds out of work. South Africa’s last census, in 2011, found that 2.3 million foreign-born people were living in the country, with some estimating the figure to be as high as between 5 million and 6 million in a country which has a population of only 54 million people. While we strongly condemn the anti-foreign violence in South Africa, we should also bear in mind that xenophobia exists in virtually all parts of the world in different degrees and that this has only been accentuated under the twin conditions of the globalization of markets and the triumphalism of liberal democracy.

In 1969 for instance Ghana’s Aliens Compliance Order, led to hundreds and thousands of Nigerian immigrants being forced to leave the country. Nigeria ‘retaliated’ on a much bigger scale with the Expulsion Order of 1983 (reordered in 1985) whichresulted in more than 700,000 Ghanaian immigrants being expelled from Nigeria in a very short space of time, with some of their businesses inhumanely confiscated. We certainly live in a world of contradictions: while globalization is making the world a global village, countries are resisting the ‘impurification’ of their environments by foreigners and the fear and envy of the‘market dominant minorities’. While countries spend huge sums of money on globetrotting and PR to attract foreign direct investment, they end up resisting foreigners who jump to seize the economic opportunities in their countries

. In Nigeria the indigene-settler issue – not too different from the problem of xenophobia elsewhere – remains unsatisfactorily resolved, both for the ‘host communities’ and the ‘immigrants’, including the ‘market dominant minorities’ segment of it. Indigenes resent the foreigners not just because they could be ‘market dominant minorities’ but also because the ‘immigrants’ citizenship and residence rights confer on them almost equal rights as the host majorities. The fears of both the ‘host communities’ and the ‘immigrants’ should be acknowledged and properly addressed and not be masked by political correctness – as has been the practice. What has been lacking in the debate on xenophobia – found in different degrees in all countries across the world – is a realistic strategy of how, in this era of globalization of markets and liberal democracy, we can come with strategies for both the ‘dominant economic minorities’ and the host communities to engage each other.

Nigerian Political scientists mull the future of their discipline On April 23 2015, 44 political scientists from across the country and generations gathered at the National Defence College (NDC), Abuja, to discuss the future of their discipline. Among those who attended the stakeholders’ meeting were Professors Bola Akinterinwa, Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA); Oshita Oshita, Director General , Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR); Tijani Bande, Director General, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS);Nuhu Yakubu, former Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja; Shuaib Ibrahim, former Dean of Social Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi and Hassan Saliu of the University of Ilorin who convened the meeting. Participants also reviewed the state of their umbrella association, the Nigerian Political Science Association and bemoaned the body’s long period of inactivity.They pledged to re-activate and reinvigorate NPSA to enable it engage actively in critical issues of our time. It should be borne in mind that the idea of disciplines doing soul-searching is not uncommon and certainly not peculiar to NPSA. For instance political scientists in the USA found themselves in a similar situation in October 2009 when Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, proposed prohibiting the National Science Foundation from “wasting any federal research funding on political science projects”. One of the projects financed by the National Science Foundation that Senator Coburn attacked was the American National Election Studies. Senator Coburn maintained that commentators on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other news media outlets “provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions.” He argued that the $91.3 million that the foundation spent on social science projects over the last 10 years should have gone to biology, chemistry or pharmaceutical science.

Though political scientists rallied in opposition to the Coburn proposal, even some of the most vehement defenders of the discipline acknowledged that they themselves vigorously debated the field’s direction, what sort of questions it should pursue and even how to increase the policy relevance of their research. In fact as a mark of the intense debate among American political scientists themselves on the direction of the discipline, a movement, known as the Perestroika Movement, had arisen in 2000 criticizing what it called the ‘mathematicization’ of the discipline in political science’s first academic journal, the American Political Science Review. Seen in the above light, the idea of political scientists questioning the future of their discipline should be welcome It is hoped, that in conjunction with the National Universities Commission they will constantly review the discipline’s curriculum at the universities to ensure it remains relevant to the needs of the society and employers of labour. Above all, we look forward to the NPSA helping to shape political discourses – pretty much as the Nigerian Bar Association- does in matters of the law. The author can be reached at: pcjadibe@yahoo.com

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