EDITORIAL COMMENT: Collectively, Africa can shun xenophobia

xenophobiaThe 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government opens today in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the theme: “Year of women empowerment and development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”

Some of the highlights of the 2015 summit include President Mugabe’s taking over of the rotating presidency of the continental body.

It is a double for him since he is the current chair of the regional bloc Sadc.

Another highlight is the inauguration of the Nelson Mandela Hall. Six newly-elected Heads of State and Government from Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Mauritius, Tunisia and Libya are attending this auspicious occasion.

We hope that as the Zimbabwean leader takes over, there is a paradigm shift that resonates with the theme and ideals of the African renaissance, which is “a concept that African people and nations shall overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific and economic renewal.”

As the Heads of State and Government discuss this important theme dedicated to women, they should not lose sight of the fact that they are also meeting against a backdrop of other competing challenges: peace and security, economic growth and development, diseases such as the deadly Ebola virus, climate change, a growing young population and immigration issues, to name a few.

While the AU summit should be wary about the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency and other conflicts on the continent, it is time that they start talking about xenophobic attacks in South Africa, attacks pitting black people against each other, for it is against African renaissance.

The year 2008 was tragic as more than 60 people were killed.

We cannot reduce xenophobia to lawlessness and an attack against foreign-owned shops, for it will not help resolve this problem which has deep-seated issues and has the potential of escalating.

We concur with the International Organisation for Migration which said, the recent violence is a “painful reminder of the continued vulnerability of migrants in South Africa”.

The continent-wide solidarity that the African renaissance seeks to foster does not look like it is holding. Some sections of the South African community are failing to appreciate the need for a culture of peace, tolerance, co-existence and appreciation of one another.

They also do not appreciate that at one point, South Africa was an epitome of the African dream despite the disparities in wealth ownership and control and neither do they appreciate how migrant labour and entrepreneurship have grown the South African economy.

Thus we cannot watch time and again as some misguided elements disturb the peace just like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and other militant groups are doing. And, neither do we condone any criminal activity by migrants of any race, creed and religious affiliation.

The shooting of a South African teen by a Somali immigrant led to the attacks on black migrants and the looting of their businesses, and the perpetrators should be brought to book and so too the anti-immigrants elements.

The AU cannot also ignore the continued attacks of migrants in the continent’s second largest economy, when migrants from other parts of the world are welcome to work and set up businesses. It’s time for the AU to take a continent-wide action beyond the agreements, communiqués and commissions of inquiry.

The xenophobic attacks, if they go unchecked beyond the host country, can become a major threat that will divert Africa’s attention from the 2063 Agenda.

The South African government has already done some research on the causes of these attacks, but the bottleneck has been at implementation stage. The AU can take it up from there.

The AU Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s warning regarding Boko Haram: “Act now, and act collectively against this progressing threat,” can be equally applied with regard to xenophobia.

The inauguration of the Mandela Hall should also take the continent’s leadership to Mandela’s legacy on peaceful resolution of conflicts.

They owe it to him to make Africa’s more than one billion people understand that we can co-exist and work together to develop this rich continent.