The Ghana-must-go bag is a very distinctive item in Nigeria. It is almost as popular, if not more, than “419”, the vernacular for fraud. It was coined for a cheap, waterproof, checkered, plastic bag which was massively patronized by Ghanaian immigrants who were forced to leave Nigeria in 1983. The main reason for the repatriation of these Ghanaians was the belief by the locals that foreigners, especially Ghanaians, were taking their jobs and were to blame for Nigeria’s worsening economy at the time.
Recent events in South Africa have echoed Nigeria ’83. What is even more alarming is that similar expulsions have occurred before and after 1983, too regularly for comfort, in parts of Africa. Ethiopia, Eritrea and Ghana are a few examples of countries which have performed similar acts and a detailed search reveals there are even more cloaked under various official terms.
The attacks in South Africa in the past three weeks have been deplorable and horrifying. There is no justification for killing an innocent human. Its even more disturbing listening to some of the reasons given for the attacks and murder of African immigrants in South Africa. Violence against any set of people should never be tolerated but one would need to understand the typical African’s familial feelings to appreciate how disturbing it has been hearing about brother attacking brother because that’s how we see each other; as brothers and sisters.
I am very reluctant to term this attacks xenophobic simply because I refuse to believe my dictionary’s definition of xenophobia “deep-rooted, irrational hatred towards foreigners” (Oxford English Dictionary) applies to South Africans. What these attacks and previous ones have shown is that there is an underlying problem. Why are Africans quick to blame their brothers and sisters for any perceived hardships they face? Why have we continually resorted to expelling other African immigrants anytime we imagine they are a threat to our development? Does this point to our inability to tackle our issues head-on and instead resort to the easy way out every time? After all, its easy to attack and expel a group of defenseless immigrants than make the government responsible for lack of jobs and misuse of resources.
Even the reactions in other African countries to the attacks in South Africa have been depressing. From closing of shops and boycotting of South African products and services to more extreme tit-for-tat measures, we’re choosing to take the easy way out instead of tackling the main problems head-on.
Thousands of African immigrants have been left without food, shelter and jobs due to the recent attacks. Soon, a large number of the displaced victims will be going back to their countries of origin. They will come in contact with South Africans living in their countries. But migration won’t stop. Everyday, people move in and out of South Africa. Everyday, people move in and out of Ghana. Everyday people move in and out of every African country. What happens when a local population begins to feel threatened by the proliferation of their foreign neigbours? Will we see a repeat of ’83, ’08 and 2015 or are we ready to search ourselves for answers and take responsibility for ourselves instead of blaming the immigrant next door? Answering some of these questions will be key to preventing the repeat of events that we’ve seen in the past few weeks.