Xenophobia undermines the very endeavours that contain the solutions
There are many reasons why we should all be extremely concerned about the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa. These include important moral, legal and human issues. The recent incidents show how many African governments have failed to recognise and deal with the underlying causes and the early warnings signs. The latter have been there for some time; the first xenophobic attacks in South Africa occurred in 2008.
Governance failures and the neglect of complicated socio-economic challenges are at the heart of these dangerous developments. The most recent responses by the South African President (“South Africa did not manufacture the problem of migrants flooding in…”)* and from the Nigerian Government (which plans to file complaints against South Africans with the International Criminal Court) do not inspire confidence that the root causes are being addressed. A joint policy initiative between some of the states concerned would have been a promising sign to start with.
The underlying problems cannot ultimately be resolved through unilateral, short-term actions or old style border controls. The challenges faced in Europe with regard to the “boat people” from Africa constitute another reminder that traditional notions about territorial jurisdiction and the “sovereignty” of the state are not the answer. In Africa we face more acute dilemmas because of proximity, historical and political bonds, and the pressure to find joint solutions for our trade, integration and economic development problems. We are bound to act together in our efforts to improve the lot of all Africans. We, however, largely lack inter-state legal arrangements to do so.
The Europeans have coped with the movement of persons from the member states of the EU as part of their economic and political integration. Africa has not reached the same advanced stages of integration and comparisons would not be fair. However, the European achievements also had to build over time, on legal foundations between states and, in particular, political vision. This has not been a problem free experience; right wing animosities have recently become a major political issue in several European countries. One has not, however, heard of plans from governments there to repatriate nationals from other EU members or to close borders. They cannot do so because of legal obligations and because the member states and their economies benefit from so many of the arrangements which come from EU membership. The underlying construct of formal integration is their safety net. Such arrangements are built over time and through appropriate designs.
Within the African context the fact of separate states and jurisdictions cannot be ignored, but neither can it be an excuse for inadequate responses. Borders can not prevent the human effort to improve livelihoods. African governments will have to act jointly in their efforts to prevent a further deterioration of existing problems and the development of laager mentalities. Inward looking policies will benefit no-one. They will undermine other vital initiatives to conclude regional and continental trade agreements, to advance the integration of our economies, and to find appropriate solutions. Governments should not give up on these efforts; African states cannot prosper in isolation.
Deliberate efforts should be made to prevent the emotional responses of recent days to derail the talks about the CFTA (which will be launched in June) and the further implementation of deeper integration policies in the existing Regional Economic Communities (RECs). And we should study those examples elsewhere in Africa where the movement of persons across borders is being handled more successfully. There are examples of ad hoc successes in some of the African RECs. These include arrangements for informal traders and the movement of business persons. However, the Tripartite FTA negotiations have struggled to reach agreement with regard to these issues; and they will be on the CFTA agenda too. We need more promising signs of innovative ideas.
The problems faced by the South African government are, in many ways, not unique. In other respects they are. South Africa is the dominant economy in SACU, which has been around for over 100 years. It is much more than a single market for goods. SACU is an integrated regional arrangement for trade in goods and services, as well as financial and commercial cooperation and the movement of persons. SACU has been a stable community and an engine for regional growth. There have been several statements recently that South Africa is dissatisfied with how SACU functions; and in particular how the revenue sharing arrangement is administered. The unfortunate recent incidents of xenophobia serve as a stark reminder that political leaders should take extreme care when dismantling well-functioning regional arrangements in Africa.
* President Zuma at the Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria on 27 April 2015. Reported in Business Day, 28 April 2015.