Tag Archives: xenophobia

Identity. Heritage. How Important?

I have wondered about identity and heritage, and how much of who one is, comes from an understanding of the history, values, and peculiarities of one’s heritage. Recent occurrences in some parts of the world have given rise to those questions again in my mind. I am a woman. I am Igbo. I am Nigerian. I am black African. I am a Christian. I am a human being. How do these segments and demographics fit into the big picture of my identity? How do these affect my attitude to life? How does it determine how I treat others? Does it?


Identity and heritage are quite clearly important and cannot be dismissed as perhaps the root of many social problems facing communities and regions, indeed the world today. In Nigeria for example, there have been a number of incidents and statements emerging from individuals which were based on their identity, perceived heritage and stereotypes which exist regarding the country’s demographics.


In the USA, protests and demonstrations are ongoing regarding several incidents which have been alleged to target defenceless members of certain race and sex. In South Africa, xenophobia and its consequential attacks have been linked to identity issues and heritage of perpetrators by some experts. In the same vein, the Boko Haram incidents and the Charlie Hebdo incidents have also been linked to identity crises and confusion emanating from misinterpretation of heritage amongst other things.

je suis charlie
I have always believed that first I am a human being, then I am a woman, before I am anything else. Thereafter I am Igbo before I am Nigerian. I am Nigerian before I am African. Does this make me disrespectful of the other sex or of other ethnic groups? Absolutely not. I think that I identify with the values and experiences of the milieu in which I was raised, as well as the bigger picture of being Nigerian and African. An understanding of my identity and heritage I believe gives me a clear picture of who I am, what our traditions and belief systems reflect, and more importantly, my place in the bigger picture of life and the rest of the the world.

Source: www.museumvitoria.com.au
Source: http://www.museumvitoria.com.au

Although these social constructs of demographics in some ways, encourage discrimination or in some cases, indirectly advance the victim mentality, I firmly believe that an awareness of the various segmentations and what these mean for daily life and heritage wise, is necessary and should be part of the education of every child. I am a woman, thus I must understand the changes that happen with the female body and the potential for discrimination and suppression that comes from an unequal society.

I am black African, thus I must understand the problems of sickle cell anaemia as well as the phenomenon of beautiful thick hair which responds a certain way to combs, and looks different from the predominant images on tv. I am Igbo and thus must understand the traditions and history of the Umu Ada, the mmanwu symbolism and the land laws no matter how unfair I believe them to be. First is awareness and understanding, before an informed acceptance and perhaps strides towards changing what we do not think is fair? These are just small illustrations and by no means cover the breadth of that which is peculiar to who I am and what my identity and heritage stand for.

Executive Director of UN women;  Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Executive Director of UN women;
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

What I am very interested in, is how external factors such as migration, sexual orientation, religion, certain upbringing, tragedies, and globalisation affect one’s perceived identity or how they contribute to the identity struggles particularly in young minority groups. Invariably, I really think it is essential that children are taught that all humanity is one and the same. This must come first alongside the education necessary to equip the child for a successful and informed life based on certain peculiarities of his heritage.

Xenophobia Attacks in South Africa: Nigeria Set To Evacuate Its Citizens From South Africa

More attacks continue to occur in South Africa, targeting immigrants from other African countries. According to a report by Reuters, at least seven people have died this week alone.

The Federal Government of Nigeria is set to begin evacuation of its citizens. The High Commission hotlines in Pretoria are +27 12 342 0805, +27 12 342 0688, +27 12 342 0905, +27 12 342 0808. The website of the High Commission is here for further information.

Meanwhile, the South African Government has deployed soldiers to its streets particularly in the township areas where the attacks are happening more.

Ghana Must Go: Nigeria’s Expulsion of Immigrants

Every Ghana-must-go bag has a story. It’s usefulness and fame in Nigeria arrived in late January 1983, when the President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, held a press conference and ordered all immigrants without the right papers to leave the country within a few weeks. There were over two million people; one million were Ghanaians, and the rest were from a mix of other West African countries.

“If they don’t leave, they should be arrested and tried, and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants under normal circumstances, should not be given any notice whatsoever. If you break a law, then you have to pay for it”, he said in a statement.

Ghana must go patterns. Source:www.modernghana.com
Ghana must go patterns. Source:www.modernghana.com

According to Aremu in the African Research Review (2013), this statement was greeted by a barage of criticism from the international community. Most of these immigrants lived in Lagos and had arrived during the oil boom of the 1970s. News travelled like wild fire and there was a lot of fear mongering in Lagos, rumours had it that once the deadline arrived by Feb 2, 1983, civilians had the right to confront aliens living in Lagos. Fuelled by the rumours of the Lagos treatment during the civil war, within a few days of the announcement, two million people packed what they could into “Ghana must go bags”, a large and deep bag characterised by its chequered appearance. There was massive exodus as immigrants travelled west towards Seme border; the only exit to Ghana.

Hundreds of thousands camped out at the Seme border as they waited to cross over into the tiny country, Benin where they could find a ship to cross to Ghana. The water was not the prefered means of transportation, but became compulsory because the military head of state of Ghana at the time; Jerry Rawlings, had closed the road borders between Ghana and Togo. This was a common precaution among military rulers to avoid coup d’etat and to keep control of its state. In order to avoid a refugee crises on its hands, Togo in turn had closed its borders with Benin Republic. Thousands of Ghanaian refugees were stuck in Benin by its borders with Togo. Finally after a few days of camping by the borders playing Bob Marley tunes and roasting yam and meat by the roadsides, Ghanaians made the rest of the journey back home. Jerry Rawlings opening the border between Ghana and Togo was the catalyst Togo’s Gnassingbé Eyadéma needed to open its borders with Benin, allowing free flow of refugees to their home in Ghana.

Fancy Ghana must go bags. Source:www.danhalter.com
Fancy Ghana must go bags. Source:www.danhalter.com

About two decades before; in 1969, it had been the turn of the Government of Ghana to banish Nigerians and other immigrants. According to Awumbila et al of the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana, in Ghana, the expulsion order was known as the Alien’s Compliance Order. This saw the expulsion of a large number of immigrants from Ghana. The order required all aliens in the country to be in possession of a residence permit within a two week period. The order earned Ghana the displeasure of West African Governments especially Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso whose nationals were mostly affected. In both countries, this banishment of immigrants was a decision fuelled by economic and social difficulties, for which foreigners were held responsible. In Nigeria, the economy was suffering and elections were approaching. Thus politicians hoped that the expulsion will prove popular with the voters. Another round of immigrants expulsion took place in Nigeria in 1985 on a smaller scale.

Border movement. Source:www.spyghana.com
Border movement. Source:www.spyghana.com

Now there are better diplomatic relations between all west African countries through the ECOWAS free movement accord. In addition, countries signed up to and most ratified the United Nations General Assembly resolution 45/158 of 18 December 1990, on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In summary, the primary objective of the Convention is to raise respect for migrants’ human rights. Migrants are not just workers, they are also human beings. The Convention does not generate new rights for migrants but aims at securing fairness and equality of treatment, and the same working conditions, including in case of temporary work, for migrants and nationals. The Convention depends on on the vital belief that all migrants should have access to a minimum degree of protection. The Convention recognizes that legal migrants have the validity and lawfulness to claim more rights than illegal migrants, but it stresses that even illegal migrants must have their fundamental human rights respected, like all human beings.

Now every Nigerian and Ghanaian know what a Ghana must go bag is. We have all used it, so have our mothers and for some; grandmothers. It is quite popular worldwide and is used for laundry and to store beddings or even as holiday excess luggage in many countries in the world. But specifically, in Germany it is “Tuekenkoffer”, which means the Turkish suitcase. In the United States of America, it is called the “Chinatown tote”. In Guyana, it is the “Guyanese Samsonite”. In Ghana and Nigeria, where the bags are celebrities and the most recognisable signature of “movement” it is known simply as the “Ghana must go” bag.

Xenophobia in South Africa: Another Tragedy

Every time I hear South Africa, I think of Madiba, and even when the spate of violence rocked the world with images of people being burnt in the streets for being non South African, I still thought about him. South Africa has a long history of struggles with apartheid but also a triumph of the human spirit. A triumph for how the black, brown and mixed race South Africans rose above that and forged forward with unity and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela was a true hero and is as much a son of South Africa as he is a son of everywhere else, we all lay claim to him. But I digress. Today black South Africans are killing foreigners in another spate of horrendous xenophobic attacks much worse than what happened in 2008 where a record 67 people were killed nationwide.

Nelson Mandela: Source: biography.com
Nelson Mandela: Source: biography.com

This is quite clearly a problem of economics; these killings are happening in townships and poorer areas and the theory or justification for it is that these foreigners are coming into SA and taking their jobs, introducing drugs into the streets and raping their women. First off, I think all these are unfounded accusations and if indeed these were happening, since when were citizens allowed to take laws into their hands? Why haven’t these so called illegals been reported to the police or arrested for crimes committed? This is quite clearly a question of xenophobia. For me the biggest question is; why wasn’t the police dispatched in their thousands immediately? I understand that these crimes took place in the townships; does policing have an economic bias?

Solidarity marches. www.paarag.org
Solidarity marches. http://www.paarag.org

Furthermore, I disagree with the narratives coming out of this tragedy. I have read comments on social media and watched tv interviews. People keep asking why these South Africans are attacking their “black brothers”. Someone wondered how any black person in Africa can be regarded as a foreigner. Personally, I think that these conversations are important, but they may not be helpful. There should be an outright condemnation of the violence and attacks; the blackness of the victims is immaterial. This is a crime against humanity, plain and simple. This narrative of race, ethnicity and background coming into it trivialises it and reduces it to a discourse about race. I think the discourse about race is important, but I do not think this is the place for it. All those responsible for this heinous crime should be brought to justice, there should be consequence.

Xenophobia attacks in South Africa. Source: www.dennisweeklydigest.com
Xenophobia attacks in South Africa. Source: http://www.dennisweeklydigest.com

The world is such a huge case study of immigration and expatriation, we cannot have xenophobia taking root in the world, there are enough ills as it is. Surely everyone in the world has a relative who lives some place that is not their country of birth? These criminals and their supporters should be ashamed of themselves, particularly coming from such a history of prejudice and injustice, and rising above that through the solidarity and support of the world, how can they forget so soon? This is akin to the treatment that the perpetrators of apartheid dished out to them, thus they should know better. There have been solidarity matches in some parts of SA and elsewhere, condemning the xenophobic attacks and urging peace and tolerance. For every evil person killing a foreigner, there is another championing the cause of “live and let live”.

Let us hope that the government of SA deals with this swiftly and decisively. The Zulu king who has been accused by some of making utterances which began the cycle of violence has recanted and claims he did not say anything. Well, nothing was caught on video so we really do not know if he did. However, the SA government must know what triggers these attacks. Do they need to change the curriculum in schools and teach diversity on the African continent and more on the role of the rest of the continent and indeed the world in conquering apartheid? Do they need to embark on a 5 year (or more, or less) national orientation campaign? Do they need to create more jobs and opportunities in the townships? Do they need to invest more in policing the communities? Do they need to reform the immigration system to improve the skills coming into South Africa?

Invariably this is a horrible situation and no human being deserves to be treated the way some South Africans have treated the foreigners living in their land. I stand in solidarity with the victims and their families; may they find safety and comfort in the country where they have chosen to live. This was a repeat of the horrendous 2008 xenophobia attacks. I hope the 2015 occurrence does not repeat itself in a few years. The world is watching and standing with immigrants and expatriates in South Africa and indeed all over the world. Many countries have been built on so called foreigners, in some ways everyone is a foreigner somewhere by virtue of association, one’s self or family links. But first we are human beings and thus must be treated as one.