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Xenophobia: Our Common Threat Is What Divides Us

The recent spate of attacks in South Africa against Africans of other nationalities, most especially Nigerians, have triggered a series of reactions, and even reprisal attacks.

On social media, heated debate on what should or shouldn’t be has pitted people one against each other, with even celebrities throwing themselves in the fray.


Affected countries are reconsidering their diplomatic options. Zambia pulled out of the friendly match scheduled with South Africa and also banned all South African music from it airplay. The Ethiopia Embassy cautioned her citizens in South Africa. Nigeria, on the other hand has recalled her ambassador and threatened to take “defensive measures to ensure the safety and protection of its citizens.”

Is Xenophobia the real threat?

Xenophobia is defined as attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity.

Xenophobic attacks are not new in South Africa.

In 2008, there was a wave of attacks across the country against refugees and migrants – more than 60 people were reported to have been killed and thousands displaced.
The violence peaked again in 2015 which prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.

Poverty is the real threat. It is one thing African nations share in common, yet it is the thing that divides and pits us one against the other. Poverty is what breed the resentment that finds expression in xenophobia.

In spite of the immense wealth of natural resources, African nations typically fall toward the bottom of any list measuring small size economic activity, such as income per capita or GDP per capita.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at 23.1 percent of the workforce in the third quarter, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier. [National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)]
South Africa currently has an unemployment rate of 29%, meaning almost seven million people are out of work. [Sky News]

In South Africa, every xenophobic attack on immigrants or foreigner has been blamed on one single factor: that foreigners had taken jobs that should have been filled by locals.

A Pew Research poll conducted in 2018 showed that 62% of South Africans viewed immigrants as a burden on society by taking jobs and social benefits and that 61% of South Africans thought that immigrants were more responsible for crime than other groups.

So how do we tackle institutionalized xenophobia? How do we approach the mindset that our failure to progress is as a result of strangers seizing all the available opportunities?

These attacks and reprisal attacks are a wake up call to all African governments to stand up to their responsibilities. Possessed by his needs yet suppressed and frustrated at his impoverished state, the average African wallow in resentment – a ticking bomb waiting to explode.

Reacting to the Xenophobia attacks, Tony Elumelu phrases it better, “Our greatest threat in Africa is not our fellow African brothers and sisters. It is Poverty! And as I have often said, Poverty anywhere is a threat to all of us everywhere.

Let’s not lose sight of our shared destiny. It is only together that we can face our common enemy- Poverty. We need to stop attacking each other but rather embrace one another and work together to uplift our continent and be our brother’s and sister’s protectors wherever we may find ourselves.”

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