Xenophobia and the African Union integration projection: The missing link?

Recent xenophobic occurrences in Zambia against Rwandans were a surprise to many. The African centre for violent xenophobic outbursts normally resided in South Africa, though routinely given a temporary pass due to historic legacy of Apartheid.

The Zambian case however is a stark reminder that the issue of xenophobia is not limited to a  state or its economy but may be a systemic issue in the regional economic integration of Southern Africa and more broadly African integration itself. Maybe African states and businesses don’t trade because deep down they don’t trust each other. It’s a difficult proposition to ponder having just had Africa day in May, but the concerted effort and diligence at which regional integration is taking place would suggest that building closer ties with neighbours is not necessarily high on the agenda beyond what is suggested by agreements and organizations such as the TFTA (Tripatite- Free Trade Agreement) and the SADC (Southern African Development Community).

The National Immigration Policy Survey conducted in six SADC states, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, aimed to ascertain the views of people living in urban areas about their perception of foreigners. The first notable fact was that people across the region grossly exaggerated the number of ‘foreign citizens’ in their countries. There was also a big difference in views from migrant-sending states and migrant-receiving. The strongest views therefore came from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. The finding there showed no typical ‘xenophobe profile’ in the countries; meaning the poor and the rich, the employed and the unemployed, the male and the female, the black and the white, the conservative and the radical, all express remarkably similar attitudes.

Within the SADC context these three countries are the economic hegemons and by default have the most to gain or lose in the regional integration debate depending on perception. What is clearly evident however, is that there is no ‘regional consciousness’ – implying a participation in regional grouping interests which are greater than the sum of its parts-  in the region. Perceptions therefore indicate that to be ‘foreign’ in the SADC is to be black African moving to another country. This reality has very direct implications on not only immigration issues but commercial issues too.

Speaking about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2015, Lynette Chen, CEO of the NEPAD Business Foundation said, “The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, have negatively affected Africa’s socio-economic integration efforts; disrupted business operations and strained business relations for local companies with an African presence. Business leaders and captains of industry, xenophobia is our problem and we have to take ownership and become part of the solution.”

The issue of xenophobia is therefore not an issue of criminality or an issue that should be marginalised but is a real problem for African development and integration. Having the necessary agreements in place is part of the challenge in encouraging intra- African trade but the real work to be done is to get people to see each other as part of a whole vital for the development of the African dream and not as strangers. To combat the scourge, states and regional institutions would need to make a conscientious effort to educate their respective populous on the economic and intellectual benefits of regional integration.

Author Bio

Chiziwiso Pswarayi is currently a Masters in International Relations candidate at the University of Cardiff. Chizi’s interests include Southern African politics and migration issues.

Cover Image ‘Say No to Xenophobia‘ by HelenSTB

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