Africa's Economic History: a Reflection on the Xenophobic violence

2015-05-15 16:18

Since the start of the year, xenophobic violence has grabbed the headlines and quite frankly, left many South Africans disgusted and ashamed at the behaviour and actions against foreign nationals from elsewhere on the African continent. The impotence of the African Union has once again been telling, as statements and symbolic initiatives have been the culmination of its efforts in combating the attacks and attitudes to foreign nationals. Truthfully, the xenophobic violence is indicative of Africa's larger situation, that of economic and political institutions. The divestment of Africa's wealth is still a major occurrence, and the majority of trading partners are still mostly with nations/regions under whom Africa has been subjugated.

in comparison, other regions like the EU and North America have built impressive intra-regional networks meant to foster trade and (to an extent) cultural exchange. Africa's diversity by no means makes this proposal an easy task, but the AU should facilitate a greater role in fostering these relations. The focus of state sovereignty in AU frameworks may actually have a deleterious effect on this proposal. The South African state has recently exercised some worrying programs against foreign nationals, veiled as curbing crime. These have occurred in areas on the fringes of social and economic visibility. Thembelihle Township as the most pertinent example could be the only media covered story of many more.

I'd personally venture to say that government has used the recent spate of events to re-assert stringent border controls under guises such as "curbing criminality" and exercising stronger judicial constraints on those found to be of foreign birth or nationality. Without any plans for radical economic transformation, and reports like the most recent from the Institute of Race Relations on the status of so called "Born Frees", government is under considerable pressure to provide employment and development simultaneously. Reshaping the informal economy by supplanting foreign nationals with locals, along with greater deployment of security organs (military, police, judiciary and other forms of bureaucracy) is doubly appealing to a state under the current predicament it finds itself in.

The impending return to economic insulation is not only troublesome for South Africa, and Africa as a whole, but is also counterproductive. With so many regional blocs like Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC), and Economic Confederation Of West African States (ECOWAS), intra-regional trade would be thought quite sound or vibrant, but this is not the case. Trade regions within the continent are still largely insular, having little or no innovative deals between them in relation to trade. Attempts of late have been made to bolster technological prowess, the most recent of which being the Egyptian and South African science ministries' seeing space research increase, but similar attempts in local area trade are hardly evident. The neo-liberal approach that the country has endorsed since 94' does attract foreign direct investment, but such investment can come at great cost. The flight of

Commodity production in the continent has dominated Africa's economic role since time in memorial. Although there have been attempts to grow the product value chain within African borders, retaliation from international regulatory bodies (monetary institutions, dominant states, trade blocs and other hegemonic entities) has been meted out with unscrupulous ferocity (just ask Robert Mugabe of late). For all the spirit of brotherhood and bonded struggle that's been doing the rounds on social media and the internet as a whole to combat xenophobia, I would say is not reflective, nor cognisant of the reality of African relations. States act in realist terms (that of self interest) and have little or no time to be breaking traditional trade patterns/ties to facilitate radical economic transformation, for this requires risk of a degree not many are willing to take. Bob tried and failed (whether valiantly so is questionable). African economic linkages to former colonial regions are still alive and well, whether how distasteful or flawed this statement may be.

Jacob Zuma (in a very rare instance) is also correct in stating that many countries in the continent are flawed in their institutional performance (this includes our own), so ideas of collaborative grandeur can only sprout if transparency and dedication to proposed partnerships occur. The rate at which Africa is going though, should tell us that action is required urgently.

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