Uganda: xenophobia abounds
Third and fourth generation Ugandan Indians contribute to the economy but are seen as unwelcome outsiders
Former president, Idi Amin © Creative Commons
Indians, says 26-year-old Carol Namutosi, aren’t good people. “They don’t talk to you, they shout at you, and some don’t give you food,” says Namutosi, who worked as a housekeeper for an Indian family in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in 2014. “The brother of my boss touched me like this,” she adds, putting her hands on her buttocks while bending over, pretending to be washing clothes. “I didn’t feel good.” Namutosi’s account illustrates persistent misgivings among African Ugandans about compatriots of Indian descent, as well as newly arrived Indians. Common complaints about the Bayindi, as they are known, are that they mistreat Africans, refuse to integrate and rule the economy without sharing the fruits. “They are not Ugandans,” says Rose Nakabiito, 35, a cook. Nakabiito spent two years working in an Indian restaurant in Kampala and another three as a cook for the restaurant’s owner. “I was paid 250,000 Ugandan shillings a month [US$95], but it was not enough,” she says. “I had to stand from morning to evening, making breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Us Ugandans, we don’t like Indians at all, let me say that clear, because they don’t like us.” To Vali Jamal, 76, this sounds familiar. The retired economist was caught up in the historical event that still casts its shadow over Uganda’s race relations: the expulsion in 1972 of approximately 50,000 Indians and Ugandans of Indian descent by the then president, Idi Amin, for supposedly “milking the cow”, or the economy, and “not feeding the cow to yield more milk”. Jamal resettled in the US where he completed his Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1976, and then worked for the International Labor Organization. He returned to Uganda after the rise to power in 1986 of Yoweri Museveni. The former bush fighter invited the Indians back and restored properties to them that had been expropriated by the Amin regime. Today, an estimated 25,000 Indians and Ugandans with Indian roots live in Uganda, according to The Indian Association in Kampala. A national census in 2014 put Uganda’s total population at 34.6 million. Jamal says the expulsion of 1972 was, in a way, understandable— deplorable though it was. “With the kind of inequality that existed between the Indians and the Africans, what did you expect?” he asks. He laments the “arrogance” that Indians used to display. “In 1972, Kampala was an Indian town. We dominated the economy. All cars were ours. There was no question of Indians teaching Ugandans skills. Interactions were on a master-servant basis.” That inequality was partially rooted in colonialism. The British brought tens of thousands of Indians to East Africa at the end of the 19th century, as labourers on the imperial railway from the Kenyan coast to Kampala. Many stayed, and others arrived to set up businesses. One of them was Jamal’s grandfather who arrived in 1903. Before Uganda’s independence in 1962 Indians were intermediaries between the colonial administrators and the indigenous people. Ugandans produced coffee and cotton that was processed and marketed by Indians. There was not much reason to mingle, and the British didn’t encourage it, going by their maxim of divide-and rule. Ugandans were not altogether happy with the situation; in 1946 and 1949—with demands growing for self-determination across Africa—people rioted against the Indians. There are continuities in this story. The Indians again represent a commanding force in Uganda’s economy. Business conglomerates owned by families such as the Ruparelias, Madhvanis and Karmalis are active in retail, real estate, manufacturing, banking, lodging and other sectors, and employ thousands of Ugandans. But discontent remains: in 2007, Ugandans protested against a plan to allocate part of a rainforest to a Ugandan Indian owned sugar company, and an Indian man was stoned to death. A researcher at the University of Oxford, Gloria Cole, argued in 2013 that anti-Indian sentiments are an expression of frustration with the absence of an economic reintegration policy for the returning Indians after 1986 that took into consideration indigenous development. “Although President Museveni and several prominent Asians argued that this return process would simply reposition Asians as a privileged class … there was little room for any alternative policy decisions,” wrote Cole in an article for the website African Arguments. International backers of Museveni’s government, such as the World Bank, saw a quick return of the Indians as an expedient way to restore the economy after years of warfare, Cole explains. “This return movement, which occurred simultaneously with a huge state divestiture programme, repositioned Asians in the upper classes.” That, in combination with the lack of “any serious wage regulation”, left the Ugandans employed by Indians feeling “exploited”. “I say to President Museveni: ‘You did miracles, but you have to watch out for the [growing] income inequality.’ Which, by the way, is a worldwide trend,” says Jamal. In July 2016 Museveni himself accused Indian and Chinese people of unfair competition against Ugandan shopkeepers, mainly referring to relative newcomers. “Retailing should be preserved for the Ugandans,” said Museveni, who still favours foreigners who come as job-creating investors. A distinction between “established” Indians and newly arrived Indians is also observed by Indian Ugandans with older roots in the country. The Indian Association estimates that 90 percent of Indians in Uganda are newcomers. “There are ignorant people among the newcomers, with prejudices towards Ugandans,” says Jamal. He thinks that their patronising attitudes may be due to India’s caste system, with its rigid social stratification. Jamal says that the “generation of 1972”, on the other hand, has learned its lesson. “We learned that we have to incorporate Ugandans and be tolerant,” he says. Sanjiv Patel, 51, also notes a difference in behaviour among Indians from various generations, something he puts down to “the global phenomenon” of third or fourth generation descendants of immigrants being more likely to integrate than new immigrants. Patel, a businessman and spokesperson for The Indian Association, is third generation in Uganda. He agrees with Museveni that Indian newcomers “should be restricted from taking over everything”. Criticising only newcomers strikes Namutosi, who complained about her former boss, as disingenuous and self-serving. “All Indians are the same,” she insists. Patel acknowledges that some of the “new” Indians were hired by “old” Indians like himself, and that therefore the groups can’t be viewed separately. But he says that in Uganda “trust” between people is “generally low”, adding that “you can’t expect me to trust a black man … Even an educated African is still a tribalist.” Nonetheless, Patel calls Uganda “home” and says he feels “disappointed” when people criticise the Indian community for not trying to be part of Ugandan society. “We spent 4.5 billion shillings [US$1.3 million] on charity this year,” says Patel. “Every year we send ten Ugandan children for heart surgery in India. We run two schools with not one Indian pupil. We donate blood and ambulances. And we contribute 67 percent of taxes.” Namutosi thinks the Indian community is too close to Museveni who, in February 2016, extended his 30-year presidency after an election that “once again” fell short of “meeting key democratic benchmarks”, according to Commonwealth observers. “The Indians don’t stay in Uganda for free,” says Namutosi. “They give Museveni money.” Patel is a member of Uganda’s ruling party. “Museveni gave us back our properties after 1986; you can’t disrespect that,” he says. He thinks Museveni should do more against corruption, which he says is increasing. But, like many Indians, he remains firmly behind Museveni. “I would rather have the devil I know than the devil I don’t know,” he says. Surjit Bharj, 54, says he is “sure” that some Ugandans don’t consider him Ugandan, though he was born here. Bharj, who moved to the UK after the expulsion of 1972, returned in the 1990s and runs a hotel, a stone quarry and a carpentry in the town of Jinja. “Ugandans should still take over the economy, gradually,” he says. “Train Ugandans to replace Indians. Or buy out Indian businesses. I am not saying a Ugandan can’t do what Indians do. But there is nothing coming up that competes. So how can you say that Indians took over your economy? Indians fulfill a need. And they see opportunities.” Namutosi agrees that Indians are hard-working people. “They are smart,” she says, “I am jealous about how they do business.” But she adds: “They should share more. What Amin did in 1972 was good. We want Uganda to change like Amin changed it.”
Togo: one-man rule
Decades of family rule in this West African country have resulted in very little development
Soldiers of Forces Armées Togolaises at a military parade in Lomé, May 5, 2011. Photo: Blamé Ekoue
Ethnicity has been an important political tool for the family that has ruled Togo for nearly half a century. The current president, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, and his ruling Union Pour la République (UNIR) party have consistently privileged their Kabyè ethnic group, a minority, to the detriment of other ethnic groups, including the Ewe, Mina and Kotokoli. The pervasive influence of ethnicity in Togolese politics dates at least as far back as 1960, when Togo attained independence from colonial rule. In 1963 the country saw the continent’s first post-independence coup d’état, when the then president, Sylvanus Olympio, who hailed from the major Ewe ethnic group, was assassinated. He was gunned down by military men led by Gnassingbé Eyadema, later president, after refusing to integrate Togolese soldiers who had served in the French colonial army into Togo’s post independence army. Most of the rebel soldiers were from northern minority ethnic groups. The country is home to 40 different ethnic groups, according to a 2007 Private Sector Recovery Policies and Strategies Review study published by the World Bank. According to the most recent population census by Togo’s Ministry of Planning Affairs, carried out in 2010, the Kara region, which is mostly populated by the Kabyè ethnic group of President Faure Gnassingbé, is the fourth largest of five regions, with a population of 769,940 people or 12.4 percent of the population. The Maritime region—home of the Mina and Ewe ethnic groups and including Lome, the capital—has 2.6 million people representing 42 percent of the population. The Plateau and Savannah regions are home to 22.2 percent and 13.4 percent of the population respectively, while the Central region is the smallest region, with 10 percent of the population. Faure Gnassingbé is the son of a former president whose party opted, decades ago, for centralised government. The result was a distribution of power and national wealth that favoured their ethnic group. “Ethnicity continues to negatively impact the implementation of policies put in place since the country resumed economic cooperation with its development partners,” says Claude Ameganvi, leader of the opposition Parti des Travailleurs (Workers’ Party). Many ministers from the Kabyè ethnic group of Gnassingbé’s party have been accused of embezzlement. But neither an anti-corruption commission— set up in 2001 but now defunct—nor a newly created “high authority against corruption” has succeeded in bringing any of them before a court. In 2010 Togo normalised relations with the EU and Bretton Woods institutions after 15 years of economic sanctions imposed by the EU because of concerns about the country’s poor human rights record. Improved governance was a condition for the resumption of cooperation between the country and its development partners. But bad governance, largely due to the fixation of ruling party politicians on ethnic identity and region of origin, has cost the country 300 billion CFA francs (about US$550 million) every year, says former prime minister, Yawovi Agboyibo. The government has taken steps toward political reform and fiscal transparency—including economic planning, structural adjustment, financial stabilisation and the setting up of the new anti-corruption agency. But civil rights organisations say that “barons” associated with the Kabyè and the ruling party continue to prevent legal proceedings against kinfolk and relatives allegedly accused of public asset misappropriation and mismanagement. “Corruption blights development of Togo to the extent that it dries up financial resources and deprives the country of necessary resources for the better implementation of national development programs,” according to a June 2016 assessment by the Centre for Analysis and Capacity Building in Togo (CADERT). Togo is ranked 107 out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide. Gnassingbé assumed office after the death of his father in February 2005, and he has tried to involve other ethnic groups in government, as seen in several cabinet reshuffles. But his efforts to ensure fiscal prudence have largely failed. About 61 percent of Togolese citizens are unhappy with the government’s campaign against corruption, according to the 2015 Global Corruption Barometer, a survey run by the Afrobarometer Institute and Transparency International. In April 2012, addressing the nation, Gnassingbé acknowledged that “a minority monopolises the national wealth in Togo”. For many Togolese human rights activists, this mea culpa explained decades of public anger at nearly half a century of one-family rule. “Ethnicity causes the unfair sharing of the national wealth, and the systematic corruption at all levels of public administration in Togo,” says Alain Lawson, a 60-year-old Togolese opposition activist. “This situation has helped a small section of the population from the same ethnic group to maintain its hold on power.” Anger at ethnic exclusion has caused several post-electoral crises. In 2005 over 500 Togolese were killed following skirmishes between proregime military forces and opposition militants, according to a UN factfinding team. “If the soldiers or pro-ruling party militiamen found that you are from the southern parts [of the country], you were subjected to beatings. This shows that we are not in a democracy but in what I would [describe as] tribalism,” said Lawson, who still bears scars from wounds inflicted during the 2005 post-electoral violence. Some political analysts think that opposition parties are also to blame for the ethnic polarisation of the country because they boycotted the 2002 parliamentary polls; the ruling party-dominated National Assembly took the opportunity to unilaterally amend the 1992 constitution, which had stipulated a two-round system of voting, as well as limits on the mandate of a sitting Togolese head of state. Following the changes, a simple majority could win an election, which has encouraged aspirants for the presidency to seek support only from their own ethnic groups. “The system [should] encourage politicians to forge alliances and to broaden their support by seeking votes outside their traditional ethnic strongholds,” says Marc Attipoe, a Togolese sociologist. The late Gnassingbé Eyadema applied a divide-and-rule policy, favouring his Kabyè ethnic group over others, and directing resources to areas where they lived. In 2011, some 58.7 percent of the population were living in poverty, according to a survey by the General Directorate of Statistics and the National Income Accounting. This percentage does not appear to have changed much, despite important investments made by the government aimed at improving work prospects for Togolese. “Many of the social tensions that [have] rocked the country since 2013 are expressions of unfulfilled expectations,” says Spero Mawule, secretary general of the Collectif des Assocations Contre l’Impunité au Togo, a group of civil rights organisations against torture and impunity in Togo. “They [show] the resentment [people from other groups feel] at the existing distribution of [wealth].” He warned that “a bloody revolution” might yet occur if the Kabyè elite and other minority ethnic groups close to the regime continued to enrich themselves at the expense of other groups. Though the incumbent head of state claims to want to improve the country’s economic and social development by focusing on health and education, many Togolese are not seeing any visible signs of his promises. Togo’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2014 was 0.484, putting the country at 162 out of 188 countries, according to the UNDP. These figures are indicative of the broader failures of the Togolese elite to develop the country. Most public companies are managed by longstanding figures from the Kabyè. Meanwhile, graduates from other ethnic groups find it almost impossible to get jobs. “No one can fire the old barons because they belong to the same ethnic group as the ruling family,” says Khalife Michel, an economics lecturer at Lome University. “Every year, over 10,000 young Togolese graduates look for jobs, but they have lost confidence in the government and its employment policies.
South Africa: inclusive versus exclusive politics
Jacob Zuma’s narrow Zulu nationalism stands in the way of the development of an inclusive South African identity
South African President Jacob Zuma © Wikimedia Commons
Most African countries were flung together by former colonial powers out of diverse ethnic, religious and regional communities, making them among the most diverse nations on earth. The colonial powers exploited these differences to play communities against each other and so reinforce their control over subject peoples. In so doing they prevented these peoples from presenting a united front against their colonial rulers. Sadly, in the post-colonial period, many African leaders and governments have sought support from only their own ethnic communities, regions or religious groups—further entrenching divisions inherited from the colonial past. Apparently South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, is no different. After his return from exile Zuma, an isiZulu speaker, built his support base in the largest branch of the African National Congress (ANC), the KwaZulu-Natal branch. When he was fired in 2005 as deputy president by former South A f r i c a n President Thabo Mbeki for alleged corruption, he wooed Zulu speakers to secure support for his reinstatement. In 2007, at the party’s Polokwane conference, he used his Zulu background to win the ANC presidency. He did so again in Mangaung, in 2012, in his bid for the country’s presidency. At Polokwane Zuma portrayed opposition to his bid for power as an “anti-Zulu” conspiracy and cast Mbeki as a member of an educated elite waging a “war” against African traditions, institutions and styles of leadership. During that campaign some of his supporters wore “100% Zulu” T-shirts, adding to impressions that Zuma was pursuing the politics of ethnic patronage. Since then Zuma has claimed that critics of his poor policies and personal indiscretions are opposed to “Zulu” or African “traditions” or “culture”. In response, Mondli Makhanya, editor of the City Press, a Johannesburg weekly newspaper, warned ahead of the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung national elective conference that Zuma was unleashing the “spectre of tribalism, the demon that the anti-apartheid struggle successfully exorcised from the body politic”. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, said an ethnic war could result if Zuma continued to claim an “antiZulu conspiracy” was against him. After the death of Zulu King Cetshwayo in 1883, politics in what became known as Zululand focused on maintaining the larger Zulu community as a recognisable unit, following repeated attempts by colonial and, later, apartheid governments to break it up through divide-and-rule tactics, as well as internal conflict. During most of the ANC’s 100-year history, two distinct strands of Zulu nationalism competed for dominance in the party, especially in KwaZulu-Natal: one conservative and closed off; the other, progressive and inclusive of other communities. Conservatives emphasise Zulu-ness as the defining feature of one’s identity, and want the Zulu group to be dominant in the broader African and South African community. Progressives see Zulu-ness as part of a layered African and South African identity, with the wider Zulu community an equal among others. Zuma’s election as ANC president in 2007, and his re-election in 2012, signified the triumph of the conservative wing of Zulu nationalism, and the retreat of the progressives. Many of Zuma’s appointments to key positions, both in government and his party, especially those in the security networks, have benefited individuals from KwaZulu-Natal. Critics warn of the danger of the “Zulufication” of the ANC. Anthony Butler of the University of Cape Town points to the “skewed composition of the cabinet, the KwaZulu-Natal-dominated ANC parliamentary list, the growing non-representatively of important directors-general and their deputies, and the composition of parastatal boards and managers” during Zuma’s presidency. These appointments, he argues, indicate “a big shift in the control of resources and power towards people of amaZulu descent”. Under Zuma’s predecessor, Mbeki, the ANC came close to capturing the state. This phenomenon deepened under Zuma, who has turned the ANC into a “partyarchy” dominated by entrenched leadership factions and networks within regional, ethnic, generational or even class groups. Now some ANC members are turning purely political differences into “ethnic” differences. At Mangaung some ANC members said that failing to support Zuma’s re-election as party leader would be a “betrayal” of “their” community, apparently meaning isiZulu-speakers. Since then others have called on the rank-and-file to support his continued incumbency solely on the basis that he is “one of us”, rather than on the merits of his performance as president. Zuma’s “Zulufication” of the ANC could indeed unleash “the demon of tribalism”, as the ANC’s first secretary general, Sol Plaatje, put it. Firstly, people from other groups will likely resent their exclusion and oppose government policies, decisions and actions, believing they are ethnicity- driven. This could paralyse the ANC and government, and further impact on the ruling party’s ability to deliver public services. Traditionally the ANC has sought to ensure a balanced representation of South Africa’s ethnic and cultural groups in its leadership. Zuma has eroded this tradition, drawing Mbeki to criticise the rise of tribalism under his successor’s government. “When a minister comes from a certain region, so will the officials in that department,” Mbeki said in 2014, calling it the “homeboy” phenomenon. In 2014 Mbeki noted that tribalism was “raising its head again” in South Africa. Ironically, however, Mbeki may have taken a similar approach during his own presidency. An isiXhosa-speaker by background, he was accused of surrounding himself with a group of key individuals from the Eastern Cape—the so-called “Xhosa-Nostra”. Zuma’s ethnic politics may shape the ANC’s future, with a national election looming in 2019. He is known to favour the appointment of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the current chairperson of the African Union and a former wife, as the next ANC president, to position her for election as the country’s next president. Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says that KwaZulu-Natal ANC members who support her candidacy mainly because she is Zulu-speaking will fuel perceptions of tribalism. Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s current deputy, is Tshivenda-speaking; he should, according to ANC tradition, succeed the president. The National Union of Mineworkers has also warned that attempts to push a candidate from KwaZulu-Natal to succeed Zuma will be seen as tribalism. Fikeni notes that the influence of tribalism does not solely apply to Zuma’s ANC. In South Africa it is a “societal challenge that manifests itself in different institutions”, as well as in the Afrikaner and English communities. Clearly the best way forward for South Africa is not the nationalism of any one group, whether Afrikaner, African or Zulu, but what Michael Ignatieff describes as “civic nationalism”. In “civic nationalism”, equal rights and shared democratic cultures, values and institutions are the glue that holds the country together, rather than any ethnic identity. A common South Africanness must be woven around the country’s constitution, democratic values, rules and institutions. Colonialism and apartheid bequeathed an ethnically diverse society to South Africa. Wise leadership will be needed to forge an inclusive society. The first requirement is that the rule of law should apply to everyone equally. Secondly, given our history, government’s main aim should be to lift everyone out of poverty, no matter their ethnicity, region or language. And thirdly, government appointments must balance the need to recognise individual merit, redress racial injustice, and be seen to be fair. Zuma’s narrow Zulu nationalism undermines efforts to establish a common South African identity. South Africa needs a national solidarity that cuts across ethnic, regional and political divides. Social justice must underpin governance, not the advantage of one group over another. Political parties and leaders that make themselves guilty of ethnic nationalism should not receive public funding. In Mauritius, political parties seeking public funding must show that they are ethnically representative in their structures and policies. South Africa would do well to adopt such a policy.
Somalia: clan politics
Despite millions of dollars in foreign aid, lawlessness and injustice remain deeply entrenched within Somalia’s inter-clan rivalries
AMISOM troops in Somalia © AMISOM
Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants have suffered a variety of attacks recently, having been targeted by pro-government militias, drone strikes and rival Islamist leaders, yet they have not seen a fall in their numbers. Al-Shabaab continues to attract recruits, mainly from members of marginalised ethnic clans driven to the movement as a rare outlet for economic and political empowerment, rather than religious zeal. According to Ibrahim Daauud, an independent political analyst based in the capital, Mogadishu, members of ethnic minority clans comprise more than 60 percent of Al-Shabaab’s armed fighters. The Islamist insurgency’s current commander, known as the Emir, meaning “ruler” or “commander”, is from a minority clan within the Dir community. Somalia’s minor clans lack the fiscal and demographic resources to counter the influence of major clans other than through Al-Shabaab, says Daauud. “When these clans saw they were locked out from justice or any services they could have as citizens, they felt they had to seek other options. I do not say that all marginalised people are going into terrorist ranks, but many of the youth increasingly felt they needed to [take] revenge [for] what big clans did to them.” Somalia’s population of 10.5 million is ostensibly homogenous, but clan affiliation is involved in all aspects of Somali life, including politics. The two major clans, the Hawiye and the Darood, have dominated political and economic life in Somalia since independence in 1960. Minority clans are routinely denied political and economic leverage, though they constitute about one-third of Somalia’s population, according to the UN. All Somalia’s presidents and prime ministers have been members of the two major clans, except Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, who acted briefly as prime minister in 1967, and hails from the Dir clan. Government power in Somalia is shared according to a “4.5” formula, which gives the minority clans less representation than the major clans. The four leading clans—the Hawiye, Darood, Rahanweyn and Dir—take most of the influential political positions. Two of the minority clans, the Banaadiri and the Jareerweyne (Somali Bantus), have lived for centuries in four of Mogadishu’s 17 districts, says minority clans advocate, Shariif Nuuri. Yet only one of the 17 commissioners who govern the capital comes from these clans. “This marginalisation has been happening [for a] long time and still it is here,” Nuuri said. “I believe we are still in the era of Mukulaal Madow [black cats].” “Black cats” refers to a time in the 1990s when Hawiye clan militias seized homes and properties of the minority Banaadiri community in Mogadishu, forcing many into displacement or exile. After the civil war broke out in 1991, inadequate security allowed dominant clans to seize property and displace minority clans as they liked, says Omar Abdi, the founder of the Somali think-tank, the Centre for Research and Policy Analysis. Bigger clans continue to displace smaller clans today. In Kismayo, in the Jubbaland region, the Darood clan is seizing land and houses from minority communities, says Daauud. Many of the displaced youth join
Al-Shabaab to fight against the Jubbaland occupation. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, a research institute that researches global internal displacement trends, most of the displaced belong to minority groups, especially in southern and central Somalia Some find that conditions with the militants are not to their liking and end up seeking other ways out of their marginalisation. “When we interview the new defectors who come to our centre, what they tell us is that most of them were recruited from camps of the internally displaced persons where they do not have enough food to eat,” said Mohamud Farah, a former
Al-Shabaab fighter who works at a government-run centre that rehabilitates new Al-Shabaab defectors in Mogadishu. Lacking demographic power, wealth, weapons and access to education, minority clans are vulnerable to larger, militarised clans, Daauud says. “They are powerless [and] cannot defend their oppressed members. Historically, [minority clans] were used as labourers to work on the farms … with no rights,” he explains. Members of minority clans are prevented from marrying into larger clans by a system similar to India’s caste system. Their marginalisation applies even after death. “Looma Ooyaan” (“nobody cries for them”), people say of minority clan members who have died. No “blood money” is required if a major clan member kills a man from a minority clan, says Daauud. A widely reported example of this involved the killing of Mukhtar Shawri, a teashop owner from a minority clan. Shawri’s brother, Omar Shawri Hassaney, says a gunman killed his brother in the Hamarweyne Marwaas neighbourhood of Mogadishu. “That afternoon my brother Mukhtar was working in his shop near Marwaas Mosque when the gunman arrived and demanded a cup of tea. When he gave the tea, the gunman asked [Mukhtar] why he gave tea without sugar. He referred to him as ‘a pig’ and shot him three times,” Hassaney says. His family wanted to take Mukhtar to hospital, which they felt might have saved his life, but were prevented from doing so by the gunman, says Hassaney. Hassaney believes this incident and others like it have induced many young men from minority clans to join the Al-Shabaab militant fighters. “Many of the young men from unarmed clans believe they are not full citizens and therefore powerless. They do not have protection, so they prefer to migrate to other countries … Others are lured to join the Al-Shabaab because they see this as a way to [get] revenge for the atrocities committed against their families,” Hassaney said. Al-Shabaab, which rose to prominence in 2006 as a militia subordinate to the Islamic Courts Union, was heavily influenced by the Habar Gedir/Ayr, a sub-clan of the powerful Hawiye clan, according to Andrew McGregor, director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Canadian security company working in Somalia. The insurgent militia’s strength and longevity are rooted both in its opposition to the presence of Ethiopian troops originally sent to the country in 2010 in support of the government—who are still there, though much less visibly—and its inter-tribal composition. Al-Shabaab claims to “transcend clan”, based on Islamist beliefs. Some of the group’s hardline leadership believe in the universalism of al-Qaeda’s Salafi-Jihad worldview, according to McGregor. The Islamist organisation’s inter-clan composition has undoubtedly assisted its recruitment drives, though it has also sometimes weakened its military campaigns. During its Ramadan offensive in 2010, for instance, the former Al-Shabaab leader, Mukhtar Robow, allegedly withdrew his Rahanweyn clan forces from Mogadishu after he and fellow clan elders claimed that their fighters had borne a disproportionate share of the casualties, according to McGregor and news reports. After the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 various governments have attempted to form administrations using clan-based structures. The latest effort, under President Aden Abdulla, represents the 15th attempt using the “4.5” formula. But building agreement among the clan affiliations and regional political forces in the country is key to its stability. Until the issue of clan is openly addressed in Somalia the ruinous formula of adhering to clan politics may continue. The US provides over a billion dollars in foreign aid per year, but the central government remains fragmented and insecure. Even if the current Western-backed government manages to oust Al-Shabaab, the government could implode, even without the influence of an Islamist insurgency. The problem of inter-clan rivalries will remain. As Hassan Gedi Roble, a chief of the Dir clan was quoted as saying in news reports: “A government of clans is only going to create clan competition.”
South African Police Service members rescue a man from angry taxi drivers during a riot near the Bloed Taxi Rank on August 28, 2019, in Pretoria, South Africa. PHOTO | PHILL MAGAKOE | AFP | DAILY NATION
Many will read with dismay this week’s resurgence in xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa (SA). For me particularly, this latest episode hits home in a personal way. Nigeria may need to recall its envoy from that country and lead coordinated African responses to stop the mayhem. It’ll signal that Nigeria and Africa intends to join hands to address this and that it cannot just be business as usual. We can ensure justice and the rule of law for all law abiding residents of SA, native or foreign.
I spent this last weekend of 1 September unaware of what had gone on elsewhere in Johannesburg. Reason was my quiet stay-in in the relative comfort the secure Edenvale area of Johannesburg. It had been my hideaway from the bustling city since arriving there on Saturday 31st August. This two-days stopover before flight to Lagos followed attendance at the African Leadership Forum (ALF) in Dar-es-salaam. There, I had been invited by the former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa and the Uongozi Institute.
I enjoyed my time in friendly Dar, engaged in eye-opening exchanges with President Obasanjo and at least five other former and current African presidents in attendance. I also tweeted excitedly about Dimowo Cosmas, the young Nigerian who emerged runner-up in the ALF awards. Done with my two days of work in Dar inputting into the leaders’ discussions my views as expert on African extractive governance, I flew out to Johannesburg. I had in total spent six weeks traveling across the Middle East and Europe far from my daily hustle in Lagos.
This long background is necessary as I got that close to the mayhem without realising. I ventured out on Sunday 1 September to nearby Festival Mall in Kempton Park, close to OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Not only did I shop for personal items on which I made significant cost savings relative to Nigeria, I also bought an emergency phone charger from a shopkeeper. He greeted me as I drove up close to his stall entrance.
It turns out he is Nigerian. So good had been our business transaction and courtseying that he told me as I was leaving that he bears one of the popular Eastern Nigerian names. His shop is located close to the entrance to the famous Kempton Park taxi rank (bus park in Nigerian speak).
Near death experiences in paradise
I had a close shave with death in South Africa about a year and 9 months ago. I arrived in Johannesburg on Christmas Eve on the way to Pretoria to join my family members who had earlier flown to SA. We were all headed for Safari at the Hluhluwe Mfolosi national Park in Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
My elderly taxi man, whose persistence and appearance had convinced me against the more prudent and safer alternative of taking a registered airport car hire or Uber that late in the night, turned out to be a murderer. Only a mix of cajoling, prayer and mother luck saw me escape the close shave. He was armed with a pistol! I gladly parted with wads of cash in gratitude for being spared.
Similarly, I had lost my laptop to a gang that specialized in “jamming” remote controlled car keys. This prevents car doors from locking. Once unsuspecting drivers depart in the illusion of having locked up, the hoodlums get free access to valuables in their cars. My encounter with them was at the Sunnypark Shopping Centre in Sunnyside, situated close to the Jakaranda-leaf-festooned seat of power in Pretoria, South Africa.
I will return to my experience of Sunnyside and its particularly Nigerian flavour that is not to my taste. If only to present an account that is more balanced than the one-sided one narrative South Africans often peddle about Nigerians. And indeed the unannounced victim narrative held by many less well-informed Nigerians at home. Lest I forget, my car was also once wrongfully towed from around this same mall, released only after being extorted. I gave 1000 Rands (then worth about US$ 75) to the official-cum-criminal towing gang.
Don’t get me wrong. I had called Cape Town, SA home from 2012-15, and took my girlfriend there to live with me after my more than 15 years residency in the UK and Spain. Only marginally shaded by Madrid – which was special for meeting with my future wife – Cape Town afforded me much professional fulfilment and social stimulation. I still look back to the place with fondness. And I go back every February for the Mining Indaba.
My home in Cape Town, with the weekly work jaunts to Johannesburg and Pretoria, in many ways was a midway house. Between a thriving African city and an orderly European metropolis like Berlin. How can one hate that country where one married his longtime heart-throb and also gave birth to one’s two kids? Nevertheless, of the three times that I have been victim of crime, all occurred in SA and the perpetrators were SA citizens.
Close shave with death at Kempton?
I might have just escaped death by the whiskers. For my charger did not work to my satisfaction and I ventured back few hours after the purchase to see if I could exchange at the vendor’s. On parking right outside the shop, I noticed that the usually bustling shops around Kempton Park taxi ranch were under locks.
I inquired first with two stern-looking locals who told me that they were not aware of the reason why all the shops were locked. In retrospect, I realise that my Nigerian kaftan surely gave me away and their merely not volunteering information was in fact a favour of some sort. I could have been lynched. More enquires with a second person, and came back the retort: there had been looting and violence. If I had arrived a few hours earlier, in my full Nigerian regalia, and alighted from my car into the hands of the looting mob, my likely fate is better left to the imagination.
I have this week seen at least two videos circulating on WhatsApp of two South Africans wanting foreigners out. One of them ostensibly a senior police functionary, justifying some of the violence against foreigners. The senior functionary was suggesting that foreign-owned businesses took away opportunities from South Africans! He claimed South Africans were neglected by the country’s authorities whilst conferring unspecified advantages on non-SA citizens.
This is not new: there is a shocking immunity with which some in SA have for long been allowed to instigate and perpetrate genocidal outrage. Left to fester, including during the time of Malusi Gigaba as SA’s home affairs minister, the frequency of these attacks soon reached a feverish tempo. The utterances of the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, which many construed (I’ll say rightfully) as incitement to violence some years back also come to mind.
Complex reality dangerously oversimplified
Is it true that all Nigerians are criminals as many South Africans are wont to believe? The answer lies in the social and economic position South Africans occupy in their own society. For those working in top universities and health institutions, to name just two of the sectors where Nigerians have made significant contributions to that country, a caricature of Nigerians as criminals is one they would hardly recognise.
It is also true that there are hundreds of Nigerians who engage in serious criminal activities in South Africa of the type that Nigerians themselves here at home will not condone. Nevertheless, criminal law enforcement should be allowed to take its course. Punish those found complicit. They should face the full wrath of South African law. To tarnish the majority of law-abiding, hard-working Nigerians in SA with the broad brush of criminality is ill-informed and unacceptable.
I often walked the streets of Sunnyside in Pretoria. Whether daytime or nighttime, I will be confronted by sights of loitering Nigerian young men. They discuss loudly in Ibo or Yoruba subjects like the results of English premier league games in a manner that might appear a mass brawl to the unaccustomed.
I’ve also experienced Nigerian nightclubs that play music at an unacceptably loud pitch. In clearly residential neighbourhoods in Pretoria. The South African trope that some Nigerians are rude is also true. I’ve witnessed a few fellow Nigerians ordering meals at restaurant, addressing waiters in languages that will be deemed uncivilized anywhere in the world.
There’s truism in the observation that criminal gangs – Nigerian, Ukrainian or Indian – thrive in SA because the police is compromised. Some SA men also fret that Nigerians “take their women”. If any Nigerian behaving brashly gets confronted and clobbered around the head by disaffected South Africans, one may not protest too much. There is a need fundamentally to be respectful of the society where one lives and to be law-abiding.
I am in no way condoning violence. Just to make the point that the blanket, indiscriminate violence visited on Nigerian shop-keepers by SA looters and other such acts (which also affects Somalis, Mozambicans, Bangladeshi merchants and others) has really now come to a head. We’ll only stop these and other dastardly SA crimes with determined Nigerian and coordinated African actions to compel corrective actions in SA.
Recall our envoy and expel theirs
We have seen in Nigeria rising anti-SA sentiments connected to the xenophobic attacks. The ire has sometimes been directed at MTN, the SA telecommunications giant which has Nigeria as its largest and most lucrative market. Attacks against that entity or other SA ones may not be the most prudent. These are companies that employ tens of thousands of Nigerians and have also increasingly become part of our national economic fabric. MTN recently listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. One should not cut his nose to spite his face.
It would be more astute if Nigeria’s government could grow some balls to confront SA this time in a manner similar to the tit-for-tat expulsion of citizens over yellow fever cards some years back. In that episode, SA fired the first shot but was persuaded ultimately to call for a ceasefire. That was given the robust and uncompromising Nigerian response.
With this latest xenophobic orgy targeting Nigerians, President Buhari has despatched a “special” envoy to meet SA president, Cyril Ramaphosa. The SA leader is a well-traveled, diplomatic and successful businessman. He must know how damaging these persistent attacks are for SA’s image in Africa and its ambitious corporate brands. Or has his infamous, and increasingly ineffective balancing act politics, tied his hands from acting?
If so, Abuja should immediately recall the Nigerian High Commissioner from Pretoria. Unless Buhari sees serious concerted SA actions to punish perpetrators. Those actions have to be on a level so compelling that Buhari can allow Nigeria to be persuaded to hold return fire. Nothing to lose here really. Our dignity and precious Nigerian lives are daily being trampled. Enough is enough!