Diagnosing the psychology of xenophobia; why middle-class denial is to blame

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have subsided, or at least the news about the attacks. May be the Nepalese earthquake or the over-hyped, overrated boxing match pitying Floyd Mayweather and Manny Paquiao extinguished the attacks that were widely condemned by ordinary Africans. Most leaders and the political class were curiously quiet over the attacks.

African politicians, with the exception of Nigeria, Malawi and Zimbabwe were mum about the attacks. And for a reason. First, Nigeria, Malawi and Zimbabwe probably have the highest number of their citizens in South Africa, hence the diplomatic tiff the attacks lit off. By and large, Nigeria is a dysfunctional country that has its citizens all over the world. Other than India, I can’t think of any other country with most of its citizens out of the motherland. Mugabe did help South Africa during the reprehensible apartheid regime. In Zimbabwe, he repossessed land from the Whites, prompting sanctions that ruined the once great country. Consequently, most of its citizens moved to South Africa where they took any job, mostly in the informal sector. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it did help South Africa and for long, there has been that understanding that South Africa, need return the favour by housing a few Malawians and those in the COMESA region who stood them in good stead.

Other African countries kept quiet or quietly condemned South Africa because most of their citizens are at home, and somehow they have no right to dictate South Africans who they should house. Equally, the only time that African leaders ever come together, is when one of them is about to be incarcerated by an international court. There, their actions are invariably quick and always so quick to dismiss the West.

When I saw Kenyans starting a trend on twitter to condemn the killings, I laughed our pretense and the collective poor grasp of history. Granted, killing is wrong, that line ‘only the other day, we helped South Africa’ must never come from the mouth of Kenya. Kenya was quiet, hardly offered any support to South Africa during the half century of institutionalized racism that permanently ruined generations of South Africans, condemning them to a life of permanent illiteracy.

But the biggest lesson we have learnt, African lives don’t matter at all. To us, and to the world. If even a single white person was Killed in South Africa, America and the rest of the Western world would have been livid dishing out sanctions that would greatly compromised Africa’s biggest economy-assuming that Nigeria or Angola still have more ground to cover. Even gays’ lives are more valued by the West than the life of an ordinary black man. Essentially, what the West taught us by their quietness is that as Africans we have to do some house-keeping for ourselves.

Now, let us talk about the psychology of Xenophobia. I will start from home. For the longest time, we neglected the Northern region of Kenya. There were hardly enough schools, hospitals for the population in the North. The argument being, it was not agricultural or economically viable. The population trekked several kilometres for water, school and hospital. In the North, we have the highest illiteracy levels, highest school dropout rates, early marriages are still part of the culture and essentially, young women are locked out of a fair shot at life because of the culture dictates that with some few cows an septuagenarian can marry a nubile 16-year old as a fist wife.

In contrast, I grew up where there were public primary schools every 500 metres away. Secondary schools every kilometer away. Public hospitals, while not offering the best services were available and accessible. The education system was not the most qualitative, but it turned me to be the man I am today. In the same way, it gave every Kenya, south of the Equator, West of the Tsavo a better shot at life than those from the neglected parts. The Northern region, and the coastal region natives are the most disadvantaged. At the coast, only Kenyans from the hinterland who were given land there and those who immigrated there have excelled as the natives have mostly succumbed to drug abuse, consumed by poverty and the general lack of opportunities since every single job available ‘by merit’ goes to those from other parts of Kenya, earlier exposed to education, have worked and have experience.

50 years later, we discover oil there and the economy of the region is likely to grow. But the people there do not have the ability to take up the jobs that will come up. Neither do they have the capital for the businesses that will come up. Those from the South have a better chance to control the economy from the white collar, down to informal jobs, including prostitution. The locals are likely to be relegated to spectating, as others benefit from a resource that is their birthright.

There are those quick to say that resources such as minerals are national assets. The same people whom nature gifted with arable land, rivers and lakes to fish and large tracts of land to graze their livestock. It is mostly, the educated middle-class who come up with such convenient excuses, and lines such as ‘we are trying to lift up the community but they are stupid, uncivilized and cannot be helped’, the same argument Europeans used to justify colonialism. When I was in South Sudan, I heard Kenyans use a similar line.

Look, Xenophobia does not just happen. It is a culmination of long time institutional neglect on a part of a given country’s population. In South Africa, the generation at the heart of xenophobia, were those denied schooling in the 1970s and 80s. It is a lot that is highly militarized, for the many fights they fought against the Apartheid regime. By the time, SA got its independence some of them were too old, to go to school. Some were too poor to contemplate schooling. In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one has to have food, clothing and shelter for them to pursue other things in life. But when you have a population that struggles to feed itself, clothe itself and shelter itself, then going to school is not as easy as a pampered middle class executive would like to tweet.

One famous South African Supersport broadcaster, tweeted, “You want to take a foreign doctor’s job, the best thing is to go to school, not to kill him”. It is the type of tweets that attracts 10,000 retweets and 8,000 favourites. He has a valid point, but it is too simplistic and too middle-class.

The broadcaster as other middle-class people tend to live in denial. They want a conducive environment where their children can go to the best school-usually private- as the poor’s children languish in the poorly run public schools. They want shopping malls, good night clubs as the poor die drinking illicit brews in the villages, simply because they too have a need for entertainment, only that they cannot afford good beer. The middle-class want a stable political environment where their business and high-flying corporate jobs can prosper. They care less about the underclass.

In fact, as long as they can satiate their conscience by giving to charity and a few philanthropic gigs, they sleep easy, thinking all the problems Africa suffers will be solved without their active participation. I am afraid, they will not.

So, one may ask, what am I suggesting? Simple, the middle-class, need to get down from their dreamland. They are the most taxed in any populace. The much they can do is to ensure that their taxes are utilised more efficiently and holding the government accountable for the wanton waste we witness everyday.

By ensuring that the taxes are used wisely, we can create a more equitable society where everyone has a fair shot at life. Periodic donations of foods and medical aid to the affected will not solve anything. It only makes us feel better about ourselves, but next year, you bet right, we will have to donate. How about we do something more tangible. Make the government build roads; provide water and other essential service. So that the child born in some deserted desert has as much chance as a child born in a rich arable land in another corner.

This simply means you don’t end up with one child ending up in the corporate sector-at best or becoming a jua kali artisan-at worst and another becoming a bandit or an easy recruit for terrorist.

In societies where people are educated to college level-assuming the syllabus is right, they tend to have fewer mindless deaths or violence as we often witness across the world. That should be the challenge to the middle-class. We can only arrest future xenophobic attacks by ensuring a more equitable society, doing everything to correct historical injustices. And this can only be done by keeping the government on its toes.

Societies that ensure equity such as Scandinavian countries tend to have less of this violence that we witness in various corners of the world. The African middle-class can learn more and be active participants of ensuring democracy, rule of law, a fair distribution of resources and lifting those who are down to bring them to a level where they can compete favourably for jobs and other opportunities available.

Now, as more and more countries in in Africa are set to stabilize and immigrants from other parts of Africa set to move there for the many opportunities that will arise, it is time to remember that even the citizens of such countries rising from the genocide, and the civil war have as much right to the same opportunities and resources as the new immigrants.

We can do better by ensuring that they too are trained, we leave some jobs they can do to them and ensure that there are timelines to relinquish the white collar jobs as soon as their populations have acquired the skills.

In simple terms, Xenophobia does not occur in a vacuum. We will be seeing more of such in South Sudan, Angola, DRC, Somali and every country recently rising from the many wars they have endured. So before you tweet, get some grasp of history, know the preponderance of the lowly educated to kill. War lords know too well that an uneducated man can kill easily because their morality and conscience is underdeveloped. So they control and manipulate them easily. Especially in Africa.

I believe that a country where people can feed themselves, clothe themselves, shelter themselves well, have enough sex, love and access education to college level and have a chance for a job to raise their family, tend to be more stable. Think about it.

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One thought on “Diagnosing the psychology of xenophobia; why middle-class denial is to blame

  1. “Periodic donations of foods and medical aid to the affected will not solve anything. It only makes us feel better about ourselves, but next year, you bet right, we will have to donate… ” favorite quote from the above piece of wisdom!

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