By Olayinka Ajayi
Obviously peeved at what he considers a disconnect between the South African government and the xenophobic attackers, the President of the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies, BOCIDASS, and former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Professor Bola Akinterinwa in this interview among others stresses the need for the African Union, AU, to address the recurring xenophobic attacks on foreigners that are turning South Africa into a failed State.
On the voluntary evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa
The voluntary evacuation is justified because that is the only way the Nigerian government can secure the safety of its citizens that are being attacked continually.
Apart from the evacuation, can’t the issue be addressed by the United Nations, UN, and the African Union, AU?
The principle is that if a government in any country is unable to ensure the security of lives of its citizens, the international community has the right and the responsibility to come rapidly to the country to restore peace and protection of the people.
These principles are there and they can take advantage of them. Perhaps, the issue is that the African Union has an agenda of continental integration. This objectively compels the AU to quickly checkmate the deteriorating situation in South Africa. So it is an obligation. I am talking about AU’s agenda 2063 and also talking about the United Nations UN, Sustainable Development Goal, SDG, within the framework of agenda 2030. All these necessarily require coordinated integration efforts.
So, if South Africa is increasingly becoming an impediment to the attainment of this objective within the context of agenda 2063 of the AU and that of the UN SDG 2030, the hard fact remains that xenophobic attack is a direct negation of the pursuit of AU and UN’s objectives.
Agenda 2063 is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It is the continent’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance. The genesis of Agenda 2063 was the realisation by African leaders that there was a need to refocus and reprioritise Africa’s agenda from the struggle against apartheid and the attainment of political independence for the continent which had been the focus of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, the precursor of the African Union; and instead to prioritise inclusive social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance and peace and security among other issues aimed at repositioning Africa to becoming a dominant player in the global arena.
But why have many African leaders kept quiet on these attacks despite the call for a United Africa?
It may be because the number of their citizens living in South Africa may not be a big deal. If the national interest of some countries is not directly affected, if their understanding with South Africa has not been vitiated, there will not be any good basis for them to do anything even though they have the obligation within the African Union framework to say something.
What they normally do is to keep quiet and allow the AU peace and security council to do the talking.
Another way of looking at it is why is Nigeria always at the forefront? The answer is not far-fetched. How many citizens of these countries that kept quiet have citizens as victims of the attacks? So there may not be legitimate reasons for much outcry. They cannot cry louder than those countries whose citizens were killed.
Another reason may be that they may not want to take an openly hostile approach to it. Diplomatic networking may be there, and they might have protested adopting a diplomatic approach to it silently in the hope that the problem might be resolved sooner or later and they wouldn’t want to lay a foundation for hostility in their bilateral understanding with South Africa. For instance, the extent to which the immediate neighbour of South Africa can be hostile is limited because they take advantage of the economic development of South Africa and in terms of security too, they need South Africa.
In fact, many countries of Southern Africa will have a special understanding with South Africa as they are like the landlord to these countries around them. So they wouldn’t want to change the nature of their peaceful bilateral understanding with South Africa
In international relations, there are proactive measures and engagements used in addressing the perceived crisis. Why did it escalate to this level without intervention and resolution?
The AU had been condemning this before now. It is not that African leaders have been condoning the attacks. It is on record that at all times when attacks take place in South Africa, the AU always condemned the attacks but the issue is that the African Union does not have any multilateral force to go enforce a solution there.
The second point is that it is not a civil war so the AU cannot mobilize soldiers from member states to go there. The attacks on foreigners in South Africa falls on the framework of jurisdictional competence of the government of South Africa. So it’s an internal problem which the government of South Africa has the responsibility to address.
So, the crisis does not require the intervention of the UN or the AU or the intervention of the South African Development Council, SADC, that is within the Southern Africa context. It is the government that is required to ensure national security.
South Africa is a State, and a State in international relations is supposed not only to have a people, and territory but it must also have a government that is capable of implementing internationally contracted obligations. It must be able to ensure national security, it must be able to protect foreign investments and make life easy.
If the government of South Africa is no longer able to meet its international obligations then it is becoming a failed state and that is where the problem is. It is the failure of national and international responsibilities of the government of South Africa. That is what is at stake now and that is what the African Union must begin to address. That is an issue they must sit-down and discuss. In other words, a xenophobic attack is a failure of state responsibility.
Is the call for a sincere apology from the South African government to victims of the attacks a way forward?
It is very easy to apologise. An apology can be sincere and it can be insincere. But as it is, the South African government has not appeared to want to give apology. When you give an apology, it’s an expression of admission of guilt.
You don’t apologise for what you do not think you are guilty for. If the South African government chooses to apologise, it can calm nerves and that would be good but the major problem that I observed is that there is a disconnect between the South African government and the Xenophobic attackers.
While the government of Nigeria and South Africa are saying they are looking towards a better day, and the matter would be resolved, one would have expected that with the general outcry and with the way South African businesses were also attacked outside of South Africa, there would not be renewed attacks but the attacks still continued after that. This is to let you know that there is a gap in communication between the attackers and the government of South Africa.
So, when we talk about an apology, government apology should be differentiated from the apology of the attackers. So a government cannot be apologising for continued attacks as that will be inconsistency.