Why African Governments should Strongly Condemn the Xenophobic attacks against Africans in China

The last couple of days have brought depressing headlines that show Africans living in China being persecuted, in some instances at the hands of the police, as a new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hits parts of the country.

This is unfortunate news because China seems to have been trying to build economic partnerships with several African countries based on mutual respect and a win-win cooperation.

There’s also an irony here because not too long ago, Chinese nationals and other Asians were complaining of suffering physical attacks and hate speech amid xenophobic calls by some political pundits in several countries for Asian migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Indeed the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus trended on twitter a few weeks ago.

Thus, at a time when there has been calls against calling the Coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’, or the ‘Chinese virus’ as some have been doing, with people across the world standing in solidarity with Asians who were experiencing this hate speech, it’s disheartening to see Chinese people attacking Africans in this demeaning and insensitive manner:

In the weeks since COVID-19 has been circulating, Asian-Americans and Asians around the world have noted a spike in discrimination and xenophobic attacks. Public transit riders have encountered hostile interactions and people simply walking down the street have experienced microaggressions — which I prefer to call veiled aggressions, because there is nothing “micro” about them for the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Marietta Vazquez, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & General Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine; Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last few decades China has worked hard to court African countries by presenting itself as their alternative economic partner in a global competition against western countries. Using loans and infrastructural development assistance promises among other measures, bilateral agreements have been signed and investment into various sectors across African countries has followed.

China even hosts a summit for Africa (called Forum on China–Africa Cooperation) every three years.

Indeed such has been the level of Chinese incursion into Africa that in some places even obscure villages have Chinese communities numbering several hundred people.

Generally, Chinese investment into Africa works as follows: China gives African countries cheap loans (and or buyer’s credit), access to relatively cheap equipment and technology, help in infrastructure development such as building roads, railways, factories, hospitals and stadia, but without the IMF-type conditionalities, and without any paternalistic intervention in the recipient country’s domestic politics. In return African countries give China raw materials (of which minerals remain a significant part) and a growing market where Chinese companies can flog their wares, or offer their services. What is often left unsaid (but is perfectly understood) in these transactions is that African leaders should not criticise China in public.

Thus, with such strategic investment and presence on the African continent, a presence which China is keen to emphasize as not interfering in the internal state affairs of African countries, and which is not colonialist, you’d think the Chinese government would be at least careful about how it handles matters regarding African people.

However, looking at some of the videos coming out of China in recent days, it’s disappointing that the authorities, including the Chinese police seem to be partaking in the actual harassment of citizens of African countries.

And unfortunately, it’s not the first time that foreigners in China have been viewed as a threat to public safety. In 2016, local officials in Beijing ran an awareness campaign cautioning Chinese citizens against dating foreigners, who they said could be spies.

While the police in China may struggle to understand that human rights of all people must be protected, given the repressive nature of the Chinese State, and given China’s well-documented intolerance of freedom of speech, but surely they must know that repression of foreigners is out of bounds.

It’s one thing to be fast and loose with your own citizens, quite another to do it to someone else’s people.

This is why African countries must stand together in being firm against China to explain what exactly is going on. It’s not good enough to merely express “extreme concern”, when your country’s nationals are being attacked and harassed in this way. Not in a world where Africans the world over suffer demeaning insults and discrimination on a daily basis for all manner of things.

Thus, Foreign Offices across the African continent who have knowledge that their citizens have been affected should summon Chinese Ambassadors in their countries to explain what is going on, and why the police are not clamping down on the xenophobic attacks?!? They should also request an explanation of what will be done in terms of restitution to those who have been affected, and within what timeline. This should be handled as a matter of urgency.

Usually China is quick (some will say ‘harsh’) at dealing with civil disobedience and clamping down on unrest. Indeed there are many examples throughout China’s history one can pick from. So why are we not seeing Chinese police officers protecting Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for example?

Further, over the last 40 or so years China has been accused of many things, mainly by politicians and companies in western countries. Among the accusations is the allegation that China is lax on infringement of intellectual property rights by its citizens. But in recent times, the country has been trying hard to clean up this reputation, however unfair the perceptions that remain may be. In particular, there have been promising strides against counterfeiting and strengthening of China’s intellectual property laws, with admirable progress worth shouting about.

But the current xenophobic attacks stand squarely to undermine any such glimmers of hope. China will struggle to win the world’s hearts and minds with such grim headlines. And the criticism is not western media bias as some Chinese officials have been keen to dismiss them as. The stories of residents being kicked out of their apartments are real, and there is video evidence available across social media to prove they occured. They smack of illegality and the trampling of civil liberties in the face of the authorities. Blanket denials will not help China’s cause.

Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic will require a global united front. It will need not only lockdowns, a range of personal hygiene measures, social distancing, respirators, masks, protective personal equipment and a vaccine, among other things. But it will also require firmly and truthfully stamping out the darker impulses of human behaviour when faced with calamity; it will mean clamping down on physical attacks and hate speech against minority communities. And since the overwhelming evidence of the origins of COVID-19 points to Wuhan in China, the Chinese government above everyone else ought to be at the frontline of the effort to protect minorities.

Why the recent anti-immigrant wave in Europe is a far-right racist agenda of repression of minorities

P1060334The 80 richest people in the world own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. – Oxfam

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw” 

– Nelson Mandela

“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

– Nelson Mandela. More quotes here.

There are some people out there who are proud of imperialism. You know that sick idea of going to other people’s countries, and beginning wars, killing innocent people, grabbing away land, raping women, enslaving their men, terrorizing their way of life…. all in the name of ‘conquering lands’ for the motherland. Yes, that lawlessness; there are some people who would try to justify it.

There are also some people alive today who believe that their version of history, governance, and politics, is the best version there is. That other systems of governance different from theirs are backward, unworkable, impractical, inferior or repressive. This skewered mentality is exactly the kind of thing that causes a seemingly sensible diplomat to write an article such as this titled To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran. These people’s only solution to every geopolitical challenge is guns, missiles, bombs, and much recently, drones.

No wonder their actions often create uncontrollable monsters along the way, besides the trail of misery they leave behind.

Funny enough, among those who support imperialism and those who prefer a militant foreign policy (as opposed to a peaceful and diplomatic one) are many who correctly classify Nazism as a vile and unacceptable ideology.

The question then becomes how does one form of extreme violence and persecution of the other become fair game, while another – which was evidently harsher and more inhumane – is universally prohibited? Shouldn’t all violence and persecution be denounced? To which you will hear responses such as ‘Our work is necessary to protect our interests‘ , ‘We don’t kill innocent people‘, ‘We don’t have gas chambers’, and ‘We don’t classify others as lesser human beings’...and so on. In this sphere, ‘interests’ are more important than the lives of humans.

The cynics in the corner will cite Godwin’s Law, that such a comparison is hysterical. Apples, they will say, must not be compared with oranges. I care not about their scorn. Because it’s easy in the gluttonous world they inhabit to accuse, denigrate and attempt to undermine a viewpoint they don’t sit comfortably with. It’s easy to airbrush history when you are a beneficiary of its oppressive machinations. Even a fool knows that.

What is clear to me is that most such answers are unconvincing if not disingenuous. For a start, how many people have died while trying to reach the shores of Europe, or trying to reach Australia. over the last 20+ years? Are their numbers not an atrocity, against which governments all over the world should seek a permanent solution? They may not have died in gas chambers at the hands of the SS, but that doesn’t mean that their deaths should be dismissed or accepted as an unavoidable eventuality.

It is clear that the smugglers who provide the boats are partly to blame, but those criminals didn’t create the demand. No smuggler ever forced anyone to cross the Mediterranean on a dinghy they themselves wouldn’t cross a river with.

But who can deny that foreign policy of countries in Europe have disadvantaged African countries in some important respects?

So in my view Britain and its allies must shoulder part of the blame. Not only for the recent chaos in the Middle East and North Africa, but also for age-old atrocities which have created deep divisions across countries, and which fuel such migration. Ed Milliband’s comments on David Cameron’s role in Libya were correct. Tony Blair, George Bush and Dick Cheney all need to answer similar questions over their roles in Iraq.

The loss of life in the mediterranean represents an ongoing massacre sanctioned by the powers that be, through their foreign policy. It can be prevented with certain humane measures, or at least greatly curtailed by the actions of governments.

The question is not what Europe can do to stop migrants coming to Europe, but instead what Europe’s obligation is (considering its colonial history) to help restore African countries to an economic position whereby their citizens want to live in them.

You don’t keep birds away from your garden by poisoning the seeds and nuts in them. Or by catching them and returning them to the same drought-stricken wilderness they’ve fled. You ensure there is enough food to eat in the forest, and plenty of trees to provide safety, so that the bird doesn’t have to come all the way to your garden.

As an immigrant, the racist undertones of the anti-immigrant debate cited by the following articles are all too familiar (not only in my life, but in the lives of many other immigrants I know, and their children). I’ve heard it all, and nothing surprises me any more:-

I’m not saying everything each of these writers say is gospel. No, that’s not what I’m saying. But equally, you can’t dismiss it all as impractical left-wing dross. It’s not, and many other sensible people agree with me:-

Sadly no one in a position of authority wants to sort it out. The recent measures by the EU to try to address the situation are lacklustre and evidently temporary. I don’t know, maybe they think the problem will go away.
But will it? Why hasn’t it ended of itself in the last 20 years? It won’t go away, and their policies are merely postponing the ending of a crisis whose roots they have neither the willpower nor the leadership to address.

Whichever view on migration you choose to believe, the question I’d like to address is why is this still happening. Why are so many people putting their lives in danger, for a dream that may never materialise? As I’ve written before, here and here, it’s a combination of factors, chief of which is desperation. The crippling poverty which Frantz Fanon wrote about in his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, and which Walter Rodney described in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, is real. And it has had far-reaching consequences, some of which may not be that easy for westerners to accept. The immigrant crisis in the mediterranean is merely one visible manifestation of such consequences. And it’s come to the fore because the far-right anti-immigrant agenda at play especially here in Britain is being challenged in the face of so many deaths.

somefactorsdriving-migrationBut how did this whole picture emerge? What happened? Well, the roots of such dysfunction (at least the last 200 years) can probably best be summarised by the following:

Most African countries became independent after long periods of oppression in which a considerable and inestimable amount of their wealth was plundered by colonial institutions (the likes of the East India company) for the benefit of their colonial masters. After becoming independent, with no industry (so no tax base), yet huge private enterprise interests belonging to foreign nationals, they struggled to raise enough funds to finance government functions, failing to create independent institutions. The lack of money fuelled corruption and nepotism, and meant that foreigners could take advantage of the financial situation to cause divisions on tribal lines (as happened in Rwanda). It also meant that the African countries needed to borrow funds from somewhere (organisations like the IMF – which emphasized austerity and cuts over growth of the economy). So these countries borrowed, and borrowed, only for their debts to increase exponentially, to a point they could not be repaid, let alone serviced. Many were then asked to liberalise their economies, selling critical assets to foreign corporations, weakening yet again their already precarious positions. Debts were cancelled and replaced with more loans, but because the states owned very little means of generating an income, they still had to borrow money. Further, the corporations which bought state assets used international law and other schemes to shift profits out of the African countries, depriving these countries of critical foreign exchange and also avoiding paying tax. This vicious cycle continues until today in most parts of Africa, with austerity policies only serving to harm the poorest in society. And that’s even before we mention Trade / Import tariffs which have been known to damage trade.

What was needed for those African countries soon after independence was growth of industry and diversification of their economies (to grow the tax base, and create jobs). Further, they needed value addition (enabling raw materials to be processed before export – thereby attracting more competitive prices), an end to illicit financial outflows, investment in infrastructure, and the creation of entrepreneur friendly environments where innovators could thrive. It would be easier to establish everything else once these cornerstones were in place.
Most dictators who took over from the colonialists didn’t achieve this, so they too are partly to blame, for their shortsightedness as much as the societal divisions many created during their reigns. Similarly, those leaders who came after the dictators but did little in the way of rectifying these challenges must also shoulder some blame.

I await the day a European/ World leader will be born who will come clean on these issues. Someone who will decide to do the right thing and truly remove the impediments to growth choking African economies. If that doesn’t happen sooner than later, please feel free to return to this blog (or its future successor in some archive somewhere) in 2030, or 2050, or 2070, to read this article again.