Xenophobia…that word, you hear it for the first time and you mistakenly think that it must have some exotic meaning (well I did, please pardon me for thinking everybody is an olodo like me). The first time I heard that word was during the attack on foreigners in South Africa in 2015 and despite my fear for the safety and wellbeing of my people residing in the country, I remember thinking what the hell does such a fancy word have to do with such a dastardly act and I got my answer….it defines it.
Xenophobia is simply defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as the fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners or anything that is strange or foreign. If it remained just a feeling (me thinking),it won’t really be such a bad thing, but what people do as a result of that, like the violence in South Africa, can be bad. In a world system in which the order of the day are correctness, inclusion and integration; any word, action or thought which goes against these internationally recognised norms are usually termed xenophobic.
It is however ironic that slogans such as ‘America First’ and ‘Put Britain First’ which normally would be seen to be nationalist in nature has had such divisive impact not just within the countries involved but globally also and have been wrongly termed xenophobic. The reason for this isn’t far-fetched.
While the goal here is not to lecture but it is imperative to remember that the international economic system which we know and take for granted, and which was promoted by the West is one of free trade, open borders and sub regional and economic integration (eg EU, AU, ECOWAS etc). This system has produced strong countries like the G7 abi na G8 and others like Nigeria which keep struggling with the hope of climbing that elusive development ladder.The effect of this lopsided international economic system has been that the stronger countries have had to babysit the weaker ones and much like an uncle who inherits the wealth, America and the West have been much happy to take care of the orphaned child as long as he remained a good child. The system was so good to the West that there have always been an excess of jobs, albeit it menial jobs, to accommodate people from the third world and thus help maintain a big brother posture to countries of the third world as long as these countries ‘behaved’. “Xenophobia” was however the byproduct of this system.
While xenophobia and its attendant issues such as violence and racism (like was experienced in South Africa) are a real issue and should not be condoned in the international space, however this term have been wrongly used to qualify many actions and policies which have been plain nationalism in play. It seems, to me at least, that the term xenophobia have been politically adopted in international relations as a negative tag to qualify people and countries with characters and actions which did not conform to the international order of free trade, open borders and sub regional and economic integration. So even if the international order is not in the best interest of a country (as indeed it has been for Nigeria and other third world countries) it had best conform or be termed xenophobic.
And in case you missed it… “xenophobic” policies seem to have become a trend.Yeah, it has. You ask how?…Oh please look around you. From the Danish Expulsion Law to the Brexit vote to the Nexit debate (yeah… some in The Netherlands are pushing for it to follow the steps of Britain) and now the emergence of Donal Trump as America’s president-elect. You probably thought less of it as xenophobic because it takes on many forms and names that makes it acceptable, but make no mistake about it, in the context in which the term has been adopted in international relations it is XENOPHOBIA all the same and therein lies the irony in which the west finds itself today.
There was once a time when countries could easily take actions on issues which affected them without the fear of going against the international order or without being termed xenophobic. For instance the ‘Ghana must go’ and the nationalisation policies of the 80’s in Nigeria was easily prosecuted without much ado. However the World Trade Organisation (WTO) happened to international politics and many things changed. This WTO run global system which makes many nationalist policies difficult or plain impossible was massively promoted by the west because it was a necessity for the continued growth of western capitalism. What the west didnt envisage however was the growth of China,now the joke is on the West.
The different ways in which China’s growth is affecting the international global system is a discuss that i would like to leave for the International analysts however it has, in no small measure, been responsible for the xenophobically tagged Brexit policy and Trump presidency. China’s rise interrupted the international economic order. With her over 1 billion population (that’s about 1/7 of the total world population) China can take almost all the world’s capitalist businesses and still not have any left over jobs for citizens of other countries to manage. So the west now find itself at the receiving end of the international economic system it structured with jobs becoming a scarce commodity.
As the economy is the foundation on which politics is built, the economic rise of China is now having a sweeping effect on the politics of the west. it is the rise of China that created this new trend of “xenophobic” policies and choices in the west. For the bottom half of societies in the West, the jobs are either not there or not considered good enough. It seems the ruling political elite of the west along the line came to either believe or confuse the excuses which drove this WTO economic system to prominence as ideals. Hence when China’s rise began to loosen the wheels their economic drive and its citizens began to groan they still kept on like all was well. Well, While the ruling elite were living in denial and keeping up with the appearance that all was well and hoping that their citizens would take pride in the big brother act, the non-ruling elite tapped into the frustrations and fears of the citizens to push their way into power.
Make no mistake about it, the recent policy trends by the west (like those highlighted earlier) are xenophobic, at least in the context in which it has been political adopted in international politics but xenophobia becomes virulent usually only when people feel threatened; and they feel threatened when their jobs do. The irony which the west now finds itself is such that the excuses, cum ideals which it promoted have become so widely accepted and believed that its recent actions to redeem itself from economic collapse are seen as immoral. Do not get me wrong though, xenophobia and xenophibism should be condemned but it should be very well separated from political or economic nationalism which the Americans, the Britons and many European countries have decided to adopt of recent.
More simply put, the west is trying to cure itself from a “sickness” that it helped create in the first place, that is, America, Britain and other countries with what are now xenophobic policies and actions are trying to run away from the responsibility of the international economic system which they created…talk about shifting the goal post.
More intriguing to me is the fact the west itself is undecided on whether it wants to save itself or keep promoting the status quo. Even though it wants to shift the goal post it is finding it difficult to do so because the goal post have been buried too deep (lol…funny but accurate analogy).The ideals they promoted initially in the interest of their people have taken strong roots such that any attempts to undo it (again in their interest) is resisted by the same people it is meant to favour…that to me is pure dramatic irony. Simply, the west (the elite and its citizens) is divided along the lines of globalism and nationalism and the nationalist seem to be winning.
Looking critically at the case of the USA, Clinton represented the idealistic status quo while Trump represented the “immoral” reality. While many of the political class, even among Trump’s own party, whom are rarely affected negatively by the policies of government all wanted the status quo to remain the working class felt a redemption could come through a Trump presidency and if truth be told…it could, that is if Trump really has the liver, sorry I mean liver to see through all his campaign promises. Really, Trump represented a realist truth which some Americans (those protesting his election) refuse to accept or simply do not understand,and that is that America can no longer play the big brother role as it used to, it simply isn’t buoyant enough to do so, and I wonder why he should be painted bad for that. Clinton was more interested in keeping the status quo and the voters didn’t want that at their own expense. As it was for the USA so also for the UK and so this analogy becomes true: Clinton is to Scotland as England is to Trump…And there lies your line of division.
In the U.K., the U.S., and other European countries, the rebellion against globalization and integration is taking root.The U.K. voted Brexit, the U.S. elected Trump, many European countries are passing anti-immigration laws. Every where the politics of exclusion is on display but while this is going on Nigeria and the rest of Africa are caught up on the wrong side of the debate asking such silly questions as ‘what will Trump do for Africa’. Well, while they are asking silly questions the international system and its order is changing again with the west adopting policies which she (Africa) should have championed long ago but unfortunately it seems that She will be left to play catch up again…too bad.