First published in 2006 by Zed Books, in association with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and Xenophobia in Contemporary Southern Africa looks at xenophobia in Southern Africa, and what informs it. The author, a professor of anthropology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, brings his considerable knowledge and insights to bear on the subject.
Using the examples of South Africa and Botswana, Professor Francis Nyamnjoh provides an incisive look at one of the cruelest dichotomies of our time, namely, the tensions between the insiders and outsiders of globalisation. The author compares globalisation and the attendant promise of global citizenship to “a bazaar to which multitudes are invited but few rewarded.” Unlike capital which moves from country to country with the most minimal of restrictions, labour finds restrictions at almost every turn – especially if that labour is non white, and particularly if that labour is black.
African states are in a sense beleaguered. They are, as the author puts it, caught between international covenants and their citizens, who view the immigrants as a threat to their livelihoods. And this is what makes the focus on Botswana and South Africa especially fascinating. South Africa, in particular, has recently had a widely publicised period of violent exclusionism. For South Africa, one explanation lies with the after effects of history, with the Apartheid narrative of white as superior, South African as superior-inferior, and other Africans as the being the most inferior. Media scape-goating may have poured oil onto the fire but disaffected citizens lit the match and ultra-nationalists fanned the flames.
Further out, a number of African countries on the continent with collapsing economies need their nationals in “more successful and better organised sites of accumulation” to support those who remain at home. Amongst those African countries are Ghana, Senegal and Ivory Coast who in their time of prosperity encouraged similarly exclusionist practices.
African immigrants or Makwerekwere as they are labelled in the case of South Africa, often face difficult choices. For them, giving up dignity and being placed into a situation of servitude as the author illustrates with maids in South Africa and Botswana, exploitation is a tough but acceptable lot. Deportation and the loss of income – income that ironically props up the conditions that cause them to migrate – are but two of the ever present threats they live with.
And often, even those who eventually gain citizenship, often fare no better in the eyes of the citizens. They remain outsiders.
If indeed, as the author observes, “ethnic or cultural citizenship” is winning more to its cause. There needs to be a re- definition of citizenship. There is also need for an examination of the nation-state and the specificities that make it impracticable as a basis for citizenship on the continent.
As the author argues we should question the expertise of the designer and not fault the popular ideal if a dress made to fit a “Barbie-doll entertainment icon” will not fit “a full figured person rich in all the indicators of health Africans are familiar with.”