Reprising xenophobia with consumption pattern


By Amanze Ubochi

It is no longer news that South Africans have taken xenophobic attacks on foreigners, particularly Nigerians to unprecedented and embarrassing level.

For many years now, xenophobic attack in South Africa has been elevated to a religion, with virtually all the districts in the country being used as demonstration altar.

What is worse is that the South African government has not shown the kind of commitment indicating it is not in support of this despicable pastime every reasonable person in Africa has condemned.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, to all intents and purposes, has not shown he wants to tackle xenophobia head on going by the casual platitude from him on Wednesday, September 4 in Cape Town.

He said: “We face a huge challenge. A number of people (are) taking the law into their own hands.

“Taking action against people of other countries is not right. South Africa is home for all. We are not the only country that has become home for people fleeing.”

Ramaphosa has repeatedly talked about criminals in his country and the challenge the presence of foreigners poses to the economy of South Africa.

Recently, his deputy minister of police, Bongani Mkongi, made comments that suggested tacit credence to the raging criminal act.

Rather than listen to the voice of reason Mkongi had said foreigners in South Africa have been found to dominate most of the country’s cities. He said with up to 80 percent foreigners presence in some places in South Africa, economic sabotage, jobs and home losses by indigenes, organized crimes, among others were imminent.

The recent xenophobic attacks with attendant killings and looting of property of Nigerians in South Africa have had negative reverberation back home.

On Tuesday, September 3, angry Nigerians who reacted to the treatment meted to their loved ones demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari takes immediate decisive steps to save the situation.

Their response was legion – recall Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, nationalise South African companies in Nigeria, severe diplomatic ties with the Rainbow nation, take the case of xenophobia to the African Union (AU), among other suggestions. The suggestions were from the elite.

For instance, former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu advised Buhari to call it a bluff with South Africa.

He said: “I find the incessant xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa very un-African, barbaric, and unparalleled acts of ingratitude. It is quite disturbing that the Government of South Africa has not taken decisive steps to end these attacks, which have led to wanton loss of lives and properties of fellow Africans, especially Nigerians.

“The attacks defy and desecrate everything African brotherhood stands for, especially for a country that gained freedom with the support, sweat, and sacrifice of fellow African nations among which Nigeria clearly stands out. The attacks have reached scary and desperate degrees and call for desperate actions on the part of Nigeria, other African nations, and the African Union.

“It will therefore not be out of place for the Federal Government to suspend diplomatic relations with SA until full assurance of safety of Nigerians and their properties in South Africa are secured, adequate compensation paid for the damages, and the perpetrators also brought to book.”

Also, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, among other well-meaning Nigerians, have denounced the xenophobic attacks.

Adams Oshomole, chairman of the ruling party, APC on Thursday asked Federal Government to nationalise all South African businesses in the country. He said the South African government has shown luckworm approach to the issue which implies a moment for Nigerians to boycott their good and their businesses.

Even South Africa’s Julius Malema, the opposition leader in charge of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has stoutly urged the Ramaphosa-led leadership to respect the right of all Africans to live anywhere of their choice in the continent in the spirit of brotherhood. Malema warned against South Africa’s leadership being used by the white minority to undermine the value of fellow Africans.

While Nigerian government tinkers with the best option to handle the anomaly, her highly embittered ordinary citizens want a quick fix to the situation.

Those in this category actually took to the streets on Tuesday to protest at the Shoprite premises around Jakande Estate in Lekki area of Lagos.

The protesters want Shoprite, MTN, Multi-Choice, South Africa’s SAB Miller and other concerns linked to South Africa and operating in Nigeria to quit the country.

They do not care if there are Nigerian employees working in such places or if there are Nigerian co-owners of the businesses.

Based on Tuesday protests, by Wednesday, September 4, 2019, MTN issued a statement closing all its shops in Nigeria. It did when angry mob attempted setting ablaze some of its masts and on learning that another Shoprite outfit in Abuja was at risk of attack. To save its head, Multi-Choice issued a statement condemning the xenophobic attacks.

As part of moves to check the raging anger among Nigerians who feel Buhari was not quick in acting, the Presidency recalled Nigeria’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Ambassador Kabiru Bala, thereby setting the stage for either full scale diplomatic rapprochement or war. The President Buhari envoy will be meeting with the South African President on arrival Friday September 6.

The shade of views on the treatment Nigerians are receiving in South Africa notwithstanding, the time for a deep rethink about the stake South Africa’s firms have in the Nigerian economy is now. I will explain.

Nigerians have unwittingly mortgaged their appetite for products made by South Africa’s firms like MTN, Multi-Choice, Shoprite, SAB Miller and others. How do I mean?

In Nigeria alone, MTN has more than 58 million subscribers or 35 per cent out of 232.6 million subscriber base in 21 countries. In South Africa, MTN’s parent country, it has only 31.191 subscriber base.

For MultiChoice with a total of 11 million subscriber base in Africa, Nigeria alone accounts for 4.4 million or 40 per cent of its Dstv and Gotv customers.

Because of the appetite for Dstv and Gotv, Startimes, a fully indigenous pay television was emasculated and destroyed few years ago, to pave the way for MultiChoice’s monopoly of the pay TV market. Today, Nigerians have been made to take whatever services they receive from MultiChoice no matter how awful.

MultiChoice succeeded because it collaborated with unpatriotic Nigerians. That can only happen in Nigeria.

Today, many Nigerians are insisting on reprisal against South African firms operating in Nigeria, but methinks they rather need to put on their thinking caps.

It may not just be about hurting Nigerians who are co-owners or the faces of the businesses as we are made to understand.

It only amounts to double jeopardy to have South Africans attack and kill Nigerians, destroy their homes and loot their property in their country and back home, we resort to the same mindset. No.

Let us even assume for the sake of argument that it is our brothers and sisters’ businesses we are hurting because most of the South African firms in Nigeria are operating as franchise.

Take for instance Pascal Dozie and other nominal directors in MTN and Peter Obi who is always being linked to SABMiller’s Hero Lager beer.

There is a wrong assumption that Obi owns Hero which has attracted large patronage to the product but the unassailable fact is that SABMiller fully owns the product 100 per cent.

For MTN, Dozie is but a local face the way Obi used to be a local face for Hero beer/South African Breweries in Nigeria.

It is simply ironical that the South African investors took advantage of the ignorance of Nigerians.

What then should Nigerians do?

The time for Nigerians to resort to what is globally regarded as soft power- intellectual power in dealing with issues akin to the South Africa’s xenophobic attacks is now.

We must begin now to do what I call reprisal of our consumption and appetite for South African products no matter how long we have hooked unto them.

That way, we help our indigenous firms grow and compete effectively with the so-called giant South African companies existing in Nigeria and running as franchise.

Following the hypersensitivity of the issues surrounding the lives and well-being of Nigerian citizens living in South Africa and to contribute his voice against the poor state of security regarding foreign nationals living in Africa, the Founder/Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia withdrew from further activities at the World Economic Forum Africa 2019, taking place in Cape Town, South Africa.

Like MTN, South Africa’s SAB Miller that came to Nigeria in 2012 has brewing and/or beverage interests in about 32 other African countries.

It has a majority stake in International Breweries in Ilesa, Osun State, since 2012. SAB Miller also bought Standard Breweries, Ibadan, Oyo State that produces Voltic bottle water.

SAB Miller is the owner of Pabod Breweries in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State and in Onitsha, Anambra State in 2012 it built and opened a ‘Greenfield’ brewery worth $100 million and reportedly created 180 jobs at inception.

SABMILLER (South African Breweries) and Inter-fact LLC, all based in Onitsha, Anambra State fully own and produce the Hero lager beer and the Eagle lager beer.

Today, many Nigerians are hooked to SAB Miller beverages, water and other products the way their appetite has refused to quench for MTN or MultiChoice products regardless of the quality of services they get.

What SAB Miller did in 2012 is to get a strong foothold in Nigeria as Africa’s second largest beer market since South Africa already occupies the first position as the largest beer market in the continent.

While Nigerians drink away their sorrow with the South African beverages, the investors smile to the banks.

I have earlier alluded to soft power. If therefore South Africans see Nigerians as their enemies in their country and decided to unleash their implacable urchins on them, we can decide not to finance our “enemies” any more via our consumption pattern. In fact, the reprisal Nigeria and Nigerians should crave for must not be violent, but appetite or consumption based.

The time to look inward is now, and thank goodness there are upcoming fully indigenous companies and products we can call our own, whether in the telecommunication or beverage sector, and help to nurture through patronage the way we have nurtured and patronised the South African firms with our population.

What South Africa cannot take away from Nigeria is the latter’s huge market and population that are attractive to investors. Our impressive population should not be attractive to only foreign investors, but should be an advantage to the local businesses.

In diverse ways, South Africa have reaped from that, and if their investors are keeping mute over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians they are indirectly helping to kill their own businesses and economy.

Notwithstanding how advanced the South African economy and technology may sound, the last thing the people and government can do is to look down on all African countries. Not when they consider the risk by Nigerians and other African countries not consuming their products.

What many Nigerians remember and they feel pained about the South African scenario is that this is the same country they gave everything in the days of apartheid.

Unfortunately, the South African majority, like Nigerians, are blacks and to a large extent, blacks have proven to depict so many things that question their sense of reasoning, humanity and capacity to rule themselves.

What am I saying? Today, we bemoan the fate of fellow Nigerians who are being butchered in South Africa, their businesses destroyed and wares looted.

But have we spared a thought about some of our actions back home as Nigerians which foolish South Africans were quick to grab without evaluating the negative impact of such actions?

Does our own penchant to see fellow Nigerians as either Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba or any other ethnic nationality that constitute Nigeria instead of seeing ourselves as members of one family not say something about the treatment Nigerians get in South Africa?

In Nigeria, there are those who are fond of saying Igbos own 80 percent or whatever percentage of property in a particular part of the country and should be expelled.

In the build up to the 2015 and 2019 elections, there were those who called for the expulsion of the Igbo, for instance from Lagos over fear of voting pattern. A similar call took place in the north by northern youths.

Methinks there are loads of lessons to learn from the South African xenophobic attacks because if we do nothing to stop it, with time, we will be doing the same thing to fellow Nigerians. I hate to recall the Ghana Must Go scenario.

At the heart of the monopoly the South African firms enjoy in Nigeria lies our hatred for one another because patronages in the country are often considered based on who comes from where and who from which part of the country owns what.

Therefore, as we condemn the xenophobic attacks in parts of South Africa, let it not be lost on us that such attacks can be taken to another level in Nigeria if we do not behave well.

….Ubochi, a public affairs analyst writes from Lagos Nigeria

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