NERIMA: If not self-hate taught by centuries of colonisation, what is xenophobia?

Sunday September 8 2019

Zulu residents of the Jeppe Men Hostel scream waving batons in the Johannesburg CBD on September 3, 2019 after a wave of anti-foreigner violence.

Zulu residents of the Jeppe Men Hostel scream waving batons in the Johannesburg CBD on September 3, 2019 after South Africa's financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. PHOTO | MICHELE SPATARI | AFP 

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Driving through the beautiful valleys of Kenya’s stretch of the Great Rift Valley early one morning with a visiting Australian friend, she asked whether maize was indigenous to the country or it came with colonisation.

Interesting question. But what followed led to a whole new conversation.

She persisted: When did the British colonise Kenya?" And I remember thinking it should have been in the time frame of the scramble for Africa, so I said, "late 1800s." Then she whipped out her cell phone, and said, "I will just google it."

The British Empire established the East African Protectorate in 1895, but from 1920 this land became known as the Kenya colony.

About two months ago, I found myself in the land of a thousand beautiful hills once again: Kigali. I was attending a workshop and one of the facilitators was from Switzerland. This was her first visit to Rwanda.

During the tea break—which I was relishing because of the scrumptious cookies that my sweet tooth could not resist.


She was equally excited by the cookies, and walking over to me she said: "I remember these from my childhood. My mother would buy them for me to take to school as my break time snack.

How interesting.

She was a middle-aged woman, with a 13-year old daughter and was so excited to share the picture of the cookies in Rwanda with her daughter on WhatsApp.

Then she commented: "I wasn't expecting to find them here."

My Rwanda colleague then said that they also used to have the same cookies in school for break snack too while growing up in Rwanda.

Now, the company that makes the cookies is French, so they are imported. Yet they are common in Rwanda. Then the facilitator said, "I guess there are some good things brought by colonisation..."

What is ever good about another culture being treated as inferior to another? Who made who judge over others? And that is the complexity of Africa.

It is such a mixed bowl of forced European culture, so ingrained, that we can hardly tell the difference between what is African and what is European. We are lost.

Brainwashing systems that took decades to implement are all of a sudden expected to disappear simply because we have passed laws that says we are all equal and we believe they will suddenly save us from colonial oppression.

Amazingly, none of the intentional strategies used to colonise us were used to get rid of or unlearn oppressive colonial laws when we were building our independent nations. The few leaders who tried to do otherwise ended up dead.

It is getting more difficult for young Africans to identify with one country these days. As our regions becoming more integrated, movement around the continent is being made easier.

The African Union has been working on implementing the single passport for the continent.

The youth of today mingle much more, attend schools in neighbouring countries, intermarry across borders and live and work away from their home countries easily.

The environment forces them to. Even with all this movement and intersection of cultures, what do we teach children at home?

Kenya has since marked over 50 years of Independence, but how independent are we? There are still clear signs that we are still so "British." From our parliamentary democracy and workings, common language, and mannerisms that we associate with.

The recent xenophobic violence in South Africa is not based on fear or hate of foreigners, but hate of ourselves.

In 1962, on May 5 at the funeral service of Ronald Stokes in Los Angeles, Malcolm X gave a speech and asked: "Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin, to such extent that you bleach to get light...Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to? Who taught you to hate being what God gave you?" But this is more complex than hate.

It's a hate that is fuelled by much more complex challenges, such as economic factors, as people continue to feel frustrated by lack of basic survival needs. They will find a scapegoat, and often times, we search for differences to release that frustration.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW