/ 11 June 2015

No hiding from xenophobia issue at AU summit

Self-confidence: In spite of the very tough challenges they continually face
Self-confidence: In spite of the very tough challenges they continually face

Jean Mfasoni, Secretary-General of the African Union (AU) Commission, said at a press conference that the issue of xenophobia could arise anywhere in Africa.

He insisted that xenophobia was not on the summit agenda “because of recent developments here”, a reference to the outburst of violence against African and other foreign nationals in South Africa two months ago.

But Mfasoni was clearly being diplomatic as other officials of the AU and its member states have made it clear that the xenophobia in South Africa caused serious outrage across the continent and was clearly the reason it was on the summit agenda.

Liesl Louw, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said at a briefing on Tuesday that she had just spent a few weeks at the AU Commission in Addis Ababa and that South Africans didn’t realise how negatively other Africans had responded to the violence.

The ISS Peace and Security Council Report said that the AU’s Peace and Security Council had held a debate on the xenophobic violence in South Africa on April 30, following a statement from the AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma condemning the violence.

The ISS said the AU summit would provide an opportunity for the South African government to explain its position and explain what steps it was taken to prevent similar violence recurring.

“It’s impossible for them not to discuss xenophobia,” the ISS quoted a high-ranking AU diplomat in Addis Ababa as saying.

Mfasoni said the summit would discuss best practices for all AU member countries to deal with foreign migrants. “We have a definite AU position that all brothers from Africa are welcome.”

It would also discuss the flood of African and other migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to reach Europe.

Louw had said at the ISS briefing that about 2 000 would-be migrants had already died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean. These deaths had jolted the European Union into new measures to tackle the problem. But so far the AU had not yet formulated a continent-wide policy for dealing with it.

A South African official insisted that xenophobia should be discussed at the summit within the context of immigration more generally and that the debate should also address the reasons why other Africans fled their own countries to South Africa.

“This is a problem of the poor attacking the poor and it can take many forms,” he said, noting that in other African countries it manifested itself in other ways, such as inter-communal violence.

He said xenophobia and migration should be tackled in three areas – the countries of origin of migrants, the countries of transition and the countries of destination. All three had to bear some responsibility for the problem. – Peter Fabricius, ANA