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08.04.2004 Feature Article

Treating Our Neighbors with Dignity and Respect

Treating Our Neighbors with Dignity and Respect
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The aftermath of the recent disturbances in Equatorial Guinea (the suspected attempted coup d'etat) have once again brought to the fore the worse in Africans in our treatment of our neighbors in times of crisis or difficulties. In the days and weeks after a plane-load of mercenaries were stopped in Zimbabwe on their way to participate in a move to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, the security forces in that country took out their anger on citizens of neighboring African countries resident in that country. Many of these foreign migrant workers have lived in Equatorial Guinea for many years. Some of these had no legal resident documents but the government had not complained and had used their labor and services for so many years.

The officially-identified coup planners were Equatorial Guinean citizens, some from their own security forces who were waiting for the back-up that was abhorted in Zimbabwe after they were arrested at Harare airport. But the government response was a brutal wholesale arrest, detention and maltreatment of majority of foreign migrant workers. The fact that foreign mercenaries were reported to be heading for Equatorial Guinea to participate in the alleged coup made every foreigner in that country an enemy and security risks.

Reports from Malabo, the capital speak of despicable behavior of Equatorian security personnel raiding the homes, workplaces including cocoa and coffee farms to arrest any foreign migrant worker they could find. Many were brutally assaulted, robbed and detained. Within days, all migrant workers became “endangered species” in Equatorial Guinea. Citizens were given an unannounced tacit approval to brutalize foreigners, especially the poor menial migrant workers, with impunity.

The situation became so dangerous that some neighboring West African countries especially Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Ghana had to embark on massive sea and airlift of their citizens in Equatorial Guinea who wanted to leave. To make matters worse and to prevent some of these endangered foreign migrant workers from leaving, the government refused to allow two Ghanaian Naval vessels sent to evacuate Ghanaian citizens from docking at the port in Malabo. In the process, many of the foreigners could not leave. Reports say that some are still hiding in the bush, too frightened to come into the open for fear of arrest, torture or death at the hands of security forces and enraged Equatorial Guinean citizens. The Equatorial Guinean government seems to have quickly forgotten the fact that it was the vigilance of fellow African countries notably South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria that tipped off the plans for the coup attempt.

There have been too many of these incidents of mistreatment of “foreigners” (usually fellow Africans from neighboring countries), in times of crisis that call for immediate attention at the highest governmental levels. A few examples here will illustrate this point: In 1970, Ghana kicked out millions of foreigners out of that country during an economy-restructuring exercise. Dubbed as an “Aliens Compliance Order”, that insensitive move affected millions of West African nationals majority of them Nigerians, Ivorians, Togolese and Burkinabes, some of whom had been born in Ghana or had lived there for years.

In 1983 and again in 1986, Nigeria undertook similar exercises of expelling millions of foreign nationals, targeting mainly Ghanaians, Chadians, Beninois and Cameroonians. Since the instability in Ivory Coast began about four years ago, many “foreigners”, mainly Liberians, Ghanaians and Burkinabes have been the target of government and citizens' rage in the Ivory Coast. The human disasters and untold suffering that these exercises have brought about in the West African sub-region are too nasty and painful to recount.

Publicly and on the political front, African leaders talk about cooperation, brotherhood and the promotion of free trade and free movement of people. That is what the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocols, signed way back in 1975, were supposed to promote and enhance. But whenever any African nation experiences difficulties either on the political, social or economic front, its first reaction is to take out the frustration on “foreign” nationals, their neighboring Africans who have lived and toiled for years to help build their host countries.

These practices need to stop. Regional cooperation, integration and development will not work in Africa if we always take out our frustrations on our guests residents who have lived peacefully amongst us for years. We need to take a serious and honest look at our own internal policies, inequalities and the corruption that breed instability in our countries. Always looking for softer, weaker targets and blaming “foreigners” for our failures and troubles will not solve our problems even in the short term. In the medium and long terms, this practice will weaken and destabilize the continent as other countries embark on retaliatory moves. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.