The recent events in South Africa are not especially easy either to comprehend or to analyse. I have spent the better part of this week swaying between a cool headedness that pointed me in the direction of a seemingly objective historical analysis of South Africa’s relationship with foreigners of all kinds and under which its relation with African foreigners could thereby be analytically subsumed. And indeed, I have read at least one good analytical piece on the issue, written by a young South African academic that urges for the South African case not to be analysed into unique absurdity. The tendency to view what happens in South Africa (and South Africa’s response to it) as “special”, just as many are prone to belabour the peculiarity of “Africa”, is the product of a lazy-minded investigation that seems only to be reserved for this especially black continent and the 54 independent countries that find their existence within it.
So I spent some time considering a bold analytical perspective, an out-of-the-box narrative, but then the rage swept in. And the dreaded social media proved a highly unhelpful arena in which my anger at what was happening to my fellow Nigerians outside our borders could be assuaged. Everyone there, too, was in a foul mood.
As the stories have unfolded and a multitude of South Africans have come out to voice their own rage at the dastardly actions and beliefs of their fellow country men, my particular indignation towards the goings-on in South Africa, and what has been a relatively entrenched status-quo there for a number of years (this attitude towards African foreigners living and working in South Africa did not emerge in 2015), has dissipated into, and been carried along under, the general, lowly intense, but persistent, anger which I carry around with me at all times in my identity as “Nigerian”.
I heard a joke in a New York taxi cab a couple of months ago. The driver asked me where I was from, and upon finding out he said, “we have a joke in Pakistan: what are the four things you find everywhere?” I had little choice but to ask: “what?” “Indians, onions, Nigerians, and rats”, he replied. Shame for the onions, I guess.
There are few situations in which I find myself abroad and in which declaring myself proudly to be a Nigerian has positive repercussions. This rarely stops me, however; and I nevertheless always do, and very loudly, advertise my Nigerianess; I even have a hat just in the case I am not in a position to voice it. I am sure there are a myriad citizens from a myriad so-called “developing” nations expressing the same sentiment on some God-forsaken blog in some corner of the world at this very same time. From my visa status at the university in which I am currently engaged in a doctoral degree, to my airport transits, to my taxi rides, my “Nigerianess” has always been an apparent hindrance.
And my government has rarely ever suggested that it gave enough of a damn to lift its finger in my aid. Whereas the diplomatic missions of the United Kingdom would willingly gun down an army of men should a fair hair on the heritage-filled heads of one of their citizens be even so much as blown by an ill wind in a foreign land. Imagine the idea Nigerians may have that their government cares little for them.
And so when the Nigerian government withdrew its senior diplomats from Pretoria earlier this week, I had to read the story a number of times to establish its truth. Whatever else may be at stake in its diplomatic relations with South Africa (and I have no doubt that much is, that is the very point of high diplomacy) there is at least one way that Nigerians who are abroad can take this; and that is as a unicorn-rare public display of affection from the Nigerian government to you. If I may be so greedy as to ask for more kisses please.