Bad Timing For ‘World Economic Forum On Africa’ Event As Host Country Is Mired In Xenophobic Violence

By  |  September 4, 2019

As the 28th World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa kicks off in Cape Town, South Africa, today, a certain dark cloud is sure to linger over the entire programme, and that dark cloud is borne of the recent surge in xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Some 28 African Heads of State are expected to join 1,000 other delegates in South Africa for this year’s event, but the African leaders that are absent and the reason for their absence is sure to linger in the air even as discussions around innovation, sustainable development, digitalization, and governance, are going to take centre stage during the three-day event.

Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, as well as President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and President Peter Mutharika of Malawi, were all supposed to be in attendance at this year’s WEF on Africa. But the trio has all pulled out from the event in a boycott that could imply their displeasure at the recent attacks perpetrated by South Africans on other African nationals living in South Africa.

As things stand, this year’s WEF on Africa tagged; “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, has indeed kicked off in South Africa, but the discussions might be overshadowed by the recent happenings on the sidelines that have given the host country a bad look.

South Africa has been hit by an outbreak of xenophobic violence in its biggest city, attracting criticism from other African nations. The latest bout of xenophobic attacks broke out in the southern suburbs on Johannesburg’s city centre on Sunday, and things have gone pretty bad.

After the attacks spread to the central business district on Monday, more than 50 mainly foreign-owned shops and business premises were raided and destroyed. Cars and properties were torched and widespread looting took place.

The timing of the attacks is such that it came just days before the beginning of the African edition of the World Economic Forum, and before next month’s state visit to South Africa by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria; a country whose nationals have been terribly hit by the outbreak of violence in South Africa.

The Nigerian government has since sent a special envoy to South Africa to convey Nigeria’s dismay at the recent happenings and ensure that the South African government is doing everything in its power to stop the violence on foreign nationals by aggrieved South Africans and safeguard the lives and properties of foreign nationals in SA.

“The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable,” the government of Nigeria said on Twitter. “Enough is enough. Nigeria will take definitive measures to ensure safety and protection of her citizens.”

The latest breakout of violence comes in the wake of sporadic outbreaks of attacks mainly targeting migrants from other African countries in some of South Africa’s poorest areas.  

In 2008, about 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced from their homes. In 2015, seven people died in violent attacks carried out by South Africans who blame foreigners for the crime, vices, and scarce resources/opportunities in their communities.

Regrettably, the outbreak of violence in South Africa has also led to reprisal attacks on SA businesses in other African countries, as reports have it that some South African brands in both Nigeria and Zambia have had their stores attacked and/or looted. Meanwhile, Zambia has pulled out of a friendly soccer match with South Africa slated for this weekend in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.

With all these undertones of discord and restiveness across the continent, the WEF on Africa couldn’t have come at a worse time, and couldn’t have picked a worse venue, probably. And the happenings on the sidelines look sure to put a damper over the entire event and take away from its real essence. It’s the most unfortunate of bad timings for the WEF on Africa and perhaps it’d have helped to postpone the event or move it to a different country entirely.

Already, a report has it that on Wednesday morning, The Total Shutdown: Intersectional Women’s Movement Against GBV (gender-based violence), staged a silent protest outside the venue of this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa.

Protesters gathered at the Cape Town train station where they then silently and peacefully walked to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) to continue their protest for an hour. The silence hour ended at 10 am.

The Total Shutdown protest comes following the recent headlines of violence against women and children in the country. And maybe there will be a few more protests staged in support of foreign nationals living in South Africa before the WEF on Africa draws to a close on Friday.

Featured Image Courtesy: Michele Spatari/AFP via Getty Images

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