Indigenous or ‘Outdigenous?’

Volume 15, Issue 3  | 
Published 05/02/2019
John Sibi-Okumu

In this regular column a teacher, writer and media personality starts from personal anecdote to present an outsider’s reflections on the experience of a different community. The views expressed are entirely his own. His website:


Before revisiting the topic for this edition, I first re-read an article on minorities which I wrote in July, 2010. I had then argued, with some fervour, that Kenyans should strive to respect the provisions of a new constitution which guaranteed minority rights. At the time, I was thinking very much of those who identified themselves as nationals but who were deemed minorities through number, through race and through religious persuasion, or lack of it, within well-defined national boundaries. The intervening years have focused international attention on minorities seeking to infiltrate such boundaries through migration, largely to the West. However, as people, many from Africa, are risking life and limb to reach supposed nirvanas of security and opportunity in countries like Italy, Germany and Denmark, a curious phenomenon is emerging: immigrants, many from countries in Asia, are heading to Africa as the continent of infinite bounty.

The more specific trigger for renewed thought on the subject came from my watching an episode of the TV programme Head to Head, with the interviewer Mehdi Hasan. I enjoy interview programmes because in my own broadcasting career I have hosted a few myself. However, on The Summit and The JSO Interview, for example, I preferred disarming charm to Hasan’s unstinting aggression. In this instance, the guest was the eminent British economist, UN adviser and bestselling author, Professor Sir Paul Collier.

As is possible these days, I was able to acquire a transcript from the web. Hasan framed the discussion in these terms: Paul Collier, we are both, you and I, the products of migration. You’re the grandson, I believe, of a German migrant, I’m the son of Indian immigrants to the UK. In your book, Exodus, you say that while immigration into developed countries, from developing countries, has had economic benefits, in many ways it’s been very good, you also say that more and more immigration into the West poses a danger to social cohesion, risks diluting our culture, our national identity, and may undermine trust, cooperation, solidarity between members of the public.  Those are pretty big claims; some would say pretty controversial claims?

Inspired by the ensuing discussion, which involved audience participation, I wish to turn the subject on its head and have the possessive adjective ‘our’ refer to those of us from so-designated developing countries who are experiencing immigration from other, ostensibly more developed ones. How are we to respond to our ‘new minorities?’

All current indications are that we should do so with fear and dread for the future. As there are those who would keep us out, ‘over there’ then, in tit-for-tat retaliation, might we do well to keep them out, ‘over here?’  Or, more humanely and magnanimously, if the world is a village, home to all its people, with freedom of movement as an unalienable right, then at least, should we in Africa seek to legislate against flagrant abuse of our hospitality, even as we allow outsiders in, with open arms?

Our incoming immigrants are not ‘processed’ and turned back if they do not qualify for entry but can land in our countries quite happily, often with permits bought from corrupt immigration departments. Our immigrants consider themselves inherently superior to everybody whom they encounter, regardless of status. Our immigrants do not view our countries as aspirational havens. On the contrary:  they repeatedly display a complete disdain for our cultures and way of life, the more racist among them going so far as to be captured on smart phones calling us animals. Our immigrants are bullying local employees to the point of insurrection. With unemployment at alarming levels, our immigrants are flooding the job market, often with unskilled labour and shoddy goods. Our immigrants are impeding our goal of becoming industrialised and tech-savvy nations. Our immigrants are taking over national assets. Our immigrants are systematically sending back our wealth in raw materials and wildlife to their countries of origin. Our immigrants seek hegemony over asylum. In a word, our immigrants, relatively few currently but ever increasing by the day, are defining our agendas rather than we defining theirs.

Yes: our immigrants are building modern roads and railways and bridges and schools and skyscrapers and apartment blocks. But at what cost? Once again, there is a rapacious scramble for Africa. Once again, Africa is at a historical crossroads. And once again leaders and citizens in Africa are called upon to stand up for themselves and to demand respect. Otherwise, it can be advanced that, despite the economic benefits, in many ways very good, more and more immigration into Africa by our new minorities poses a danger to social cohesion, risks diluting our culture, our national identities, and may undermine trust, cooperation and solidarity between members of the public on the continent.

And, therefore, perhaps we, too, need to have similar, public discussions ‘over here.’

Copyright: John Sibi-Okumu

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