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ECOWAS Attacks Xenophobia -Says It’s Threat to Continental Peace

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As xenophobic attacks raged against foreign nationals in the Republic of South Africa, the West African Parliament today condemned such violence, terming the attacks as threat to Africa’s peace and growth. At the Fourth extraordinary session in Monrovia, the Parliament’s Speaker, Moustapha Cisse’ Lo urged African nations to condemn the acts of xenophobia, and cautioned the entire continent to distance itself from such barbarism which he warned poses serious danger on the African continent.

The Speaker Cisse’ Lo spoke at the opening of the Fourth  Extraordinary Session of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) yesterday commenced in Monrovia, the Capital of Liberia. The ECOWAS Parliament’s speaker rallied member states   and the entire continent to condemn recent xenophobic attacks in the Republic of South Africa, where foreign nationals resident in that country have been gruesomely murdered and humiliated.

“Dear participants, at the time of our session, serious events are taking place on our continent and they should be given special attention because they constitute real threats and serious obstacles to the African integration that is so dear to us, and for which we are committed,” Speaker Cisse’ Lo said.

He maintained that indeed, the continent has witnessed in South Africa for the past few weeks, a resurgence of xenophobic acts of extreme violence. “These sad images of Africa, these painful events and the tensions they engender challenge us as elected representatives of our people. We are extremely concerned and strongly indignant. On behalf of the ECOWAS Parliament, I would like to express our compassion for the victims and their families and firmly condemn these barbaric, untimely acts with disastrous humanitarian, socio-economic and diplomatic consequences. The root causes of this recurrent situation should be studied with a view to reaching a permanent solution,” Moustapha Cisse’ Lo, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament warned.

“The ECOWAS Parliament calls on the South African authorities to assume their responsibility by guaranteeing all foreign nationals in that country the right to life, physical integrity and freedom of movement. We also call on all African States and the African Union to take diligent initiatives to restore peace and security and restore calm in South Africa and all other States.”

Mr. Cisse’ Lo’s warning comes in the wake of raging xenophobic violence which has caused enormous embarrassment for the South African Government as well as sending nervous waves across the African continent.

The word xenophobia refers to fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. It has its origin from the Greek terms that underlie the word xenophobia, and that xenophobic individuals are literally “stranger fearing.” Xenophobia is also an elegant-sounding name for an aversion to persons unfamiliar, ultimately derives from two Greek terms: xenos, which can be translated as either “stranger” or “guest,” and “phobos”, which means either “fear” or “fright.”

Recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa has been met with angry response from countries across the continent. The history of xenophobia on the continent dates as far as 1994, where immigrants from elsewhere faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa. After majority rule in 1994, contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased. Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks.

In May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead; although 21 of those killed were South African citizens. The attacks were motivated by xenophobia. In 2015, another nationwide spike in xenophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.

Pew Research poll conducted in 2018 showed that 62% of South Africans viewed immigrants as a burden on society by taking jobs and social benefits and that 61% of South Africans thought that immigrants were more responsible for crime than other groups. Between 2010 and 2017 the immigrant community in South Africa increased from 2 million people to 4 million people.

Between 1984 and the end of hostilities in that country, an estimated 50,000 to 350,000 Mozambicans fled to South Africa. While never granted refugee status they were technically allowed to settle in the Bantustans or black homelands created during the apartheid system. The reality was more varied, with the homeland of Lebowa banning Mozambican settlers outright while Gazankulu welcomed the refugees with support in the form of land and equipment.

Those in Gazankulu, however, found themselves confined to the homeland and liable for deportation should they officially enter South Africa, and evidence exists that their hosts denied them access to economic resources.

Unrest and civil war likewise saw large numbers of Congolese people immigrate to South Africa, many illegally, in 1993 and 1997. Subsequent studies found indications of xenophobic attitudes towards these refugees, typified by them being denied access to the primary healthcare to which they were technically entitled.

“In the same vein, the closure of Nigerian borders with Benin for more than a month and Niger, most recently, is a hindrance to the achievement of the Community’s main objective of “creating a prosperous West African region without borders, where there is peace and harmony.

This closure of borders is a threat to the implementation of the protocol on the free movement of persons at a time when it is necessary to step up our efforts to effectively remove barriers within the Community. The harmful effects of this measure are observed on both sides. The ECOWAS Parliament calls for compliance with Community provisions and calls for the reopening of borders and a coordinated fight against smuggling in the region,” Parliament Speaker Moustapha Cisse’ Lo averred.

Meanwhile, Liberian President Goerge Manneh Weah speaking at the ECOWAS Parliament’s Fourth Extraordinary session called on parliamentarians to take what he termed as action oriented conclusion at the end of the conference.

“I hope you would reach action oriented conclusions at the end of this meeting so that our region can meet its targets,” the Liberian Head of State urged.

President Weah also lauded the ECOWAS Parliament for choosing his country for the hosting of the high level ECOWAS Meeting.

“I want to thank Speaker Moustapha Cisse’ Lo and the rest of the ECOWAS Parliament for holding this meeting in Monrovia away from its Headquarters in Abuja. This is a welcoming signal which testifies to the fact that we are making progress in the region.”

The antiquity of ECOWAS goes as far back to the pan-African movement that arose at the end of the 1950s with the decolonization process. Only, in 1972 at the initiative of the Nigerian and Togolese heads of states, did the economic integration idea reemerge. On 28th May 1975, the Treaty establishing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was signed in Lagos, Nigeria.

The treaty was revised in 1993 to establish a Community Parliament in Art. 6 and 13, along with a Court of Justice in the ECOWAS, entering into force on 22th March 2002. ECOWAS constitutes a forum for dialogue, consultation and consensus for representatives of the People of West Africa. Its competences focus particularly on fundamental rights protection, communication systems development, and harmonization of educational and public health policies, among others.

In 2016, a supplementary act was signed by thirteen out of fifteen ECOWAS Member States to extend the powers of the Community Parliament and changed its name for ECOWAS Parliament. The goal is to achieve better economic and political integration and develop democratization in the institution.

ECOWAS Parliament is composed of 115 members. Up until now, national parliaments would choose ECOWAS parliamentarians among themselves. They hold their mandate for 4 years, and can be re-elected. If one parliamentarian loses his or her seat in the national Parliament, he or she is also losing its ECOWAS Parliament seat.

A supplementary treaty was signed in December 2016, establishing direct universal suffrage for the election of the Representatives of the ECOWAS parliament. It also stipulated the obligation to have at least 30% of women representatives.

The elections are to represent as much as possible the political configuration of the State, although the procedures of elections are left to the Member States. The current legislature is elected for the period 2016-2020. Therefore, the first direct elections will be held in 2021.