By Mapwiya Muulupale
Oblivious to Sun Tzu’s advice in The Art of War exhorting warriors that the supreme art of war means subduing the enemy without firing a single shot, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ill-advisedly invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
About a week earlier, in an onstage conversation at the Munich Security Conference between Christiane Amanpour and Ukrainian President Zelensky, when asked about Ukraine’s readiness to defend itself, Zelensky had responded: “If attacked, we will not just crawl into coffins and wait to die. We will fight.”
And lo and behold, Ukrainians have not “crawled into coffins” to wait for death. Fighting like wounded lions, they are turning the invaders’ own tanks and armoured vehicles into charred coffins.
Cowering from face-to-face combat where Ukrainians are kicking ass, Russia has reverted to type. Copying and pasting Stalin’s scorched earth strategy; hospitals, schools, civilian office buildings, and even residential houses are game. As a result, neighbouring countries are now hosting Ukrainian refugees in numbers not seen since World War II.
Despite Ukraine not being an EU member, neighbouring countries hitherto not famous for being very receptive to refugees are now eligible candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize due to the care they are giving Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s indiscriminate brute force.
Now, compare this never seen before hospitality to what refugees fleeing war from Syria, Yemen, Palestine, or Somalia experienced and continue to suffer.
Yemeni refugees are literally starving to death. With the Palestine / Israeli conflict accepted as business as usual, Palestinian refugees are, at best, merely tolerated. Somalian refugees are fodder for human traffickers, and a couple of times, we have “discovered” some on our borders, packed in trucks like sardines being ferried to the market.
Why are Ukrainian refugees receiving ‘VIP’ treatment when African and Middle Eastern refugees are often viewed as nuisances?
“Is it because they are fellow Caucasians?”
Vitriol is also being directed at western media and its 24-hour coverage of the invasion when in Africa and the Middle East, wars and refugees are endemic, yet the same Western media does not publicize as much.
“Double standards!” is what I am hearing.
Now, wait a minute. Aren’t we missing something?
Europeans cannot and should not be criticized for practicing charity must begin at home. In my considered opinion, we – Africans, Arabs / Middle Easterners – should be ashamed.
Look here, African, and I suppose the Arabic language(s) and folklore have lots of fables and proverbs celebrating African and Arab kindness and hospitality to strangers. Going by the Bible for instance, Egypt is credited for providing refuge to Joseph and baby Jesus in their respective hours of need!
Yet, in 2016 Syrian refugees had to seek refuge in as faraway places as Hungary and Poland, where they weren’t very welcome. Had charity begun at home, they would have been spared from the stress.
Today, some Yemeni and Syrian refugees live off the streets in neighbouring countries in the Middle East. Some are starving despite seeking refuge in oil-rich countries! I often travel to that region and witness this sad spectacle first-hand.
Here in Africa, the plight of refugees is not any better.
We used to be different. I recall how we graciously received and lived side by side with our Mozambican brothers and sisters during their country’s liberation struggle. This, sad to say, is now a footnote in history.
What can we do?
Instead of having beef with Europeans looking after their own, we should be taking our supranational bodies to task. Anything else means we are barking up the wrong tree. If we need to vent our frustrations, we should look within.
Check this: unlike the EU, when the need arises, our regional bodies, i.e., the AU, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and a whole host of supranational bodies supposed to play the role the EU is playing vis-à-vis Ukrainian refugees, go AWOL. They leave it all to the UNHCR and go about their ‘business’ while smiling for the cameras.
You know what? The Organisation of African Unity was established on 25 May 1963. It rebranded into the AU on 26 May 2001.
Assessing the AU versus the EU, one would think the EU came first. Yet the EU was only established in 1993. We had a thirty-year head start! But while the EU can look after its own, the AU holds the gold standard in burying its head in the sand when needed most. The Rwandan genocide, the Boko haram insurgency, and the war on the Horn of Africa are just a few examples.
Therefore, if our better-organized friends, cognizant that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link collaboratively harness all their media and public relations resources to look after their own, our cries of “double standards” are a disgrace.
Listen and listen good: it was not for nothing that our ancestors coined the adage ‘the fingerless have no business prohibiting pointing and poking at stuff’. Just because we are devoid of compassion, we should not expect others to follow suit. Worse, we shouldn’t dare to fault folk who show mercy to their own.
Why do refugees from African or Arab countries trek to Europe instead of neighbouring countries? What happened to the hospitality that late Edison Matafale sang about in Yang’ana nkhope?
Do you remember who served as the angel of mercy for Syrian refugees who were not welcome in the oil-rich Gulf States? The angel of mercy for Syrian refugees was Angela Merkel. Not some oil-rich country in the Gulf.
We should be ashamed. What is wrong with us?
If we are incapable of showing the kindness and love our religions preach, we have no business insulting Caucasians when they open their doors to their own. The same applies when western media comprehensively cover the plight of refugees and other victims of war and very little of ours. It’s the role of our media and governments to talk about and resolve African conflicts.
It’s not too late to learn and change, though.
Next time there’s – God forbid – a crisis on our continent or subregions, we should pay attention, show interest, and compel our media to report day in and day out as that crisis plays out.
If we choose indifference, we shouldn’t complain when others choose compassion.
To paraphrase Plato, only the dead have seen the end of wars. If we are breathing, we must not fool ourselves that we are “vaccinated” against being a refugee one day. There is no vaccine for this.
Let’s learn to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and for Chris’s sake, stop grumbling when others elsewhere show the compassion we are incapable of even to our brothers and sisters.