Greetings to our friends and colleagues,
We are currently witnessing a global trend towards tightening borders and cracking down on immigration. We read stories of families being separated from each other by new policies, and of violent attacks directed at immigrants and refugees. At the same time areas receiving high volumes of immigrants and refugees complain of having their capacities overwhelmed, seeing outsiders as usurpers of jobs, benefits and other resources, and contributors to crime. At surface level the outlook seems bleak, but everywhere there are those convinced that we can build a world order in which it is possible not only to accommodate the movement of people, but to see it as an opportunity to enrich our collective identities and build collaborative partnerships across regions, continents and the world.
To arrive at this outlook means putting on a different lens. We need to deconstruct our understanding of national borders; knowing the history and purpose of the borders we created, and remembering our shared humanity. Also, since geographic borders are entangled with other identity categories such as class, religion and ethnicity, we must realise that how we unite and divide ourselves is not just a product of lines on a map, but the choices we make about how we handle all our differences.
In this issue we explore these dynamics in depth, with a special emphasis on Africa. “A walk through time” traces the history of movement in Africa from 3500 BC, through to the borders the continent has today. It explains some of the influences that have shaped its borders, challenges created by them, and considerations for the future of Africa. A major argument against stringent borders is that they divide people artificially. Fiona Flintan discusses the effects of this on pastoralists whose traditional rangeland cuts across the Kenya/Tanzania border. Increasing limitations imposed on their movement has serious implications for their lifestyle, social structure and the environment. This article also reminds us that the movement of people isn’t just about migrants and refugees; movement is rooted in an ancient history where all of humanity was free to move if it could negotiate a safe passage.
Many are now advocating for freedom of movement in Africa and a common African passport, seeing borders as a threat to continental unity. However, David Makwerere cautions against dismissing them entirely; he argues that although they can create division, they also serve to manage threats like human trafficking, terrorism and disease, and facilitate fair trade. Rather than doing away with them, he argues what’s needed is more effective border management.
Gershom Kabaso shifts the focus by appealing to us to look beyond borders for strength and unity. He urges us to make use of social movements, because they have the power to cut across geographic, cultural, ethnic and religious boundaries. He describes major changes that have been achieved in countries, regions and the world by people who have harnessed the transcendent power of social movements.
In the same family as social movements are cultural philosophies that can shape our perspective. An example of this, discussed by Tendaishe Tlou, is the African ethos of Ubuntu, which can be translated as “I am because you are”. He argues that it provides a common understanding which, if embraced by Africans, can form the basis of a more unified Africa. Muhammed Feyyaz describes a similar philosophy in Pakistan, known as Melmastia, which is the quality of hospitality and protection of guests. He argues that this philosophy was a vital factor in the largely peaceful integration of enormous numbers of displaced people caused by a series of crises in the region.
Although not everywhere has a special word assigned to this concept, there are people everywhere who embrace the importance of our common humanity. Bridget Walker tells us about the refugees who have attempted crossing the Mediterranean sea in the hopes of reaching Europe. Many have died in the process, and those who make it receive no warm welcomes from the authorities. But many European residents have defied prohibitions against helping the refugees and are fighting for integration and dignity.
While many of these articles seek to build an understanding of why people move and encourage greater support for migrants and refugees, we also need to understand the scapegoating of migrants. Anthony Gathambiri presents the argument that migrants are targeted because of inequalities generated by corruption and oppressive systems. He asserts that “When a Zulu, a Somalian, a Mozambican, a Zimbabwean have enough water, electricity, jobs, education and opportunities for decent living, xenophobic attacks will be a thing of the past.”
Only by placing our common humanity at the centre of the discussion, can we develop systems that support the needs of both those who move, and those they are moving in with.
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the ACTION Support Centre or the ACTION for Conflict Transformation network movement. Please send your thoughts and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we encourage discussions and debates to continue through our Facebook page