If we judge the rectitude of policies by their outcomes and not by how well-intended they were, there is no doubt that the ZANU-PF’s command-and-control policies ruined that beautiful country. Context, then, within which to appraise the decision by the ruling All Progressives Congress in Nigeria that the solution to the constant attacks on Nigerians in South Africa is to nationalise South African businesses in Nigeria?


As an economy grows, especially when the growth spurt is both intense and drawn out, structural changes happen to it. Its consumption patterns change — an increasingly wealthy workforce is now able to afford more expensive “white goods-type” purchases. Depending on how open the economy is, investments in buildings and machinery occur, which are designed to supply these new demands. Otherwise, the import bill for these fancy purchases simply go up. In terms of its external relations, the new challenge before such an economy is often depicted in terms of maintaining competitiveness. In other words, to keep cost increases below the point at which domestic output does not become so expensive that outsiders cannot afford them. One way out is to maintain a flexible exchange rate so that as domestic prices rise, the exchange rate adjusts.

But this is not the only change in structure that takes place as an economy gets richer. As the workforce gets richer in rapidly growing economies, workers turn their noses down at certain types of work. Again, depending on how open the economy is, the now unattractive work (and the definition of this is largely a function of the nature of the economy) is taken up by immigrants — whether legal or illegal. These changes in structure, either from new factories, new import items, or immigrant labour, in turn, drive stronger growth in such economies.

That is until it runs out of room — either because the growth model runs out of juice, or external and internal shocks (or a combination of both) upset the trend. At which point, job losses, rising prices, etc. begin to impoverish economic participants. The new negative trends impact more adversely at the famed “bottom of the pyramid”. And it is only a matter of time before the main response to the resulting pain is for “natives” to blame “non-natives” for stealing their jobs. In the U.S., this dynamic has had a slightly different nuance in its current iteration. The relative share accruing to labour from the four decades of growth leading up to the latest crisis has been the smallest on record. As unemployment, prices, and poverty rise, the description of “non-self” against which action must be taken to protect the economic rights of “native” populations includes both immigrants and domestic plutocrats (and the Chinese, too — in the U.S., at least).

…the end of apartheid there appeared to have promised far more to the people than successive governments have had the nous or the capacity to deliver. The failure of leaders there to deliver the El Dorado that the people were due if first they sought the freedoms of self-rule, only exacerbates the sense of inequality natural in dire economic circumstances.


Irrespective of how the “non-other” is defined, though, the political assignment is to take back what is “rightly” ours. Accordingly, whether you kick out immigrants, restrict their access to your economy, or impose tariffs on their exports, leaders are expected to act on behalf of sections of our economy that have been poorly served by recent economic developments.
In South Africa, this conversation has been no different. Except that the end of apartheid there appeared to have promised far more to the people than successive governments have had the nous or the capacity to deliver. The failure of leaders there to deliver the El Dorado that the people were due if first they sought the freedoms of self-rule, only exacerbates the sense of inequality natural in dire economic circumstances.

This may explain why the response of South Africans to “otherness” is consistently over the top. But as reprisal actions in Nigeria (in response to alleged killings of our nationals down south) indicated, at bottom a sense of economic inadequacy sometimes masks an exaggerated conceit of what is due to those complaining. Robert Mugabe’s death, last week, and the often-intense conversations around his legacy helped underscore this point. The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Force’s (ZANU-PF) response to its mismanagement of the Zimbabwean economy, and growing delusion by Zimbabweans whose participation in the liberation struggle was in the understanding that majority-ruled Zimbabwe would be a land flowing with milk and honey was to reinforce the “otherness” that in normal times economic downturns inspire.

That point is reached, to put it differently, as an economy deteriorates where Dmitry, invited by Lucifer to ask for anything in the world, opts to lose one eye — because the condition for his wish being granted is that his neighbour gets twice as much as he asks for.


White landowners and the farms which supported the country’s exports were the problem. And black ownership of those lands and the infrastructure on them was the answer. And so, the farms were forcefully expropriated and handed over to party hacks. If we judge the rectitude of policies by their outcomes and not by how well-intended they were, there is no doubt that the ZANU-PF’s command-and-control policies ruined that beautiful country. Context, then, within which to appraise the decision by the ruling All Progressives Congress in Nigeria that the solution to the constant attacks on Nigerians in South Africa is to nationalise South African businesses in Nigeria?

Yes. For at bottom, these policies are driven by social envy. That point is reached, to put it differently, as an economy deteriorates where Dmitry, invited by Lucifer to ask for anything in the world, opts to lose one eye — because the condition for his wish being granted is that his neighbour gets twice as much as he asks for.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.