Xenophobic Attacks in Zambia Threaten African Unity

Fredrick Ngugi April 22, 2016
Rwandan shopkeepers are being attacked in usually-peaceful Zambia. (Photo: chronicle.co.zw)

Over the last three days, at least 62 Rwandan-owned stores in Lusaka, Zambia, have been looted in xenophobic attacks that have rocked the country.

Most Zambians describe the recent attacks on foreigners in Lusaka as the worst xenophobic violence ever to be witnessed in the country.

The riots started on Monday, following rumours on social media that Rwandans were behind the recent ritual killings which have been going on in Lusaka since March 2016.

According to a facebook page named Zambian Police HQ Service Dept, six people have been killed since March 2016 and their body parts removed. The page further claims that rumors circulating on social media accused Rwandan business people of using the alleged body parts as charms to boost their businesses.

Reports from a Zambian Police Station indicate that at least two people have been killed in the xenophobic attacks and over 62 shops belonging to Rwandans looted. The two were burned alive with firewood in Lusaka on Monday.

Efforts to Quell Riots

Since the violence started on Monday, riot-police have been manning the capital city where so far they have arrested 250 people in connection to the attacks. BBC reports that many Rwandans have fled to neighbouring police stations to seek shelter.

Latest reports from Zambia claim that over 400 Zambian military officers have been deployed in the capital Lusaka in an effort to end the attacks. Issuing the order, Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu announced a special operational order to deploy soldiers to man different townships of Lusaka and prevent further attacks on foreigners.

Majority of Zambians have also expressed their shock and distress saying they cannot recall such hostility towards foreigners in the country.

Why Rwandans?

A report published by BBC claims that Rwandans are the largest group of immigrants in Zambia, owning shops in the heavily populated areas of Lusaka, which have been largely affected by the violence.

According to the report, there are over 6,000 Rwandan immigrants in Lusaka city, most of who came to Zambia during the 1994 genocide in their home country. Since Monday, young Zambian men have been ransacking shops owned by Rwandans.

According to Zambia’s Economic Intelligence unit, the current xenophobic attacks have largely been fueled by the increasing rate of unemployment and rising cost of living in the country.

“We maintain our forecast that high inflation and a subdued economic outlook will heighten social tensions,” the economic intelligence unit said.

The World Bank estimates the rate of youth unemployment in Zambia to be at 24.60 percent as of 2015. This has left most young Zambians frustrated.

Similar attacks in South Africa

In April 2015, at least six people (foreigners) were killed and property of unknown value destroyed in South Africa following a spate of xenophobic attacks. Residents accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes. This led to serious violence against immigrants and their businesses.

Armed with machetes, a group of young South Africans attacked African immigrants and burned down their shops, including one of the largest Nigerian dealerships in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 2008, several African immigrants were killed in another series of xenophobic attacks where most of the victims were Zimbabweans who had migrated to South Africa as a result of repression and hard economic circumstances in their home country. These attacks have continued to threaten the much-sought unity of Africa as a continent.

Last Edited by:Deidre Gantt Updated: June 19, 2018


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