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Venting anger on ‘foreigners’ is foolishness

As Greece’s economic implosion continues, a worrying trend is emerging: the growing popularity of neo-Nazi groups and attacks on immigrants.

The increasingly popular Golden Dawn party has been repeatedly implicated in racial violence, though it denies involvement. Its hostility towards African, Asian or Arab immigrants, however, is overt, as it reportedly champions slogans such as ‘clean up the stench,’ and ‘Greece for the Greeks.’ The party also reportedly pledges to expel all immigrants from Greece if it gains power, and then police Greece’s borders with armed patrols.

This is depressing but not surprising. Half of Greece’s youth are estimated to be unemployed. Poverty is endemic, and frustrations are vented on the streets every day. This happens all over the world: when you’re desperate, blame the outsider. It’s them, not us. Rabble-rousing politicians will invariably emerge to channel latent hatred for ‘foreigners.’

Such reactions may be unsurprising, but they are irredeemably stupid.

Greece’s many problems were not caused by those artisans and traders from foreign lands; they were caused squarely by pure-blooded Greek politicians and their Greek voters who inhabited economic cloud-cuckoo land for years. Greece lived beyond its means; borrowed to sustain consumption; failed to develop broad-based competitive advantage in any sector; and now can’t repay its debts. None of that was caused by foreigners, and certainly not by the poor immigrants facing the backlash.

I wish those deranged racist politicans could have their way. I wish they would come to power, throw out every immigrant, and close the borders. I wish the Greeks could then come to terms with the full implications of such a policy. I wish they could have a country only of pure-breeds, whatever that means, and reap the fruits. I wish they could see what happens when you make your fellow indigenes your only employees, your only customers, and your only entrepreneurs.

Here’s what will happen. Those jobs won’t come back to ‘real’ Greeks, because the jobs themselves will also go. Those small businesses won’t be taken over by homeboys, because a business is not a cake you take home, it requires skills and determination and perseverance. An isolationalist policy will take Greece deeper into the quagmire; reduce the quality of its labour force; degrade its competitiveness; and consign it to the world’s rubbish heap. Only this time, permanently.

I wish this could be done so that the world looks on and learns this lesson once and for all.

Here in Kenya, isolationist tendencies always bubble up from the swamps that contain tribal overlords. Certain regions are seemingly reserved for certain tribes; and certain jobs for certain communities. “Rudini Kwenu” is a common slogan. Every so often, this idiocy manifests itself as violence targeted at ‘outsiders’ who are somehow responsible for all the problems facing the ‘locals.’

It doesn’t work like that, people. Economic growth is about raising skills and productivity, not dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. Economic advancement is best driven by diversity and openness. Progress depends on open exchange of goods, services, knowledge and ideas. The world’s most primitive societies are the ones that are the most closed off. The world’s poorest nations are the ones that refuse to countenance open doors and windows for trade and skills to flow through.

If we want Kenya to take off, we have to connect it to the world, not close it down into petty little tribal kingdoms. Ignore the backward thinking of people who still want to ‘own’ rivers and lakes, instead of owning knowledge and thought products. What if only Kalenjins could own land in the Rift Valley, or only Kikuyus could run businesses in Kiambu, or only Wahindi could own factories in a certain industry?

We would all be poorer and dumber. I hope we never have to try it to see.

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