The Nigerian connection in Harare


Nigerian movies have kept many Zimbabwean film lovers glued to their television screens watching their intriguing plots and blend of lovable and despicable characters playing out life’s ironies.
Such has been the success of Nigeria’s film industry that it is now called “Nollywood”: Africa’s version of the US’ hub of film-making — Hollywood.
When the films started flooding the Zimbabwean market, many locals thought their interaction with Nigerians would remain confined to television, but the present reality is that thousands of Nigerians have now settled here. Zimbabweans are very enthusiastic about movies from Nigeria, which many refer to as “African movies”.
Perhaps, the greatest irony is that at a time when locals were packing their bags and heading for the UK, Australia and New Zealand in search of better economic fortunes, Nigerians were trekking to Zimbabwe.
Sometime last year, a Harare-based Nigerian pastor and head of the Redeemed Church of God, Nick Ohizu, appeared on a television business programme where he explained this paradox.
He said while Zimbabweans who had left the country were seeking employment abroad, Nigerians settling here were creating employment.
Indisputably, a casual observation of new businesses sprouting in the heart of the Harare will show a significant number of the businesses belonging to Nigerians.
However, many Zimbabweans are skeptical of the the real nature of business being conducted by Nigerians.
A University of Zimbabwe social work student, Tembinkosi Gumbo, said the flamboyant lifestyles that most of the Nigerians were enjoying seem out of kilter with the kind of businesses they are involved in.
A lot of the Nigerian shop owners sell things such as clothing, CDs and DVDs, hair products and electrical gadgets.
“We don’t know exactly what they are up to because their businesses are too small to enable them to afford their lifestyles.It’s difficult to figure out exactly what is sustaining them,” he said, adding that the Nigerians could be involved in some unorthodox business practices such as human-trafficking.
Sally Harahwa said it did not make sense that “someone comes all the way from Nigeria to sell (hair)weaves and body lotion”.
Many accuse Nigerians of underpaying their employees. However, an analysis of the trends showed that they were not any worse than Zimbabwean employers or those of other races, like the Chinese who have also flocked to do business in Zimbabwe.
Lawrence Mapfumo of Greendale said Zimbabweans’ “natural friendliness” was their biggest undoing and accused the authorities of being more lenient with foreigners.
“We are naturally a friendly people,” he said.
“However, our level of tolerance is legendary considering that some of these foreigners engage in clandestine activities and sometimes are not made to account for their actions.”
Mapfumo insisted that it was paramount for locals to have the same opportunities to own shops in Harare, but he expressed surprise that Nigerians were easily able to set up shops.
A stroll in Harare’s central business district will show that there are many structures, mainly shop buildings, being set up and most of these reportedly belong to Nigerians.
Harare mayor, Muchadeyi Masunda recently told NewsDay that they were dismayed at the mushrooming of the structures, most of which were not approved by council, and would soon clamp down on the foreign entrepreneurs.
He, however said it would not be right to single out particular nationalities as being responsible for the disorder in the capital.
“I don’t want to sound xenophobic, but the structures are not proper for the city and we are looking into that,” Masunda said.
Writing in an online publication, Nigeriaworld, Adebisi Obafemi said Nigerians should not be painted with the same brush.
He said in some cases, some people pretended to be Nigerians to commit crimes.
“We have situations where other African nationals pose as Nigerians to perpetrate fraudulent acts. As in other countries of the world there are certainly bad elements among the Nigerian people both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora,” he said.
Nigerians constitute a fifth of Africa’s population.
Zimbabwe Indigenous Economic Empowerment Organisation president, Paddington Japajapa, accused the Nigerians of a raft of misdeeds including entering into marriages of convenience in a bid to secure residents’ permits. The government recently clamped down on almost 100 foreigners — mainly Nigerians and the Chinese — who were later deported for flouting immigration laws.
A significant number of them had reportedly entered into marriages of convenience, and were operating small businesses.
Regional Immigration officer, Evans Siziba, said the exercise was ongoing, adding that since the beginning of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, there had been an increase in the number of foreigners entering the country illegally.
Most of the foreigners reportedly came into the country on the pretext they were seeking asylum.
In the past year, over
5 000 foreigners entered the country seeking refugee status but later reportedly disappeared.