The recent mid-term elections in the United States brought to light the benefits of welcoming a stranger.
The election of Ilhan Omar as the first Somali-American US congresswoman demonstrated that diversity can bring with it inclusive democracy. Her election was also a beacon of hope for globalisation at a time when the concept is being undermined by the rise of nationalism.
Sweden’s election a few months ago was a clear indication of how different countries are finding it important to “protect” their interest at the expense of regional integration and globalisation.
Though one of the most liberal nations, Sweden is now experiencing the wind of the far-right movements that is blowing faster than expected across Europe. This growth of the far right parties is founded on nationalism.
Nationalism can be defined as extreme patriotism; with it comes some negative effects. Far-right parties are mainly conservatives and uphold national values and traditions. However, they have, at times, exhibited fascism, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and racism.
The Sweden Democrats, a party that is founded on Swedish fascism, is both anti-European Union and anti-immigrants.
The party’s popularity has been rising steadily: In the 2010 election, it garnered 5.4 per cent of votes; 12.9 per cent in 2014; and 17.6 per cent in 2018.
The growth of such a party in a liberal country that is described as a “refugee-friendly nation” and which, at one point in 2015, absorbed more than 163,000 immigrants is scary in the face of human conflict.
Sweden joins a long list of nations such as Italy, Austria, France and the Netherlands where the far-right parties are gaining popularity.
European unity is at risk while asylum seekers and other forced migrants are likely not to be welcomed.
Other countries, such as the US and the United Kingdom, have in the recent past aligned their policies towards nationalism with “Brexit” from the EU by Britain and the Trump administration’s strange foreign and aid policies.
Closer home, there has been a silent but evident “split” of the African continent into sub-Saharan and northern Africa. Northern Africa, mostly Arab-dominated, has aligned itself to the Middle East in what is referred to as Middle East and Northern Africa (Mena).
The East African Community has also been affected. Tanzania, for example, feels that integration will force it to open up its borders to “strangers” who are only after its resources and land, especially considering that it has the largest land mass compared with the other member states.
Under the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania founded its values on Ujamaa (socialism) and this has fostered a spirit of nationalism that is difficult to change.
These cases of growth and separation, division, alignment and interest protection can be viewed as the wider expression of the individualistic ideology that is also growing and the fall of once highly sought-after globalisation.
Globalisation and integration should not only be viewed from a trade and economic point. Integration should encompass all the aspects of human development — including political, social and economic. The continuous overemphasis on economic integration is not only opportunistic in nature but also destroys the values of good relations.
Extreme nationalism has similar effects as war.
World War I can be attributed to the rise of nationalism. The sense of pride that European countries had led to the argument over the ownership of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the ensuing alignment by different countries sparking war.
Secondly, toxic nationalism can lead to the rise of extreme ideologies such as Nazism, racism and Islamophobia. A good example of people who held, and led, such an ideology is Adolf Hitler.
Hitler took pride in Germany and convinced others to believe in his idea. The murderous dictator had a proclamation that stated his future was Germany, his present was Germany and his past was Germany.
Nationalism can also lead to discrimination, violation of human rights and ill treatment of fellow human beings. The continuous ill treatment of Mexicans along the US-Mexico borders and “illegal” immigrants entering Europe is as a result of nationalism.
To achieve global integration, and in the words of Pope John II, countries should realise that there is no one who is too rich not to receive or too poor not to give.
Mr Muthuri is the legal aid manager at African Prisons Project. [email protected]