Today the Netherlands is holding general elections. Although the global economic crisis and its effect on the Dutch economy dominate these elections, some parties want to make this about Africa.
It might come as a surprise, but these general elections are the fifth in a ten year period. A time in which the Netherlands went from one of the most left-wing governments it ever had (from 2007 to 2010), to the most right-wing ever, which followed right after, and which stayed in office until April this year, a mere 555 days.
To some it might seem as the purest example of how a healthy democracy should work; when things get rough, members of a government coalition pull the plug and leave it to the people. To others it may prove that the Dutch are spoiled rich people without any real problems.
The Netherlands, a country that sells itself as being peaceful, stable, prosperous and a champion of human rights, is beginning to look like one of ‘those politically unstable African countries,’ often invoked in its media and by its politicians.
And what would The Netherlands, now that it joined the ranks of the so-called ‘Banana Republics’ be without a proper, strong leader (because that’s what banana republics have)? Well, not to worry. If Emile Roemer, leader of the Socialist Party (SP), would become prime minister, “Africa would be just fine.” This prediction comes from the notorious politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV). In a recent debate on public radio, Wilders called Roemer the “King of Africa”. And a week before that, Wilders thought that “Africa would be happy with someone like Roemer as prime minister of the Netherlands.” If you’re wondering why, according to Wilders, the leader of the Socialist Party deserves the title “King of Africa”… the answer is development aid. Basically Africa is an election proxy.
In short, the right-wing PVV wants to stop giving development aid and start breaking down trade barriers. The latter sounds noble. But don’t forget, the PVV is the same party that wants an immigration stop on people from Islamic countries, proposed taxes on Muslim women who wear a hijab, wants to ban the Koran (which has been compared by Wilders to Hitler’s Mein Kampf) and wants the Netherlands to step out of the European Union, in order to regain sovereignty, especially on immigration policy.
The PVV, a party which one in five Dutch citizens voted for during the last elections, is your average right-wing populist party that you find throughout Europe. To them, Islam is not a religion, but is a ‘totalitarian ideology’, whatever that may entail. So no wonder that the PVV and its leader don’t ‘want to help Africa.’ The Dutch are number one and the rest can go to … Africa for that matter. But not so fast.
Before this godforsaken continent blasts itself into oblivion with their numerous civil wars and what not, the PVV and its voters (and some in the Dutch media) care about some Africans–well, white South Africans, their “brothers,” or let say their distant cousins. If we’re to believe the PVV’s party program, Afrikaans–the language spoken by, but most certainly not exclusively, Afrikaners–is in danger. Grave danger. According to the PVV:
Afrikaans is closely related to the Dutch language. The language spoken in South Africa and Namibia is continuously being marginalized. The Netherlands [should] defend Afrikaans and those who speak it for example via embassies and the Taalunie. [The Taalunie is the Dutch Language Union, comprised of the three countries where Dutch is an official language.]
What the PVV, most of its supporters and probably 99 percent of the Dutch are unaware of, is that those for whom Afrikaans is their mother tongue are in most cases either Muslim, and not white. The very religion Geert Wilders and the PVV are so against. It will then probably be a surprise to them that early writings in Afrikaans are about the Islam and written in the Arabic script.
And if this is not enough, earlier this year, a member of the party, Martin Bosma, visited South Africa to offer some sort of support to the language and the people that speak it. But even the local whites found him to rightwing. Directly upon arrival, Die Afrikaanse Taalraad (the Afrikaans Language Council) made it clear that it did not want anything to do with Bosma for the mere fact that he and his party are anti-Islam. And to make matters worse, in a column in Dutch newspaper Het Parool, Bosma created the impression that he longed back to the days of apartheid when he said:
It is regrettable that the leftist Netherlands helped putting the ANC into power. Afrikaans and the Afrikaner people will most probably be destroyed. Thank you very much Ed van Thijn for your selfless idealism. [Ed van Thijn was the mayor of Amsterdam from 1983 to 1994 and a prominent member of the Dutch anti-apartheid movement.]
Populism reigned supreme in the PVV’s election campaign and their use of their white ‘innocent’ distant relatives being threatened by the swart gevaar ["black threat"], even though not mentioning it explicitly, most surely fits into their agenda. It is unlikely that the intention of trying to ‘save’ Afrikaans will have any effect on the amount of seats the party will win; their anti-Islam and Eurosceptic ideology is doing it for them.
Of course it is easy to criticize a right-wing populist political party and the use of Africa in their election rhetoric. And looking at the other parties, it turns out that the PVV is not the only one misrepresenting Africa for political gain. Across the Dutch political spectrum, a number of parties, during the campaigns have used ‘Africa’ as metaphor to either evoke a sentiment, present themselves as saviours for the doomed or simply to demonize a political opponent (and in the course also Africa). For example, in a short and snappy 140 character tweet, Jolande Sap, leader of GreenLeft, sneered at Liberal Prime Minister Rutte:
Selfishness rules with Rutte. 70% cut on development cooperation breaks with Dutch tradition of international solidarity. Fair chances for children also in Africa.
Reading through the election program of the Green Party, it is interesting that there is no mention of ‘Africa’ whatsoever. So what its leader actually means with ‘fair chances’ is not clear. Does she mean fair chances in a bubble-blowing contest? For the party to be talking about fair chances, it should start giving the ‘children of the monolithic block of blackness’ the fair chance not to be framed as hopeless and in urgent need of Dutch help.
Indeed, the Christian Union, a party which labels itself as ‘Social Christian’ knows this. In its party program we read that “[i]nternational righteousness is more than only taking care of the poor in for example Africa.” But similar to GreenLeft, the use of Africa clearly serves as a way to illustrate an image from where the party distances itself from, to be looking like the messiah of Africa.
No, the ‘real’ messiah is the Labor Party (PvdA) which, through an ‘independent’ NGO, annually organizes the ‘Africa Day’. But ‘Africa’ is one big, black scary place; it is basically one big Somalia. As the PvdA writes in its party program: “[…] Our [ship] crews are also exposed to the threats of pirates off the coast of Africa.” The coast of Somalia of course approximates roughly one percent of the continent’s total coastline.
Again, these examples will not make the difference in whoever wins or loses the elections. But it does show that the image and misrepresentation Africa is deeply rooted in Dutch society.
* Serginho Roosblad is a journalist for the Dutch World service, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, where he produces and presents the weekly news and current affairs radio show Bridges with Africa. Recently he graduated from the University of Cape Town with a degree in African Studies. He tweets as @SRoosblad.