The short answer is ‘Yes’.
Grand corruption robs the poorest in society by denying them a livelihood, education and the most basic infrastructure. For people with no safety nets, grinding poverty in the midst of conspicuous consumption creates explosive resentment that must be vented regularly to maintain a stable environment for leaders to continue to abuse public resources. This is where Xenophobia comes in. Channeling the rage of the ignorant and dispossessed on minority scapegoats within the reach of the short arms of a lynch mob diverts anger from the rulers.
For a season.
For the long answer, here’s an excerpt from the ninth of Ten Commandments of Nigerian Politics, a satirical manual for wannabe politicians:
Dropping the Ethnic Firebomb
So what do you do if … newspapers and prosecutors begin to make too much noise about missing budgets and things like that.
What you must not do is to go and start burning ministry buildings and newspaper houses. That is so old-fashioned. Remember we are no more in the 1980s. Just call some of those boys at your gate. Give them money for petrol and send them at night to burn five Igbo houses in Kano… or Hausa houses in Ibadan… or Efik houses in Tudun Wada, it doesn’t really matter. But you must be very careful there: not more than five. You don’t want to cause another civil war. You just want to start a riot.
Because that is how some people miscalculated and started the Biafran War.
By the next morning those five houses will escalate to 400 houses. In one week there will be maybe, 200 dead and 25,000 displaced people. By this time, you can be sure that nobody will be talking about the money you embezzled for another six months. In fact when the journalists come to you next time it won’t be to ask you embarrassing questions, it will be to beg you to use your influence to do something to calm the hot-headed youths of your state.
So there you have it. Our modern crop of rulers did not invent Xenophobia. It is an ancient human vice but it comes with modern benefits. The same communities with age-old customs of hospitality to strangers can, with a little help from the unscrupulous, become a rabid mob.
Unless our common humanity wins out, as it must.