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 Africa and the global  struggle for racial equality

Africa and the global struggle for racial equality


By Owei Lakemfa

NIGERIA under President Muhammadu Buhari has no known Foreign Policy. Under him, our diplomats use the constitutional provisions on Foreign Policy, as compass to navigate the seas of diplomacy. However, this is not due to a lack of knowledgeable people as demonstrated by the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, ARCAN.

This body of 250 retired ambassadors who have sailed our flags to all corners of the world, is led by Ambassador John Kayode Shinkaiye, a courageous ambassador who during the Sierra Leone Civil War, went to the rebel Revolutionary United Front, RUF, enclave to persuade them to sign the Lome Peace Agreement. Once he succeeded, he asked them to handover ten Nigerian Prisoners of War, which the rebels obliged him.

The ARCAN, obviously tired of watching from the side-lines and worried that Nigerians were almost absent in the global movement for racial equality which swept through the world in the wake of the May 25 murder of George Floyd by the American police, decided to do some reawakening of the country.

As a first step, it held a virtual conference this Monday, June 22 with the theme: “The Global Struggle for Racial Equality: Any Lessons for Nigeria’s Domestic and Foreign Policies.”

The panellists were Odein Ajumogobia, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cheikh Gadio, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senegal, Prof George Obiozor, former Ambassador of Nigeria to the USA and Israel, Prof Akin Oyebode, former Vice-Chancellor, Ekiti State University, Prof. Bukola Adesina, University of Ibadan, and I.

It was moderated by Ambassador Joe Keshi, the ARCAN second vice president who had accompanied Ambassador Shinkaiye on that dangerous mission to the RUF enclave.

In my paper for the conference, I argued that while All Lives Matter, ‘Black Lives Matter’ has been symbolically adopted for the global protests because Blacks have been at the receiving end of half a millennium of brutal attacks and savagery. This includes unprovoked military attacks, five centuries of Arab and European slavery, genocide and inhuman colonialism.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade saw 12.8 million Africans transported across the ocean. This is apart from the over two million who died during that journey of no return. In the process of slavery and colonisation, genocide in its most horrendous forms was visited on the Black people. In Namibia, German colonialists in three years from 1904, wiped out almost two thirds of the Herero and Nama peoples. This was the first genocide in modern history as it came seven years before the Armenian Genocide and four decades before the Holocust of European Jews.

No other genocide can be compared with that of the Belgians under king Leopold II against the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. The Belgians between the Colonial Berlin Conference of 1885 and 1908, massacred at least 15 million Congolese. In simple statistics, it meant that the Belgians murdered an average 655,000 Africans annually or 55,000 monthly or 1,812 Africans every day!

France was so desperate to make Algeria part of its territory that it turned that country into rivers of blood killing over two million Algerians. The statistics of the genocide in South Africa are not readily available, but decades of massacres including Sharpeville and Soweto are well documented. Today, about a quarter of a century after Apartheid, 72 percent of privately owned farmlands remain in the hands of the minority Whites.

When the British decided to take Australia, it almost wiped out the indigenous Aborigine people. As at 2016, the aborigines from being 100 percent of the Australian populace have been reduced to 3.3 percent. So, there is no way humanity can redeem itself without the Black people being redeemed.

The Black people from sitting at the peak of human knowledge and civilisation as typified by the pyramids in Egypt and the first human universities, have been pushed down the human cliff to be trampled upon and become hewers of wood and fetchers of water for the rest of humanity. Over the centuries, the Black people have been militarily conquered, despised, deprived and stripped of their humanity.

So, the on-going struggles across the  world is less of racial equality, and more of a new social order, an order that demands a new humanity. The American ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests have shown contrasting ways governments respond to mass protests.

As President, Barack Obama showed empathy. In the Eric garner protests of 2014 he said that Garner’s murder and the legal outcome was an “American problem” that “speaks to the larger issues” of trust between the state and the citizenry.

He sent an unmistakable signal to the police and other security agencies, where his government stood. He let the people know they have a receptive ear in the White House and made it known that it is the citizenry that is ‘law and order’ and not what is contained in the books.

In contrast, President Donald Trump made it known he has contempt for Black people right from his comments that Africans are from ‘shit hole’ countries and should return to Africa. During the protests, he tried to turn out the military against the protesters but even within his government and the American military, he faced opposition.

The Obama method was much more result-oriented and rewarding. But that is not a lesson the Buhari administration learnt from the protests. Rather, it prefers the brash, rather thoughtless Trumpian method. So when some youths in the North took to the streets protesting against the senseless loss of lives to bandits and terrorists and crying that Nigerian Lives Matter, the government’s reaction was to clamp down on them.

A basic lesson from the global protests is the need to address grievances and that all citizens are equal. In other words, that any claimed racial, ethnic, regional or religious superiority would ultimately lead to crises.

Another lesson is that sovereignty belongs to the people, so their interests must supersede all other interests including claims of law and order. The urgency in Nigeria today, includes ending the misuse of security agencies and reforming them.

For Africa, the basic message is that if we had accepted that All Lives Matter, we would not have witnessed the Rwandan Genocide and the ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan. Interestingly, South Africans participated in the Black Lives Matter protests; that must remind some of them that the Mozambicans, Zimbabweans and Nigerians they are attacking are Blacks and that those lives matter.

The lesson for humanity is that the rights of all, including the minorities, the economically disposed and politically disenfranchised must be respected; in other words, we need a New World Order built on social justice. The alternative would be a bloody peace.

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