When will African lives matter?

Being an African and black in the world, past or present, means you are expendable. You are just a simple statistic that can be manipulated. The African life doesn't really matter to the World or does it?

Twenty-six years ago, more than a million people were killed in Rwanda at the hands of their fellow Africans. The killers were armed with Chinese machetes, Russian Kalashnikovs, supported by French Gazelle helicopters and a French-trained and equipped military. They were financed by French taxpayers, urged on by British and American indifference and their power in the Security Council.

 

The United Nations gave the estimate of those killed to be eight hundred-odd thousand, no! They could not be a million. It would look bad on the reputation of the United Nations and the members of the Security Council. To the rest of the World, only eight hundred thousand people were killed, this is an estimate by the United Nations twenty-six years ago and that is how it must remain. Never mind, the numbers and names given by survivors, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, relatives, neighbours and even their killers, the African has no name, but a number. 

 

This statistic twenty-six years ago was out of an estimate by so-called “experts”, there were no census of the survivors or victims, and no, they won't take the Rwanda government census because the African is a liar and not bright enough to count accurately like a Belgian or French expert.

 

The genocide against the Tutsi should not get to a million, it will make the white man look bad, and they need to be kept to a few Africans killed by other Africans by machetes. Never mind that grenades, machine guns and tanks mowed down most. It has to look crude and africanised. As the world wakes up to #BlackLivesMatter, the biggest question is when will African lives matter?

Being black and an African is double jeopardy in a world where racism has been a norm for centuries; the African carries the sins and legacies of colonial masters, the good, the bad and the ugly. They also carry the burden of their ancestor’s actions whose reasons for collaborations they will never know and, of course the sins of their leaders, who keep their kith and kin in squalor, singing about freedom in depravity.

In distant lands, it does not matter how educated and articulate you are. You are an African, you conjure up an image of a person from both the tropical rainforest and the savannah, you speak with gorillas and hunt antelopes for dinner! Our life is seen in a foreign lens of dehumanising prejudice, our history written in foreign languages, we aren’t equal in the harbour or high seas, highlands or high grail!

While being black makes one an object of discrimination and racism; the experience of being an African, who speaks with an accent, perhaps less schooled in western or European mannerism, with a different taste in foods, sports and forms of entertainment does amplify the racism beyond just colour.

As Africans, we experience discrimination and racism, because of the colour of our skin, the texture of our hair, the sound of our speech, and our choice of clothing and social concepts. If I am late for an appointment, it doesn’t matter what has happened, it is African time, if on the other hand I keep time, then I have been civilised.

In the words of a fellow African professional Thandie Mwape: “I did not understand why I needed to fight to be at the table, and fight while at the table?” Well many of us have grown used to it, we fight to be at the table, then fight while at the table and fight when you are off the table, if you are lucky not to be pushed off it.

It does not matter how bright or intelligent you are, you are still African. This means your advancement in your career does not depend on how smart you are, how hard you work and your personality. It is subject to the whims of your white master and if on the other hand there is no white master, there will be a black one too, who has a brown or white master themselves.

Therefore, we are not just discriminated against by those who do not look like us, but those who look like us also discriminate against us. The difference is that the former is based on the colour of our skin and the other on some mundane and often stupid reasons. If you rise and you have an African boss like you, you will be investigated for corruption, nepotism and fraud.  

We fear speaking out, because unlike our white or brown brothers if we do, ours will have a label, it will be incitement, disrespectful and God knows what else. We fear speaking out because it may mean we are “blacklisted” it may mean that we will never find a decent job anywhere else.

We fear speaking out because when you do, you are an ungrateful radical African who does not deserve a decent job, then your children will add on unto the number of many African children without an education or having wasted time in a meaningless exercise called education.

We fear speaking out because even though no police officer will kneel on our necks, we may be fired at a whim and not be able to put food on the table and become an object of charity. We fear speaking out, because when we do, we trample on so many interests and our humanity ceases to matter!

Our lives, black or whatever colour as Africans, have only mattered to our mothers, in our homes and villages and never beyond and not for a long time. We have been dehumanised in the sanctuary, schools, and workplaces, in conferences, hotels and restaurants, on trains, trams and buses.

Black we are called, just a single colour, even wood is better than we are; there is mahogany, tic and ebony, so are we. As I realised from a black Indian who thought they were superior because of the texture of my hair, even though they were darker-skinned than I was, being African was worse than being simply black.

Unfortunately, many stereotypes now have been made exclusively African and that too affects Africans individually and collectively. Dictators are African, never mind that the word existed before Africans began voting. The Hitlers’ Mussolini, Franco, Chaucescou, Salazar and Stalin of this world and many others who would even now if given a chance, follow in their footsteps are neither black or Africans. Africans stand at the intersection of racism, poverty and a world seeming built for their Exploitation. When there is no excitement about emerging activism among Africans, that is because colour is but one small part of the intersectionality that makes our very existence precarious beyond imagination. 

We live in a world that has damaged us spiritually because we ask ourselves, can the people of God really do this, yet they do! We live emotionally damaged lives, because we are constantly emotionally abused and we have no recourse! We live and walk with social inferiority because the world has portrayed our way of life as inferior, we dehumanise ourselves…Because we have been treated as less human!

We meekly accept injustice “we can take it….We are resilient……we are Africans!” If Africans have been cruel to Africans, treated their own with disdain and brutality, which is because the world has made us the brutes of us. When the only thing you know is dehumanising treatment, your concept of human value is unfortunately, clouded by the world you live in. When Africans treat others inhumanely, they are not born that way, they are cultivated in our world that takes away their humanity.

We face racism from Asians with darker skins than our own, we face racism from Arabs and North Africans on the account of kinky hair. All black and Brown, some of them darker skinned than some Indigenous Africans.

Oh, yes #BlackLivesMatter, but when it comes to issues of race, #WhenWillAfricanLivesMatter? Africans do not seem to be considered as part of the black race, because even when we speak of diversity and inclusion, we rarely feature in those conversations.

I have experienced racism throughout my life, as a young lad, I went to an Indian (Sikh) school in Kenya. Indian kids were taught Music, not the Africans. When more Africans came to the primary school, Indian teachers and Indian children moved to Exclusively Indian schools.

If you wanted to be in what they called community schools, you had to learn Gujarati, worse still, fees were set to more than Africans could Afford and Indians studied free of charge sponsored by their religious communities.

When I went to high school, I went to a school which still had a plaque; “This school was built for her majesty’s Indian Subjects in 1904.” At the time of joining, the majority of the students there were fifth-generation “Kenyan Asians,” very few Indians in my time attended tertiary education with African, except when they were exceptionally poor or considered rogue Asians.

At work, most of the tourism businesses, the industry where I began work, were either European or Asian owned. Very few Africans became cashiers, some were accountants, but a Finance manager had to be an Indian or in the worst-case scenario, a brown-skinned African of Arab Descent. Very few African, no matter how educated they were, would-be managers; when I once asked why I was told, Africans were dishonest and I was fermenting discord.

I left before I was fired, I thought a Jewish owned firm would be better given their commitment to social justice. The difference, they paid Africans well, but less than the Indians and white Jews, but treated Africans with disdain as did others in other places.

More than two decades later, I saw the same reel of a nightmare unfurl before my very own eyes. A white lady (Not so Young) refused to be line managed by me, even though she had not met me, when she later found out that she was operationally responsible to me, she refused to report to me and fomented discord between myself and colleagues.

In this, she found support and sympathy even with my own line manager. Thank God for human resources management systems made for all, hearings and investigation found me without a blemish. She later said to a white colleague that she could not bear being in a line managed by an African.

Despite all this, she worked in an organisation and in the same team until she left on her own will supported by my own line manager. Nobody bothered to follow up on the false allegations she had made against me, no one bothered with what I must have felt after, I was to simply accept it and carry on. 

As an African, I see a glass ceiling in both the corporate and the international development world; I can only rise so far, unless it is my own business. Even then, I would need many non-Africans to prove that my business is well run. As far as building an illustrious career no matter my level of education, skills and intelligence, there is an opaque ceiling. It’s not my education, my skills, experience and my abilities that matter, if I am considered for any role, it’s because my master approves me for other reasons than my abilities.

Has our struggle and our oppression been invisible or have we been invisible? Many would argue that there have been campaigns and protest movements about debt and political prisoners in the past! The question is was this really for the Africans or for those who were looking for a hatch to escape their guilty conscience.

Despite the campaigns of the late 20th century and in the new millennium, the silence that has met the plight of the African is deafening. There is no greater violence against the oppressed, than the silence of the well-meaning, who chose silence over action. The silence of the well-meaning is an excuse to do nothing and signal to evil men and women of the world we live in, that they can get away with injustice no matter how vile and evil! Silence in the face of injustice is a subscription.

#AfricanLivesMatter; colour shouldn't count so much, justice and equity should! What makes you African is not the colour of your skin, it is because you love, belong and see everyone as a brother or sister! Being African is being proud of your heritage and caring for the well-being of those in need, be it  in the bowels of the western rift valley in the African Great lakes or being proud of your birth place in remote villages in the mountains of southern Africa.

That, in my opinion, makes more sense than the colour of your skin; that, to me, more defines an African than a malnourished kid crawling under the shadow of a waiting vulture in the dust of a devastating drought!  

The writer is an Economist, Policy Analyst and Development Expert.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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