The recent brutal murder of George Floyd, an African American in the United States of America by a police officer sparked a debate about racism against black people around the world. This gruesome act of police brutality blew the cap off racial tensions that existed as well as institutionalised racial profiling by law enforcement officials in the United States.

In order to understand the context of the development and relevance of the black lives matter movement in Africa, we need to explore certain key events in the continents history. These will enable us to unpack and understand why a continent which is so rich in minerals and natural resources finds itself within the clenches of abject poverty. The starting point for this crucial debate would be an evaluation of the role played by imperialism from the 1870’s to the 1900’s, the channelling of African wealth to its former colonizers and how ongoing conflict further worsens the condition and standard of life for Africans. 

Imperialism is defined as a policy of extending a country’s influence and power through colonisation, use of military force and other means. In 1884 a conference held in Berlin, set the wheels in motion for the legitimisation of the partition and scramble for Africa by European countries. Imperialism had worked its way into every aspect of life in Africa. African people’s social norms, political organisation and cultural way of life were all disrupted.

Africa was categorically classed as being backwards and home to a barbaric inferior race. This is the racial outlook through which the narrative of white supremacy and black inferiority became the foundation for institutional racism. This racial distinction and class hierarchy indoctrinated the black man into accepting a status of being second class citizen with no form of freedom or civil rights. No other people on earth had been systematically trained to hate themselves like black man. African culture has been white washed to the point of almost no existence. European colonies built schools that would teach western culture and religion.

Cornell West in race matters refers to Nihilism as “the lived experiences of coping with a life of horrifying meaningless, hopelessness and lovelessness”. This resonates with much of what is happening and what has happened previously to black people in Africa. The black nation was subjected to the most brutal and inhumane treatment in the form of slavery and the slave trade which became the norm in many countries that were colonised in Africa. The history of colonisation and the looting of African resources for industrial production in Europe, was built on the blood and sweat of black people. The extraction of rubber in the Congo saw many black people lose their lives and others who did not meet their daily targets for rubber either killed or their hands chopped off. Rubber was a highly valued commodity at the time and the Congo was wealthy in this respect. In the Congo the mass killings and blatant act of cruelty lead to the population decreasing to half its size. This asserts the stance of the unequal distribution of power between those who own the means of production and those who offer up their labour for a wage.

Currently there are 15 African countries that are involved in war, or experiencing post war conflict and tension.  At the helm of these wars are the rich natural resources that these poor countries hold, for example oil, timber, diamonds and gold and the presence of foreign extraction companies and their corrupt dealings with the governments of these countries. The wars in Africa, are to a greater extent blamed on tribal conflicts, but the real truth of the matter is that this is simply a tactic to divert attention from the fact that these wars are created and sustained for the main purpose of robbing people of their country’s natural resources.

The conflicts going on in Africa have led to many human rights violations.  Armed groups in Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere launched indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including killings and mass abductions which in turn leads to displacements in large numbers. Those who are tasked with protecting civilians (state security forces) from harm often respond to such violations by unleashing the same kinds of human rights violation and torture and enforced disappearances.

The leadership of many African countries rule\govern by proxy, in that their sole mandate is to ensure that the interests of the elite are looked after at the expense of the mass majority who live in abject poverty. The current infrastructure is crumbling as tenders are awarded to those who are close to politicians. The public health care systems are in shambles. Service delivery protests have become the only way in which people can have their concerns addressed.

In recent years we are seeing an increase in a few black people moving up the corporate ladder and piercing through the glass ceiling which acts as a barrier to the upward mobility of black people. However this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been smashed entirely. Most of the debates around black lives matter become diluted with some people arguing that all lives matter. The reason for the relevance in black lives matter is due to the fact that perpetrators for crimes against black people only get away with a slap on the wrist. The argument that all lives matter seeks to divert attention from the fact that black people are still very much marginalised and poverty stricken. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an illustration of the former, where we saw leaders coming together to advocate for reconciliation instead of retribution for the crimes committed against black people under the system of apartheid. We also saw how King Leopold’s bloodshed in Africa went unpunished

Recently racism has taken a more covert approach in that it is more subtle than public. Makhaya Ntini also blew the lid on the racism he experienced as a black cricket player in South Africa and rallied behind the black lives matter movement.

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If we are to truly deal with race matters we need to be aware of all factors that contribute to the perpetuation of racial supremacy and domination. Africa needs to be left alone to deal with African problems the African way, without interference from external powers. Affirmative action cannot continue to be enforced in countries where the majority of the population is made up of black people. Africa should work towards developing industries that extract and convert raw materials into final products. The late Thomas Sankara stressed the idea that Africa can be self reliant and that dependence on foreign aid instils the beggar mentality.

Complied by 

Tshepang Pitsi

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