After the painful Marikana mine tragedy, we are back with other appalling scenes of innocent Africans being killed and executed in South Africa, more than two decades after the end of the apartheid regime.
However, what is so special about this latest wave of disturbing random acts of violence in South Africa is the timing. Indeed, with the killing of innocent Africans in one of the most advanced and strongest democracies in the continent, the war against innocent African men has gone global. There is no more refuge and sanctuary for young African men, despite decades-long political debates and calls for racial equality at the global level by UN institutions and despite the push for economic integration under the banner of the African Union.
Innocent young African men have been executed in the United States of America almost as frequently as there have been a bystander willing to use its video or cell phone to immortalize the growing wave of these tragic and heartbreaking crimes. And, as if the United States was already exporting the common and increasingly recurrent practice of white policemen shooting innocent African men, a nine-minute cell phone video that recorded white policemen shooting three innocent African teenagers playing in front of their houses in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, went viral about two month ago. One of the three teenagers, Alan de Souza Lima, 15 years old, died on the site with the cell phone that recorded the incident in his hands.
The video provided evidence to refute the often bogus account put forward by the police establishment. Interestingly, as a mirror image of excuses from their US counterparts, these white Brazilian policemen most likely rehashed this old tune: ‘we acted in self-defence when attacked by a gang of Africans armed to the teeth’. The recorded video clearly showed that none of the teenagers had a gun and there was neither confrontation nor resistance on their part when approached by the police. As a result, one of the three boys who was seriously wounded and handcuffed in his hospital bed was later released.
Brazilians of African descent account for more than 53 percent of the total population, but are just as marginalized and subject to recurrent white police violence as are young African Americans, a constituency referred to for centuries as a minority in the United States. Somehow, young African men are neither safe in a country where they are a minority, nor in one where they are a majority. In both cases they are consistently victims of violence and executions perpetrated by the white police establishment, which enjoys full immunity by virtue of both its racial identity and the institutionalized system of undemocratic representation.
Although African Brazilians (Afro-Brazilians) represent over 53 percent of the total population, the current government is over 97 percent white. President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet of 39 ministers is entirely white except one, the head of the Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality, who visibly has a lot of work to do. Likewise, US cities which are overwhelmingly populated by Africans are largely controlled by white police as we saw last year in Ferguson, Missouri. Furthermore, African-Americans constitute more than 44 percent of the US population festering behind bars, even though they account for less than 15 percent of US population.
In South Africa, an African country where European settlers and Asians have been coexisting under the rainbow nation emblem, Africans are being killed under the pretext that they are foreigners. Yes, Africans are more foreign in South Africa than Europeans and Asians. What an irony! Especially when we know how much the rest of the continent invested in the struggle against apartheid. Some of the greatest and exceptional leaders who fought against apartheid like President Olusegun Obasanjo are certainly wondering about the unexpected returns of years of collective sacrifices. What a short memory and valuation of history in a continent which should have known better, especially with such a tragic history of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid.
These latest incidents perpetrated against innocent Africans seeking better economic opportunities in their motherland clearly suggest that young Africans may not even be safe under a post-apartheid system of democratic representation. It is therefore not surprising that thousands of Africans are risking their lives almost on a daily basis in the merciless Mediterranean Sea as part of the massive exodus to escape poverty and death. Visibly, when pushed to choose between dying at home or in a turbulent sea, many Africans are opting for the latter.
Among the thousands of young Africans who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea for the fantasized and romanticized European safe haven over the last few years, several hundreds have perished. The most recent statistics are frightening: during the first four months of this year, the death toll for these migrants exceeded 1800, including at least 700 people who drowned near the Libyan coast last month. Despite the rising toll, more young Africans are lining up to risk their lives in search for a hypothetical safe haven destination in Europe, somehow even though the lingering effects of the Great recession and inherent fiscal crisis afflicting Southern Europe have set unemployment rates on a rising path, with Great Depression era rates attained in countries such as Greece and Portugal.
The scale and magnitude of the tragedy was such that European leaders called an emergency meeting last April. Key policy recommendations emerging from that meeting included tripling the EU budget for search-and-rescue operations and cracking down on traffickers. While these steps look more like repression than humanitarian response, they are corrective actions nonetheless. Committed and reflective Africans are still waiting for “African leaders”, whose children and citizens have perished, to call their own emergency meeting. Of course, knowing the level of lethargy and the prevailing culture of benign neglect that characterizes the continent’s leadership, it may never happen. “African leaders” are much more likely to gather in Paris to mourn the death of a handful of French citizens than to come together for an emergency meeting following the death of hundreds of Africans. African children are dying and leaders from other continents are more reactive than Africans.
The African Union, which should have led the charge to halt the war against innocent African men all over the world, has put out “Agenda 2063” for the continent. Of course, most Africans in leadership positions today will be long gone when progress towards that vision is assessed about five decades from now. Hence, it is fair to assume that the proposed vision is first and foremost for future generations, for the growing wave of young Africans, half of whom are young men who are either dying in droves or being killed because they look African in the Americas, or because they are seen as foreigners in South Africa, or as foreigners throughout the continent where they have been abandoned by their leaders and have had to risk their lives in search for opportunities in Europe and elsewhere.
Despite the latest wave of fratricidal tragedy driven by xenophobia the African Union went ahead and held its Summit in South Africa as planned last month. Yet in light of recent developments, the right thing to do would have been to move the location of the summit to another country. However, since self-accountability and reflective leadership are not always commensurate with self-actualization and self-aggrandizement, Africans with greater aspirations for their continent should not have expected such forward-looking decisions to be taken under the current leadership. At least one would hope that the current leaders observed a minute of silence to the memory of a growing wave of innocent young African men who will not be there to see the vision of Africa that they are projecting for 2063 during their deliberations.
The war against innocent young African men has indeed gone global, and the first and foremost challenge facing young Africans today is to find a peaceful refuge where they can engage in productive and creative endeavours under the protection of benevolent leaders. The non-humanitarian and repressive stand taken by European leaders suggest that protecting their borders is indeed more important than saving the lives of hard-working Africans in search of opportunities they have not been offered in their home countries. These young Africans are risking their lives to be part of a production stream. Among those who have successfully completed their exodus some are taking care of the growing wave of elderly population in nursing homes in Europe and America, providing them with the comfort needed in the last days of their life.
In the face of either irresponsible and non-humanitarian responses of political leaderships on both sides of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, commercial ships have taken the lead to rescue the potential victims of ongoing Mediterranean “excursions”, even though they are not properly equipped for such missions. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, some 1000 of these ships have been involved in the rescue of 40,000 distressed people from small boats which cannot float permanently on the merciless waters of the Mediterranean Sea as suggested by the non-humanitarian response from the European Union.
In the absence of global humanistic society where the life of every single citizen is equally valued, irrespective of race and origin, the solution to this African humanitarian crisis is for African leaders to step up and learn from other regions of the world. Decades ago, European leaders came together to create a European space where no European would be considered a foreigner—the European Union. Since then the immigration debate, which has been the working capital of right-wing parties in countries such as France and the United Kingdom, has become an antagonistic one of Europeans versus non-Europeans for Europeans versus immigrants.
If Europeans of European descent can no longer be foreigners in Europe, then there is no reason why Africans of African descent should be foreigners anywhere in Africa, especially given the artificial nature of geographical boundaries produced by the Berlin Conference. Communities horizontally integrated along linguistic and cultural lines were divided by an artificial creation of vertical nation states, with linguistically and culturally homogeneous communities residing on different sides of vertical lines separating contiguous nation states after that conference. Hence, the sustainable solution to the ongoing war against young African men initiated during slavery several centuries ago lies in Africa. It is one of committed and reflective leadership.
Africans enjoyed such a leadership in the past. The first generation of African leaders had a continental and global vision of African aspirations. More than protecting those residing within the confines of the little territory allotted to them after the Berlin Conference, they cared for the well-being of Africans continent-wide (as illustrated by the continental push against colonialism and apartheid) and globally. A review of US archives is very instructive on the latter. Correspondence between Presidents Kwame Nkrumah and John F. Kennedy showed how the former consistently called on the latter to protect the lives of Africans who were victims of random executions and lynching. Such consistent pressure from an enlightened African leader may have accelerated progress towards the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965.
Almost surely the leadership exercised by President Nkrumah decades ago shows that the solution to the global war currently waged against innocent African men in the Americas, Europe and even Africa lies in Africa. It involves creating conditions for the emergence of reflective and accountable leaders—leaders who are fully immersed in African history and more concerned about the wellbeing of future generations than theirs and who are prepared to sacrifice their life for future generations. In essence, the Kwame Nkrumahs and Martin Luther King Jrs. of tomorrow. The selfless commitment and accountability of these exceptional leaders towards future generations at the national level gave them the moral authority and credibility to effectively lead the push for global accountability. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ I may add, what are you doing for future generations?
Dr. Hippolyte Fofack is a fellow of the African Academic of Sciences.