As the Black Lives Matter movement opens up a Pandora’s Box of gross injustice in the treatment of Black people across the world, we must not forget that many African countries and governments are also guilty of the crime of disregarding African lives, says New African editor Anver Versi.
In the August/September issue of New African magazine we focus on a movement which has not yet gained wide traction but which we, and many others in Africa and the diaspora, hope does so.
The movement is called African Lives Matter (ALM), inspired by Black Lives Matter (BLM), which gained a new impetus in the US following the very public execution of George Floyd by a White policeman.
Black people, especially young men in the US have been killed, beaten and sometimes tortured by law enforcement agents with impunity, it seems forever. Their lives have been considered disposable – an attitude that harks back to the era of slavery with all its horrors.
The movement began in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a trigger-happy White man who shot dead the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The acquittal of Zimmerman, one in a long line of such acquittals by what is now acknowledged as a deeply flawed and prejudiced judicial system, was the last straw for Black families.
Three Black female organisers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opel Tometi set up the hashtag Black Lives Matter to draw attention to the injustice. Several more killings of Blacks followed but now they were being monitored by BLM, who organised protests, found witnesses and used social media to spread the word.
The often graphic scenes of police and White violence on Blacks, captured on mobile phones, went viral around the world. The extrajudicial killing of Blacks could no longer be kept hidden from public view.
But old habits die hard and the callous murder of Floyd in the streets tipped the balance. The horror of what was happening to Black people finally sank home and demonstrations erupted all over the US and soon all over the world.
George Floyd became a symbol of all victims of oppression – whether this was because of their race or class. It was no longer a Black issue only or a US issue solely – soon White protesters were outnumbering Blacks in huge demonstrations around the world.
BLM symbols were to be found everywhere and sports people began to ‘take the knee’ at all major events – including such exclusively White sports like Formula 1. The only Black driver in Formula I, Lewis Hamilton, the six-time world champion, has led the charge.
The movement is still ongoing and gaining momentum even as you read these words. It has opened up a whole Pandora’s Box of gross injustice including colonialism and the treatment of Black people everywhere in the world.
We run a special section on the return of looted African icons in this issue as part of our African Lives Matter campaign.
BLM seem to have awakened the sleeping conscience in good people, of all colours, many of whom had preferred to look away and believe it was not happening before. It has led to the toppling of statues of former slave owners and traders and to major companies re-examining their own roles in the exploitation of Black people.
This is a pivotal moment, similar perhaps to the French Revolution in 1789 when the oppressed people rose up against the monarchy and set into motion the emancipation of the masses.
Our modern world flows from that movement – it made democracy in the true sense possible and it put the ordinary person at the centre of the nation.
But the autocratic impulse is still alive and kicking in many parts of the world. It pains me to admit that the worst abuses of human rights today take place in the developing world. It is here that tens of millions become refugees, millions do not have enough to eat or places to live or water to survive on. How many are killed in pointless wars and how many are thrown into dungeons never to be seen again can only be guessed at.
Many African countries and governments are also guilty of the crime of disregarding African lives. It is being reported that during the coronavirus lockdowns, more Africans have been killed by the police than the illness. Beatings are frequent. Jailing and detention without trial is rampant. Abuse of power and stealing from the public by those in leadership positions is constant. All this impacts on African lives and it must change. African lives matter and when they are wasted with impunity, we should hold the perpetrators’ feet to the fire, not look the other way.
Read articles from our African Lives Matter report
Read articles from our Return of the Icons report