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We the people, from Ferguson to Freetown

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We the people, from Ferguson to Freetown

The silence of our leaders over the plight of our African brothers and sisters in America demonstrates that we must take our destinies into our own hands, argues Joseph Ochieno.

As the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent begins this year, and the US experiences widespread protests against the violent discrimination of African-Americans, typified by the shooting of Michael Brown, there is perhaps no better time to reflect on Africa’s global diaspora.

Understandably, we usually focus on the billion of us living on the continent, but our people are all across the world. In Brazil, on the Caribbean islands, and in American cities such as Ferguson, can be found the sons and daughters of Africans who were forcibly herded over there hundreds of years ago. And in many instances, our struggles are one and the same.

Although our Luo brother Barack Obama is in the White House, for instance, one in three black men can expect to be jailed at some point in their lives, while African-Americans have higher unemployment, lower pay, and are more likely to live in poverty than white people. Even decades after the civil rights movement, black men and boys can be gunned down unarmed on American streets, with their families left to watch as their police killers are later released without charge.

These tragic and unjust events may be happening thousands of miles away, out of sight and out of mind, but they ought to strike at the heart of all Africans and our leaders. Presidents and prime ministers around the world have frequently protested at the treatment of their diasporas in other countries, yet we rarely hear our own leaders speak about the plight of Africans across the seas.

While the events of Ferguson were unfolding, Africa’s leaders remained silent on the issue as they kicked up a fuss instead about the election of Michaëlle Jean, a Canadian of African descent via Haiti, as head of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, while the only forceful ire that was seen was that of Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo scolding French President François Hollande for talking about Africa’s presidential term limits.

While thousands of African-Americans were taking to the streets to protest against the deep inequities of their treatment, the continent’s presidents and ministers were more preoccupied with protecting their own power and interests.

This is a sad fact, but one that shouldn’t come as a great surprise. After all, African land is frequently sold off to foreign investors for virtually nothing, countless deals that profit the few while impoverishing the many are signed behind closed doors, and leaders-for-life across the continent hold farcical rigged elections and do whatever they can to keep hold of power.

All this means that we cannot rely on those at the top to look out for our interests. The drive for change will have to come from Africans themselves. Our leaders must be held to account but not by the IMF and World Bank, not by foreign investors, and not by the likes of The Economist or CNN, but by African citizens at both home and abroad.

We must take ownership, uproot corruption, invest in education and health, build infrastructure, research and innovate, create jobs, reclaim the land, and persuade Africans all across the world to cease being slaves. All this is possible. After all, the future is African and until we the people are truly able to determine our own destinies, and as long as we suffer from discrimination and injustice, there shall continue to be many more Fergusons.

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