Magazine article New African

In Africa, Do Black Lives Matter?

Magazine article New African

In Africa, Do Black Lives Matter?

Article excerpt

Alfred Olango's murder in California was the latest incident in a pattern of violence against Africans that dates back at least to the early 1960s. More importantly, it is viscerally connected to the racist violence implanted deep in the DNA of US public life. So, why does Africa remain silent?

On 17 July 1964, legendary American civil rights leader Malcolm X was granted observer status at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Heads of State Summit in Cairo. Addressing the gathering of newly-minted leaders, he made a passionate appeal: "In the interests of world peace and security, we beseech the heads of the independent African states to recommend an immediate investigation into our problem by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights."

Malcolm X wanted US racism to be investigated, condemned and subjected to international sanctions in the same manner that the OAU was canvassing against Apartheid South Africa.

"Our problem is your problem," he told them. His speech drew from the historical experience of slavery in the US. Significantly, Malcolm also made reference to ongoing events at the time. Three Kenyan students and two Ugandan diplomats had been badly beaten by New York police who had "mistaken them for US Negroes".

Malcolm would be assassinated just 16 months after this summit. His speech at the summit was prophetic, especially on two key points.

First, he advised the African leaders: "Your problems will never be fully solved until and unless ours are solved. You will never be fully respected until and unless we are also respected. You will never be recognised as free human beings until and unless we are also recognised and treated as human beings."

The second was an astute observation, and a warning: "No one knows the master better than his servant. We have been servants in the US for over 300 years. We have a thorough, inside knowledge of this man who calls himself 'Uncle Sam'. Therefore you must heed our warning: don't escape from European colonialism only to become even more enslaved by deceitful, 'friendly' US dollarism."

In the end, black historians tell us, only a "mild, non-binding" resolution was passed at the summit, at which leaders simply called for more resources to be devoted to tackling racism in America, while also "applauding" the US passing of the Civil Rights Bill that same year.

This outcome is in part attributed to the then Director of the US Information Agency, one Carl Rowan, who worked on the delegates to "de-toxify" them of the revelation of these truths. It is therefore not accidental that African governments have remained silent in the face of racism against African-Americans and Africans.

The current stream of deaths of black people at the hands of the various police forces in the US should force Africa to revisit Brother Malcolm's speech precisely because it is part of a very old, awkward conversation.

Inconveniently, the most recent among the many cases taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement involves one Alfred Olango, a Ugandan in his 30s who died from five gunshots, delivered by Californian police in late September.

Amid the all-too-familiar aftermath of tears and conflicting accounts, the Ugandan government appears to have chosen diplomatic protocol over outrage, instructing its embassy in Washington to investigate before it takes any further action.

Olango's death is inconvenient, as much in Uganda as it is in the US. He had originally fled northern Uganda as a 12-year-old. Like thousands of other northerners, he and his family were trapped between the mutual rampaging of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, and Ugandan government forces. What is more, some media outlets report, the Uganda government had turned down a number of requests from US immigration authorities to have this man repatriated, due possibly to his alleged extensive record of petty crimes. …

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