From the video images of a Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd to the images of African immigrants sleeping on the streets of Guangzhou in China, after being evicted during a racist fallout in which they were accused of spreading the COVID-19 virus, all these images have unleashed an intense way of emotions for black people all around the world.
As Black Lives Matter protests have mushroomed across all over U.S. states and at least 18 countries, the gatherings have emphasized that black lives from all perspectives must be included in the dialogue, including those of African immigrants. It was more than 20 years ago, for example, when Amadou Diallo, 22, from Guinea was shot and killed by four New York City police officers, who later claimed the victim was mistaken as a suspect in a rape case. Diallo, who had no criminal record, was unarmed. The officers, who later were found not guilty, fired 41 shots and 19 struck the young immigrant in the February 1999 incident. In 2004, Diallo’s family received a $3 million settlement under New York’s wrongful death statute.
Black people of African ancestry continue to be viewed suspiciously throughout the world. In China, photos showing printed signs banning black people from entering shops to buy food have been shared widely across social media. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has denied any racist sentiments were behind the actions.
The attacks on black people are not new, nor limited to China. African migrants have been murdered in the Middle East. Europeans have done little to save African migrants from drowning in makeshift boats as they seek refuge in their countries. And, in the U.S., innocent black citizens continue to be gunned down indiscriminately by the police or self-proclaimed white nationalists or vigilantes. The abuse and torture of black people occur everywhere.
There is no moral obligation for any country hosting black people to protect them and consider their standing as recipients of human rights. In the court of many host countries, unfortunately, more than a few African migrants are deemed guilty before charged and, therefore, are urged to stay in their countries. The current pandemic has intensified these sentiments. Instead of addressing the continuing plunder of African resources that has continued to starve Africans of opportunities for decades in the post-colonial era, and which has left them little choice but to migrate elsewhere for a modicum of economic justice, the world still manages to heap blame onto Africans. COVID-19 has not changed the circumstances.
Today, Africans are not welcome anywhere but the resources from their lands remain a fair game for the world’s most developed countries and those aspiring to join this powerful elite. Africa is still the richest continent in terms of available resources on the planet, yet its people are the poorest. In Africa, European and American foreigners own the land, mines, banks, factories, fuel stations and airlines, with the wealth transferred expeditiously to the West. Should anyone note this in the global immigration debate, they are immediately dismissed as a whining, trivial distraction.
We have leaders in Africa whose main role is to oversee the ongoing massive plunder of their countries by foreign corporations. They are funded and armed to restrain African efforts to disrupt the status quo. These leaders issue decrees that ensure thousands of Africans can be forced from their lands to pave way for corporations to pursue lucrative projects without domestic consequences.
So, what does the future hold for ordinary black people? What does it mean to be black in a world where hate is on the rise? What will happen to our children and grandchildren? These questions ring more acutely now as the Covid-19 pandemic’s most serious effects are being felt everywhere.
This is a crisis not only for poor black people but also for the slight numbers of successful African elites who have managed to squeeze themselves through the narrow escape hatches toward economic freedom and prosperity. However, they cannot guarantee the same success for their children or grandchildren. Reality catches up after spending a fortune to enroll children in the best schools of the country, only to realize after graduation that the only substantial opportunities are to send them to Saudi Arabia or Dubai to become servants to Arab families. These are painful truths.
Other black elites who have managed to settle in the west struggle to bring over their families. The rules which are always changing in the west only allow one to bring along their closest family members: children, spouse and parents. However, African families always have been larger than what the West considers typical. African culture acknowledges that one’s immediate family encompasses not only brothers and sisters but also cousins and nieces, whom we wish to rescue from permanent poverty in their homeland.
But, even for those rescued children there are new challenges. Children risk being subjected to hostility in their new communities in the west, where their black neighbors might be gunned down while jogging or playing in their grandmother’s backyard or for just holding binoculars. One hopes that the despair being suffered on their home continent does not find new sources or expressions in their new home. These risks and dangers continue now, even as the world’s attention is absorbed with the pandemic. In fact, this present moment is absolutely the right time to deal with the issues, especially as the public health crisis has exposed so many disparities and inequalities in historically disadvantaged communities.
Sadly, it is not only Europeans or Americans citizens who not yet ready for a honest debate about the reasons behind African migrations. Even my fellow Africans are unprepared, afraid or paralyzed to address the metaphorical elephant in the room.
As a journalist, I was among the first Africans in my field to raise the issue of abused African migrants in the Middle East and though the response of the Gulf Arab rulers to deport me back to Africa shocked me, even more shocking was the number of fellow Africans who told me to stay quiet. Many of those who urged that I remain silent benefited from deals with foreign recruitment companies but, surprisingly, there were others—especially African migrants much like myself who thought my reporting and writing served no other purposed but to expose their secret games of survival in their host countries.
These misfortunes on black people are not going to exhaust themselves on their own and disappear. We cannot afford to bury these injustices and go on because the risks of having our children and grandchildren living on this planet as second-class citizens pleading desperately with Europeans, Americans, or the Chinese to just take them on, even if it means being subservient to the point of slavery, have become inexcusable and unacceptable. The pandemic has revealed a crisis of human dignity on many dimensions. The plight of Africans is just one of them.
The Black Lives Matter protests are unlike previous events. The anger against police is being fused with the frustrations of economic inequities which only have been exacerbated by the corporate practices of global capitalism.
As we struggle and eventually find our way to a new normal, there is the political will to rectify many long-standing injustices. One should involve a thorough, honest discussion about the future of ‘Blackness’ on this planet. We should not expect to find answers in summits led and orchestrated mainly by Americans and Europeans. After all, we should never trust the arsonists to be firefighters.
EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM WHY WE ARE COMING, BY YASIN KAKANDE
Ugandans will be heading to the polls early next year to elect the country’s new president. According to international journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande, present incumbent and candidate, President Yoweri Museveni, is already taunting the main opponent, Bobi Wine, as being a stooge of foreign donors.
These, however, were the same cries that Museveni’s predecessor, Apollo Milton Obote, made about Museveni in the ‘80s. True to Africa, Kakande says, there seems to be no other way to power without Western imperialist help.
In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, ‘Why We Are Coming’, Kakande discusses how Museveni remained loyal to his imperialist mentors by expanding Western imperialism to all neighbouring African countries.
Africa’s Most Reliable Imperialist Agent, The West, Will Not Let Go
Under Museveni, Uganda had placed more troops abroad than any other country in the world barring the U.S. And Ugandan troops were significant in determining the outcomes from conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and even Kenya, after election-related violence erupted in 2007.
In 1991, after Somalia’s dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, the country went into a vicious civil war. The U.S. sent 100,000 troops to restore order in an operation they called “Operation Restore Hope,” which began as an effort to underwrite the delivery of UN Aid by guaranteeing security in Mogadishu but ended as an unsuccessful manhunt targeting the Somali faction leader, General Mohammed Farah Aidid. On October 3, 1993, one of the bloodiest days of the conflicts and one immortalized in the annals of U.S. military legend, General Aidid’s militia killed 18 Americans and wounded more than 70 others. More than 300 Somalis were killed. The battle proved to have been the bloody dénouement of the American obsession with Aidid: the U.S. stopped pursuing him, unwilling to risk further casualties. The American troops pulled back into their encampments and compounds, dispatching few patrols until the politicians in Washington formally aborted the expedition. Thus bloodied the U.S. looked around and asked who in Africa was willing to take on the Somali war, and Museveni was the first to raise his hand. The Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) provided about 6,000 troops leading the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). Uganda’s involvement drew the ire of the Somali Islamist militants “Al Shabab”: in July 2010, a double suicide bombing in Kampala killed 76 people who were watching the World Cup soccer final on television.
As in Somalis so in South Sudan where Uganda acted as the intermediary of the American support to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in its war to separate South Sudan from North Sudan in the 1990s. Two years after South Sudan declared its independence, President Salva Kiir fired his vice-president, Riek Machar, and the political power contest snowballed into military clashes fought along the Dinka-Nuer ethnic lines representing Kiir and Machar, respectively. Museveni immediately deployed Ugandan troops, telling journalists the troops had been sent at the request of the South Sudan government, just in time to save Kiir from being toppled as the country’s leader.
Uganda was instrumental in regime changes involving its immediate neighbors. On his return from undergoing military training in the U.S., Paul Kagame—formerly a senior officer in the Ugandan Army—joined with other Rwandese exiled in Uganda, to form the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF, supported by the Ugandan government, waged a war against the Rwandan government of President Habyarimana that would culminate in the Rwandan Genocide, which decimated the Tutsi population of the country. Kagame successfully overthrew Habyarimana’s government, and has been the president of Rwanda since 2000.
But not all of Museveni’s adventures have been welcomed by all sections of opinion in the West. One such is, their invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo a resource-rich black hole into which the region was pulled for a decade. The conflict was triggered when the armies of Uganda and Rwanda, both key security allies for Western interests, turned against each other in the Congo. A 2001 United Nations report noted that Museveni and Kagame were “on the verge of becoming godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict.” The report identified, as The New York Times article highlighted, “three dozen businesses, based in Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, India, Pakistan, and Russia . . . as having imported minerals from Congo through Uganda and Rwanda.”
The allegations were substantiated. Following the war, the Government of the DRC Congo sued that of Uganda and Rwanda for plundering its resources and committing war atrocities. The International Court of Justice found Uganda guilty in December 2005, and the country was ordered to pay Congo $10 billion in damages. Museveni’s closest relatives, including his son Major Muhozi Kainerugaba and brother Lieutenant General Caleb Akandwanaho with the alias of Salim Saleh, were implicated in overseeing the plundering operations.
In Burundi, citizens attempted a coup in 2015 after their late president Laurent Nkuruziza, Museveni’s friend and another strong ally of the U.S., announced he was standing for a third term. Jubilant citizens thronged the streets after the coup announcement and news that the deposed president Nkurunziza fled the country, but that joy was soon darkened by the shadow of regional enforcer Museveni. Ugandan troops entered Burundi to overturn the coup and reinstate President Nkuruziza.
Museveni has been careful to keep his relationship with the U.S. Secure by helping even in its wars in Middle East. During the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, 20,000 Ugandans worked in American military bases.
Somewhat counterintuitively, while it would be reasonable to surmise that when Uganda sent troops to neighboring countries and to the Middle East, the West was bankrolling the costs, the situation is not as simple as that. Certainly, the U.S. and some European countries contributed to the peace missions that were spearheaded by the Ugandan President, but much of the money for Uganda’s adventures, comes from Uganda itself.
Indeed, soaring defense budgets and costs that dwarf government spending on health care and agriculture must be seen as a significant component of Museveni’s legacy. With a population of approximately 42 million, Uganda often ranks at or near the top of the league table for defense spending among nations in East Africa. In 2011, it was first state in the region with an annual military expenditure that topped $642 million, more than $1 billion in the values current at the time of writing.