l was recently delighted to tune in to watch the English Premier League (EPL) return to television screens across the world. I am not a huge soccer fan, but I was excited to see some pre-lockdown regular viewing on my screen. As I anticipated the match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, I listened to the pre-match build up and well, the presenters spent a good amount of time discussing and offering their support for Black Lives Matter (BLM). The BLM support, I soon could see, went on to dominate the EPL return. The message was clear: like most of the Western world’s respected institutions, the EPL stands behind the cause of BLM.
As players completed their warmup surrounded by the empty seats of Villa Park, I asked myself about the reasons behind this heavy display of support to the cause. I have seen many question whether institutions are pledging their loyalty to the current cause for fear of being heavily reprimanded if they are perceived as indifferent or cynical about the protesters’ concerns. I tend to agree with this scepticism about the authenticity of such pledges of allegiance, and I thought that the EPL’s overemphasis in demonstrating their commitment to the movement was not helping its credibility.
Meanwhile on the African continent, governments, institutions, and the majority of relevant woke figures with an internet connection have of course joined the righteous struggle against racism thousands of miles away. They have no suspicions of racism to prove wrong, but after all it was a man of African descent that was unjustly and viciously killed by a brutal white American cop.
These Africans voices say they are tired of racism at the hands of white people and are calling for an end to the injustice that the African diaspora faces in the Western world. At first sight it might seem a natural concern to show solidarity with your kin in faraway lands. But perhaps because I am familiar with the amiable relationship Africa’s establishment has with human rights violations of Africans at home, I cannot help but find their outrage astonishing.
Among those predictably happy to release a statement in support of BLM was the African Union (AU). On 29 May 2020, the chairperson of this continental institution strongly condemned the murder of George Floyd and firmly reiterated the organisation’s rejection of the continuing discriminatory practices against black citizens of the United States. The South African government and the ruling ANC also released statements.
However, the AU, the Pretoria government and the ANC remained embarrassingly silent on cases of state brutality in South Africa, including the beating to death of Collins Khosa and several other South Africans of colour at the hands of the police and military. Such cases are, by the way, much more widespread than those experienced by African Americans, as is the case in other African countries. When we widen our field of observation to the rest of the continent, we invariably find that abuse and discrimination by governments and their security forces against these countries’ own citizens is rife.
As recently as May 2020, three female members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, were arrested for staging protests. They were later admitted to hospital with various injuries inflicted upon them by the police, the Financial Mail reported. The three women had been taken out of town, beaten, and sexually assaulted by unidentified men after they were in police custody. In June 2020 they were rearrested after meeting with their lawyer to discuss pressing charges for the previous offense and have so far been denied bail. Later the same month, United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs called on Zimbabwe to drop the earlier charges against the women and stop the reported pattern of disappearances and torture.
Police brutality seems to be a reality in Kenya as well. For instance, Human Rights Watch reported that at least six people died from police violence during the first ten days of Kenya’s curfew under lockdown. The police are said to have shot and assaulted people at markets or returning home from work even before the daily start of the curfew. Following reports from Human Rights Watch, Kenya’s president apologised for police brutality, but did not give any instruction to the police to stop the abuse. As far as I am aware, not even the most radical BLM militants have asked him to defund the Kenya police service as they are encouraging the US to do.
To go on with the tragedies that BLM activists throughout the world were uninformed about or unmoved by, the BBC reported in April 2020 that the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asserted that law enforcers killed 18 people in Nigeria since lockdown began in March 2020. The commission stated in April 2020 that neither Government nor the security forces had responded to their report. Nigerian security forces are known for their brutality towards citizens. The BBC further reported that at least 1,476 people had been killed by state actors in the country over the past year and yet no one is kneeling in solidarity with these victims.
The AU and African governments have been notably silent on all three examples. African social media activists also give them far less attention than the killing of George Floyd in the United States. African governments and leaders are indeed complacent when it comes to human rights abuses against their own citizens. African social justice warriors who rage against abuse against African Americans are not half as angry with our own African governments for the violations that are committed on their own continent. As an African, I ask: can we at least consider getting our own house in order before relentlessly jumping on the bandwagon of what is trending?
Fernanda Mausse is a development sector specialist with over fifteen years of experience working with development agencies in Southern Africa.
She has an M.A in Development Studies from the University of Leeds in the UK. She works mostly in Public Health and is interested in a wide range of socio-political issues in the African continent and beyond. Fernanda is a Mozambican who grew up and studied in a number of countries in Southern Africa.