In the United States, there is a strident campaign that reads “Black lives matter, ” these campaigns are reactions to the random and suspicious killing of Blacks by White Police Officers, the most recent being the slaying of Walter Scot execution style by Police Officer Micheal Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. After videos emerged revealing the true circumstances of the brutal slaying of victim Walker Scot, the American public has been rightly enraged by the murderous act of the Police Officer who has since been arrested and charged. The shock from the cold blooded execution of Walter Scot and others before him has resulted in mass protests where the undervaluing of Black lives in America has been highlighted with the slogan “Black lives matter.”
But Blacks don’t live only in the United States, Blacks also live in Africa which happens to be their ancestral homes, but do Black lives matter in Africa? The crossing from Libya to Italy by desperate migrants from various Sub Saharan African countries including Nigeria in search for a better life is now most commonly called the journey of death and how true. Almost on a weekly basis hundreds of African migrants undertaking the perilous journey die in the course of the crossing. Even as hundreds and even thousands die hundreds more are embarking on the same hazardous trip, and this is on a daily basis. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that more than 3000 African migrants died in the course of crossing the Mediterranean in 2014. With the scale of deaths so far, 2015 is already racing to double or even triple the number of deaths recorded for 2014.
Yet, even as this apocalyptic scale of deaths by African migrants occurs before our television screens and news outlets, there is an eerie conspiracy of silence by African leaders. As hundreds are rescued, rotting corpses including those of children washed ashore and as European leaders are decrying the tragedy and holding summits on how to save lives and prevent the tragedies, African leaders are unconscionably mute. How could leaders whose people are facing such calamity be silent, while others are taking initiatives to save lives? How could African leaders have created conditions so bad in their countries that their citizens are desperate enough and willing to risk their lives to escape to foreign lands in hopes of finding a better life? Why is it that not a single African leader has expressed any remorse, regret or proffered any solution over the harvest of avoidable deaths in the Mediterranean?
The answer is simple; Black lives simply don’t matter as far as African leaders are concerned. The conspiracy of silence derives from that fundamental disregard for African lives. In the dictionary of the African leader, the commoners simply do not exist and government exists only to dispense patronage to the elites. This is why they created or sustained the inequalities, wars, injustice, deprivation, poverty, oppression, tribalism, marginalisation, insecurity, ethno-religious conflicts, misrule and corruption amongst others that forced out the migrants in the first place. The Mediterranean crisis has once again exposed African leaders for what they were always known to be. Africa never benefitted from much doubt as it concerns bad leadership and state failure on which the doctrine or idea of “Afro-pessimism” is premised. Those who dared against the obvious odds to argue or hope for a renascent Africa in the 21st century with good governance and caring servant leaders have seen their hopes dashed with the unfolding Mediterranean crisis.
It is even more tragic that as usual many Nigerian and African pundits have hypocritically added their voice to the campaign for the dignity of Black lives in the United States while Black lives don’t matter in our own climes. As the saying goes “charity begins at home” and it’s time for African leaders and all of us Africans to do some soul searching and begin to prioritise the dignity of life in our clime. Because in truth; the devaluing of Black lives in the United States and globally cannot be divorced from the devaluing of Black lives in our own climes. African leaders and Africans themselves have done more to devalue Black lives than anyone else. The ongoing Mediterranean crisis and the conspiracy of silence by African leaders is just another example of such phenomena.
Since the world is driven most often by perceptions and examples, we can’t expect to be treated very differently from how we treat ourselves. The world watches and sees how we do things and how we treat ourselves in Africa, which invariably becomes etched in popular culture and consciously or unconsciously reflects in how they see or treat us. We can only achieve the respect and equality we crave from others when we begin to give same to ourselves, if not the campaign on the dignity of Black lives can only go so far. Aluta continua!
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu