Editor’s Note: Kamil Olufowobi is Founder & CEO, Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) a global civil society initiative in support of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. He is passionate about repairing the broken bridge between Africa and its diaspora in different parts of the world.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
My school years in the US were marked by many heated debates between African and African-American students about who was guiltier for the transatlantic slave trade: whites or Africans?
Who should pay whom or who should apologize to whom? In retrospect, I should have advocated more for reconciliation among people of African descent rather than restitution or reparations by whites, which I had previously advocated mainly because every other group; Jewish or Japanese-Americans, received monies from the US government for historical wrongdoings.
This is still important but I believe less pressing than the healing that needs to happen between a people divided.
Change of heart
The diaspora in the context of Africa evokes in my mind a people who were, by force or by choice, estranged from their homeland, while the homeland of Africa evokes in my mind a diverse land (54 countries) of milk and honey with limited skills to distribute the wealth.
Like the story of two siblings, where one sold the other into slavery, Africa and its diaspora are sometimes deeply divided and each finding their way through the wilderness alone, forgetting that united we stand, divided we fall.
There are around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent who live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent. Whether as descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade or as more recent migrants, we constitute some of the poorest and most marginalized groups.
In many cases, people of African descent still experience discrimination in recognition of our achievements, access to justice, and face alarmingly high rates of police violence and racial profiling. Casual racism has become commonplace in the United States and many attribute this to the election of President Trump and his anti-foreigner stance during the election campaign.
Furthermore, our degree of political participation is often low, both in voting and in occupying political positions. This racial discrimination lessens when inside Africa but problems of poverty, corruption and conflicts replaces it. The one thing we seem to have in common, that binds us regardless of where we find ourselves, inside or outside Africa, is the misery that’s become synonymous with the black experience.
The door of return
So, when I learned that the United Nations had proclaimed 2015 – 2024, the International Decade for People of African Descent, I saw an opportunity to reconnect the broken bridge between Africa and its diaspora, control the narrative about the black experience and help heal the pains and resentment between long lost siblings.
While our ancestors left Africa bound and chained through the doomed ‘doors of no return,’ I firmly believe that reconciliation and prosperity can offer a ‘door of return’ for people of African descent back to Africa.
This led me on journey to create the global civil society initiative: The Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD), born out of the desire to bring together a progressive group to support the United Nations’ resolution declaring the years 2015 – 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent to combat racism, xenophobia and intolerance of Africa and its people worldwide.
MIPAD is a unique global list that identifies 200 high achievers, under the age of 40, of African descent in public and private sectors worldwide. Hundred of them live inside Africa, and 100 outside Africa in the diaspora. The idea is to connect them with their counterparts across the world. There are well known African names such as Senegalese musician Akon, British actor David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyongo but there are also those whose ancestors are from Africa such as golfer Tiger Woods and Beyonce among many others.
The truth is that not all people of African descent will move back to Africa, this is not the goal, instead it is to know that wherever we are, inside or outside Africa, our unifying and collective goal is the uplifting of Africa as a continent, knowing that making Africa great again is key to the dignity and respect we seek as a people.