Editor’s Note: Moky Makura is the Executive Director of Africa No Filter, a pan-African collaborative which seeks to amplify African voices and challenge stereotypical narratives about and within the continent. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.
A good friend of mine shared this story with me. When her daughter was seven, she told her mother in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want any black kids at her own birthday party. My friend was shocked not just because her daughter was black – so was she – but because her daughter felt that black people were not the kind of people she wanted at her party.
My friend, like any black mother, was alarmed. She couldn’t figure out how her child got to that point in her thinking. After taking a moment, she responded, “Well, if you are going to insist on not having any black people at your party then technically that means you can’t come to your own party, and neither can your other friends, your brother and your dad.” Her daughter paused, weighed up the pros and cons and responded a little reluctantly with; “OK, I guess we can invite everyone then.”
I tell that story not to illustrate the challenges of parenting or that racism comes from unexpected places, but to share some good news; today that same confused child, is now a teenager living in South Africa and has become a huge activist and influential ambassador in her social media circles for the American-led #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
And it’s not just her, many young, digitally savvy armchair activists from across Africa are emerging to champion this compelling movement that’s playing out on social media platforms in their bedrooms.
African teenagers and others should absolutely show solidarity for their black brothers in the US by supporting #BlackLivesMatter. At a deeper level you could argue that because the African American condition is rooted in slavery and ours in colonialism, and the architects for both are white, there is a common understanding that links Africans to this movement.
Either way, this movement clearly has global appeal and not just to teenagers. This is partially inspired by the simplicity of the #BlackLivesMatter message and the dichotomy of its protagonists, the black victim versus the white perpetrator. But what happens when black people are both victim and perpetrator? Do black lives matter as much then?
Despite progress on the continent – our growing economies, legitimate democracies, cultural contributions and increasing significance on the global stage – there are still too many examples of massive injustices perpetrated by black people towards other black people every day, with little attention and almost no outrage. No headlines, few hashtags and no movement to call out the injustice.
Black people in Africa may not be dying as a result of racism, but far too many are dying because of their ethnicity, their political beliefs, their poverty and their gender.
As Africans we have our own George Floyd, Eric Garner and Manuel Ellis. South Africa’s post-apartheid examples include Andries Tatane killed in 2011 during a “service delivery protest”; then there was the Marikana Massacre in 2012 where 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead by police; and more recently Collins Khoza who was allegedly killed during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown. And it’s not just in South Africa. In Nigeria, there’s the recent alleged police shooting of 16-year-old Tina Ezekwe, and in Kenya the case of 13-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo who was killed on his balcony at home.
The continent that gave us icons like Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Fela Kuti, has also given us thousands of anonymous heroes who have sacrificed their lives with no recognition, no campaigns. The Rwandan Genocide, South Africa’s xenophobic uprisings, Boko Haram’s ongoing reign of terror in Nigeria are stark reminders of these nameless heroes; black Africans who suffered at the hands of black Africans. They remind us that the doling out of injustice is not the preserve of white people nor is it always about race. Africans are equally complicit in ensuring that black lives don’t always matter.
In an ironic move on May 29, the African Union issued a statement condemning Floyd’s killing, asking America to “ensure the total elimination of all forms of discrimination based on race or ethnic origin.” It’s ironic because there isn’t the same level of indignation when examples of the inhuman treatment of black people by black people is exposed in our countries. Why is that? Remember the saying? “When you point a finger at another, there are three fingers pointing back at you?”
Making a case for African lives, that they matter too is not demeaning #BlackLivesMatter, on the contrary it pays homage to the movement. We can learn lessons from it about how to start campaigns that capture the world, create social change for us and elevate the plight of the downtrodden in Africa.
Thank you, George Floyd, and the many who sadly came before you. The impact of your death is already being felt beyond America. Africa’s growing youth population has been described as a potential “ticking time bomb.” Let’s hope the bomb explodes a generation of youth activists like my friend’s daughter who use this opportunity to fight injustice in their own country.