There has been shock and revulsion in Africa and its Diaspora over recent reports of racist mob violence against Africans in India. Meanwhile, the Indian government is jockeying with China to capture Africa’s natural resources and to have a presence in Africa that would guarantee them geo-political advantage.
Some Africans in the Diaspora and in the Motherland have observed that should be watchful and should remember that the Indian Diaspora in Africa is far greater in number than Africans living in India. But, atrocious though racist attacks against Africans in India undoubtedly are, people in Africa need to guard against any tendency to make their Indian neighbours individually or collectively responsible for the treatment of Africans in India.
India’s treatment of Africans is barbaric and the state’s response to those attacks has been pitiful, to say the least. People in the West have a tendency to see India as a democratic and open society that has embraced modernity, whereas the society is structured and stratified to promote and perpetuate barbarity, racism, division and exclusion. A country with a caste and class system, with all its tiers of social hierarchy, that condemns 170 million Dalits to a life of servitude and dehumanisation, denying them fundamental human rights, could hardly be expected to welcome black Africans, especially those who are not seen to be at the zenith of the class and caste structure in their own countries. Some people are perplexed by Mahatma Gandhi’s sense of ease with the apartheid regime in South Africa and his racist attitude towards Africans resisting the apartheid regime and all its vestiges of white supremacy. Whatever settlement Gandhi may have sought to forge with British imperialism and colonialism, he never fully engaged with structural apartheid in his own country. Indeed, he, like so many of his followers saw it as the natural order of things.
No one has yet explained to me why it is more politically and morally reprehensible to visit, collaborate with and accept as normal and legitimate the state of Israel and all its atrocities than it is the state of India. Yet, the process of normalising the abnormal and barbaric is so widespread that Nigerians and other Africans see nothing wrong with going to study, or live and work in India. Indeed, the Indian government is actively encouraging Jamaicans to go and study in India.
Africa is exporting more workers and especially students to countries outside the Motherland than any other continent. In the case of Nigeria, that is after its very own superlative schooling and tertiary education system was wrecked by successive military regimes, especially that of Sani Abacha. Class, caste and related systems of social hierarchy persist across Africa both within and across ethnic nationalities. Political manipulation by hierarchies, based on ethnic nationality, in the service of narrow self interest as distinct from in pursuit of national development goals is repeatedly the cause of genocide and of the betrayal of the dreams and aspirations of once oppressed people (Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, Nigeria, etc.) In other words, neo-colonialism and the capacity of national leaders to refine and perpetuate the systems introduced by colonialism to serve imperialist interests typically displace the role of civil society in building a new political and economic order by employing myriad forms of coercion, cooptation and sheer barbarity.
When I worked for the African Union on in-country barriers to meeting the Millennium Development Goals in member states, I came upon example after example of governments thwarting their people’s own efforts at local, district and divisional levels to tackle issues such as infant mortality, environmental degradation, girls’ lack of access to schooling, youth unemployment and food security. While UNDP, World Bank, DFID, IMF, etc., highlight ‘corruption’ as the fault line in the African development/sustainable development project, they rarely own up to the role their countries play in buttressing or installing regimes which, despite those fundamentally destructive practices, enable and facilitate them to benefit economically and politically, despite the structural injustices and damage to people’s life chances and longevity that result.
If the legacy of European colonialism and enslavement is not just ‘today’s racial discrimination, denial of equality of dignity and rights of Africans and people of African descent’ by Europeans and European settler colonies, but also by contemporary African nation states, what might be the role of civil society, schooling and tertiary education and non-government entities in dismantling neo-colonialism and the structural arrangements and political systems that militate against the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals? How might civil society in Africa and especially the burgeoning youth population of the continent, well over 60% of whom are unemployed, be mobilised to act independently in this cause, rather than being seen inexorably as ready-made ‘masses’ to be exploited by ruling parties, leaders of ethnic nationalities and the likes of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab? How might the Global African Diaspora be mobilised and organised in order to work in conjunction with Africa’s youth, civil society, schooling and tertiary education and non-government entities to the above end?
I see reparations and reparatory justice, in addition to education, the correction of historical falsifications and an end to the perpetuation of the hegemony of whiteness in school and tertiary education curricula in Europe, as being pivotal to the agenda I have just sketched out. People of African descent that constitute the Global African Diaspora, despite the artificial barriers, the racism and denial of fundamental rights and equal opportunities that we experience, are making and have made since the start of the 20th century a phenomenal contribution to the development of Europe. Europe continues to drain the brain of most African nations while contributing minimally to the development and training of that brain power. Indeed, the UK is bold enough to assert, in terms, that the only immigrants it would welcome from the developing world are those with the superlative qualifications and skills it needs to build its economy, save its health service and enhance its financial and research capability.
Meanwhile, China and now India are making inroads into Africa to kickstart stagnating economies, exploit a massive pool of redundant labour and undisturbed natural resources (oil and gas, minerals and gems, water and forestry), subdue, exploit and racially discriminate against workers, extract wealth and extend political and economic influence globally. Where have we heard and seen all of this before?’
When India joins the scramble for Africa, hot on the heels of the Chinese, I do not suppose for one moment that they would treat Africans in their own country with any less disdain and disrespect than they do in India, on account of race, gender, caste and class. The question is whether our governments would demand that racism, national chauvinism and white supremacy is left at home and all Africans, irrespective of their class and ethnic nationality are treated with respect and human dignity.
Capital will always locate and relocate itself wherever it will. It is for our governments to ensure that it does subjugate, if not enslave, cheap and abundantly available labour in the creation of wealth and the appropriation of national assets such as natural resources, land and infrastructure.
Africa has in abundance what India and China want in order to propel their own economic development and like Europe before them, ever since the Berlin Conference of 1884, the latter do not care too much what methods they use to get their hands on it and keep it. In the process, Africans are treated like slave labour, paid ‘slave wages’ (an accusation levelled at the Chinese) and cannot look to their own governments to guarantee them basic workers’ rights. Enslaved at home in the new scramble for Africa, they find themselves equally despised abroad when they dare assume that they are as free to locate themselves globally as capital imposes itself upon them at home.
African nation states and the African Union must be seen to take the most robust measures available to them in defence of the lives and human rights of their citizens abroad, especially in the wake of atrocities such as Africans have been suffering in India and the Middle East. It would help, though, if they made sure to let charity begin at home and attend to their own treatment of their citizens and the protection of their human rights, rather than sending out repeated messages to the world that African lives do not matter, not even in Africa.