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Africa is enslaved in debt. Black lives should all matter, whether in Minneapolis or Mombasa ǀ View

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Away from the cameras that are understandably focussed on the US, Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the world, including to Africa, where not only protestors have made their voice heard on the issue but heads of state, too.

Rather than seeing them as simply US-centric protests for those who, like Africans themselves, have heritage from the continent, we should remember that the struggle for racial equality has by no means ended in Africa.

While Africa has survived slavery and colonialism, for its people to be truly free, it must now overcome the economic slavery from which it suffers.

Black lives must matter throughout the world, not only in its largest economy. Providing a global platform to Americans of African heritage, without including Africans themselves in the conversation, would be a painful example of First World privilege and would fail Africans.

There are 42 million African-Americans in the world, but 1.2 billion Africans, the majority of whom are, on a global basis, the victims of severe disadvantage.

It is impossible to create racial justice on a foundation of economic injustice. That is as true in Minneapolis as it is in Mombasa.
Mukhtar Karim
CEO of the Lady Fatemah Trust

Malawi, for example, is one of the poorest countries in the world. My charity, the Lady Fatemah Trust, is active on the ground there, so I know the suffering of its residents acutely. Over half of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, and one in three people do not have access to clean water. Can we really say that Malawian lives matter when 50% of them don’t have access to a decent toilet?

This is to say nothing of the modern invisible slavery that still exists in Africa. The continent now has the highest rate of contemporary slavery in the world, with reports that it still exists on an institutional - and even governmental - level.

Governmental complicity in the injustices imposed on black Africans is an unfortunate recurring theme. Some black governments, many of which are not fully democratic, are often seen as fronts for white power, holding populations in bondage through Third World debt negotiated at exorbitant interest rates.

Debt has historically been weaponised by richer Western countries and organisations to hold sub-Saharan countries to ransom, often to the detriment of their citizens. Debt in the region sits at a massive 53% of GDP, prompting concerns over whether the region is in the depths of another debt crisis. External and foreign currency-denominated debt accounts for 60% of total debt on average, highlighting the stranglehold that foreign influence has on the continent.

Take, for instance, Tanzania, a poor nation in East Africa, whose present value of external debt stands at $11 billion (€9.7 billion). When the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were negotiating massive debt relief for the country, they made it conditional on the privatisation of Dar es Salaam’s water system. City Water, the British and German-led consortium who won the contract, then severely reduced water access to some of the world’s poorest people.

Those who see lending to developing countries as a moral good must realise that often it is anything but. While borrowing to impoverished countries tends to promote economic growth, it does nothing to reduce poverty or inequality in many of these places. The system of lending must be radically overhauled and regulated to prevent the Western manipulation that holds many African countries over a barrel.

Growing up as an Asian in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, I was acutely aware of the suffering of Black Africans. So, when I see African protests in support of African-American causes, my immediate thought is that this energy should also be directed towards African ones.

This refocusing appears to be under way. South African demonstrators also paid homage to Collins Khosa, a South African man who was allegedly beaten to death by soldiers for breaching coronavirus lockdown restrictions in April.

It is impossible to create racial justice on a foundation of economic injustice. That is as true in Minneapolis as it is in Mombasa.

While apartheid and slavery are formally a thing of the past, the legacy of these horrific structures has left many African citizens as slaves in all but name. In honouring George Floyd’s memory, we must remember that all black lives matter.

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