In many different ways, much of the world is invested in killing Africa. At the foundation of this push is the theft of Africa’s resources, which threatens Africa’s subsistence – and is linked to the global oppression of members of the African diaspora, known to many in the West and around the world as Black people.
While Black people in the United States continue to battle discrimination and oppression at the hands of White supremacy, the practice of subjugating Black people transcends the borders of this young empire. Beyond whatever implications the current (though still limited) concern for Black life brings about in the midst of ongoing police violence in the United States, Black life is vulnerable across cultures, internationally.
This reality takes many oppressive forms: disenfranchisement, forced migration, enslavement and death. The last on that list commonly takes place at the hands of the dominant society’s enforcers. Those deemed worthy to protect some are also enlisted to kill the other – who just so happens to oftentimes be Black.
Frantz Fanon once wrote: “In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression.”
Black life is vulnerable across cultures, internationally.
The police officer and the soldier are the gripping hands of the oppressor, and their work is intricately connected. This leads to an important conclusion: If we seek to dismantle the police state, we must also dismantle the military. Soldiers are the police of the world, and, like police, they are consistent perpetrators of state violence against Black life everywhere. As with domestic police forces, the active soldier’s race does not matter in this regard. If a soldier is Black, he still serves the interest of the state and not the interests of Black people.
This remains the case if Black people are represented as officers, or even as commanders in chief. At “home” and abroad, the soldier polices in the name of imperialism, hegemony and expansion of empire. Where Black bodies are, soldiers are there to police them; they are there with the interests of protecting and procuring capital. Soldiers are required to follow orders; those orders often mean disrupting Black existence and taking Black life without pause.
The fear that many Black people in the US experience when police are around isn’t wholly unique to us. This fear runs parallel to the anxiety many Black people feel worldwide at the hands of occupying forces like the US military, their own countries’ domestic police forces and the hands of immigration patrols. A recent police killing in California illustrates many points I hope to make – both materially and symbolically – about the plight that members of the African diaspora are facing.
On March 1st, 2015 a Black person identified as Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang was extrajudicially killed by police officers in downtown Los Angeles. A viral video of his death was circulating online before most people even had a name to identify him. Africa’s death is, of course, a great tragedy in itself. In addition, the video and facts about his life suggest several important analogies of Black existence that reverberate alongside the echoes of that cadence of LAPD gun blasts.
We know these things: The police killed Africa; he was homeless; Africa was living under a stolen identity; he was Cameroonian with ties to France; he was an immigrant. Allow yourself to see the montage of Black intricacies in this slaying. Many of us can relate. The collage of identities and circumstance here expresses the reality of existence for many people of African descent. The police killed Africa – and furthermore, police in their many forms are and will continue killing Africans globally, through both outright violence and through a refusal to address the ongoing, grievous harms caused by past violence. Many current tragedies – from economic crisis to global warming to internal war – fit the latter category.
The death of the departed Africa exposes the brutal nature of our linked struggles.
The police officer and the soldier are wreaking havoc on the African continent in the service of “development,” investment, and military policy. Nations across the continent are experiencing rapid economic growth that does not benefit their populations as it should. Therefore the term “emergent” has become a safe adjective to describe a continent that colonial powers, new and old, continue to try to whip into submission. “Emergence” is the notion that the interests of working-class and poor people can or will be secured along with the interests of nation states who ultimately seek to profit off of them. Under this formulation of “development” and “emergence,” building capital within a neoliberal framework will supposedly result in better lives for people suffering within an oppressed sector of society.
Helen Clark, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator spoke at the opening of the “International Conference on the Emergence of Africa.” The conference was organized by the Ivorian government and the UNDP. The World Bank and the African Development Bank also played a significant role in the event. Clark, described emergence this way:
For me, the goal of emergence is not GDP (gross domestic product) growth per se: It is the pursuit of greater human health and happiness so that each one of us can fulfill our potential and participate fully in our societies,” she stated. She also said, “By 2050, an ’emergent Africa’ would have tripled Africa’s share of global GDP, enabled 1.4 billion Africans to join the middle class, and reduced tenfold the number of people living in extreme poverty. These are exciting prospects.
Things certainly have been “exciting” for the United Nations (UN) in Africa. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN launched its first-ever UN peacekeeping force with an offensive combat mandate in 2013. It also launched its first ever unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in the Eastern Congo, that same year. The brigade served in the interests of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). An aggressive peacekeeping force might seem ironic to some, but one might say they were policing the situation.
Now revelations have come forth that the UN waived concerns about “massive human rights violations” perpetrated by two of the generals involved in this ordeal. The devastating conflict – which has left more people dead than the Jewish Holocaust, in one of the world’s most mineral-rich regions – continues to rage on. Still, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, like many other Black people across the world, are vulnerable to the rebel, the government and the UN “peacekeeper,” who is a soldier.
This type of willful carelessness has allowed the UN to avoid major repercussions after spreading cholera to the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In 2011, 1,500 Haitian victims and their family members sued the UN in a federal court in Brooklyn in a class action lawsuit. The Guardian reported:
The UN mission hired a private contractor to ensure sanitary conditions for its force in Haiti, but the contractor was poorly managed and failed to provide adequate infrastructure at the UN camp in Mirebalais. As a result, contaminated sewerage was deposited in the Meille river, a tributary of the Artibonite, Haiti’s longest and most important river.
The cholera outbreak would kill thousands and infect around 7 percent of the Haitian population. Ultimately US district Judge J. Paul Oetken ruled that the UN’s international charter provides it with broad legal immunity. Like our police – who are supposedly here to protect the vulnerable – these “peacekeepers” are quickly willing to dodge accountability with immunity and the protection of courts.
Why is it that the UN, like many police and soldiers worldwide, is allowed to waive safety concerns when it comes to the sanctity of Black life?
To my Black eyes, watching these situations from afar, the police officer I know who “keeps the peace” has commonalities with the UN peacekeeper. Those who are given the job to “protect” us all will “protect” themselves in the name of their institutions, first and foremost. Self-preservation of the state is the primary priority.
Oppression, alienation and disenfranchisement often come in the name of protection or security. Like the deceased Africa in Los Angeles, many Black immigrants, migrants and refugees throughout the world are faced with overwhelming obstacles. They often come at the hands of a different type of officer: immigration and customs enforcement.
Black immigrants in the United States face rampant abuses, given the intersection of their legal status and their Blackness. Undocumented Black immigrants are deported at higher rates than their non-Black immigrant counterparts while being racially profiled by law enforcement. Black immigrants have faced both invisibility (when it comes to assistance and aid) and hyper-visibility (to immigration officials). The face of the immigrant in the United States is often portrayed as a non-Black Latino male. Black immigrants, on top of all of the tangible issues faced on the immigration front, must confront the additional forces of state oppression that come with being Black. This trend is global: Throughout Europe, Africa and several parts of the Middle East, African immigrants are tormented.
When NATO helped remove Muammar Gaddafi from his seat of power on the heels of the Arab spring, it set off a wave of chaos in Libya. Warring militias and brigades made up of rebels and opportunists vied for power. These groups have roamed the country fighting among each other and seeking out regional control for strategic advancement. This has been ongoing since Gaddafi’s removal. One of the most heinous tragedies that has taken place in post-Gaddafi Libya is the targeting of Libya’s Black residents. Many Black Libyans and migrants have routinely been rounded up, brutalized, and sometimes murdered. Black Africans in Libya have been viewed as default Gaddafi loyalists and mercenaries – causing many to flee the country. Overnight, these makeshift forces were armed by the United States and used their newfound power to go about targeting Black sub-Saharan Africans.
Currently, the European Union is considering a plan to outsource Mediterranean migrant patrols to Africa. Europe has seen an unprecedented influx of Black immigrants fleeing countries like Libya because of situations like the one described above. Countries like Italy, France and Germany have debated what to do to solve the immigration crisis. Ironically, like the United States, their foreign policy and colonial histories are what created the forced migration they now hope to “solve.” Migrants often end up in the hands of human traffickers and in dangerous situations like “forced rescues” – a new tactic whereby smugglers are abandoning ships full of migrants, so that the coast guard is forced to rescue the desperate passengers in a life-threatening situation. To prevent situations like this, the West will not change its ways: In fact, ideas like “reception centers” and “camps” are being tossed around as solutions to stopping the influx.
In Israel, African immigrants have already been rounded up and put into detention camps. Meanwhile the Israeli government is preparing a new policy to deport Sudanese and Eritrean citizens who are seeking asylum. Sudanese, Eritreans and other African migrants often travel extremely dangerous distances, risking their lives across unbearable terrain, to seek asylum. As I write this, Yemen is being pummeled by Saudi warplanes causing many Yemenis to flee to Somalia as refugees. Somaliland has graciously opened its ports, but others are not always so gracious when Africans come seeking refuge. Upon arrival, the African migrant, refugee and immigrant face extreme adversarial opposition at the hands of the soldier and the police officer.
Africans can expect to be unwelcome in more liberal romanticized Scandinavian countries, too, like Norway, where public discussions about how to deport their new Eritrean incomers are ongoing. Inside the African continent, countries like Kenya, which have friendlier relationships with the West and growing relationships with powers like China, are taking steps to keep poorer Africans out. After finding inspiration from the United States, Europe and Israel, Kenya plans on building a “great wall” to protect itself and keep out the extremist Somali elemental-Shabaab.
This announcement came before the recent Garissa University College attack, which killed 148 people. Keep in mind, al-Shabaab is using extremist methods while partially fighting over qualms that were intensified by colonialism. Their terror will be mentioned repeatedly in the media, but the terror of colonialism in East Africa, which facilitates an al-Shabaab, will likely be expunged. Even though this is the case, the strong arm of oppression will still fall back, even on Black countries seen as “safe” to Westerners. That is, even countries with stronger relationships to powers outside of Africa – or countries that received more favor when colonialists drew up their dividing lines – are not immune to exploitation.
Certainly there are conflicts even among Black people, and we are not all one. However, this does not negate the right to self-determination or give anyone the right to oppress Black people anywhere. Particularly in the United States, there is a misconception that Black people are the only group of people to express violence against one another on the planet. Of course, this is not the case: Most violence is perpetrated against people of the same race. (Most White people who are murdered in this country are killed by other White people.) Also, the reality is that anti-Blackness allows the majority of the world to see destroying the darkest people as something normal. That majority sometimes includes other Black people.
No Black person is safe – certainly not Black children. We know this all too well in the United States, following the loss of Black youth like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Aiyanna Jones. A blatant state-sanctioned disregard for Black children, though not fatal, was also illustrated this year in Kenya, when police attacked a group of schoolchildren protesting the removal of their playground. The space where children played was being cleared so a lot could be developed. However, police equipped with riot gear, guns and dogs provided an all-too-clear illustration that when the gas clears, it’s still all about capital.
The entire world knows that Africa is wealthy in resources and people. The continent could fit several of the countries that exploit it most within its millions of square miles. Land grabs, development and foreign investment are instruments that new and old colonial powers are using to continue to subjugate Africa. The price is catastrophic: With every disaster that plagues the African continent, much of the world sees opportunities to insert itself into the homeland of the African diaspora. This has been the case for some time dating back centuries to when Arabs first came into Africa, converting indigenous populations to Islam and taking captives. Now, whether it’s a Sierra Leonean woman being sold into slavery as a domestic worker in Kuwait or the forced removal of peoples in Ethiopia to feed Gulf States and Chinese fervor for farmland, Africa “belongs” to everyone except Black people.
The current US administration has been actively exercising colonial logic by extending the US hand in Africa and throughout many Black countries since its first term. Military operations have taken place in Uganda, Nigeria, Somalia and more. Under this administration, the US has actively targeted extremist groups across the African continent and carried out activities the US public knows very little about; United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is specifically tasked with this. Unmanned patrols or targeted strikes are being carried out in Somalia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Crisis, disaster and the war on terror have all been opportunities for the US, among others, to expand interests throughout the larger international Black world. In situations of terror and sickness, powers from the West and steadily rising East have found endless possibility. Whether it’s sending troops to help “fight” Ebola or battle terrorist threats, every action comes at a cost.
This type of debt-based dominance is widespread and targets Black countries heavily: Colonizers still control their former colonies through the grips of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Many of these countries are so indebted that they cannot break free.
Non-Black newcomers to the African continent often act in the old settler tradition. One Chinese restaurant owner in Nairobi established a “no Blacks” policy this year. “You never know who is al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” said Ester Zhao, just like any colonizer looking for a reason to discriminate would. Purveyers of colonialism in all its forms continue to build on the backs of Black lives; today’s colonizers still view Black lives as brick and mortar.
If Black life is something that people care about, all Black life should be deemed worthy of concern regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, confinement or geographic location. In the last year, I watched Black people from many different places across the planet show solidarity with one another.
An international movement to value the sanctity of Black life is needed since the struggles are so intricately linked. In short, we are fighting many of the same battles.
For example, in 2010 a report found the proportion of Black people who were incarcerated in the United Kingdom was seven times their proportion in the national population. That disproportionate number exceeds the US, where four times more Black people than White people are incarcerated. Another recent report found that more than 500 Black and “ethnic” individuals have died under unknown or suspicious circumstances while in the custody of the British police state within the past 24 years. Despite this, not one official has been successfully prosecuted. The former colonizer of these United States exemplifies the prison-based expression of White supremacy the United States has carried on since slavery.
Still, here in the United States, Black people are naming our dead and reenergizing against state violence. We have to name Africa. We have to name Africans. We have to name the African diaspora, because freeing Africa means freeing Black people internationally.
What is a name? Like Africa, the man whose life was taken by police in Los Angeles, many of us live homeless (even if we have shelter over our heads), with stolen identities (even if we have a driver’s license in our wallets). That is to say, we had our identities stolen from us, and we are alienated from our homes. You may see us as the original “misnamed” – as Maya Angelou once stated in a different context. After we came here or were brought here, our identity did not ever come first. We don’t all necessarily know where we came from, what state our countries of origin are in, or how our tribe is doing since our departure. This much can be true for the Black person whose family was forced into the West via transatlantic slavery or for the migrant who was forced to leave home to create a livable life.
Anti-Black racism is a crisis that has damaged, taken life from, and infiltrated our vibrant communities the world over. The intentions of many to keep the Black world subservient, poor and overpoliced – if not dead – is an all-out war. There is no reason for us to restrain our options, focus or actions to one thought process, place or culture. The African diaspora is everywhere, and we are complex. Our range of responses to anti-Blackness should mirror our existence.
From occupied West Papua to Brazil; from South Africa to Australia; from Honduras to the Black belt of Alabama; from Cuba to Mali, when our time comes, the world will see the darkest people emerge from the shadows. We will not come out of the dark; we are the dark. We are the darkest. We are Black in every shade, shape and form we come in. We have been told everywhere that we are not good enough and that everyone else is superior.
But we are all Africa. We have never been stopped, and we will never be.
Significant contributions to the perspective mentioned in reference to the man called “Africa” came from conversations with a close friend of his who didn’t wish to be mentioned. This friend, who also knew him as “Both” ( a name he gained at a halfway house because he spoke about things in two’s) spent significant amounts of time around him. Africa’s friend spoke of him in the highest regard and shared many stories of the good things people had to say about him. Africa’s friend also shared that he was an aspiring writer who has completed at least two books and hoped to have a career in Hollywood. It’s my hope that the any mention of him in this print lives up to any standards of writing he may have had for his own work. Rest in peace, Africa.