When countries in the global north clash violently the world tends to attribute the conflict to ideological, political or economic differences. But when violence is committed in Africa it is just dismissed as savagery.
When countries in the global north invade other sovereign states, they seek to couch their activities as logically necessary for peace. They claim the violence they are committing has integrity. But when African countries descend into violence there is no requirement for logic or integrity because our continent is regarded as intrinsically violent and unscrupulous.
When Russia invades Ukraine, the world’s media scurries to contextualise, analyse, detail, and explain. But when warring Sudanese generals embark on brutal campaigns of violence against their people we aren’t offered any detail or nuance. It’s just more violence in Africa. More bodies piling up in the streets.
If a county in Europe developed deeply discriminatory legislation against LGBTQIA+ people it would be considered a global outrage, and it would be stopped by its peers But its ok to sentence gay people to life imprisonment in Uganda, because Uganda is African, after all, and that’s how Africans behave.
It’s ok for innocent people to die in Western Sahara because, well, it’s Western Sahara, and in terms of global power relations Sahrawis are considered expendable.
Africa Day should acknowledge and celebrate more than Africa’s existence. It should assert our place alongside people who live on other continents as equal members of a single humanity that – if we are to be honest – is doing a pretty lousy job at developing a peaceful, inclusive and sustainable future for us all.
Africa Day should be about more than wearing an African lapel pin or ethnic dress for a day. It should be about deepening our commitment to human rights. Because when we are committed to universal human rights the space for discrimination shrinks. When we see others as inter-dependent mirrors of us, we outlaw human wrongs.
When we hear our citizens recently returned from Sudan describing bullet ridden bodies of young people lying bloated in the street, dismembered limbs rotting in the baking sun… when we hear that university students are forced to barricade themselves for their lives… we’ve got to challenge ourselves – as Africans – to view it as an unacceptable blight.
We’ve got to raise our voices, caucus with our fellow nations, deploy our peacekeepers and stop the violence. Anything less would be to accept the inferiority and expendability the world confers on us because we are Africans.
South Africa’s transition from apartheid and development of a human rights-based Constitution won us global recognition for championing human rights.
Yes, we have multiple challenges at home. But the challenges don’t diminish our moral responsibility to demonstrate that we have a set of values that aren’t for sale. Investing in these values would be something to celebrate on Africa Day.