Many Africans leave their majority Black countries with naïve notions of race and racism, and the realisation that someone else sees them as less than human simply because of the colour of their skin is an extreme culture shock. The stories we hear are of everyday racist treatment, yet we rarely hear any African government raising hell to protect the wellbeing of their citizens. Here are just a few of the more recent stories, one of which just happened in India.
It used to be that growing up in an African country, one did not necessarily experience racism (You understand, I’m sure, that I’m discounting countries like South Africa, Namibia and Botswana). Although things have changed considerably, a lot of Africans leave their home countries without knowing what racism is. They land in countries where they have to deal with not only culture shock but also the shock of someone else viewing them as less than human simply because of the colour of their skin.
Almost every year we hear news about the horrific treatment meted out to Africans abroad.
Zulmira de Souza Cardoso, a 26-year-old engineering student from Angola who had earned her degree in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was killed when a man shot at her and three other African students from Angola and Nigeria after calling them “monkeys” in 2010.
A Kenyan businesswoman Maureen Moraa Mayieka died two years ago in Guangzhou, China, after she fell ill but was refused treatment by three hospitals.
Last year, videos sprung up on Youtube showing gory scenes of torture and abuse of Ethiopian migrant workers by the police, security officials, mobs and vigilantes in Saudi Arabia.
Recently India has been in the headlights, again, after sinking to a new low in its treatment of Africans legally residing in the country. It was on January 17th when Somnath Bharti, a minister in the Aam Aadmi Patry, led a vigilante mob on the hunt for “some Nigerians or Ugandans” in Khirki Extension, Delhi. Backed by the minister, the mob forced four African women out of their homes and held them in a car for hours where they were assaulted (one was forced to urinate in public), before they were then taken to a hospital where medical tests were performed on them against their will. It would be a night of ordeal for these innocent women before they were released the following morning. The medical tests were supposed to detect drugs the mob was sure would be found in the women; they believed the women were sex workers and drug dealers. Unsurprisingly, the women tested clean.
Apparently, the reason Bharti had come to Khirki in the first place was that he’d received a tip about Africans selling drugs and sexual services in the area. He ordered the police to conduct the medical and house searches without warrants; one officer who refused was rebuked. The next day, an unrepentant Bharti returned to Khirki asking residents to draw up a list of houses where “such people” live promising he would personally check each one. Thankfully the Indian media and civil society have come out strongly against the actions of Bharti yet his party’s official position is that they will only fire him if a judicial probe finds him guilty. There have been no official apologies, and so far nothing from government officials of either Nigeria or Uganda.
If it seems odd to expect to hear African diplomats raising hell when their citizens are mistreated and abused abroad, it’s because they don’t do it often enough. So much so that it comes as a surprise when they do. Last year Simeon Obodo, a Nigerian citizen, was killed in Goa (The pictures of Simeon’s lifeless body are gruesome). There were rumours that the man had been involved in the drug trade but they are just that, rumours. Following the murder of this man, there was a move to deport Nigerians who were staying in Goa illegally. Local politicians did not help matters when one member of parliament accused Nigerians of being drug dealers while another, Goa’s Art and Culture Minister, referred to Nigerians as a “cancer”. Nigerian nationals in Goa led demonstrations, and a family member was displeased that the Nigerian government failed to send an official delegation to the funeral. On this occasion, even though the Nigerian government didn’t act on this personal level, there was something of a diplomatic row between India and Nigeria over the maltreatment of Nigerian citizens in Goa. Jacob Nwadiba, an administrative attaché of the Nigerian high commission in New Delhi, is quoted as saying, “There are only 50,000 Nigerians living in India, but there are over a million Indians living in Nigeria. Thousands of Indians living there will be thrown out on the streets if the forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop.” While considering the effects of a tit-for-tat row, it is still heartening that Nigerian officials attempted to defend their citizens in India. After all, racism fuelled attacks against Africans by a mob is one thing, but it is a completely different matter when politicians are involved.
Ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss
After Sagesse Kalala Ilunga and Tibule Sedjro Aymar, students in Brazil from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Benin respectively were arrested at gunpoint and taken to a police station for no apparent reason. They demanded to know what they had done wrong to be detained but their questions were met with silence, until a Black police officer, pointing to his skin, explained that this kind of thing happens and will continue to happen. Ilunga had heard about anti-Black racism in Brazil before arriving in the country, yet refused to believe it. Similarly a Kenyan student at university in India refuses to believe that he is a victim of discrimination much less racism despite his experiences of constantly being refused service, including a refusal to sell him milk.
As mentioned above, a large number of Africans are leaving their majority Black countries with naïve notions of race and racism. Nigerian diplomats have in the past taken India to task for not ensuring the safety of Nigerian nationals in that country. Should Nigeria, and other African countries be doing more to inform their citizens of the difficulties and dangers they may face as Black people going to live in a foreign country? One comment below the piece about the African students who were arrested in Brazil asserts that Africans need a reality check on racism outside the continent before they leave. This commentator blames the country these students originate from as well as the Brazilian authorities for not informing the students about the racism they would face in Brazil. Yet even if citizens are warned of the potential threat of racism, how much of an effect would that have? When the authorities are leading the attacks, how helpless must the victims feel? What can African nations do to take a stance towards better treatment of all of their citizens abroad?
By Cosmic Yoruba | Published in This Is Africa on January 30, 2014