The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the United States has provoked widespread protests and revived the “Black Lives Matter” fervour. I don’t think there is any gainsaying that systemic racism is America’s original sin. It is admirable that Africans have been appalled by Floyd’s ordeal and murder because they vicariously feel the pain and spectre of Africa’s past at the hands of colonial racists. But, there is something even more troubling than the ill-treatment of people of colour by the white race: That is the devaluing of black lives by black people. Black people seem to have imbibed the wickedness that black lives do not really matter. On the African continent, some of the unspeakable cruelty meted out to Africans has been at the hands of their fellow Africans. The world cannot forget how the Sudanese government lashed out at its citizens in Darfur. Nor can we forget how ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe treats it citizens. And what about attacks on black Africans in South Africa? All these incidents have the makings of how black people have internalised the racist notion that black people are a danger and their lives could be dispensed with without much thought.
Most recently in Zambia, citizens have been complaining about how Chinese nationals are treating their Zambian workers. They have also warned the government about giving Chinese entrepreneurs unfettered access to Zambia’s resources. The mayor of Lusaka was beaten back into line for exposing the abuse of Zambians. When more other popular personalities complained about the government’s defence of Chinese employers at the expense of Zambians, the objectionable minister of Lusaka, Bowman Lusambo, threatened them and gave them a 24-hour ultimatum to apologise to President Edgar Lungu. All this is happening in a country that pretends to be a democracy, a country in which the constitution enjoins the government to acknowledge people’s rights of expression. Sadly, one of the people who sounded an alarm on Chinese investment issued an apology that is nauseating in its adulatory nature, calling himself a son of the president who should not have used social media to warn about the possibly damaging manner of giving Chinese investors a lot of power in Zambia’s economy.
The upside to this saga is that some of the people who have decried the government’s complaisant approach to foreign investors have refused to apologise, citing their constitutional right to freedom of expression. We do not know how Lusambo will react to those who have refused to issue apologies to Edgar Lungu. Lusambo’s predilection for violence is well known and no doubt people will have that in mind during these troubling times. Young people in Zambia rightly feel that their government would rather humour foreign nationals while being dictatorial to its citizens. This goes to the heart of how black lives are treated by black people. People of colour cannot expect fair treatment from white people and at the same treat fellow black lives with a cavalier attitude. The outrage of African governments such as the Zimbabwean government over the death of George Floyd exposes shocking hypocrisy coming, as it does, from a government that is a menace to its predominantly black citizens.
Indeed, basic humanity summons us to deplore the victimisation of people based on skin colour. However, people of colour should go beyond outrage and examine how they treat each other. The sad end to Floyd’s life should invite us to ponder the question race and how the victims of racial violence, especially at the hands of people who look like them, doubly suffer. African governments have the wherewithal needed to improve how their citizens are treated in an increasingly polarized international system. Africans should be able to find support by the ministrations of their governments. Once this is done, then Africans could have the moral authority needed to denounce injustices that are meted out to people of colour. We could then lament killings such as the one of George Floyd without feeling the pangs of hypocrisy.