Countries across Africa are joining global protests in response to the death of George Floyd and calling for an end to police brutality across the continent.
In South Africa, the movement resonates because of the country’s history of racism, says Moky Makura, executive director of Africa No Filter, a nonprofit working to shift harmful narratives about the continent. But it’s surprising how much Black Lives Matter resonates in other African countries that “don’t have that same clear dichotomy of Black and white racism,” she says.
Though much of the continent doesn’t have the same experience with racism as the United States or South Africa’s history of apartheid, teenagers and people in their early 20s — the oldest members of Generation Z — are supporting the movement, she says.
“I think what we do have on the continent is colonialism and in both cases, with racism and with colonialism, it’s the white perpetrator and the Black victim,” she says. “So I feel there’s a lot of empathy with the situation our American brothers are experiencing now.”
Black Lives Matter is compelling because of its simplistic, clear message and powerful visuals, she says. Plus, young people are spending more time on social media because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2016, protesters gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town after two Black Americans, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were killed by police. But like many American activists and writers, this moment feels different for Makura.
While police brutality in the U.S. sparked action, people around the world feel like they’re part of a global movement — not a solely American one, she says. In South Africa, young people are having “stronger” conversations about racism, she says.
“I think Black people here seem to have more agency. Black Lives Matter has empowered them to ask tougher questions because there’s a movement behind them,” she says. “It’s giving people the idea that they have agency to equally create movements like this.”
The head of the African Union swiftly condemned Floyd’s death and called for the U.S. to intensify its efforts to ensure the total elimination of racial discrimination. Makura calls this statement ironic.
The African Union, which represents 55 countries member states on the continent, doesn’t make similar statements when injustice happens there, she says. Since the AU commented on the death of Floyd, Makura questions why it doesn’t issue statements when someone in Africa dies because of their ethnicity or gender.
The killing of two students, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa and Barakat Bello, sparked recent protests in Nigeria against gender-based violence in the country. In South Africa, the hashtag #JusticeForTshego was trending this week following the murder of a pregnant woman, Tshegofatso Pule.
“Right on our doorstep, there are so many examples of injustice,” Makura says. “How come white on black injustice somehow is more elevated and the AU sees that they should respond to it, but they don’t when the equivalent happens in Africa?”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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