By Anote Ajeluorou
ALTHOUGH there are no known programmes of action by governments of African countries towards promoting the ‘International Decade for People of African Descent’ declared by the United Nations (UN) in 2013, which started on January 1, 2015 and will run till 2024, only Badagry Diapora Festival 2015, which ended last month, took steps in redirecting attention to people of African descent outside the continent. The festival had an International Symposium on Toussaint L’ouverture, the Haitian revolution of 1791; he led the revolt that ousted Haiti’s colonial power France to gain independence in 1804. The festival’s theme, ‘Toussaint L’ouverture: The Catalyst for the Global Struggle of the Black Race’, was instructive in many respects.
The UN General Assembly’s International Decade for People of African Descent has as theme ‘People of African descent: recognition, justice and development’. The main objective of the international decade is to promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for people of African descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The decade will provide an opportunity to recognize the significant contribution made by people of African descent to societies and to propose concrete measures to promote their full inclusion and to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Brazil, with the largest population of black people outside the continent, has the decade focusing on the following objectives: “to strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society; to promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies, and to adopt and strengthen national, regional and international legal frameworks in accordance with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, and to ensure their full and effective implementation”.
The decade will enable the United Nations, Member States, civil society and all other relevant actors to join with people of African descent and take effective measures for the implementation of the programme of activities in the spirit of recognition, justice and development.
At the heart of Badagry Diaspora Festival 2015 was the essential condition of black people in the Diaspora and their possible integration with the motherland. It also coincided with the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1988. Organised by the Mr. Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku-led African Renaissance Foundation (AREFO), the festival had guests from Haiti, Benin Republic and Nigeria as resource persons who articulated the fundamentals of synergy between Africa Diaspora and the motherland. Sadly, it had no support from either Lagos State or federal governments.
But on the whole, there was disappointment at how African countries have fared in ameliorating the essential conditions of the Blackman and the need to improve on it to raise the profile of Africans everywhere from a deprived, oppressed, corrupt and downtrodden race continually at the receiving end of other peoples’ evil machinations. But more importantly, the symposium turned attention to conditions prevalent in modern Africa that continue to force its young and skilled professionals to migrate to the west in what some have aptly termed the second wave of voluntary slave labour through perilous routes not unlike what happened during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade centuries ago. Only this time, it’s voluntary enslavement largely for economic reasons.
Badagry festival organiser, Olaide-Mesewaku brought the historical import of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to the fore when he called it a monumental genocide, with its moral burden lying heavily on Europeans. He argued, “As the Holocaust is to the Jews so is the slave trade to Africans, though the two experiences are not comparable in terms of effects, scope and magnitude, duration and loss as the African experience remains the worst in human history. But while we have events and ceremonies, monuments and institutions commemorating the Holocaust in Israel and all over Europe and America, African leaders are either afraid or shy to talk about or be associated with the history of the slave trade. This, to me, is a calculated attempt towards excision of the memory of the history of slave trade.
“In response to this historical void, I therefore propose the establishment of an ‘Institute for Diaspora Studies’ in Nigeria. The institute will seek to address, amongst other things, the issues of the slave trade and its aftermath, modern slavery, neo-colonialism, child labour, human trafficking and the question of oppression in all ramification. The institute will help in no small measure to reposition Nigeria’s socio-political and economic relations and stimulate re-connection with African descents in the diaspora. Badagry is well positioned for the establishment of this institute”.
IMAGES of thousands of black Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea through the Straights of Gilbrata and perishing in the process have become a source of concern in a migratory wave that bleeds the continent dry of the skilled professionals that should develop her.
Indeed, Mere Jah Evejah, who has since emigrated from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to settle in neighbouring Benin Republic, noted that Europeans enslaved Africans for their knowledge and skills (scientific and otherwise) in their plantations, noting that if Europeans were honest they would say the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was “transfer of knowledge from Africa to Europe and the Americas; they needed our knowledge and took Africans by force”.
However, the tables would seem to have turned, with able-bodied African professionals voluntarily fleeing the continent to Europe and North America for better living conditions. It was Dr. Amos O. Abisoye of Department of Social Sciences, Crawford University, Ogun State, who put the dire situation in context in his presentation, ‘African Political Leadership and Development: The Diaspora Connection’ at the Badagry festival, where he castigated African leaders for the forced migration of Africans in modern times.
He argued, “A thin line differentiates the forced migration of the slave trade era from the rampant incidence of brain drain which is now the order of the day in Africa. The west has continued to pull out the best of Africa’s population today just as it was during the slave trade era. Today, there is seismic immigration of human assets including many of the most vibrant scholars from African universities and colleges to North America and European institutions. Many of the experienced, vibrant scholars leaving the shores of Africa are simply irreplaceable and indispensable…
“Knowledge of the quantity and quality of African professionals in the Diaspora can only lead to lamentation for our motherland. The current pain and hardships faced by Africans leave no one in doubt that if a slave ship anchored on the Atlantic shore today, many Africans would volunteer to jump in it and be taken to the west”.
While Abisoye’s argument was not flattering, he did not spare Africans for abandoning the Office of the Citizen, the reason why they are afraid to rise up against their internal oppressors the way L’ouverture and his fellow wayfarers, all former slaves, did in Haiti to liberate themselves and procure precious freedom. Abisoye further asserted, “The fundamental difference is that the slaves of the southern plantation system stopped at nothing in their quest for freedom, whereas present-day Africans have become too weak and unable to challenge those who exploit and dominate them.
“The courage and determination of African slaves like Tousaint L’ouverture who led his people to challenge those who enslaved them remain the greatest challenge of black slavery in our generation”.
Undoubtedly, the place of the black man in a modern world has increasingly come into question and so crucial that the U.N. is taking steps to redress it while African leaders are clueless on what to do. Little or nothing is being done to narrow the gulf between Africa Diaspora and the motherland. Economic and political conditions on the continent do not attract Diaspora returnees. Perhaps, the continent’s leaders would need to take a cue from the U.N.’s decade-long searchlight being beamed on issues limiting the black race from achieving optimal capacity.
Abisoye enjoined Africa Diaspora to form a coalition against corruption in African, which he attributes to the rampant poverty and under-development in the motherland.
SECRETARY of a pan African political party in Benin Republic Mr. Oluwafemi Kochoni said only a pan African strategy of action founded on the discipline exhibited by L’ouverture and his henchmen in Haiti could revise Africa’s current woeful fortunes. He noted that this was so because Africa was too weak to withstand the onslaught of globalizasion, and therefore canvased for an enlightening education that liberated the mind and freed the individual mentally.
Haitian Jacques Nicolas sued for a pan-African cultural activism, and sought closer cooperation between the Diaspora and the motherland using the instrumentality of the art. He stated, “And if the arts and the culture are both the card and the standard of a nation, we understand why the true African Renaissance will be through its culture, its arts and its traditions, as well as when all states on the continent will unite, not only among themselves but also with their diaspora to form a fishbowl world of this wonderful bundle of brotherhood and solidarity that will be the spearhead of a new Africa, the Africa of our dreams, and to which I am already so flattered and proud to belong. And through me, the entire African diaspora, a new Africa that will no longer be the maligned, disinherited and overused continent, but a continent that will finally play its role in global governance”.
The question African leaders should ask themselves: how can the U.N.-declared decade be leveraged to better the lot of Africans and begin the process of forging enduring partnerships with those in the Diaspora for stronger economic and political ties to improve the continent dark image? A developed Africa motherland would be attractive to those in the Diaspora. More importantly, a developed Africa will stem the tide of wanton migrations to Europe and North America. It also means available educated manpower that will solve Africa’s manifold problems.
Therefore, African leaders must be roused from their slumber to take action for the decade to count for the generality of Africans the world over.