Graphic: Reuters/IPS – The racial identity of persons of African descent is criminalised, they are continually racially profiled, and disproportionately brutalised by police, and their efforts towards upward progression are often met with racialised barriers.
By Catherine S Namakula
Africans in the diaspora and people of African descent worldwide have always been part of the solution and not the problem. Racism and racial discrimination that is traceable to the legacies of historical tragedies of the trade and trafficking of Africans, colonialism and apartheid have ingrained the stereotype that men, women and children of African heritage are ‘social parasites’.
The racial identity of persons of African descent is criminalised, they are continually racially profiled, and disproportionately brutalised by police, and their efforts towards upward progression are often met with racialised barriers including pushbacks against migration and integration, negation of their skills and qualifications, among other discriminatory practices. People of African descent self-identify as such; they include descendants of the victims of the trans-Atlantic trade and trafficking in Africans and Africans and their descendants who migrate to other continents. Africa is the foundation of the dignity of all African diversified identities worldwide.
For twenty years now, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is advancing frontiers of knowledge on the human rights of people of African descent with ground-breaking thematic proclamations and country-specific findings and recommendations.
It is building on the foundation laid by the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in 2001, the most comprehensive framework against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia, and related intolerances. This year’s report of the Working Group focused on the plight of children of African descent and conveyed an unequivocal message that children of African descent are not synonymous with poverty.
It appealed to the UN and other stakeholders to stop using images of African children and children of African descent in dire circumstances of poverty for fundraising and marketing. It also called for multisectoral approaches to the exploitation, enslavement, and torture of African migrant workers in the Middle East and Gulf states at the recently concluded Regional Meeting for the Middle East on the International Decade for People of African Descent.
As we draw nearer to the conclusion of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 to 2024), based on the pillars of recognition, justice, and development, significant strides are being made toward formulating a declaration on the human rights of people of African descent.
New mechanisms have been established at the level of the UN, to address the human rights concerns of people of African descent including the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent and the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER), currently chaired by Prof Yvonne Mokgoro.
The key question is why and how Africa could advance the human rights of its people beyond its shores. Firstly, Africans, like all other persons, should be at actual liberty to live and function effectively in any part of the world. This can only be possible if the laws, policies and practices of societies globally support the integration of our people.
Many Africans that survive hazardous journeys across high seas and the wilderness to cross to Europe and the Americas are living in ghettos, dilapidated camps, and on farms under conditions worse than the ones they fled. During a visit of the Working Group to an immigration detention centre in Spain, it found many African migrants in an irregular situation who had been rescued at sea and transferred to a detention centre for expulsion.
In Italy, many of the migrants who were criminalised and were facing serious sanctions, were found to be Africans. These persons have no status in other states other than their countries of origin that should take responsibility for them. All foreign missions of African countries should be equipped to address the human rights concerns of our people and facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Africans and people of African descent.
Africans have a right to receive authentic information from their own governments about the perils of irregular migration including the threat to life. Decolonisation of curricula is essential to producing a human resource that can succeed in the African context and build on that home-relevant expertise to internationalise by attracting the rest of the world to products and services from Africa.
Furthermore, the African diaspora is a demographic gift and a key resource to the African continent. The African Union has recognised the significance of the diaspora and constituted it into a sixth (demographic) region of the Continent. The noble aim is to build a global African family by ensuring the participation of the African diaspora in the integration and development of the Continent.
Mainstreaming Africa’s diaspora on the African continent requires infrastructural support such as the establishment of diaspora engagement institutions, waiver of visa requirements, facilitation of acquisition of documentation on citizenship and identity, and financial inclusion of Africa’s diaspora by way of specialised transboundary financial services, among other interventions. This may require an overhaul of colonial barriers to Africa’s financial autonomy and integrity. Ghana is offering support to African Americans to settle in the West African country.
The African Diaspora Programme of Action expresses the intention of the AU to “engage developed countries with a view to addressing concerns of African immigrants in diaspora communities”. The marginalisation of Africa’s diaspora is counterproductive; considering that the developed world attracts some of Africa’s best talent. The essence of Africa’s bloc vote of 54 member states of the United Nations to eradicate racial discrimination cannot be overemphasised.
South Africa’s leadership of this agenda at the United Nations is highly commendable. Protection of Africa’s diaspora should also be included in the advances of international co-operation by each member state.
In conclusion, full participation of the African diaspora in the development of the Continent is inseparable from the promotion and protection of the rights of all persons of African descent.
Africa needs to own the UN anti-racism agenda; operationalise the African Diaspora Programme of Action and each African state establish frameworks of constructive engagement with its diaspora. A strong global African family is possible.
Namakula is a Senior Lecturer in the Law Faculty at the University of Fort Hare