The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis earlier this year sparked a global protest movement for racial justice in America. Under the banner of Black Lives Matter, protesters marched in New York, London, Cape Town, Berlin, and other cities around the world.
World leaders condemned the killing and called for racial justice in America. The African Union, through Commission Chair Moussa Faki, released a strongly worded statement. A forum of former African heads of state and government called on Africa to strongly protest Floyd’s killing and the treatment of blacks by police in America.
African writers under the grouping of African Authors Sans Frontieres released a statement in solidarity with George Floyd and other blacks killed by police in America. The angry statement condemned “the United States government’s continual terrorism towards African-Americans”.
And yet when last week Uganda police killed over 40 unarmed people who were protesting the arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine, there was hardly a whimper of protest from the international community.
No one marched in New York, Cape Town or Berlin holding aloft a Ugandan Lives Matter banner. African governments that had released statements condemning the killing of George Floyd kept a studious silence. The vocal forum of former African heads of state mysteriously lost its tongue. The African Union vented not a squeak of protest. The African Authors Sans Frontieres forgot to release a statement condemning the Ugandan government’s continual terrorism towards Ugandans.
Why was there such a loud silence at the loss of 40 lives at the hands of the Uganda police? Was this silence perhaps an anomaly? Not at all. When it comes to African lives, the world, including — ironically — Africans themselves, applies a different standard.
The number of Africans killed by police in Africa this year alone is unconscionable. Tens of Nigerians were killed by police enforcing a Covid-19 curfew. Later, more Nigerians would be gunned down during protests against a killer police squad.
In Kenya, more than a dozen people were killed by police as they enforced a Covid-19 curfew. In addition, tens of Africans protesting bad governance and election fraud were killed by police in a number of other countries. If we include those killed by police in the previous two years on the continent, the figure would run into hundreds, if not thousands. And if we were to include in that tally those killed by police, soldiers and militia in the last five years, we would be talking about the killing fields of Africa.
A fact that no one will mention is that an African today is many times more likely to die at the hands of African police than at the hands of police elsewhere in the world.
In fact, an African is many more times likely to die at the hands of the police than any other person on the planet. Given these death tallies and the global silence, African lives seem not to matter.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator