Log into your member account to listen to this article. Not a member? Join the herd.

Social hierarchies have existed throughout human history. People have been defined by the circumstances of their birth, social status, wealth, and many other factors. Africans, people of African descent, those with high concentrations of melanin, and others of different origins have been dehumanised based on the colour of their skin or their origin. Outside their continent, Africans face different levels of racial discrimination, and within it, xenophobic attacks in countries where they are perceived as “foreigners”, and tribalism from their fellow countrymen.  

For centuries, Africans and people of African descent were considered to be inferior. They were wrongly considered to be without identity, history, spirit, conscience, intelligence, and incapable of reason. This historical perspective of the inferiority of African people has created a bias consciousness against them and – although Africans and Blacks in general do not need to prove anything – it has undergirded scholarship and development and, as such, has fed the psychopathic instincts of racists.

There are no fewer than 200 million people of African descent in the Americas and millions of others in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Although lynchings are not as frequent as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries, racist abuse remains depressingly prevalent. And while laws exist to combat racism, the problem persists, taking on other more subtle forms. Indeed, the enforcement of human rights laws and policies has been a major challenge in countries that claim to be leaders of the free world. Recognising the dynamics of systemic racism, US President Joe Biden described it in the early stages of his administration as “destructive”, “corrosive”, and “costly”, especially because of the fast rate at which it tears apart the fabric of society. 

In a 2021 FBI analysis of Hate Crime Statistics, a single-bias analysis showed that 64.5 per cent of victims were discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, or ancestry. In 2018, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a survey that showed that 57 per cent of African Americans had reported having been discriminated against in terms of pay and promotion in their workplaces, 51 per cent had been subjected to racial slurs, 21 per cent had intentionally avoided visiting healthcare facilities because of fear of outright racial discrimination, while 60 per cent stated that they and their families had been subjected to undue suspicion by the police and law enforcement agencies because of their colour. A 28 November 2018 survey carried out by the BBC found that the rate of racism in the countries of the European Union ranged between 20 per cent and 63 per cent, with the rate in Finland being 63 per cent, 21 per cent in the United Kingdom and 20 per cent in Malta.

Football is one sector that is particularly affected by racism, with players, coaches, and individuals being subjected to the unchecked excesses of fans. Romero Lukaku, Dani Alves, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Didier Drogba, and many other Black players have faced harassment on the pitch. Sake, Sancho, and Rashford faced particularly harsh racist abuse when England crashed out of Euro 2020. Moise Kean, who is of Ivorian descent, Alex Sandro, and Blaise Matuidi, of the Juventus Team in Italy, were racially abused by Cagliari fans in August 2019 with Kean bearing the brunt of the abuse and being blamed for the attack. 

African migrants who have left their countries in search of greener pastures have learned to “swallow their pride” when faced with undue suspicion. Blacks who have left Africa for studies abroad face difficulties settling down because of the discriminatory attitudes of many of their colleagues. Black and migrant children in schools are four times more likely to face suspension, and they are more than twice as likely to be arrested for school-related offences. African migrants are largely treated as unwanted visitors who cannot protest because they lack the assurance that their rights will be protected. Africans who decide to visit, stay, study, or work overseas must be aware of possible racial abuse and discrimination that they may face. This is not to say that overseas communities are toxic in their entirety. However, an allusion is strongly made to deforming systems that tolerate racism and allow racial subconsciousness to grow. This has led to constructive slavery, human trafficking, and other types of harassment. 

Discrimination is not solely an issue of whether you are Black or African. Much could be said about the racial sentiments expressed by some supposedly distinguished Africans like Tunisian president Kais Saied, who faced intense criticism for his racism and hate speech comments against Sub-Saharan Africans early this year, who are principally Black. Saied had stated that Tunisia needed to take proactive steps against the “hordes of illegal immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa”, qualifying the migrations thus: “The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African Country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations.” A similar situation prevails in Libya and in the Maghreb in general where Africans – especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa seeking to cross into Europe by that route – are subjected to inhumane treatment. It is reported that being Black in Libya is very difficult, and that the stigmatisation can throw one into depression. 

However, discrimination against Africans is not the preserve of whites only. African migrants to other African countries face xenophobia expressed as prejudice against people because of their culture or their country of origin, hatred of those of different backgrounds, and outright physical assaults, lynchings, arson, and other unspeakable violations against others. There are reasons why xenophobia has been growing in Africa since the 1960s, none of which justify it. In Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, xenophobia has been ignited by the economic situation. The war on terror was the triggering cause in Kenya and in Chad, politics and economics in Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Gabon, criminal rhetoric in Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania, and Burundi, and politics in Congo Kinshasa. The exodus of between 900,000 and 1,200,000 people from Ghana, the arrest of about 4,000 Somalis in operation “Usalama Watch” in Kenya, the repatriation of Beninese from Gabon in the late 1970s, the expulsion of about 100,000 Congolese from Angola in 2004 and of about 50,000 Angolans from Congo Kinshasa in 2009, the “Ghana must Go” agitation in Nigeria, and South Africans’ violent xenophobic attacks on African foreigners in 2008, 2015 and 2019 and other discriminatory reactions and prejudices, have been some of the worrisome trends in the continent. The story of Nathalie, a Grade 10 student in a Cape Town public school who immigrated with her family to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019 and was harassed after being chosen as the class monitor, is a pitiful example. Legal migrants face this type of discrimination and harassment every day because of their nationality.

The promotion of human rights and regard for humanity must always come first. Illegal immigrants should be dealt with without abusing their basic rights, and legal migrants should enjoy the same treatment as citizens. Africa needs to hold up to a level of consciousness of togetherness and understand the gains to be made from collaborative economies. 

But even among those who do not venture overseas or migrate to other African countries, there are those who face discrimination at home in the form of tribalism. One of the characteristics of Africa is its diversity and variety of cultures. To cite the example of Nigeria, there are more than 250 different ethnic groups across the nation with over 500 languages. Ghana has about 70 ethnic groups, there are about 40 groups in Uganda, 42 in Kenya and three major ethnic groups in Rwanda. This diversity has left many minority groups, marginalised groups and others that face tribalism agitating for representation and recognition within their countries. 

Fighting discrimination in the form of racism, xenophobia and tribalism is difficult because of the array of stakeholders involved. However, there is a need for Africa to take a strong unified stance, and the role of the African Union in this endeavour is paramount. The AU should undertake collaborative actions with countries facing constant racial tensions and make its position known to other international bodies. In addition, human rights laws and policies that are in place to stem the menace of discrimination should be revisited, and greater efforts should be directed towards implementing and enforcing these laws.

More importantly, individual African countries need to address the development issues that push their citizens to seek opportunities overseas. With a favourable economy and a social system that allows for growth and enhances the standard of living of citizens, emigration, or at least permanent emigration, would be reduced to a minimum. Furthermore, Africans, Blacks and other discriminated individuals should always look within the system to seek solutions to racial and xenophobic abuse, and involve NGOs and other civic bodies that promote the protection of human rights.

On the home front, an international or continental approach may not by itself be as adequate as anticipated. Indeed, while Pan-Africanism should be the pre-eminent solution, it is growing rather slowly. Thus, for now, the solution is national; each African country should identify the underlying structural causes of division and efforts should be made to erase tribalism from every state entity. To do this, stakeholders from different ethnic groups must be engaged to reduce ethnic gaps and ensure equal representation in politics and in social activities. 

Let us always remember that lives are lost to racism, xenophobia, and the brutalities of tribalism. Efforts to resolve these issues mean not just the saving of a life but the saving of a generation, averting mental breakdown and giving voice to the voiceless.