OPINION: George Floyd and Africa’s future



By Charles Onyango-Obbo

On Might 25, 2020, an African American man George Floyd, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rephrase that; he was killed by a racist policeman throughout an arrest. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes whereas Floyd was handcuffed and mendacity down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. His three colleagues, stood round, watching the execution.

America exploded in, in response to many accounts, it’s most widespread protests in over 50 years. The Black Lives Matter motion soared. In anti-racist rage, statues of figures from America’s slavery period and lengthy racist historical past have been toppled or eliminated. Corporations rushed to wash up their racist previous and branding. Apologies have been flying everywhere.

Then protests swept different capitals on the earth, and there too, particularly in Europe, statues of figures from the colonial interval, racists, and slavers have been spray-painted and in addition taken down, with one within the UK hurled right into a river. Extra apologies for colonial abuses are flowing in.

When it got here to Africa, we did the identical factor, with wider calls for to rename cities, streets, rivers, lakes, mountains, and colleges that have been named after European explorers, colonial officers, and missionaries. In Kampala, a marketing campaign that had been simmering for lengthy to eliminate colonial-era avenue names gathered tempo, with a petition garnering over 5,000 signatures. It was promptly offered to the rulers.

This wrestle to eliminate colonial-era names has been on-going in Africa since independence, with blended success. In a number of locations like Ghana, it has been very profitable.


Now we have to surprise the place it should finish this time. First, as with the protests that have been sparked by the killing of George Floyd revealed, it wasn’t actually about him. It was the results of a century of activism and organising in opposition to racism and for justice, and a dramatic change in sensibilities, because the multicultural profile of the protestors urged, that had matured. Floyd’s killing was simply the match that lit the fuse.

Anybody who thinks that in Africa all it will finish when streets like Denis Pritt are renamed Harry Kumbula or a Colville Highway turns into Okot p’Bitek Highway, has one other factor coming.

In Africa, these typically seemingly beauty and symbolic quibbles about colonial names, are literally at base a elementary critique, and in some locations a complete rejection, of the post-colonial state. And it has many faces, together with a reclamation one, which expresses itself in actions demanding the return of looted African artwork that are in European museums.

In a number of international locations, together with Kenya, a few the early heroes of independence and founding fathers, are actually rejected as collaborators and even colonial puppets. It’s a outcome, typically, of facile revisionism, however in lots of situations an awakening and new consciousness born of a examine of true histories, not the half-propaganda of the early victors.

At independence, not all the things was neat. Inside the colonial state, there was a subset of privileged teams – for instance, kingdoms and chieftainships – or elites, both from some ethnic communities, or religions. These teams and people have been highly effective colonial chiefs and brokers round international locations, leaving their names on small cities, and villages.

Within the system of naming issues, privileges have been conferred on them. Right here and there a few of them received avenue names in cities and the capitals, however principally upcountry colleges and dormitories have been named after them.

Communities that have been additional away from the capital, or which resisted colonialism, weren’t equally privileged. Within the final 30 years particularly, these marginalised teams have moved their histories nearer to the nationwide political mainstream, capable of inform their histories via on-line platforms like blogs, and social media, sidestepping the mainstream media and colleges that, in most of Africa, are nonetheless managed by the dominant teams, or as Kenyans would put it, the “large tribes”.

After we’ve renamed and banished the colonialist signage, we will get to the arguments about which of our heroes have been excluded, and whether or not, for instance, any of the founding father and their comrades, the Jomo Kenyattas, the Sekou Toures, and even emperor Haile Selassie whose statue was toppled by Oromo protestors in Ethiopia on Tuesday, ought to be given a spot of honour.

It won’t finish. The subsequent inevitable step, shall be to query whether or not our international locations ought to stand as they have been crafted with their present borders by colonialists.

How will you topple murderous Belgian King Leopold II’s statue, settle for an apology for his colonial-era atrocities, and but search to keep up his Congo? An assault on slave commerce, the racist construction it created as a successor when it ended, and the states round which they organised their temporal energy, which is what a lot of our international locations are, are all recreation.

It’s simple to sit down in a prime flooring of a authorities workplace in Nairobi or Kampala and consider the solidarity George Floyd international protests as a repudiation of the Donald Trumps of this world. It’s. However solely within the first act.

The writer is writer of Africapedia.com and explainer website Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3



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