Senegal has joined the list of countries that have conducted protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in America. This march was put together after the unwarranted killing of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in the US, last week. Protesters in the capital city of Senegal, Dakar, believe that the BLM movement should resonate with Africans and that there are definitive lessons to be taken away from it.

The Black Lives Matter protest in Dakar, is the second of its kind on the continent but is the first in West Africa. It follows South Africa, which has a significant White-African population in its territory. The message of the BLM movement has resonated not only in the United States but also around the world, spurring solidarity protests in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dublin, Khayelitsha and now Dakar.

The BLM movement and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter were established in the United States in 2012 after Trayvon Martin, a Black Florida teenager, was murdered by a white neighbourhood vigilante on his way home with the candy and soda he had just purchased. The movement has since gathered momentum and support following a series of incidents caught on camera, showcasing unarmed black men being killed, often times indiscriminately, by police officers. The movement has since broadened its efforts to include all of the ways in which black people are intentionally left powerless by the state and so is no longer restricted to issues of police brutality and state violence. “We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity,” reads a statement on the website. The hashtag came to the forefront once again after Louisiana killing of Alton Sterling and the murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota.

Why Black Lives Matter For Africa

The protest in Senegal comes as a surprise to many West Africans who believe that the continent faces far more pressing problems and will be foolish to take part in a battle across the Atlantic without, first, ‘taking care of its own.’ BLM demonstrators in Dakar, however, respond that the phenomenon is not exclusive to African-Americans as all Africans are at risk and they refuse to “remain silent while our black brothers and sisters are killed.”

It will be rather myopic to think that Africa is unaffected by the systematic violence and institutionalised oppression faced by African-Americans and, we should be able to assert the importance of black lives within our own borders. African-Americans are the most visible representation of black people on a global scale through the international media, amongst other mediums, and America still holds the role as a world leader and hegemon. Progress in racial relations in America will set an example for its partners in the developed world, reducing the occurrence of racially charged incidents that kill hundreds of Africans in the diaspora every year. Recently, Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi, who was seeking asylum in Italy due to intense security concerns in the north of Nigeria, was beaten to death in a racist attack by right-wing football hooligans in the central Italian town of Fermo, in Marche. Lending our support to BLM’s cause will benefit the agenda of West Africa as well as African-Americans.

Black African Lives Matter

The region south of the Sahara will do well to remind its own governments that black lives matter in Africa. Too often in the region, military violence against protesters and government opposition go unchecked and without reproach. The looting of national resources by the political elite, in some cases, directly contribute to the death of citizens. We can see this happening all over Africa, citizens in Chad, Burundi, South Sudan, Nigeria, Gambia and more, have suffered numerous casualties at the hands of rogue military officials who appear to have the tacit go-ahead from the state. Human Rights Watch estimates that about 300 members of the Shiite group were unjustly killed in the north of Nigeria last year and the officials involved are yet to be investigated, or given a fair trial. Also in Nigeria, it was revealed that $2 billion in security funds earmarked to combat the Boko Haram scourge, was stolen and disseminated by an elite few at the cost of thousands of lives in the northern part of the country. This one case is symptomatic of the system at large and one can only wonder how many more lives would have been preserved or improved had these resources not been diverted.

The incessant strikes in higher learning institutions, the non-payment of teachers salaries, the refusal to upgrade old health infrastructure and provide basic amenities, all reinforce the unspoken stance of governments that African lives don’t matter. Most countries in the region still perpetuate the extractive colonial institutions they inherited, which benefit a select few at the expense of the masses. The set up of these institutions reinforced the colonial belief that their contribution, and by extension their lives, were more valuable than that of the “conquered.” Unfortunately, many of these institutions are still perpetuated long after these countries gained independence. Black Lives Matter has gathered momentum as a movement and has commanded international recognition, it’s time for Africans to come together and demand justice, as well as make constructive noise in an effort to proclaim and protect the sanctity of African lives. The BringBackOurGirls movement that demanded for the return of over 200 school girls abducted by Boko Haram should be commended for its efforts in pressing the Nigerian government and international community to take urgent action in light of the incident, but there is still a gaping vacuum waiting to be filled by people who want more civil participation demanding better governance and accountability. The reach and relevance of the BLM movement should inspire similar efforts on the continent.

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