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Commentary: Why Africa and Africans should echo the Black Lives Matter movement, now more than ever

Protesters hold Black Lives Matter march during a protest against the killing of black men by police in the US and calling for an end in police brutality in Kenya outside US Embassy, Nairobi on June 9, 2020. Courtesy: The Star

By Annabel Shimekit Lemma @AnnabelLemma &

Achie Gezahegne Gebre @achiegez

Addis Abeba, June 24/2020 – After the video showing the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer surfaced, Americans have taken it to the streets to demand justice and systemic changes in law enforcement. People from all over the world, including the Netherlands, France, Japan, England, Germany, Brazil and many other countries, have echoed these protests to amplify the voices and demands in the US and also expose the racial injustices that take place in their respective countries. A number of African countries, including Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Senegal have also joined in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and organized protests, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Even though some of these protests were met with even more police brutality that led to a number of casualties. 

While the observed solidarity from Africans across the African diaspora and continental Africans in these protests and various social media platforms is encouraging, it is undeniable that to this day, most Africans don’t see themselves in the same light as they do African Americans. It is still common to come across continental Africans with white supremacist values and views shaped as a result of colonial brainwashing, consumption of western media and the continued dependence of their respective countries on the west for survival. But Africa, more than any other continent in the world, should loudly echo the current BLM. The shared ancestry and oppression call for an unwavering solidarity with African Americans that are being systematically profiled and killed. 

In the past, African Americans have shown tremendous support in Africa’s fight for independence and a number of African Americans were prominent in the formation of Pan-Africanism. Africans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement and this responsibility should stem from a deep understanding that the fate of Black lives around the world is strongly linked to one another. Importantly, Africa needs to echo the BLM for its own freedom. Most African countries, to this day, are being continuously and systematically exploited by both internal and external forces leading to a declining quality of life and overall well-being of the people. Africa needs to promptly jump on the BLM wave and stand up for black people everywhere in and out of the continent so that exploitation and discrimination of black people ceases all over the world.

As slavery in the US has resulted in racial inequalities exhibited today, the colonial past of most African countries has resulted in a systemic exploitation of the countries from both internal and external fronts. Until early this year, 14 African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Togo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon)  were under a “colonial pact” that the countries were forced to sign before independence that required them to pay tax to France. According to this pact, the postcolonial countries were still expected to have French officials represented in their governing bodies and keep half of their foreign reserves in France with France taking over $500 billion from the countries. African Leaders that opposed the pact in the past were killed or removed through coups. Of these 14 countries, 8 of them announced just in December 2019 that they will implement a currency reform that will ease up the French influence. But this change is only a small step on the long road of dismantling the colonial impacts of France on the Francophone countries.

While the colonial tax is one of the more direct forms of exploitation, various other detrimental exploitation take place in the name of loans and investments.  In 2015, while African countries received $161.6 billion from abroad in the form of loans, personal remittance and aid, $203 billion was taken from the continent through corporation repatriating profits, cost impositions or illegal money trafficking. That is a net $41.3 billion loss for the continent in one year. Current debt to GDP ratio of Africa is at 53%, with most of the debt accounting for foreign currency denominated debt. Foreign debt is often used as a tool to puppet governments to enforce policies or allow foreign interference and investment. For example, Tanzania had a conditional debt relief agreement with the World Bank and IMF that required the privatization of the water supply that was overtook by the British and German led City water. Similarly, Tanzania was conditioned to give Western agribusiness full freedom and enclosed protection of patented seed to obtain development assistance which in turn has made small farmers dependent on western corporations and exposed them to price fluctuations due to foreign currency exchange. 

In 2015, the annual profit acquired from Africa by multinational companies netted at around $32.4 billion. According to a 2016 report, 101 companies amongst ones listed on the London Stock Exchange had mining operations in Africa and controlled resources that exceeded 1 trillion dollars. Most of these companies are designed to provide little value to the majority of the population of the countries they are residing in. For example, international mining companies in Congo are structured in such a way to benefit only the companies and the Congolese elite. In December of 2019, International Rights Advocates launched a legal case against Apple, Google, Dell, Tesla and Microsoft representing Congolese families who said that their children had been killed or injured while mining Cobalt to be used to manufacture technological appliances. Throughout the continent, multinational corporations are allotted an enormous amount of economic and political power. There is also an increased interest and acquisition of land in Africa by foreign companies. Between the years 2004 and 2009, in only five countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan) an estimated  2.5 million hectares of farmland had been allocated to foreign-owned entities.

Colonial legacies in many African countries continue to stifle economic development. More than 25 years after the end of Apartheid, majority of the land in South Africa is owned by whites making the path to economic advancement difficult to Black South Africans. According to a 2017 land audit report, 72% of the land is owned by whites who only made up 9% of the population. Policy assisted injustices are also not uncommon. There are trade policies in place in most of Africa where unprocessed agricultural goods are exported from the continent for very minimal value and reprocessed and refined elsewhere multiplying the value of the goods in the process where these refined goods are often sold back to the continent at much higher prices. For instance, Nigeria imports 90% of its gasoline needs despite being the primary exporter of crude in Africa. 

Exploitation of Africa does not only take the form of monetary and land acquisition and unfair trade deals. Africa also suffers from the loss of human resources to the rest of the world. Every year, around 70,000 skilled workers leave the continent. While the physician to people ratio of the continent is 0.43 to 1000, there are a number of African countries whose local born physicians residing abroad are much greater in number than the ones in the country. From 2010-2018, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe collectively lost around $2 billion in physician training on physicians that later migrated

In addition to economic injustices, Africa also experiences post-colonial political trauma. Communal clashes that have emanated due to colonial divide and rule policies, colonial border demarcations and economic inequalities have resulted in political unrest that lead to numerous casualties every single day. Power structures designed to only benefit the rulers in the colonial era are now substituted by elites that milk the people in most of Africa. Foreign interference in political issues conditioning aid and loans is an everyday occurrence. Recent tweets from the President of the World Bank Group, David Malpass, and the National Security Council of the US with subtle threats pressuring Ethiopia to make a deal over the filing of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam while disregarding Ethiopia’s sovereignty is the most recent example.

Africa is barely breathing. African lives, black African lives, are not mattering in Africa as they are not in the rest of the world. Black lives matter! And Africa should be at the forefront echoing and amplifying African American voices for black lives everywhere. AS


Editor’s Note: Annabel Shimekit Lemma is a PhD candidate, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University. She can be reached at:

Achie Gezahegne Gebre studies as Princeton University, Operational Research and Financial Engineering (African Studies certificate). She can be reached at:

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