My fellow Kenyans, with due respect to the deceased, I don’t think most of us could pick out George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery or Eric Garner from a line-up. So why were 200 or so coronavirus-defying Mathareans (aka residents of Mathare) involved in a #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protest earlier this month?
Did they not get the memo that 99 per cent of Kenya’s population can be labelled black or brown and that BLM is about the struggles of African Americans in America, where blacks are a minority?
Furthermore, we Africans are primarily and practically concerned about the business of staying alive for today. This trending Western obsession with tearing down dead people’s statues seems like some bizarre tantrum to be studied in our ethnography departments in the future. And not to make this into an ad hominem assault, but we really can’t afford to be attending protests all day long. Pssst … is it true in rich countries there are things called unemployment benefits, bailouts, small business relief?
I don’t want to be negative here, but this thing is bound to fizzle out soon.
Unfortunately as a cause, black people rank even lower than women and in some cases cute Arctic mammals like whales and penguins. So tell me again, why should BLM matter to Kenyans?
Well, for one our country is neither located on a remote south Pacific Ocean island nor have our people been isolated from the world in the manner of a ne’er-been-exposed Amazonian tribe.
We live in an interdependent world. We sell flowers to markets in Amsterdam, and tea to Egyptians, French beans to Tesco and coffee to Starbucks. We are addicted to our Chinese smartphones and data bundles form part of the budget securing our passport to the World Wide Web.
With globalisation we can assume unconscious biases are reflected in decision-making that governs Africa’s access to resources, rights and power. Otherwise how do you explain the lion’s share of investment going to white-owned Silicon Savannah entrepreneurs from white-managed funds in the West. And you try applying to an international job opportunity with your African-sounding name – you will quickly come up against a concrete ceiling!
Merriam-Webster recently included in its dictionary definition for the word ‘racism’ the following descriptor: “a political and social system founded on racism”. In other words how the world is organised today. The following are tips on how the Black Lives Matter movement can generate a new world order. We need to generate CNN-worthy breaking news.
Take lessons from the #MeToo movement and find villains that are alive and well and preferably famous.
Anyone connected with the entertainment industry generates an instant global splash, and a Croesus antagonist immediately provides unlimited fodder from their circle of yacht party-going, private jet-owning friends with an occasional bonus thrown in for minor royalty. We should learn from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”.
Avoid being the token ‘Single Black Leader’ whose appointment is supposed to instantaneously redress all diversity issues within the organisation . This darkie hire comes with the added benefits of being able to pose for PR photo-ops preferably with prominent white colleagues and speak on panels at Davos and other global who’s who events as the face of the inclusive enterprise.
We need to stop “colourism’ and unite as Africans. “How are things in Africa?” “We hope to travel to Africa one day…” are routine somewhat perplexing comments posed to those of us in the middle part of Africa by the northern, lighter-skinned Arab speakers or those with even less melanin to be found around the Cape of Good Hope.
Finally put your money where your mouth is when you buy.
Shun common biases such as European equals superior whereas products sourced from our African neighbours should carry a red flag or maybe a hazard sign.
In a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement brands are re-shaping centuries old identities. For instance, Unilever has announced it will rename its ‘Fair and Lovely’ brand popularly associated with skin whitening benefits to just ‘Lovely’.
Dear top-skilled eminent readers by now you should be flooded with requests to act as an advisor to corporates and NGOs to bring in the African voice . What! you haven’t received any ?! Have you checked your spam folder?
To quote from the title of an anthem of the civil rights movement in America “We Shall Overcome”. Let’s stand in solidarity, systemic racism affects us all.
The author is the managing partner of C.Suite Africa, a management consultancy firm that supports #BusinessProBLM; [email protected]