America cannot lecture Africans on human rights

Seated in the unenviable squalor of my modest, sparsely furnished living room, deep in the southern end of “shithole” Africa, as American President Donald Trump casually described it in January 2018, I have come to the firm conclusion that America is not qualified to lecture my continent on human rights and democracy. I have watched the video of the tragic, untimely death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and have remained appalled at the brazen inhumanity demonstrated by the police in a “first world” democracy.

I have read in horror countless social media posts, penned by pained Black, brown and white folks on the latest controversial death of a Black man in America, which came on the heels of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

Each post has been inundated with an obvious abundance of silent, peaceful rage and despondency at the violent racism permeating every aspect of life in the world’s leading democracy. Utterly shocked at what I have been seeing, I have had to repeatedly remind myself that this is America.

This is the same country that reacts with immediate moral outrage whenever something goes terribly amiss and somebody dies at the hands of the police and in full view of the public in Africa.

Whenever the spectre of governmental injustice lords over Africa, America always makes its boisterous, unapologetic voice heard on a continent purportedly starved of human rights.

America is always proud to condemn the “brutal violence by cowardly and vicious armed groups” and the “disproportionate use of force” by security forces in Africa. In fact, a predictable stream of condescending diplomatic self-righteousness is certainly the lifeblood of America’s ubiquitous presence in Africa’s young and still-developing democracies.

However, it is not just America that is forever indulging in this made-for-TV moralising crusade, whenever a life is regrettably stolen. The rest of the West also chimes in with a chorus of splendid, choreographed integrity.

So, since Monday, when news of Floyd’s death first surfaced, I have been anxiously waiting to hear a deluge of condemnations from these highly respectable Western nations.

I have hoped to see France’s President Emmanuel Macron hold a news conference, imploring the American authorities to uphold democracy and put an end to the spate of tragic deaths of Black people.

I have hoped to catch a reassuring soundbite from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressing disapproval of America’s systemic abuse of African-Americans.

I have hoped to watch Germany’s Angel Merkel declare her profound unease with America’s long and shameful record of violating the human rights of its Black citizens.

But I have heard nothing: not a statement, not a tweet has come out of the world’s “leading democrats” and human rights proponents.

The truth is the West does not really care about human rights, especially the human rights of African-Americans and Africans; it just cares about preaching about human rights and striding the world stage with hypocritical pride and a pompous air. For, if it really did care, at all, America would not be witnessing nationwide protests today and its fellow “first world” nations would not be so silent about it.

George Floyd’s tragic death is not an isolated incident, not a mistake or an exception. It is a sign of a systemic failure in upholding the human rights of minorities and migrants in America.

Minority and migrant communities face more socioeconomic precarity, inadequate healthcare, shorter life spans, and higher incarceration rates than white Americans. Yet the response of the US government to these systemic problems has been to increase policing, not to try to resolve them.  

Large numbers of minority voters, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, have also struggled to participate in national elections and have their voice heard on the political scene. Voter suppression in these communities is rife and certain political forces have continued block efforts to enfranchise these voters. 

Yet the American megaphone diplomacy in Africa has always insisted on free and fair elections and brandished the American system as a model to follow.

That America is facing such a human rights crisis at home perhaps should not come as a surprise. For decades, despite what it has been preaching, it has purposefully undermined international law and the establishment of a robust international human rights regime which would have pressed governments around the world (including the US one) to uphold human rights at home and abroad.

This has served America well, as it has ensured immunity for its soldiers and political agents committing violent crimes abroad and supporting and abetting dictatorial regimes which have victimised their own citizens. America has done nothing to prosecute grave human rights violations and killings by its soldiers in Iraq and has gone as far as threatening the International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation into US crimes in Afghanistan. It has also consistently overlooked grave human rights violations by its closest allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, the leading nation of the “free world” has no moral high ground from which to lecture Africans on human rights. 

Yet as disappointed as I am with America’s dubious modus operandi and deplorable human rights record, I have found Africa’s strong and unequivocal condemnation of Floyd’s agonising death a truly welcome and positive development. Without a shadow of doubt, Africans are increasingly convinced that the way forward for their countries does not uphold the American system as a model but as a cautionary tale. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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