This years’ BLACK HISTORY MONTH is in full swing and I feel one cannot talk about fair trade, climate justice and social justice without talking about Africa and the people that call this beautiful continent home. Many events, both good and bad, shaped the way Africa is today and it is crucial to remember them and recognize their importance, for there is no future without the past. Today, however, I would like to reflect on how we see and how we talk about Africa.
For years, the African continent has been associated with poverty, corruption, political chaos, human rights abuse, various diseases and a lack of both development and ambition. While some of these things are undoubtedly present in parts of the continent, the challenge is to look beyond that, to look beyond media cliches and plain stereotypes, as shrouded behind all these is a beautiful, radiant, vibrant and diverse continent.
When I think of Africa I think about breath-taking scenery, diverse fauna and flora, delicious food and a wonderful variety of musical sounds. I think about all these but mostly, I think about the PEOPLE. It is disdainful to throw African people into one pot as this huge continent has more tribes, cultures, religious beliefs and languages than an average person can comprehend. From this diversity stems the true beauty of Africa. From Tunisia to South Africa, from Senegal to Somalia – Africa is a patchwork of cultures and traditions that are as radiant and thriving today as they were hundreds of years ago. So yes, Africa is a beautiful place that is alive thanks to the people that live there.
It is a popular belief that due to the fact that many African countries struggle with high levels of poverty, only pocket deep donations can overcome this problem. While, arguably, this approach might be relevant in some situations, for instance, environmental catastrophe or even armed conflict resolution, it is my opinion that Africa would indeed benefit from every one of us becoming a conscious citizen. We need to understand the effect our actions have on other people (however far they might be) and the planet. African people are no different to us in the meaning that they work hard to earn the living. The difference is in how that work is valued and treated. If we demand from our leaders to ensure honest, fair and decent pay for work to everyone on every step of the trade chain there will be no need for charity and aid money. To me, this is fundamental in understanding Africa and its people.
Perhaps this is quite obvious, but nonetheless, I would like you to think about those people. Think about people when you are shopping for this warm winter cardigan to prepare for long winter nights. Think about people when you are drinking that life-saving morning coffee to help you get through the day filled to the brim with things that just can not wait, kids that need your attention right now and the boss that wanted this paper on his desk yesterday. Think about people when you are making the comforting bowl of curry and rice for the dinner. Think about people when you are buying flowers for someone you care about. Think about people, as they make all these possible. Is this why they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect? No. They deserve to be treated as our equals because that is who they are. Being human is enough to deserve respect. Borders, different skin tones or a different way of saying ‘hello’ don’t change that. We need to treat people fairly because they are people.
So please, instead of thinking about poverty think about equality, instead of feeling pity think about fairness. Let’s stand up for human rights – this October and for as long as it’s needed.