Men without chests

As long as African governments and the Church continue to condone injustice of any kind, they are no different from George Floyd's killers

Since George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer in May, I’ve been quite disappointed that African governments have not come out to strongly condemn racism in the United States. I expected extraordinary sessions of the African Union (AU) to move towards a more radical response such as sanctions until the US retracts every form of police brutality and other forms of social injustice visited against African-Americans and other migrant communities.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who expected the closing of some US embassies until justice is pronounced and seen to be done. I expected Africa’s heads of state to speak with one voice, and to keep speaking, until something is done.

How can we continue to fill our airwaves with Covid-19 when there is something worse in the air? I expected Africa’s media to handle this matter with the same intensity being directed at the coronavirus pandemic. Alas, this has not happened. Maybe I come from a different world because even religious groups are continuing with business as usual, talking more about the reopening of worship places than the dehumanisation of people made in God’s image. This ought to change.

I wish to use the American example but intend the application for the African continent. You see, for so long it has been repeated that if you are a Democrat, you cannot be a good Christian and if you are a Republican, you will automatically make it to heaven because you are not just conservative in your faith, but also evangelical and righteous compared to your Democratic Party counterparts.

Sadly, this is the same thinking in Kenya, where the ruling party is often viewed as comprising people who are closer to God by sheer virtue of having won an election, never mind how elections are won. It is assumed that if you are in Jubilee then you are more religious than if you are in the Orange Democratic Movement or Amani National Congress. I wish to rebuke this myopic thinking in the strongest of terms, but go a step further to address everyone who thinks that President Donald Trump is godlier than Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.

Sadly, I find this notion among evangelical Christians, especially American missionaries I have interacted with who work in Africa. Indeed, some of them think that Mr Obama in particular was the anti-Christ, even though both he and Mr Clinton came from the same Democratic Party.

To me, failing to act decisively against police brutality is just as violently evil as killing a baby in the mother’s womb, something the Republicans charge the Democrats with, although we know that many Republicans also procure abortions.

The question is; why isn’t Trump coming out to condemn this violence and purge his police force instead of unleashing the National Guard on civilians in the name of quelling riots? And why did it take so long for justice to come for Floyd? Faith is not resident in a political party.Lest you think my focus is America, I have a word for Kenya and the rest of Africa, and perhaps I have a partial answer as to why African leaders are not strong in their condemnation of this terrible incident.

Maybe it is because they cannot throw stones given that they live in glass houses. Take Kenya for example; the level of police brutality against civilians is getting out of hand. If I got the figures right, I believe we have had more people dying from police brutality in the name of enforcing compliance with Covid-19 regulations than from the pandemic itself since the first case was reported in Kenya in March. And with elections coming in about two years, we all fear what could happen if community is incited against community.

Let me break down our crisis as an African country so you can see why we are no different from America and why, if not dealt with, it will end up being worse. There are three main culprits for racism and ethnicity in Africa. First we have people my age and older who think in tribal terms to the extent that they poison the youth with ethnic rhetoric and incitement. Until these people step down from their positions of power or turn away from such rhetoric, there will be no end in sight for inter-ethnic tensions.

These are the wazee (old folk) who do not want their daughters or sons to marry from other communities. They are the ones who, when in office, will hire many people from their own communities or families.They talk very loudly about this being a vice, but only to sway public opinion and blind the eyes of the populace.

The second culprit is multinationals such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as well as huge economic powers like China,the US and the European Union, which must get their knees off the necks of African economies if the continent is to break free from racial prejudice.

For instance, a lot of the national funds from Francophone countries in Africa are stored in France but the United Nations has done very little about this injustice. Many African leaders have killed local production in order to get preferable grants and loans from outsiders thus driving Africa into perpetual debt, but the AU does not address this matter head-on.

The third culprit is the Church, which continues to harbour partiality and racism while pretending to stand against it. Several churches are politically polarised and you can almost guess which party a denomination supports. When challenged to purge pulpits of political rhetoric and ill-gotten monies, such churches play dumb or simply sweep the matter under the carpet. I expected the Church to come out stronger on police brutality and nepotism the same way it did in the days of clergymen like Henry Okullu, Alexander Muge, Manasses Kuria and Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki.

Until these three culprits reform or get out of the way, ethnic and racial divisions will continue to kill us. International bodies will continue to give us money even during this coronavirus crisis, but the money will not reach its intended destination.

If the killing of Floyd has not taught us the importance of taking our knees off the necks of fellow Africans, fellow believers and fellow human beings, it means we have callous hearts or we’ve become what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests.”

If, as a Christian you cannot associate with someone just because he or she is Muslim, gay, a street child, a widow, handicapped or whatever, forgetting the importance of reaching them redemptively as people made in the image of God, you are “men without chests.”

If, as a Muslim you do not condemn those who kill Christians in the belief that it will get them into Allah’s heaven, you are “men without chests.” If, as an American you imagine that only the African-Americans, Arabs, Asians and Latinos are immigrants, I want to remind you that everybody else is an immigrant as well. And by the way if, as an American you do not know what the Mayflower symbolises, you are not a true American.