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AFRO-COLOMBIANS AND THE AFRICAN UNION
The African Union should canvass the termination of practices which humiliate and exploit Black peoples everywhere on the globe, writes Okello Oculi
A former guerrilla war leader, Gustavo Petro, was elected president of Colombia in a second-round voting results announced on Sunday 19th June, 2022. Although his war record had been softened by a past record of being elected as Senator and later the Mayor of the country’s capital city BOGOTA, it was still a ‘good shock’ to his people that a man with Socialist ideological convictions had achieved that historic victory.
His Vice President also made history. Francia Marquez became the first Black Woman to be elected to that post. In her view her victory was not only a ‘’victory for all women’’, but a manifesto that ‘’we are facing the greatest possibility of change in recent times’’.
In terms of radical politics, Petro’s victory followed similar changes in Chile, Honduras and Peru. That of Francia Marquez seems to have been part of tremors broadcast around the world by the multiracial power of the “BLACK LIVES MATTER’’ movement which kicked up a countrywide dust in the United States of America, Europe; and tremors in Brazil.
Afro-Colombians have a rare pan-Africanist ancestry. Their music, CUMBIA, has roots in Eritrea, Angola and Mali. Their ancestors are reported to have come from Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and Angola. With a total of 4.4 million Blacks, they are competitive with several African countries. They constitute the fourth largest population of people of African descent in the western hemisphere. The United States, Brazil and Haiti are the top three.
Their 2.5 per cent Mestizo/Mulato share of the country’s population, is a reflection of Afro-Colombian ancestors fighting Spanish racists and retreating into jungles and mixing with indigenous inhabitants. Their flight away from gun-wielding Spanish military and civilian opponents is reflected in the large concentration of their numbers along the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the far west.
Afro-Colombians hold a rich record of fighting for their freedom and the right to self rule. In1945 a “predominantly Black political administrative division’’, El Choco, was created. They later became members of the two guerrilla fighters, FARC and AUC. The emergence of a Black woman activist as Vice President-elect gets legitimacy from this legacy.
At 25 per cent of Colombia’s population, Afro-Colombians are, however the poorest. This poverty remains rooted in governments denying them access to education. While 60 per cent of their children attend Primary School, very few of them attend higher education. The Primary Schools have very low pedagogical facilities, including wretched school buildings.
This low access to education ensures lack of capacity to enter high-paying jobs. Their average salary of 600 US Dollars per year is in contrast to US Dollars 1,500 per year average for White Colombians. Governments deny their communities investments. We are reminded of similar inequality in racist Southern Africa.
Colombia carries the colonial legacy of large plantations which exploited Africans for sugar production; gold mining and cattle ranches. Wages are at starvation levels. Political dictatorships use lavish violence to repress protests and demands for living wages.
Newly elected president promised to have dialogue at the ‘’Presidential Palace’’ with ‘’those who have raised arms’’ and those he called the ‘’silent majority of peasants, indigenous people, women, youth’’. Andres Felipe Barranos, Director of the Institute for Reconciliation, has said of Petro –Marguez victory that since Colombia became a republic and got Independence 200 years ago, “nothing like this had happened’’. The African Union remained silent.
Luis Celis listed problems facing the new Leftists to include: ‘’agrarian reform, an economy at the service of the people; a more equitable taxation; to get out of hunger; of poverty’’, and end all violence as in today’s South Africa.
When in 1973 a Socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile set itself the task of achieving that terrible list, he was assassinated by military coupists aided by the Americans.
Anthony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State/Foreign Minister, congratulated Petro and offered cooperation ‘’towards a better future’’. This change in tone may reflect concern over massive investments by China in South America, and public rejection of past American assassinations; and ruthless exploitation of economies in the subcontinent.
The African Union owes Afro-Colombians the practical implementation of foreign policy promises expressed by Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to demand termination of practices which humiliate, degrade and exploit Black peoples everywhere on the globe.
Oil-rich economies, notably: Nigeria, Angola and Gabon should create an ‘AFRICA DIASPORA DEVELOPMENT FUND’’ to support SMS businesses and good quality education facilities for Black communities in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, the United States of America.
The African Union must also learn from Colombia’s revolt by the wretched of the country that free and fair elections prevents resort to armed warfare for economies in the service of the people.
Prof Oculi writes from Abuja