As the ‘Day of Solidarity’ commemorating the death of Martin Luther King Jr. came to a close earlier this week, I was reminded of one of his quotes;
“An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”
Lately there has been a considerable amount of attention towards the numerous struggles for freedom and justice throughout the Middle East and North Africa (yes Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are indeed in Africa) and rightfully so. We are witnessing an era of seemingly unprecedented events involving the grassroots mobilization and asserting of their human and civil rights.
The events that have unfolded throughout Libya have gripped the world’s attention. We are all on the edge of our seats tuning in and praying for our brothers and sisters dying every day fighting for freedom under the oppressive regime of Ghadafi. Every day we tune in and sympathize with the suffering of rebels throughout Libya fighting for justice and self-determination. Anti-Ghadafi rebels have become heroes and freedom fighters, and in their struggle the world (NATO) has taken notice and come to their aid.
It’s equally amusing and disturbing which humanitarian efforts the West decides to intervene in on the behalf of human rights, to be clear: NATO intervention in Libya is about economics (oil), not protecting human rights. If it was about human rights violations we’d be addressing atrocities by both sides; rebels and Ghadafi.
Hundreds of Black Africans (migrant workers) live in fear and die every day at the hands of Anti-Ghadafi rebel forces in Libya. Oppression is oppression and “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere” regardless of who the perpetrator is.
Last month numerous western news sources ‘reported’ that Ghadafi had hired Black African mercenaries to fight against Libyan rebels. An Israeli source reported that 50,000 African mercenaries had been hired by Ghadafi through an Israeli company for $200 per day. The New York Times, in a March 16 article titled ‘Libyan Oil Buys Loyal African Allies for Qaddafi,’ wrote that Gaddafi recruiters were enlisting ‘about 200’ young men in Mali to fight in Libya. In another New York Times article it was reported that there had been reports that 3,000 to 4,000 mercenaries had been recruited by Ghadafi’s government from Mali, Darfur, and Niger at a salary of $1000 per day. However, in a March 11 story in the Times, it was reported that U.S. intelligence officials were unable to confirm the report that between 4,000 and 5,000 mercenaries from Niger, Mali, and Darfur had been hired by Ghadafi for $1000 a day.
On March 16, The Guardian of the UK printed a clarification of a previous report that intimated that Gaddafi had recruited mercenaries from the tribes living in Darfur and Chad. The Guardian wrote that there was ‘no evidence’ that members of various tribes throughout Darfur and Chad were involved in the present conflict.
Some have speculated that reports of Black Africans being used as mercenaries has only served to fuel the flames of already existing racial tensions and xenophobia throughout Libya. Where I do not doubt that Ghadafi may have indeed acquired aid in the form of troops from surrounding countries, after all the man has strategically done some amazing things throughout Africa under the guise of Pan-Africanism.
Given that, how does a Black African in Libya prove that he/she is just an immigrant and not a mercenary? It’s a question that thousands of Black Africans stuck in the Libya uprising have to deal with, that is if they are given chance.
And as a result, throughout east Libya, a hunt began as towns and cities began falling under the control of Libyan rebels, mobs and gangs. They started to detain, insult, rape and even executing black immigrants, students and refugees. According to Somali refugees in Libya, at least five Somalians were executed in Tripoli and Benghazi by anti-Gaddafi mobs. Dozens of refugees and immigrants workers from countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Mali and Niger have been killed. Black Libyan men receiving medical care in hospitals in Benghazi were reportedly abducted by armed rebels.
Thousands more Africans caught up in this mercenary hysteria are terrified. Some barricaded themselves in their homes, while others hide in the desert. Insulted, threatened, beaten, chased and robbed. Their only crime, being black and therefore labeled as “mercenaries” of Ghadafi and their lives forfeit.
Mohamed Abdillahi, Somaliland, 25, was sleeping at his home in Zouara, when the mobs arrived. “They knocked on the door around 1 o’clock in the morning. They said get out, we’ll kill you, you are blacks, foreigners, clear.”
The testimonials and are very similar among the thousands of Africans that saw the ugly side of Libya in the past weeks. “They have attacked us, they took everything from us,” said Ali Farah, Somali labourer 29 years.
“They wanted to kill civilians, they beat many of us. To me, they are animals,” says Jamal Hussein, 25 years Sudanese worker.
Reports on Al Jazeera show a Ghanaian migrant who claims that black people are being caught, armed and sent to battle front. The real weapon that has been unleashed by Ghadafi is not those of foreign mercenaries, but the reduction of the dignity of the Libyan Revolution into an insane xenophobic tantrum.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the thousands if not millions of Libyans who have aided and sheltered Black Africans. Those courageous Libyans need to be mentioned and thanked and to balance the perspectives, and encourage such positive tendencies still found within the Libyan communities and individuals who do not see all Black Africans as mercenaries.
In closing it frustrates me to no end; the suffering of people throughout the world and how leaders and media outlets pick and choose which causes to stand for. We need to better equip ourselves with information and engage in these conversations, so that we can hold our leaders as well as those close to us more accountable. Obama in his speech concerning U.S. and NATO involvement in Libya said,
“To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
In that same vein, as an individual who subscribes to an Afro-centric worldview and a love ethic toward all my brothers and sisters throughout the world, not engaging in these conversations would be a betrayal of who I am.
By Thomas Toney