‘African people in Western countries are still not taken seriously’

O Adebayo
By O Adebayo

Digital nomad entrepreneur, writer, avid solo traveller, mental health advocate, spoken word poet, public speaker and ex-finance professional

Posted on Friday, 15 April 2022 10:41

Ukraine Invasion Escape Photo Gallery
African residents in Ukraine wait at the platform inside Lviv railway station, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Lviv, west Ukraine. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a tragedy. Millions displaced and thousands dead in the space of a few weeks. Children being murdered in a war they have absolutely no stake in. Those who do survive, traumatised by the displacement of a war, will be trying to make sense of it for the rest of their lives. A tough ask.

Because this war, despite all the geopolitical takes, is, at its core, senseless. There’s no justifying the loss of innocent lives. I hope that, by the time this goes to print, some kind of ceasefire will be reached.

Even should this happen, the world as we understood it has been irreversibly changed. Like many, I watched in horror the devastating scenes of civilians fleeing and leaving behind a life they know they can never return to.

What made it worse, though, was hearing news of African students being stuck there, too. My phone became inundated with WhatsApp broadcasts with information on how we could support Nigerian students stuck at the Poland-Ukraine border.

At first I was impressed at the ingenuity of the diaspora – once again using social media to disperse information, share resources and raise funds. But then the videos from African students started to make the rounds.

‘Screaming that they were students’

Awful scenes of Africans facing the sort of racism that should make anybody shudder: told they weren’t allowed to get on buses or trains; being called all sorts of profane names and some even being attacked! Young Africans who went to Ukraine to study screaming that they were students, trying to appeal to the humanity of others, while they watched white Ukrainians being ushered in.

More than 16,000 Africans were studying in Ukraine in 2022, according to the Brookings Institution. At the start of the war, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky did not respond to the outrage of their treatment in the refugee crisis. So, as admirable as his speeches were about the Ukrainian people, as a Black person and having watched the treatment of Black people by Ukrainian officials, I can’t help but wonder if in his mind we simply don’t matter as much, if at all.

Lessons for African leadership

That said, it’s not the European leadership or Western media dog-whistling that I think truly matters. What truly matters is what lessons African leadership are going to take from this.

African leaders need to wake up to the fact that it’s not just in a crisis that their citizens’ lives aren’t deemed to matter. African people in Western countries are still not taken seriously. If this is to change, it’s high time these leaders showed solidarity and demonstrated to the world that Africans and the African continent does, should and will always matter.

And to the rest of the world, maybe it’s time to consider that these African refugees could be you one day, and that the only way we will be able to share this world peacefully is if we recognise the humanity in every single life, no matter what they look like, what accent they have or where they happen to be born.

We all deserve the right to a peaceful life, as do our children.

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