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The Paris Africa rally

Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Friday, 30 January 2015 17:36

Amid the billions of bytes expended on the Charlie Hebdo assassinations and the subsequent mass demonstrations in January, one of the most succinct yet powerful statements came from a lone banner waver outside the French embassy in Abidjan.

Je suis Charlie – N’oubliez pas les victimes de Boko Haram

Joining the throng of those showing solidarity with the French people and 17 victims of three days of attacks, he held aloft a banner: “Je suis Charlie – N’oubliez pas les victimes de Boko Haram”.

If the murders in Paris can prompt national unity demonstrations of four million across France, what should follow from the death of more than 10,000 people caught up in the insurgency in northern Nigeria over the past three years?

Five African presidents – Senegal’s Macky Sall, Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé and Benin’s Thomas Boni Yayi – marched in solidarity alongside France’s François Hollande.

Where then is the solidarity with the victims of atrocities in Nigeria or indeed in Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia or the Central African Republic?

Of equal importance, where is the campaign to promote unity above the claims of ethnic and religious identity?

As the demonstrators in France headed homewards, world-weary cynics were forecasting that such shows of support would be short-lived.

That may be, but that doesn’t negate the value of people of all faiths and ethnicities coming together. It should help counter extremists trying to deepen social division.

The extreme right in Europe – the inaptly named Party for Freedom in Holland, Golden Dawn in Greece and Front National in France – are already mobilising support.

In Africa, militias and politicians are turning up the volume of ethnic and religious recruitment.

If ever there was a time for a unity march against terror, it is now in Nigeria in the election season.

One of the first post-independent states in Africa to explode into civil war, Nigeria had a peace settlement of ‘no victor, no vanquished’ that became a model across the continent.

Similarly, Nigeria’s religious pluralism that sees so many families coming together from Islam and myriad Christian faiths has set a pattern.

Tragically, the insurgency in the north and much of the political reaction to it is undermining all that.

Brave voices – such as Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi and Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Hassan Kukah – calling for the marginalisation of the insurgents should be amplified a fold.

Why should they march with African leaders and activists of all faiths joining them in a call for unity?

And in Kenya, the need for a united response is becoming more pressing, too.

With the historical foundation of the African humanist philosophy of ubuntu – ‘I am because we are’ – such initiatives could develop a much stronger social base.

If four million Europeans can brave a northern-hemisphere winter to march for unity, the possibilities for change in the continent that produced Nelson Mandela should give us all pause for thought. ●

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