By Abimbola Lagunju
On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, a Washington Post columnist walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for some consular papers and ZAP! He never walked out again. After pressure from different quarters, the Saudi Government owned up to have killed him inside the consulate.
What was his offence? The exercise of his rights was his major and probably only offence. His rights as a human being to have divergent opinion on issues; his rights as a journalist to report and express opinion. He was killed because he did not share the same opinion on human rights with Saudi Government. It’s not that journalists and dissidents are not killed by their governments, but this killing is one of its kind. Not that he was run down by a car or shot in the streets or murdered in his home; he was killed inside his country’s consulate in a foreign land.
Many governments have expressed surprise and shock at the strange occurrence and have challenged Saudi Arabia to explain the circumstances of this journalist’s murder. But not a word from any African leader; neither from African Union or from any of the regional bodies. As usual, they have remained silent as they always do when human rights are threatened anywhere in the world. Do they really think it is too far away from their shores to take a position? Are they scared of losing some favors from the abusers of others’ rights? Or have they conceded the right to speak on their behalf to their “former” metropoles?
The emergence and success at the polls of neo-nationalist parties in the West needs to get Africans and their leaders thinking. Neo-nationalist ideology is founded on exclusion which has its roots in denial of certain rights of their targets. Black Africans, who for centuries were forcefully argued out and excluded from history should be particularly sensitive to the narratives and behavior of these neo-nationalists and should firmly denounce this tendency at all times and anytime irrespective of where the infringements are taking place in the world. It cannot be dismissed as internal politics because these states are powerful and their internal problems cause ripples all over the world. Sitting and watching from the fence is a human security risk for Black Africans. The same arguments and attitudes that were used to exclude Black Africans from human community are being revisited today. Conceded small victories should be jealously protected and should never be taken for granted.
The threat from neonationalist ideology as far as it concerns us Black Africans lies in the disregard and disdain for erstwhile “sacred” agreements and treaties between countries. These instruments are being revisited and discarded by these parties in the name of national interests and security. This should be a major cause of concern to African leaders even when it is happening far away from the shores of Africa.
The current administration of United States is the most powerful representative of the neonationalist tendencies and it is showing the way by tearing up different agreements and treaties in the name of national interests and national security. Just to cite a few, in June 2018, the United States quitted the UN human rights council which was set up in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights; in October this year, the US announced its withdrawal from the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the US and Iran that was signed in 1955. Just a couple of days back, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that US signed with Russia in 1987. The sanctity of agreements is being gradually violated and Africans are looking on.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed in December 1948 in the absence of Africans. Only apartheid South Africa, which abstained from voting was among the 48 countries that voted in favor of the Declaration. Africans weren’t there, but we are beneficiaries as individuals and as States. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 and came into force in 1976. Article 1 of Part 1 recognizes the right of all peoples to self-determination, including the right to “freely determine their political status, pursue their economic, social and cultural goals, and manage and dispose of their own resources”.
The same threat from neonationalists that hangs over many treaties hangs over the UDHR and the ICESCR. In the event of take-over of the world by neonationalists, these instruments will be confided to history and Africans will be at serious risk.
If we and our leaders do not want to relive our history of pain, suffering and loss, and be taken not as explorers to Mars, now is the time to act. We must collectively defend the rights of individuals, peoples and communities irrespective of where the abuse is taking place in the world.
Abimbola Lagunju is a writer and author of several books.