Senegal’s first ever Black Lives Matter protest due to take place on July 13 has been called off by the authorities. The event was organised by Lydia Hickman, an African-American political activist who’s been living in Dakar for a year and a half.
Lydia says she followed the usual protocol and was asked to go through intelligence services before holding the protest, only to be told by police that it was a ‘sensitive’ issue. Lydia is still not sure why they didn’t let it go ahead but she has theories.
In addition to resistance from the police, Lydia’s plans drew criticism from members of the public.
‘Some say it was because they feared the reaction from the American government. Freedom of expression and demonstration exist in both countries. It’s sad to see that the movement can’t get support even in Africa.’
In addition to resistance from the police, Lydia’s plans drew criticism from members of the public. Ironically, social media – where it all started – also became a platform for those who disagreed with a focus on BLM issues. Many thought that there were local issues closer to home, such as child labour, that should be addressed first. To Lydia, these different issues are not in competition with each other.
African-Americans are as much a part of the diaspora as any other African abroad.
‘I can’t be organising every protest but I’ve responded that I would support other causes if movements are organised. It’s totally possible to support different causes.’
For her, the crux of the matter is simple. It’s about the value of black lives, period.
‘If you agree with this, then you’re down for the cause.’
It was only recently, when Lydia watched footage of a shooting, that she felt compelled to get involved. ‘I usually refuse to watch videos of the killings, but I once accidentally ran across one of these videos. To be honest, I can’t even remember which victim it was. And that’s when it hit me that it could be my brother. I cried so much that night. I called my brother and begged him to be careful. It’s a conversation that many black men have heard in their lives in the United States.’
Senegalese slam artist Fary Ndao who was meant to perform at the protest agrees that the policing of black bodies is a worldwide issue and that African-Americans are as much a part of the diaspora as any other African abroad.
‘Africans are victims of racism and are sometimes victims of hate crime around the world. The Dakar BLM event would have set a good precedent in recreating links with African-Americans.’
Lydia echoes these sentiments, calling for a broader understanding of the impacts of racism and police brutality. People are still perplexed, Lydia says. ‘When I heard about Philando Castle and Alton Sterling, people in Dakar would ask me about the situation in my country, some even say they were not interested in going to the US anymore and would rather stay alive here.’ But she strongly believes it is not just an American problem.
‘If you think police brutality isn’t your problem because you’re from an African country, try and reach out to the family of Amadou Diallo.’
Diallo was a 23-year-old Guinean who was shot dead by New York Police Department officers. His killers were acquitted at trial in 1999.
The BLM movement has grown into a transnational conversation about race.
Cases like this strengthen the resolve of activists like Fary and Hickman. To Fary, protesting for Black Lives Matter in Dakar is just furthering what ‘historical figures that have worked for and supports those who keep on working to strengthen the bonds between Africa and its diaspora.’
There is no doubt that the BLM movement has grown into a transnational conversation about race, and black people across the world are negotiating their relationship with the issues it raises. Sometimes, this manifests as shows of solidarity like the #GhanaIsWatching hashtag which was created to convey support for these issues, or entirely new organisations such as the burgeoning BLM movement in the UK.
A global debate about the treatment of black lives has begun, but the reactions to the Dakar protest – that never was – remind us that many people around the world still have very different opinions about their place within this conversation. It is a difficult discussion to have, and the complexity that comes with it cannot be avoided if any progress is to be made. But Lydia has not been discouraged by the resistance she has encountered.
‘In Dakar, we’re already working on the next steps, a new demonstration and long-term goals. It’s just the beginning, as long as this problem exists, we will keep on existing. I’m calling on everyone across the continent to join the cause. It’s also your problem. We must be united.’