The biggest enemy is always the one within. As the Swahili say, “kikulacho kinguoni mwako” [your enemy is within]. That’s why today, I focus on “insider Afrophobia” as opposed to “outsider Afrophobia.” I use the term outsider Afrophobia to refer to the structural racism rooted in the white European West and within the racist hierarchical and hegemonic international order. Outsider Afrophobia is a white man’s disease — the fear, hatred, and systemic domination of “the other.” It’s outsider Afrophobia that’s the root cause of insider Afrophobia — the self-hatred, self-laceration, and self-denigration of blacks, or people of African descent. It’s the enemy’s sword turned inwards against self. Both forms of Afrophobia are insidious, but insider Afrophobia is deeply corrosive.
We will never fully and effectively combat outsider Afrophobia until we’ve conquered insider Afrophobia — the two are symbiotic, but the fibre to overthrow the former comes from vanquishing the latter. I have memories of both forms of Afrophobia from my early childhood in Kitui. I grew up in the environs of Kitui town on the “African” side of the valley — there was a river between known as Kalundu. Kalundu divided the African Quarter from Uzunguni, or the European Quarter. You had to cross Kalundu to go from one to the other. Even the African market — not the “nice” shops — were on the African side. The European Quarter was home to whites, Arabs, Asians, senior African bureaucrats, and the Swahili.
This was the colonial order. At dusk, Africans became suspicious persons if they were found in Uzunguni. They could be declared vagrants and arrested. This system of “colour bar” was common in most urban areas under colonial rule. It went hand-in-hand with the Kipande System [an ID-driven order that kept segregation alive]. The people who lived in the African Quarter knew that they were supposed to be inferior and subservient to those who lived in the European Quarter. This was the “natural” order of things. It instilled in people at a young age their own sense of sub-humanity. The colour “white” came to symbolise civilisation — beauty, brilliance, power, wealth and purity. “Black” meant the opposite — poverty, stupidity, inferiority, weakness.
It’s no wonder that many Africans came to see themselves as second-class human beings. There were several ways one could scrub themselves “white” to reduce their blackness. One could get a European education to “become white.” In addition, one had to convert to Christianity and take a “Christian name” which meant a European name like Charity, William, Robert, or even Livingstone. These measures inflicted deep scars on the African psyche. Many intellectually submitted — surrendered — to Eurocentricity. Today, more Kenyans belong to Christianity than to any other faith. Most do not know anything about the spiritual universes of their foremothers. This is how one people is fully dominated by another. This is the true genesis of insider Afrophobia — black self-hatred.
Black-ruled African states are the biggest perpetrators of insider Afrophobia. The elites that have governed us since independence thrive on the rejection of self.
They steal from the public, oppress the common African, and keep their stolen money in banks abroad. The only time they remember they are black Africans is when the International Criminal Court (ICC) charges them with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide against their people. They shout from the rooftops that the ICC is an imperialist court bent on hunting Africans.
They are mobilising to leave ICC because they have “no voice” there. Geez — I wonder why they don’t leave the World Bank, WTO, and United Nations as well because they’ve no voice there either. Today, we are witnessing one of the greatest tragedies over the Mediterranean. That sea has become a burial ground for Africans, Arabs and Asians.
Africans who risk death trying to reach a hostile and racist Europe are running away from regimes driven by insider Afrophobia. They are governed by elites who despise fellow Africans and treat them like garbage — the way the colonial regimes of yore treated blacks. The African Union itself needs to stop being a club of Africa-haters. It now shields dictators and killers from justice. The spectre of the likes of Robert Mugabe and Omar Al Bashir sitting pretty at the AU should convulse the body of every African. What happened to Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance?
Insider Afrophobia is a disease of the intellect. It’s a belief in self-powerlessness — and lack of self-worth. It’s what Bob Marley called mental slavery and writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o has referred to as the colonised mind. Those who use skin-lightening creams and hot combs to straighten their hair are Exhibit A of the phenomenon. We must fight insider Afrophobia to get other races to treat us and our children with full dignity. You can’t hate yourself and expect others to love you.