Photo: AP

#ParisAttacks: When Humanity is Second Nature

When the guns of terror stopped shooting in Paris in an over 2 hour carnage that claimed the lives of 120+ people and seriously injured over 350, the virtual guns of Africa’s social media started their own shootout that has lasted until the time of this write up.

Those wielding the weapon (some smart device) argue that the West does not show Africa the same empathy it does when tragedies like these happen back home; if and when it does, it is not at the scale of that shown to the #ParisAttacks and it is just not enough. They cue recent disasters and tragedies on the home-front as a justification, then proceed to take out any African who expressed empathy for France in any way, shape or form — especially those who dared veil their (Facebook) profile picture in bleu, blanc, rouge. Ironical how we champion ‘let our media tell our own stories because the west distorts them!’ yet blame the west when it covers its own stories so extensively. But I digress.

The above is just one of the -’friendlier’ versions — of hundreds of frustrations expressed on the streets of Social media, targeted — unfortunately- at someone who choose to express themselves differently.

I wondered: how can we think like this? How can we even express these thoughts so publicly? We are African. We are ubuntu. Empathy is part of our DNA. It is how our cultures raise us. Or isn’t it? That is why I found it hard to place where these internalized frustrations were coming from. After a brief chat with Afrofusion founder Antoinette Prophy who shared a plausible cause, I got it. She says the reactions are:

indicative of how far we’ve strayed from our humanity as Africans. Our anger and resentment at the state of our continent, at our leadership, at our past seems to be driving us further away from what it truly means to be African, to be human.

An explanation that should have helped my heavy heart. But it didn’t. I left the conversation feeling worse. It is one thing to have a grouse against the way the media covers stories, it is quite another to bash humanity for being human.

For whether it be collective public symbolism, collective action, quiet support or outspoken condemnation, no one should be coerced into justifying their empathy and/or their method of empathizing. Brand expert Subomi Plumptre terms it ‘disaster jealousy’.

As much as I can understand the context underpinning some of these thoughts, I believe that in matters of humanity, there is affinity and to a greater extent, throughout the years, the world (for the most part) has proven that its ability to empathize and support in matters of disasters and mass-scale tragedy cuts across race, religion and geography, showing that this is consistent and continuous. Social Media has — perhaps — amplified, modified and enhanced methods of expression.

Some of the frustration came from Kenya. Yet, who can forget that in April, Paris paid tribute to 148 victims of the Garissa University massacre with some students staging visually impactful demonstations.

Nigeria saw its share of complaints — I was personally trolled upon by people who perhaps had forgotten that the world rose on its feet in support of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Paris — again — staging several demonstrations including one where former first lady Valerie Trierweiler was at the forefront.

In January 2015, following the deadly Boko Haram attack in Baga and Potiskum, concerned individuals and groups in France Staged the #JeSuisNigerian protest, calling on the then Jonathan government to pay closer attention to and prioritize matters of security in Nigeria especially in dealing with Boko Haram.

A few of my compatriots from Cameroon were not left out. They forgot the February 2015 ‘Grande Marche Patriotique (Great Patriotic March) which held in Yaounde as citizens and residents came out to show their support for the Cameroonian army, their disdain for Boko Haram and their empathy for the victims of terrorism. In the photos, the empathy is evident. The march took place in Cameroon, yet demonstrators carried flags of all the countries affected in the region. Subsequently, a fundraiser was organised in all the regions of Cameroon, with groups and individuals raising over 3 million euros and ‘tonnes of food’ to support the army.

Beyond the pain and sadness one feels for the victims of the #ParisAttacks, what makes this even worse, is that we have deliberately turned on one another. The many accusatory comments from my own people directed at my own people; the humans with little humanity deeply concern me. I have seen resurrected articles about the ‘crimes’ of colonial France, as if to say: ‘look! here’s justification to not be empathetic with the French,’ — ‘crimes’ for which these victims had arguably no involvement.

If some have forgotten that our collective empathy and support for one another has significantly contributed to the fight against terror, Social Media has not. History books have certainly not.

Many of us were not born when concerned non-African individuals staged an Anti apartheid protest on December 20, 1969 in London, marching towards Twickenham to disrupt a Rugby match between London Counties and the South African Springboks. They were responding to an appeal from former Tanzanian president Julius Nyeyere to ‘boycott South African goods’.

Some of us didn’t know about the Michigan University students who gathered in 1985 to protest racial segregation in South Africa -one of 300 universities standing in solidarity across America … or of the anti-apartheid protesters resisting the visit of then president Botha to the Somme (France) in 1986 to inaugurate a war memorial in honour of slain South African soldiers. The many tribute songs, the embargoes, the material and moral support that the world and especially Africa gave to our South African brethren during apartheid has become a distant memory or a thing most of us have refused to know about in the age of Google search.

The point is: then and now and in the future — according to Ellie Wisel — if anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For if the sole meaning of life is to serve humanity, then we do our lives a disservice by turning against each other. Never mind that empathy and support for people in dire need cuts across terrorist, natural or other crises. I recall a few; #StopEbola, the Haiti earthquake that shook the world and rallied the world, the Anti-war demonstrations in 2002 that took place in several cities in the world including: Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, London, Dublin, Montreal, Cologne, Florence, Oslo, Rotterdam, Istanbul, Cairo… all to prevent allied forces from attacking Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, there is a coalition of civil society working on getting world leaders to stop going to war with or in other nations.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. — Charlie Chaplin.

For most people, standing with HUMANITY is second nature. For me, it is everything. Why? Because I am human. The last few days have left me with a heavy heart. But I refuse to lose faith in humanity. For humanity is an ocean, and the ‘bad’ ones are just drops of it.

For now, I #PrayForParis as I continue to #StandWithHumanity.

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PS: And for those asking if we changed our profile pictures for tragedies in Africa. The answer is YES. We made our own avatars, we designed them ourselves… or we got people to design them….we took from others’ pages and we changed ours when we wanted to show support in THAT PARTICULAR WAY. We did all this long before Zuck brought that ‘flag’ functionality to Facebook… Why are we destroying ourselves like this dear African brothers and sisters?

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