Racism in Africa

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Racism in Africa is multi-faceted and dates back several centuries. It is a phenomenon that may have been strengthened by European colonialism, under which boundaries were drawn that did not take into consideration the different peoples dwelling within the newly formed provinces. The boundaries were little changed when former European colonies gained independence. As a consequence, some African nations have been plagued with inner conflicts, racist attitudes and tribal warfare.

Race and racism continues to be a factor in the post-colonial context.[1]

Colonial era racism[edit]

Racism and colonization were interrelated.[2] Racism was used to justify colonialism, and it resulted in the conquest of African nations.[3] The colonists believed that Africans had to move from their "primitive" existence to a modern European one. Africans were seen as backward mainly due to the racist ideas of Social Darwinism.[2]

Ivory Coast[edit]

In the past recent years, Ivory Coast has seen a resurgence in ethnic tribal hatred and religious intolerance. In addition to the many victims among the various tribes of the northern and southern regions of the country that have perished in the ongoing conflict, white foreigners residing or visiting Ivory Coast have also been subjected to violent attacks. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the Ivory Coast government is guilty of fanning ethnic hatred for its own political ends.[4]

In 2004, the Young Patriots of Abidjan, a strongly nationalist organisation, rallied by the state media, plundered possessions of foreign nationals in Abidjan. Calls for violence against whites and non-Ivorians were broadcast on national radio and TV after the Young Patriots seized control of its offices. Rapes, beatings, and murders of persons of European and Lebanese descent followed. Thousands of expatriates and white or ethnic Lebanese Ivorians fled the country. The attacks drew international condemnation.[5][6]


Main article: Slavery in Mauritania
Further information: Slavery in modern Africa

Slavery in Mauritania persists despite its abolition in 1980 and mostly affects the descendants of black Africans abducted into slavery who now live in Mauritania as "black Moors" or haratin and who partially still serve the "white Moors", or bidhan, as slaves. The practice of slavery in Mauritania is most dominant within the traditional upper class of the Moors. For centuries, the haratin lower class, mostly poor black Africans living in rural areas, have been considered natural slaves by these Moors. Social attitudes have changed among most urban Moors, but in rural areas, the ancient divide remains.[7]

The ruling bidanes (literally white-skinned people) are descendants of the Sanhaja Berbers and Beni Ḥassān Arab tribes who emigrated to northwest Africa and present-day Western Sahara and Mauritania during the Middle Ages. Many descendants of the Beni Ḥassān tribes today still adhere to the supremacist ideology of their ancestors, which has caused the oppression, discrimination and even enslavement of other groups in Mauritania.[8]

According to some estimates, as many as 600,000 black Mauritanians, or 20% of the population, are still enslaved, many of them used as bonded labour.[9] Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007.[10]


On 12 January 1904, the Herero people, led by Samuel Maharero, rebelled against German colonial rule. In August, German general Lothar von Trotha defeated the Herero in the Battle of Waterberg and drove them into the desert of Omaheke, where most of them died of thirst. In October, the Nama people also rebelled against the Germans, suffering a similar fate.

The violence eventually led to a genocide of the Herero and Nama people by the Germans, known as the Herero and Namaqua genocide. It is considered the first genocide of the 20th century. In total, 24,000 to 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama died.[11][12][13][14][15] The genocide was characterized by a high number of deaths from starvation and thirst; the Herero who fled the violence were prevented from returning from the Namib Desert. Some sources also claim that the German colonial army systematically poisoned desert wells.[16][17] The genocide took place between 1904 and 1907 in German South-West Africa (now modern day Namibia), during the Herero Wars.

In 1926, except for archive copies, records of the genocide were withdrawn and destroyed following a decision of the then Legislative Assembly.[18][19]

Survivors, majority of whom were women and children, were eventually put in concentration camps, such as the one at Shark Island, where the German authorities forced them to work as slaves for German military and settlers. All prisoners were categorized into groups fit and unfit for work, and pre-printed death certificates indicating "death by exhaustion following privation" were issued.[20] The British government published their widely known account of the German genocide of the Nama and Herero peoples in 1918.[21]

Many Herero died later of disease, overwork and malnutrition.[22][23] Camps, such as that in Windhoek, had mortality rates as high as 61%[24] The mortality rate in the camps was 45% in 1908.[25] The death rates are calculated to be between 69% and 74%.[26]

Food in the camps was extremely scarce, consisting of rice with no additions.[27] Shootings, hangings and beatings were common,[28] and the sjambok was used by guards who treated the forced labourers harshly. Medical experiments were performed on the Herero and Nama people by the Germans, similar to those performed on the European Jews during the Holocaust. Eugen Fischer, a German anthropologist, came to the concentration camps to conduct medical experiments on race,[29] using children of Herero people and mulatto children of Herero women and German men as test subjects.[29] Other experiments were made by Dr Bofinger, who injected Herero that were suffering from scurvy with various substances including arsenic and opium; afterwards he researched the effects of these substances by performing autopsies on the dead bodies[30]

With the closure of concentration camps, all surviving Herero were distributed as labourers for settlers in the German colony, and from then on, all Herero over the age of seven were forced to wear a metal disc with their labour registration number,[29] and banned from owning land or cattle, a necessity in pastoral society.[31]

It is believed that the Herero and Namaqua genocide influenced the Nazis and Nazi Germany.

In 1985, the United Nations' Whitaker Report classified the aftermath as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa, and therefore one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century. The German government recognised and apologised for the events in 2004, but has ruled out financial compensation or land reparation for the victims' descendants.[32] In 2004, there was only minor media attention in Germany on this matter.[33]

About 4,000 commercial land owners, mostly whites, own over 50% of the arable land across the country despite a land reform process undertaken by the Namibian government.[34][35] When the country was known as South West Africa, White Namibians enjoyed a highly privileged position due to apartheid laws enforcing strict segregation and white domination.[36]


In October 2006, Niger announced that it would deport to Chad the "Diffa Arabs", Arabs living in the Diffa region of eastern Niger.[37] Their population numbered about 150,000.[38] While the government was rounding up Arabs in preparation for the deportation, two girls died, reportedly after fleeing government forces, and three women suffered miscarriages. Niger's government eventually suspended their controversial decision to deport the Arabs.[39][40]

In Niger, while the practice of slavery was outlawed in 2003, a study has found that more than 800,000 people are still slaves, almost 8% of the population.[41][42] Slavery dates back centuries in Niger and was criminalised after five years of lobbying by Anti-Slavery International and Nigerian human-rights group, Timidria.[43]

Descent-based slavery, where generations of the same family are born into bondage, is traditionally practiced by at least four of Niger's eight ethnic groups. The slave masters are mostly from the lighter-skinned nomadic tribes: the Tuareg, Fulani, Toubou and Arabs.[44] It is especially rife among the warlike Tuareg, located in the wild deserts of north and west Niger, who roam near the borders with Mali and Algeria. In the region of Say on the right bank of the river Niger, it is estimated that three-quarters of the population around 1904–1905 was composed of slaves.[45]

Historically, the Tuareg swelled the ranks of their black slaves by conducting war raids into other peoples’ lands. War was the main source of supply of slaves, although many were bought at slave markets, run mostly by indigenous peoples.[41][46]

South Africa[edit]

Racism is still prevalent in South Africa.[47] The end of apartheid might have removed the legal framework allowing institutionalised racism, however, racism in South Africa both predates and encompasses more than just the institutionalised racism of apartheid.

Colonial racism[edit]

The establishment of the Dutch East India Company settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 brought with it the established slave labor practices of the company.[48] Many of these slaves were imported from the company's more established settlements in India and the East Indies.[49] Slavery was by no means restricted to the European slave trade. During the Difaqane, the Zulu under Shaka overran many smaller tribes and enslaved them.[50]

Slavery in South Africa was officially abolished in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.[51]

There are many examples of racism and discriminatory practices during the colonial period, such as the allocation of rations during the Siege of Ladysmith

For Whites—Biscuit, 1/4 lb.; Maize meal, 3 oz.

For Indians and Kaffirs—Maize meal, 8 oz.
Europeans—Fresh meat, 1 lb.
Kaffirs—Fresh meat, 1-1/4 lbs. (Chiefly horseflesh.)
For White men—Coffee or tea, 1/12 oz.; pepper, 1/64 oz.; salt, 1/3 oz.; sugar, 1 oz.; mustard, 1/20 oz.; Vinegar, 1/12 gill.

For Indians—a little rice.
— H. W. Nevinson [52]

Even Mohandas Gandhi who worked to eradicate racism and in particular racism that affected the Indian communities in South Africa, was prone to making racist remarks during this period. In one of his early articles for the Indian Opinion he writes:

Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised - the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals.

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi [53]

Apartheid racism[edit]

Apartheid (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ɐˈpartɦɛit]; an Afrikaans word meaning "separateness", or "the state of being apart", literally "apart-hood") was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP), the governing party from 1948 to 1994. Under apartheid, the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants and other ethnic groups were curtailed, and white minority rule was maintained. Apartheid was developed after World War II by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party and Broederbond organizations. The ideology was also enforced in South West Africa, which was administered by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate (revoked in 1966 via United Nations Resolution 2145), until it gained independence as Namibia in 1990. By extension, the term is currently used for forms of systematic segregation established by the state authority in a country against the social and civil rights of a certain group of citizens due to ethnic prejudices.


Main article: Racism in Sudan

In the Sudan, black African captives in the civil war were often enslaved, and female prisoners were often abused sexually,[54] with their Arab captors claiming that Islamic law grants them permission.[55] According to CBS News, slaves have been sold for US$50 a piece.[56] In September 2000, the U.S. State Department alleged that "the Sudanese government's support of slavery and its continued military action which has resulted in numerous deaths are due in part to the victims' religious beliefs."[57] Jok Madut Jok, professor of history at Loyola Marymount University, states that the abduction of women and children of the south is slavery by any definition. The government of Sudan insists that the whole matter is no more than the traditional tribal feuding over resources.[58]

The United States government's Sudan Peace Act of October 21, 2002 accused Sudan of genocide in an ongoing civil war which has cost more than 2,000,000 lives and has displaced more than 4,000,000 people since the war started in 1983.[59]

During the Second Sudanese Civil War, people were taken into slavery; estimates of abductions range from 14,000 to 200,000. Abduction of Dinka women and children was common.[60]

In 2004, it became publicly known that there was an organised campaign by Janjaweed militias (nomadic Arab shepherds with the support of Sudanese government troops) to get rid of 80 black African groups from the Darfur region of western Sudan. These peoples include the Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit.[61][62]

Mukesh Kapila (United Nations humanitarian coordinator) is quoted as saying: "This is more than just a conflict. It is an organised attempt [by Khartoum] to do away with a group of people. The only difference between Rwanda [in 1994] and Darfur now is the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured and raped involved"[63][64][65][66] A July 14, 2007 article noted that in the past two months up to 75,000 Arabs from Chad and Niger crossed the border into Darfur. Most have been relocated by the Sudanese government to former villages of displaced non-Arab people. Some 2.5 million have now been forced to flee their homes after attacks by Sudanese troops and Janjaweed militia.[67]


The accession of the Almohade dynasty to the throne of the Maghreb provinces in 1146 proved disastrous to the Jews of Tunis. Jews as well as Christians were compelled either to embrace Islam or to leave the country. Abd al-Mu'min's successors pursued the same course, and their severe measures resulted either in emigration or in forcible conversions. Soon becoming suspicious of the sincerity of the new converts, the Almohades compelled them to wear a special garb, with a yellow cloth for a head-covering.[68]

Mistranslations of Arab scholars and geographers from this time period have led many to attribute certain racist attitudes that were not prevalent until the 18th and 19th century to writings made centuries ago.[69] Although bias against those of very black complexion existed in the Arab world in the 15th century, it did not carry as much stigma as it later would. Older translations of Ibn Khaldun, for example in The Negro land of the Arabs Examined and Explained which was written in 1841 gives excerpts of older translations that were not part of later colonial propaganda and show black Africans in a generally positive light.

When the conquest of the West (by the Arabs) was completed, and merchants began to penetrate into the interior, they saw no nation of the Blacks so mighty as Ghanah, the dominions of which extended westward as far as the Ocean. The King's court was kept in the city of Ghanah, which, according to the author of the Book of Roger (El Idrisi), and the author of the Book of Roads and Realms (El Bekri), is divided into two parts, standing on both banks of the Nile, and ranks among the largest and most populous cities of the world. The people of Ghanah had for neighbours, on the east, a nation, which, according to historians, was called Susu; after which came another named Mali; and after that another known by the name of Kaukau; although some people prefer a different orthography, and write this name Kagho. The last-named nation was followed by a people called Tekrur. The people of Ghanah declined in course of time, being overwhelmed or absorbed by the Molaththemun (or muffled people;that is, the Morabites), who, adjoining them on the north towards the Berber country, attacked them, and, taking possession of their territory, compelled them to embrace the Mohammedan religion. The people of Ghanah, being invaded at a later period by the Susu, a nation of Blacks in their neighbourhood, were exterminated, or mixed with other Black nations.

Ibn Khaldun suggests a link between the decline of Ghana and rise of the Almoravids. however, there is little evidence of there actually being an Almoravid conquest of Ghana [[70]][71]


Former British colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa have many citizens of South Asian descent. They were brought by the British Empire from British India to do clerical work in imperial service.[72] The most prominent case of anti-Indian racism was the ethnic cleansing of the Indian (called Asian) minority in Uganda by strongman dictator and human rights violator Idi Amin.[72]

The 1968 Committee on "Africanization in Commerce and Industry" in Uganda made far-reaching Indophobic proposals. A system of work permits and trade licenses was introduced in 1969 in order to restrict the role of Indians in economic and professional activities. Indians were segregated and discriminated against in all walks of life. After Amin came to power, he exploited these divisions to spread propaganda against Indians, stereotyping and scapegoating the Indian minority. Indians were stereotyped as "only traders" and so "inbred" to their profession. Indians were attacked as "dukawallas" (an occupational term that degenerated into an anti-Indian slur during Amin's time).[72]

In the 1970s Uganda and other East African nations[which?] implemented racist policies that targeted the Asian population of the region. Uganda under Idi Amin's leadership was particularly virulent in its anti-Asian policies. In August 1972, Idi Amin declared what he called an "economic war", a set of policies that included the expropriation of properties owned by Asians and Europeans. Uganda's 80,000 Asians were mostly Indians born in the country, whose ancestors had come to Uganda when the country was still a British colony.[73][74] Indians were stereotyped as "greedy" and "conniving", without any racial identity or loyalty but "always cheating, conspiring and plotting" to subvert Uganda. Amin used this propaganda to justify a campaign of "de-Indianization", eventually resulting in the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Uganda's Indian minority.[72] India refused to accept the expelled people.[75] Most of the expelled Indians settled in Britain.[76] The forced expulsion of Uganda's entire Asian population attests to the persecution of Asian peoples residing in the country at the time. Today, Asian/Indian residents of Uganda continue to face marginalization, being given an inferior status.


Main article: Racism in Zimbabwe

Racial discrimination has occurred against White Zimbabwean communities.[77][78][79] The government has forcefully evicted them from their farms and committed ethnic cleansing against them.[80][81]

Since independence, in recent years there has been a surge in violence and racism against the dwindling white community and particularly against white farmers. On 18 September 2010 white people were chased away in droves from participating in the constitutional outreach programme in Harare during the weekend, in which violence and confusion marred the process with similar incidents occurring in Graniteside. In Mount Pleasant, white families were subjected to a torrent of abuse by suspected Zanu PF supporters who later drove them away shouting racial slurs.[82] There have also been many illegal seizures of farm land owned by white farmers by the government and pro government supporters. Most of the seizures have taken place in Nyamandhalovu and Inyati.[83] After the beating to death of a prominent white farmer in September 2011, the head of the Commercial Farmers' Union decried the attack saying its white members continue to be targeted by violence without protection from the government.[84] Genocidewatch.org has declared the violence against whites in Zimbabwe a stage 5 case.[85]

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