A Celebration of the Contributions of People of African Descent

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This text was written by Angela Gathoni. Angela Gathoni is a Fundraising and Communications intern at RWI Lund. She completed her undergraduate studies in Development Studies at JKUAT Kenya and is currently enrolled in a Master of Science Programme in Development Studies at Lund University.


The United Nations General Assembly have designated 31st August as International Day for People of African Descent. The first commemoration was held in 2021, following the half-way point of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024). It seeks to honour the significant contributions of people of African descent around the world, advance social justice and inclusion policies, eradicate racism and intolerance, promote human rights, and help create better, more prosperous communities in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Despite considerable progress being made at the legislative, regulatory, and institutional levels, people of African descent continue to suffer intersectional and aggravated forms of racial discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion. The celebration of the International Day for People of African Descent provides an opportunity to promote greater knowledge and recognition of and respect for the culture, history and heritage of people of African descent through film, dance, music, and art presentations organized on the holiday, as well as other expressions of political and scientific contributions.

Who Are People of African Descent?

Many nations around the world are home to people of African heritage, either scattered among the native population or in communities. According to the UN, there are approximately 200 million people in the Americas who identify as being of African descent and millions more located in other continents.

We must recognise that they are a diverse group with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and identities. While their living conditions and issues vary from nation to nation, what unites them is the discrimination against them that persists to this day, decades after slavery was abolished.

Whether they are recent immigrants or the descendants of those Africans who were forced to flee to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade many generations ago they all suffer discrimination.

A Denial of Human Rights

If we are to fully understand the root of the problem we need to look back in history and recognise the legacy of colonialism, slavery and slave trade. Today, these legacies, strengthened by interpersonal, institutional and structural discrimination, manifest themselves in the inequality and marginalization affecting them worldwide. In addition, this perpetuates cycles of disadvantage and traps people of African descent in intergenerational poverty, hindering their human development.

Therefore, they are unable to fully enjoy their human rights. Some of the major contemporary human rights issues of people of African descent include:

  • Structural and institutional racial discrimination, Inequality, marginalization and stigmatization (Systemic racism).
  • Underrepresentation and low participation rates in political and institutional decision-making processes
  • Lack of adequate representation in the administration of justice
  • Barriers to and inequality in the enjoyment of key human rights such as access to quality education, health services and housing. The lack of education leads to Inequality in access to labour markets.
  • Racial profiling, especially of young African American men. They are subjected to disproportionately high rates of police abuse, and they are routinely arrested, incarcerated and given harsher punishments like the death penalty and life in imprisonment.
  • Low social acceptance of the ethnic and cultural variety and contributions to society of people of African heritage. This has led to obstacles preventing people from practicing their own religion and culture.

The Progress Throughout History

The United Nations has made the advancement and protection of the human rights of people of African descent a top priority. It is crucial to draw attention to some of the international frameworks that have been developed over time:

  1. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in 2001 at the World Conference against Racism, identified key elements of international, regional and national strategies that need to be implemented in the struggle against racism affecting people of African descent.
  2. In 2013, the General Assembly, in resolution 68/237, proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent, to be observed from 2015 to 2024, under the themes of recognition, justice, and development.
  3. In 2015, world leaders at the General Assembly adopted by consensus the Sustainable Development Goals. The rights of persons of African descent must also be seen through the lens of equality as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is, in large part, an agenda for equality.

Conclusion

All the international and regional human rights instruments mentioned provide a solid framework for the United Nations, Member States, civil society and all other relevant actors both at the national and international level to work with people of African descent and take effective action for them in the interests of recognition, justice, and development.

“I urge States to take concrete steps, with the full participation of people of African descent and their communities, to tackle old and new forms of racial discrimination; and to dismantle entrenched structural and institutional racism.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres

This involves making concrete and practical steps to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, access to justice and related intolerance faced by people of African descent, considering the precarious situation of women, girls and young males.

In addition, there is need to incorporate human rights into development programmes, including in the areas of access to and enjoyment of the rights to education, employment, health, housing, land and labour. There needs to be a sensitization of the wider society about their human rights, culture and contribution to the development of societies and their history.

“It is a long overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continue to confront today,” the Secretary-General said.

As individuals we need to go beyond just appreciating African culture, food and music and get more involved through recognizing the issues facing people of African descent within our communities and raising awareness through information, joining meetings for open dialogue and discussions, supporting local initiatives, and celebrating the International Day of People of African Descent every year.

How will you celebrate the International Day this year?

Featured image: Goran Bogicevic

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