The United Nations (UN) made a bold move, some say. The UN has declared 2011 as the International Year of African Descendants.
According to UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, “The event aims to strengthen the political commitment to eradicate discrimination against those of African descent, who are among the most affected by racism, and have been denied their basic rights to quality healthcare and education around the world. The initiative also aims to promote respect for diversity and cultural heritage.” The declamation was announced in late December.
Author, political analyst and radio personality (The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour) Earl Ofari Hutchinson says this is a significant move by the UN. “It’s a frank recognition by the world’s leading body of nations that the ills of racism, the legacy of slavery, and economic impoverishment are still vital issues that the world must grapple with if there’s to be true peace, prosperity, and true racial harmony for Africa’s descendants globally,” he notes.
This is why Ban Ki-moon said, in a press statement, that the body decided to make the declaration. In the statement, Moon said, “The international community has said that the transatlantic slave trade was an appalling tragedy, not only because of the atrocities committed, but because of its disregard for humanity.” The UN move is an extension of an action declared at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva in 2009, which urged governments to move toward integration and promotion of racial equity for those of African descent.
For African culture expert and filmmaker/writer/producer Constance L. Jackson, the move may be more rhetoric than action. She says, “The Durban Review Conference in Geneva (2009) urges governments to adopt targets for integration and promotion of racial equity…to assure, in every respect, full integration of those of African descent. The review cannot be more further from the truth. Here are some examples of the impact of subjugating people of African descent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of HIV in the ages of 15-48 in 2007 was 5% (World Bank Group, 2010) and infant mortality rates in all developing countries seem to be quite high, according to the World Health Organization (2002).”
For Hutchinson, the declaration can make a difference, globally, on how the world views people of African descent. “It places African people front and center in the global spotlight on race and racism. This is a plus for people of African descent,” Hutchinson points out.
But as Jackson notes, there is much to be done. “Malnutrition is responsible, directly or indirectly, for about one third of deaths among children (of African descent) under the age of five. Well above two thirds of these deaths, often associated with inappropriate feeding practices, occur during the first year of life. Nutrition and nurturing during the first years of life are both crucial for life-long health and well-being. In infancy, no gift is more precious than breastfeeding; yet barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life. The goal for public health practitioners is to gain access to leaders who are willing to share power or interrogate the principals of power to improve better access to health care.” She also points to the stigma many people of African descent have against AIDS and the lack of adequate care and prevention as a major problem on the African continent.
But for Johnson it all comes down to history. “The history of despotic colonization of Africa by Western Europeans is still evident today in the poor treatment and exclusion of sub-Saharan African countries into liberal global economies. Poverty rates throughout the world, even in America have been associated with global economic market strategies.”
But adds Hutchinson, the timing is perfect for the UN to address the African continent and African people around the world, given the recent uprising of people of color worldwide, especially the recent Egyptian revolt. “The timing is right when you look at the revolt in Egypt (an African country), the presidency of Barack Obama, racial divisions in the U.S. and Europe, and the re-emphasis on the still evident impoverishment, wars, and struggle for international parity of African nations. These factors make the UN declaration more timely than ever,” says Hutchinson.