Can Africans in Canada harness their power in numbers and unify? Or is this an unrealistic expectation?
Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to some young Africans in Regina, Canada about the untimely death of Promise Max Chukwudum. The 19-year-old U of R international student from Nigeria was found dead on December 21st in the Northwestern area of the city after over a month-long search effort by family, friends, and volunteers. The Regina Police Service in a press release said they are currently investigating the death with the Saskatchewan Coroners Service: “There are still investigative tasks to be carried out in this case, some of which will take months to complete. However, at this stage in the investigation, there is no indication that this person’s death is the result of criminal action.”
After much discussion with the group, the general consensus was that the circumstances surrounding Promise’s death were suspicious. So, why aren’t we doing something about it as a community, I asked the group?The debate that followed highlighted that Africans in the Canadian diaspora are not as united as we should be, and in order to address the issues that plague our community there has to be unity.
According to Statistics Canada, people of African origin make up one of the largest non-European ethnic groupings in Canada. In 2001, there were almost 300,000 people reporting African roots living in Canada. That year, those of African descent made up around 1% of the total population of Canada. As of 2016, 1,067,930 people in Canada reported that they had African roots making up around 3.1% of the total population of Canada. The number of people claiming African origin rose by 2% in a 15-year period. You see, at the time, my thoughts were that we have the numbers to ask for answers, to “shake the table”, and maybe even effect some form of change. However, I soon learned that it takes more than numbers to make a dent. So, what are the factors that contribute to the divide between Africans in Canada?
One of the greatest obstacles to unity is the pre-existing rivalry and discrimination between ethnic groups and nations in Africa. The tensions and suspicions toward one another originate from historical incidents and resentments, cultural differences and socio-political issues, as well as, unique interests, problems, and priorities. We, however, forget that in the face of discrimination and racial profiling against black people, we don’t have the luxury to decide when or if we unite, especially, considering that many Canadians are unaware of the cultural distinctions between us. Where we see Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Bakongo, Bayanka, Hutu, Tutsi, etc., they see Black. They see African. How do we address issues like racism, when we are also tribalists and nationalists.
See this Instagram post below as Case study!
Another reason is the individualistic culture of North America. Individualism loosens ties between people and emphasizes the moral worth of “I”. Like most western cultures, Canada tends to be highly individualistic, especially in terms of interpersonal relations. In other words, Canadians like to mind their businesses, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of such a culture are that independence and uniqueness are valued, privacy is highly regarded, and equity is based on personal merit and accomplishments. The problems associated with such cultures are that relationships are considered voluntary, and therefore, not valued as such.
On the other hand, the African culture is collectivist. In a collectivist society, cultural values focus on “we” rather than “I”. A collectivistic worldview considers common values and goals to be important, and usually includes societal units ranging from the nuclear family to religious or racial/ethnic groups. Findings support that collectivism shows a consistent association with discrete values, interpersonal patterns of interaction, cognition, perception, and self-construal. The benefits of such a culture are that in exchange for loyalty, it protects members of the group. There is always a willingness to help other members of the group. The problems associated with these cultures, however, are that individual freedom as a concept is not embraced. One must conform to the cultural norms of the group or face social exclusion. People are also judged based on social hierarchy instead of personal merit and are usually addressed in terms of familial relations regardless of their actual relationship to you (i.e Aunty, sister, so-and-so’s son etc.).
That being said, I should mention that Canada is not entirely individualistic. It also places an emphasis on the individual’s responsibility to the community in areas such as health and education where a collective structure is preferred.
An African proverb says, “A family is like a forest. When you are outside, it is dense. When you are inside, you see that each tree has its place”. This simply means that unification is not a loss of identity or independence. As a minority population, harnessing the power of the group increases our chance of getting a seat at the decision-making table, especially in the areas of healthcare, justice, and the labor market. Sticking together will help to create impactful policies to effectively address the issues that plague us, help to advance African issues in Canada, and to promote better foreign policy towards Africa. For example, there are diseases that have African ancestry as a risk factor. According to an article by The Globe and Mail, “Research in the U.S. and Britain has highlighted the elevated risks of cancer for black women, but Canada’s information on race-based health issues is lacking”. This gap in information shows that Canada’s health sector doesn’t necessarily consider Africans when making health-care policies.
It is imperative for Africans to unite, organize, and perhaps more importantly, to construct a strategy to advocate for our concerns in Canada. The only way these changes will occur is through open dialogue and communication. Can we harness our power in numbers and unify? Or is this an unrealistic expectation?