Posted April 8, 2016
I was thrilled to hear that there would be a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding the human rights situation in the Western Sahara. The “Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission,” co-chaired by Congressman Joseph Pitts and Congressman James McGovern, along with Commission member Congressman John Conyers, hosted the discussion March 23rd. This was quite important in light of the pathetic media coverage of the on-going and illegal Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara and the human rights abuses carried out by the occupying forces. Morocco has occupied most of the Western Sahara, since it invaded the territory shortly after the Spanish withdrew in 1975.
There were two things quite noticeable about the hearing, despite its many strengths. There were four presenters, each of who gave compelling testimony emphasizing the illegality of the occupation and the abuse of the indigenous—Sahrawi—population by the Moroccans. Yet the presenters–Kerry Kennedy, the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, Francesco Bastagli, the former Special representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara of the United Nations, Eric Goldstein, the deputy director MENA Division of Human Rights Watch, and Erik Hagen, the chair of the Western Sahara Resource Watch—were all White. Don’t get me wrong. The presentations were all compelling and warranted. Yet, I found myself wondering why there were no Africans or African Americans making the case in addition to these white specialists.
The second noticeable feature of the meeting was that the meeting itself, with certain noticeable exceptions, e.g., Congressman John Conyers some representatives and supporters of the Sahrawi liberation movement (Polisario), were very White. Perhaps I should put it another way. There were very few African Americans present in the room. I kept looking for other members of the Congressional Black Caucus to stick their heads into the room as an expression of solidarity, but that did not happen. Perhaps they sent their staff? Perhaps there was something else transpiring? In either case, the lack of an African American presence was more than noticeable, at least to me.
Throughout the history of people of African descent in North America, there has always been a constituency that has concerned itself with developments in Africa. Sometimes such individuals (and groups) have been inspired by religion, while at other times by politics and economics. In the more recent past TransAfrica emerged in the late 1970s as an institution launched through the work of the Congressional Black Caucus as a means of bringing national attention to matters facing Africa and the African Diaspora. Similar organizations, such as those that would in the early 2000s constitute Africa Action, followed a similar path.
Today, the weakness and/or non-existence of such organizations is evident in the void found in hearings such as the March 23rd examination of the situation in the Western Sahara. This is a void that needs to be filled and it needs to be filled by progressive Black organizations and individuals lest it is filled by those who—even in wearing a black skin—have nefarious objectives on the Continent.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. He is also a talk show host, writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.