On Friday June 26th, at approximately 11:30 am local Tunisian time, Seiffedine Rezgui arrived at a beachside next to a popular tourist destination known as the Hotel Imperial Marhaba, just south of Tunis. About an hour later, local police authorities caught up with him and shot him dead. He was on the run, after just having murdered thirty eight tourists vacationing at the hotel. Of the thirty eight victims, thirty were British, three Irish, two German, one Portuguese, one Russian and one Belgian. Reports suggest that Rezgui was the only gunman during the tragedy, however local authorities believe he received help from several accomplices. Up to eight people have been arrested in connection with the tragedy. Sadly, this is becoming an all too familiar pattern on the African continent.
A little over three months ago, on March 18th, Tunisia was the site of a similar terrorist attack. This time it was at Bardo National Museum in Tunis. Five of the victims were Tunisian, and the other 17 were European tourists. A quick survey of the rest of the continent reveals many more incidents characterized by such massive loss of life. In April, an Al Shabab attack on Garissa University in Kenya left 143 students dead. Before that, a Boko Haram attack in Baga, Nigeria left a reported estimate of 2000 casualties. And in 2013, another Al Shabab attack at the Westgate Mall in Kenya resulted in 67 fatalities. To put these numbers into perspective, of the highest 50 ranked countries in the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, a staggering 20 of them are African countries. Despite this, terrorism in Africa does not receive nearly as much media attention or global outcry as it does elsewhere in the world-except of course in cases where Western citizens are also among the victims.
While it is much easier to blame the rest of the world for this seeming callousness, more criticism should also be directed at our own leaders. After the beachside attack in Tunisia, Prime Minister Habib Essid issued a public apology on behalf of his country. Contrast this with the South African government’s slow response following the most recent surge in xenophobic violence in that country. When President Zuma finally made a statement, he was barely able to muster an apology for his countrymen, and seemed more concerned with emphasizing that only legal immigrants should be treated with “respect and Ubuntu”. Granted, the two cases represent attacks on two very different groups, tourists in Tunisia, and illegal immigrants in South Africa. But surely, if we can show remorse for the deaths of non-Africans on the continent, then at the very least, we should not make attempts to justify the murder of our fellow African brothers and sisters.
There are many similar examples that illustrate what seems to be a general disregard for African lives, even amongst ourselves. The Baga attack in Nigeria that reportedly took 2000 lives was overshadowed by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris that occurred around the same time. As many have pointed out, Nigeria’s own President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, expressed his condolences over the events in Paris, but remained mute about the attack in his own country. Instead, Nigeria’s government seemed to invest more energy in disputing the total number of fatalities, which they believed to be less than 150, a figure that is still appallingly high. Regrettably, only a few African politicians bothered to voice their condemnation of the attack.
If Africa is to move forward, we need to realize that by and large we are all one people. And we can only make progress if we work together towards our goals. That means cooperation across the board, not just in fighting terrorism, but also in economic and social matters. African leaders must be first to react to matters involving other African countries. We should never, especially in light of recent events, wait for Western nations to lead our causes. It is time we come to terms with the fact that Africa’s problems will never be at the forefront of Western nations’ concerns. Whether it is terrorism or health crises, as long as they are not viewed as threats to the West, then they do not matter. Our only hope is in working together as one people, and it is with this mindset that we should move forward.