Over two years into the International Decade for People of African Descent, very little has been done to achieve the objectives of the UN General Assembly declaration. It is not enough to make such a declaration. Serious efforts must be made to implement it for the benefit of Black people.
On 18 November 2014, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade for People of African Descent, which took effect on 1 January 2015 and will end on 31 December 2024. This resolution, like many others, has its own long history.
It would be recalled that in its successive resolutions, 3057 (xxviii) of 2 November 1973, 38/14 of 22 November 1983 and 48/91 of 20 December 1993, the Assembly proclaimed the three Decades to combat racism and racial discrimination, lamenting on each occasion that their objectives were yet to be met.
Also, UN General Assembly its resolution 52/111 of 12 December 1997 decided to convene the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Its resolutions 56/266 of 27 March 2002, 57/195 of 18 December 2002, 58/160 of 22 December 2003, 59/177 of 20 December 2004 and 60/144 of 16 December 2005, all guided the comprehensive follow-up to the World Conference and the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. In a resolution that went a notch above the rest, the Assembly in its resolution 62/122 of 17 December 2007 designated 25 March as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The Assembly, in another resolution 64/169 of 18 December 2009, proclaimed 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent. After the failure to meet the 2011 deadline, the body, again in its resolution 66/144 of 19 December 2011, encouraged the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent to develop a programme of action, including a theme, for adoption by the Human Rights Council. Finally, the Assembly, in its resolution 67/155 of 20 December 2012, requested the President of the General Assembly, in consultation with Member States, relevant United Nations programmes and organisations and civil society, including non- governmental organisations, to launch an informal consultative preparatory process for the proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent.
It was this chain of events that culminated in the eventual proclamation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, commencing on 1 January 2015 and ending on 31 December 2024, with the theme "People of African descent: recognition, justice and development".
But despite the prospects of this framework, laudable advocacy and training programmes, agenda setting and national action plans, two years into the International Decade for People of African Descent Declaration, Africa remains entangled with ethnic clashes, xenophobia, corruption and leadership who are misruling their countries and misusing their resources and there is little substantive progress in achieving the objectives of this declaration.
Corruption is a major factor that is hindering the effective implementation of the Declaration's first objective, which is to "promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms...as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". In his 2014 book, "Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa", Kolawole Olaniyan affirms this much. He argues that while sometimes thought of as a victimless crime, corruption is extremely damaging for the realisation of human rights, be it civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights. The traditional methods of dealing with it, especially criminal law, face major obstacles, and while mechanisms and approaches of human rights law, especially international and continental human rights law, might be invoked in this context, such laws could also be circumvented by corrupt leaders.
Erosion of African historical and cultural heritage is another stumbling block to the realisation of the declaration objective to "promote a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies". It is a well established fact attested by anthropologists, archaeologists, historians and other cultural workers and enthusiasts that when world history and culture are considered, art and heritage have undoubtedly been Africa's most important assets, for it is through her art and other elements of her cultural endowment that African history and culture first became internationally recognised and famous. These elements have served to show that Africa has a cultural heritage that can compete favourably with that of any other continent of the world.
However, this valuable heritage has been relegated to the background by various governments across the continent. The existing institutes on African studies are not performing well. A close study of the available institutes in the continent calls for a serious reflection. While many of them have made massive contributions to the development of Africa and successfully proffered solutions to numerous knotty issues that seemed to have defied solutions in the past, the general applause appeared to have come too early as many of them have derailed from their founding principles. And while most of the genuine research conducted on African people is predominantly carried out by foreign institutes, a few of the surviving institutes within Africa still struggle to meet international standards.
It is against this background that this writer highlights and critiques the underlying generally held scholarly and institutional approach that places more emphasis on the analysis of this credible international framework rather than its actual implementation. If the much desired progress will be made, the African Union, as a continental body, needs to rethink the old implementation strategy to produce more inclusive and innovative responses from the leaders of each country across Africa.
Finally, the UN needs to be reminded that inequality is deep rooted and multifaceted beyond the way it is presently being touted by the world body, and thus mechanistic responses that do not deal with viable implementation strategies among the Member States will not yield the desired result.
STEPHEN ADEWALE is Director, Africa Dialogue Mission, Abuja, Nigeria.