The election of Donald Trump in 2016 raised concerns about what appears to be a global movement towards right-wing populism among Western democracies. The recent election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil is further proof of this trend. This recent shift has also raised concerns about a resurgence of fascism given that much of the rhetoric being espoused by these right-wing populist leaders reflect the nationalistic, bigoted, and dictatorial thinking of fascist leaders of the past, such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco.
For Westerners fascism is one of the greatest stains in their history because it resulted in atrocities such as the Holocaust and World War II, which caused the deaths of millions of people in Europe. For African people, however, it is difficult to separate the fascists from what is supposed to be liberal democracy. As Western democracies around the world confront this fear of a rebirth of fascism, African people have always understood that values that Western democracies espoused have never been universal values.
The “Allies” in World War II are often treated as heroes in Western history because these were the countries that defeated the fascists in Europe and saved the world from the threat of the Nazis, but these same Allied Powers shared much in common with the fascists that they were fighting. The United States at the time of World War II was a nation which preached white supremacy and racism. African Americans were considered second class citizens. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the president at the time that the Second World War began, was the same president who refused to support anti-lynching legislation. Roosevelt also nominated Hugo Black, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, to the Supreme Court. Justice Black later upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans. Whereas the Nazis maintained concentration camps in which they systematically tortured and executed Jewish people, the British colonialists in Kenya had detention camps of their own in which they systematically tortured Kenyans who were suspected of being members of the Mau Mau. France maintained many of its colonies in a state of poverty and neglect, and those who spoke out against French colonialism were typically jailed, tortured, or killed. In the Belgian Congo, the Belgians massacred over 10 million Congolese people.
Despite the brutalities that Africans endured from the Allies we fought to put an end to fascism. Africans from the United States, the Caribbean, and the African continent all fought for countries that had oppressed, exploited, brutalised, and humiliated us. We fought to help put an end to fascism in Europe so that the Allies could freely continue their oppressive policies. In the 1950s and 1960s African people began to make significant process towards our collective liberation through the civil rights movement in the United States and the decolonization movements in Africa and the Caribbean. These movements were met with hostility by these same Allied Powers. Many of the leaders of these movements were imprisoned and in some cases killed because they dared to demand that African people should be treated equally.
Whereas many Western nations are expressing a concern over what appears to be a resurgence of fascism, for African people it is difficult we can hardly see the difference. Prior to Donald Trump being elected president in 2016, African Americans were already struggling. The United States is the richest nation in the world, yet many African Americans live in abject poverty and neglect, while also dealing with the issue of police brutality. These were issues that African Americans endured during eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Prior to Jair Bolsonaro being elected in Brazil, Afro-Brazilians experienced much of the same. Some activists in Brazil have described the situation there as genocide. This may seem like an exaggeration, but the numbers support this claim. A report from 2012 demonstrated that Afro-Brazilians are murdered at rates that are equal to the type of causalities that one sees in countries that are at war.
Worst of all is Africa’s situation. As the West laments a gradual descent into authoritarianism which threatens democratic principles such as freedom of press and voting rights, Africa has experienced decades of the worst type of dictatorial rule, which has been sanctioned and supported by the West. The list of African dictators that have been supported by Western countries since the 1960s is too lengthy to truly discuss in a single article, but we can certainly look at recently examples. Paul Biya, who has been the dictator of Cameroon since 1982, was recently re-elected again and was congratulated by the United States for this sham election. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila’s term ended since 2016, but he has decided to delay leaving power for two years. The United States has done very little to stem Kabila’s abuse of power, which persists in the Congo even as he is getting ready to relinquish power. The people of Togo have spent the past year fighting for an end to five decades of dictatorship and this struggle has been met with silence from Western governments, which have supported that same dictatorial regime for the past five decades. Yoweri Museveni is the president of a country where critics of the government are blatantly tortured, but he continues to enjoy American support. The same is true for Paul Kagame, who is the president of a country where opposition leaders are jailed and where journalists have been known to die under mysterious circumstances.
The ideals and values expressed by Western liberal democracies have never been extended to us. More often than not, we have actually been the victims of these Western democracies which preach values that they have never practiced. After all, the United States is a nation founded by people who wrote beautifully about liberty, freedom, and the equality of man, but such values did not extend to enslaved Africans who were counted as 3/5 of a person. Americans are rightfully concerned about the future of their country under a leader like Donald Trump, but that fear has been a reality that Africans have lived with for generations. Whereas Western countries are living in fear of what appears to be a resurgence of fascism, the reality is that for African people around the world fascism never truly ended.