20 years after Durban: Africans and Afro-descendants still colonized or emancipated?

Afro descendants and Africans are the first to pay the high price for the economic, social, security and migration policies of former colonizing and slave countries.

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At the end of the Durban -2001- conference, the international community, many NGOs, social movements and members of what it is agreed, in the UN corridors, to call « civil society », subscribed to the terms of the Durban Declaration and its Program of Action, even if some Western States had left the conference with a crash after having shamefully exploited the supposed anti-Semitism of all the participants. Anti-Semitism coming to deliver, at the right time, the colonial States which refused to discuss further the question of Reparations carried by a number of African States and which should have made it possible to close the sequence concerning the impunity enjoyed by all those who committed or allowed to be committed, in the name of Modernity and white supremacy, crimes against humanity and genocide.


The coloniality of power was then expressed in its most infamous aspects to muzzle a voice that had finally understood that after 3 decades against racism; it also had to perpetuate the invisibilization and to silence the victims of negrophobia and Islamophobia, or at least leave them a word circumscribed by the perimeter of human rights as thought by this coloniality of power which defines that of Beings. Not content with having more or less successful in their attempt, these same States, on the pretext Durban 2001, its Declaration and Program of action is a toxic process, as one State representative said during the open dialogue on the International Forum for Person of African descent, reiterate their opposition to the 20th anniversary of the Durban Conference which was celebrated at the United Nations General Assembly September, 22.


It is indeed a question of reparations linked to the transatlantic slave trade, to enslavement, colonization and colonialism which followed the human catastrophe both on the metaphysical and demographic level inaugurated by the Discoveries.


We are talking about an action that has moved, for more than 4 centuries, more than 12 million people and has been played on 4 continents. Colonial action which ensured the perpetuation of the euro-centered model which concluded in the supremacy of white bodies over Black and Arab bodies; who sold and enslaved the black bodies, considered as movables, because of the color of their skin and the natives bodies for their supposed lack of soul.


This process deeply structured the predatory capitalist system by allowing it to enrich itself on the unlimited exploitation of millions and millions of people deprived of their humanity and their dignity, but also on the theft of land and looting. of the natural resources of the Americas and the Caribbean which have allowed “the well-being and progress of Europe (…) built with the sweat and the corpses of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and Yellows. We decide not to forget it [1]”.


These crimes continue to be the hallmark of the majority of former colonizing and slave states; it doesn’t matter if some people say otherwise, apologize or affirm to be willing to return some stolen art. The way in which migrants are treated marks the permanence of the elements of the colonial power that governed the white power in its decision to prioritize humanity; the way in which migrants are treated marks the permanence of the elements of the colonial power that governed the white power in its decision to hierarchize humanity; migrants have become the new slaves whose lives are drowning in the Mediterranean under the fearless gaze of many European leaders.


Without a process of political and collective reparations, neither will the creative and dynamic energy of violated cultures that do not respond to the injunctions of the white world be restored nor will the sense of otherness and intersubjectivity, which humanity is sorely lacking, be reintroduced.


All these states and those who have helped them, from near or far, are responsible for racism in all its forms, and particularly for negrophobia built on the basis of the race policy put in place in 1492, with the aim of to prioritize humanity.


This is, in a way, what was affirmed in the Durban Declaration « if racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are not fought by everyone, in particular the authorities. public and politicians at all levels, their perpetuation is encouraged[2]. How then to continue to pose as paragons of democracy and defenders of human rights without ever questioning the coloniality of power which maintains the “racisés”, the precarious and especially the racialized in a zone of Non-Beings?


Since the Durban International Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance[3], the situation of Africans and Afro-descendants around the world has not improved. Easy target of a system which does not hesitate to make enemies from within when it feels threatened, which finds nothing better than to criminalize vulnerable populations when it has to prove its investment in the fight against terrorism whose emergence it facilitated, Afro descendants and Africans are the first to pay the high price for the economic, social, security and migration policies of former colonizing and slave countries.


In Brazil or in the United States, every day a young black is killed; in Colombia, the forces of repression and the paramilitaries who assist them use excessive force (forced displacement, disappearance, harassment, torture, murder, etc.); these methods used during the civil war were used, even after the signing of the peace agreements, during the general strike of 2021 with Afro Colombians as main victims; and Europe is not to be outdone: the death of a young black or Arab is justified by self-defense.


In all of these countries, law enforcement forces enjoy impunity in the name of repressive and warlike rhetoric of law and order. All these dominating states exercise their coloniality of power without any state of mind and intend to pursue this path to ensure the power of white supremacy over the whole world, in the name of a carnivorous democracy of which they themselves have defined the contours.


Within the framework of the UN and its many agencies, states can impose their law and order on the pretext that they participate in its financing[4]. We are in a system where the between oneself is flourishing; functioning as a private enterprise, states act as a board of directors and UN staff become employees of this system which primarily defends the interests of imperialist and colonial states and not those of the People of Nations and even less those concerning the right of peoples to sovereignty and self-determination.


Without forgetting that within the United Nations itself, this institution is not left out when it comes to manifestations of structural racism that hit African and Afro-descendant officer; their progression, with the same diploma and qualification, is far from being the same. So much so that in 2020, the study carried out by the United Nations People of African Descent[5] revealed that 52% of the 2,857 people questioned admitted to having been targeted for racism in their working relationships.


The balance of power is the only rule and what is happening at the level of the Security Council is flagrant and shameful proof of this. It suffices to analyze the situation of Palestine, in terms of international law and international humanitarian law, to understand the structural impasse facing this country devastated by occupation and illegal Israeli colonization and abandoned by an international community cowardly, only concerned about its small interests and Mafia arrangements between friends.


In such a context, 20 years after Durban, what can Africans and Afro descendants expect? They were promised emancipation from the coloniality of their Being, they were promised the end of racism. 3 decades against racism later, where are we?


The UN, as usual, has masked its incompetence, muzzled by an international community that handles paradox as others handle lies, while lauding the many programs decided to fight against negrophobia. Between 2002 and 2021, there are no less than 8[6]. What to think of all these initiatives that have accelerated since the assassination of George Floyd? However positive they may be, their mandate, from one mechanism to another, is repeated more or less. In many of them and in the mandates of the different mechanisms, words such inclusion, living together, respect, equality, recognition, diversity, improvement, good practices …Is it enough to pronounce them, like mantras, to change the reality of victims of structural racism? For more than 20 years, these words have not changed or even helped to change the situation of people of African descent, yetthe international community is raving about it.


And Africans and People of African Descent continue to suffocate!


The UN, with the objective of satisfying its donors, achieves the feat of never questioning the fundamental reasons for this structural racism; they are either circumvented or at best approached lip service or quite simply ignored. It is well mentioned “to study the problems of racial discrimination encountered by the PADs[7]”, but the result of these studies is far from being taken into account because it effectively questions the responsibility “(of) the public authorities and politicians to all levels, which, by failing to meet their international obligations, encourage the perpetuation of racism[8].


Listen to the victims of racism in general, yes, while energetically refusing to think about the nature of the deadly relationship that there is between “race, capital and class” and which not only questions the relationship to the world of an organism such as the UN but also the place of the Human in a world governed by the financialization of life and profit for the benefit of a few. The hold-up of humanity, inaugurated with the establishment of the race policy, has never ceased; it just put on new clothes drawn by human rights, democracy and many other terms that the liberal and imperial capitalist system praises to clear its conscience.


So, one of the terms that this system is throwing around is “recognition”. It carries with it as many paradoxes as both the UN and members of the international community carry when they affirm to be ready to end racism.


Antonio Guterres, during the International Day for People of African Descent, has he not once again referred to this by saying that “This is a long overdue recognition of the deep injustices and the systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries and continue to face today[9]”.


But is it the State that will recognize the victims of structural racism while it is this same State that fabricates structural racism? What is the nature of this recognition which carries with its vulnerability, weakness, so that we can cease to be recognized?


Are we not once again facing a paradoxical injunction by addressing this institution in the hope that it will find a solution to what it has created itself? The dominant state, as an overarching institution, admits only asymmetry; therefore, recognition will only take place according to its terms and in particular from a posture of generosity which in return awaits the ‘recognized’ person deserving to leave the zone of Non-Being to which it is assigned.


Faced with racial violence, with institutional impunity, the black body, inhabited by the quest for his dignity, allows himself to come out of his assignment and to question the Unworthy; therefore Dignity speaks of the conditions in which the oppressed will engage, carried by the need to extract himself from the unworthy conditions imposed on him, he does not forget that the black body is part of a relationship to the world particular which cannot be obstructed as certain Human Rights defenders would like.


Structural racism also occupied a leading position by invading all areas of our societies. Black Lives Matter’s slogan “I can’’ breathe” becomes the cry of revolt of all those to whom the speech is stolen from the predatory, racist and domineering system.


Afro-descendants and Africans want their dignity to be expressed through justice that corrects historic crimes, through land reform recognizing both customary law and the right to land, as recognized in ILO Convention 169; what had been achieved by all those who, since Durban and even before, demand that a process of collective and political reparations be taken in charge by the former slave and colonizing states.


The heads of State gathered at the first Africa/Caribbean Forum[10] raised these concerns; they are aware, by experience, that the coloniality of white power uses oppression and submission so as not to lose hand on stolen lands and on natural resources and so that the euro-centric philosophy of human rights put in place by white thought is never challenged .


The fight against racializing racism does not depend on recognition or moral anti-racism, nor on representation in certain elective bodies or in certain positions, or in the media where many black bodies have appeared as a result of the death of George Floyd; it depends, on the one hand, on a commitment to political anti-racism in which the coloniality of power is denounced by all the victims of racial and colonial policies, and on the other hand, within the framework of the UN, on a geopolitical and geostrategic rebalancing of the forces present which will allow Africa, among other things, to emerge from the colonial “dark night[11]” imposed by the former colonizing States, by the development banks and other international financial institutions, with the help of certain African presidents, fervent friends of Euro-centric Modernity.


This emancipation of Africa will pave the way for that of Afro-descendants and Africans in the diaspora, who must therefore work to put in perspective a balance of power in order to weigh on the former colonizing States for force them to reverse the nature of their coloniality of power in all international relations and with respect to all “racisés[12]” and racialized people.


The fight against structural racism calls for both demand and resistance both from Afro-descendants and Africans as well as from social and support movements to oppose the financialization of bodies and international relations and to stand up against the White supremacy.


20 years later, dignity is still to be won, but neither it is given nor it is decreed.


It has to be conquered as part of a decolonial political project drawn up by the first concerned with the support of their friends.


It remains the future of the African continent, of Africans and Afro-descendants of the diaspora, in South America, in the Caribbean who will have to lead the mobilization in order to force the dominant States to activate the international legal structures so that the crimes committed, between 1492 and the end of the Independence, are legitimately and collectively judged. The only possibility for all those who have been deprived of the fulfillment of their Being by their dignity to resume their place in a decolonial humanity no longer seeking « to contribute to the devaluation of human reality[13]« 


Mireille Fanon Mendes France


Frantz Fanon Foundation



[1] Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the earth,,1961 ; Editions Maspero


[2] First Chapter;  Deeclaration ; Page 4, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N02/215/44/PDF/N0221544.pdf?OpenElement


[3] From August 31 to September 8/2001


[4] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1106839/politique/racisme-a-lonu-le-grand-malaise/


[5] https://unric.org/fr/de-hauts-fonctionnaires-dorigine-africaine-sindigne...


[6] • 2002: IGWG, Intergovernmental Working Group on the follow-up to the Durban Declaration; This Working Group, one of the 3 mechanisms ensuring the follow-up to the Declaration and Program of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, was created in implementation of resolution 2002/68 of the Commission on Human Rights and approved by the Economic and Social Council in its decision 2002/270 of 25 July 2002. Its mandate aims, inter alia, to make recommendations for the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action; https://www.ohchr.org/FR/Issues/Racism/IntergovWG/Pages/IWGIndex.aspx


• 2002: Panel of Eminent Independent Experts on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/Pages/IndependentEminentExperts.aspx


• 2002: Expert Working Group on the Situation of People of African Descent, WGEPAD established by the Human Rights Council as a special procedure whose mandate is renewed every 3 years; https://www.ohchr.org/FR/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADInde...


• 2011: International Year of PADs; https://www.un.org/fr/observances/international-years


• 2015-2024: International Decade for People of African Descent -IDPAD-; 6 years later, few states have inaugurated it; many of them ignored it on the pretext that there is no racism; thus of France which refuses to recognize the colonial situation lived by the Afro-descendants in the colonies of its Republic; the program of activities is far from being followed since, more than halfway through the decade, only activities put in place by the organizations for the defense of PADs have been listed; some texts of a very general nature on the identity of the Recognition, Development, Justice decade. No reflection on structural racism and / or on the coloniality of power ensuring its sustainability. https://www.un.org/fr/observances/decade-people-african-descent


• 2018, in December, the General Assembly decides to « create a permanent forum for people of African descent; it will not be implemented until 3 years later


• 2021, following the report of the High Commissioner on Racial Justice and Equality, it was decided to set up a mechanism to study systemic racism, police violence and violence against peaceful protests. We can see with this title the generalizing nature of the problem! Where has the question of structural racism gone?


• 2021 Establishment of the International Forum for PADs, part of the Decade Program of Activities


• 2021; September 1, launch of International PAD Day


[7] WGEPAD mandate


[8] See note 2


[9] https://news.un.org/fr/story/2021/08/1102812


[10] 7/09/2021; https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/martinique/premier-sommet-entre-la-carico...


[11] Expression borrowed from Achille Mbembe; Out of the dark night; Columbia University press, 2021


[12] In English does not seem to point out the difference between ‘racisés’, a generic term for all forms of racism and racialized, a term specifying that it is, in this case, only race.


[13] Frantz Fanon, The colonized in question The North African syndrome, part 1; For the African revolution; Political writings; Maspero Editions




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