When MLK died 40 years ago, in Africa it was said
|April 8, 2008||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
When MLK died 40 years ago, in Africa it was said
The Graves Are Not Yet Full
Excerpted from a speech delivered by the author at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia at the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. What could make Kings doctrine work? We append one answer. The author has been extolled as one of the great minds of the Information Age by former US president Bill Clinton.
by Philip Emeagwali
Walk with me down memory lane. The time: 1968. In 30 months, one million dead. The setting: a dusty camp in Biafra where survivors waited and hoped for peace. The survivors: Refugees fleeing from the Dance of Death. My mentor: One of the refugee camp directors, whom I called Teacher out of respect.
Martin Luther King has been killed, Teacher said, with a pained voice and vacant eyes. I looked towards Teacher, wondering: Who is Martin Luther King? I was a 13-year-old refugee in the west African nation of Nigeria, a land then called Biafra. Martin Luther King. What did that name mean?
Eight out of ten Biafrans were refugees exiled from their own country. Two years earlier, Christian army officers had staged a bloody coup killing Muslim leaders. The Muslims felt the coup was a tribal mutiny of Christian Igbos against their beloved leaders. The aggrieved Muslims went on a killing rampage, chanting: Igbo, Igbo, Igbo, you are no longer part of Nigeria! In the days that followed, 50,000 Igbos were killed in street uprisings.
Killing was not new to us in Biafra. I was 13, but I knew much of killing. Widows and orphans were most of the refugees in our camp. They had survived the Igbo Dance of Death — a euphemism for the mass executions. One thousand men at gunpoint forced to dance a public dance. Seven hundred were then shot and buried en masse in shallow graves. When told to hurry up and return to his regular duty, one of the murderers said: The graves are not yet full.
A few days later, with only the clothes on our backs, we fled from this Dance of Death. That was six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Teacher and I were eventually conscripted into the Biafran army and sent to the front, two years after our escape.
After the war, Teacher — who had taught me the name of Martin Luther King — was among the one million who had died. I — a child soldier — was one of the fifteen million who survived.
Africa is committing suicide: a two-decade war in Sudan, genocidal killings in Rwanda, scorched-earth conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Liberia. The wars in modern Africa are the largest global-scale loss of life since the establishment of the Atlantic Slave trade, which uprooted and scattered Africas sons and daughters across the United States, Jamaica, and Brazil.
Africas wars are steering the continent toward a sea of self-destruction so deep that even the greatest horror writers are unable to fathom its depths. So, given our circumstances, Martin Luther King was a name unknown, a dead man among millions, with a message that never reached the shores of Biafra.
Neither did his message reach the ears of The Black Scorpion, Benjamin Adekunle, a tough Nigerian army commander, whose credo of ethnic cleansing knew nothing of Martin Luther King Jr.s movement: We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces move into Igbo territory, we even shoot things that do not move.
As we heed Martin Luther King Jr.s call, and march together across the world stage, let us never forget that we who have witnessed and survived the injustice of such nonsensical wars are the torchbearers of his legacy of peace for our world, our nation, and our children.
JJS: Could the civil resistance of King, Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, and others work in every situation? Probably not by itself. To foster tolerance, both sides need to see each other as peers. Hence it would help to foster equality — equal rights before the law and rough economic parity among residents. If its at all possible to establish economic justice, then that leaves a lot less for people to fight over.
If taxes were not levied as weapons but followed a different principle: pay for the values one takes, pay dues for land, resources, and polluting the environment. If subsidies were not granted as favors but followed a different principle: share societys surplus equitably among everyone. Then, not only would citizens feel respected by law but many among them would also take advantage of the opportunity to produce wealth. As prosperity spreads, people choose to not de-stabilize their higher standard of living. Inspired by leaders like King, they forgo violence and learn to live in peace.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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