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Racial protests mean Africa takes another look at the U.S. — and itself

Protests over the killing of George Floyd have struck a global chord. Across the African continent, they have sparked not only demonstrations, but also a new examination of the roles of race, colonialism and exploitation through the centuries. The reputation of the United States as a safe and desirable place to visit is also under scrutiny. Special correspondent Michale Baleke reports from Uganda.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The protests over the killing of George Floyd have struck a chord across the continent of Africa, and sparked not only demonstrations, but a deeper examination of the roles of race, colonialism, and exploitation through the centuries and of the reputation of the United States.

    From Kampala, Uganda, special correspondent Michael Baleke reports.

  • Michael Baleke:

    From the castles on the Gold Coast of Africa that held men and women before they were loaded onto ships to be sold in the Americas, to the bustling modern capital of Ethiopia in East Africa, to protests in South Africa, a country still feeling the effects of apartheid, Africans are questioning the legacy of colonialism and slavery.

    Racial discrimination is on Amos Wekesa's mind as he plays a board game with his son during the COVID-19 lockdown. Wekesa is a Ugandan businessman, a Black African married to a white American. They believe they are safer in Uganda than in the U.S., safer from the racial discrimination his wife observed growing up in the U.S.

  • Amos Wekesa:

    Every time we have conversation, our firstborn is thinking about university, even the second-born. And it's very sad that she has to tell him, if you're thinking about university outside Uganda, don't think about the U.S., because of the racial challenges that are in there.

    But also, at the same time, people like me, the husband who travels to the U.S. for business, or them that travel for family issues, they go there in a very scared way.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Amos and his family have joined in solidarity with U.S. protesters against police violence towards African Americans, as did people at this Black Lives Matter rally outside the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town.

    The lingering effects of police brutality resonate there. Systemic racism was entrenched in the law.

  • Veronica Mente:

    How you treat a suspected individual of a white person, this is the same way you must treat a Black life. Subject them to a law that is fair and just.

    We don't want to be done any favors, but all we want is that we must be treated like human beings.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Across the continent, there's been an awakening about Africa's colonial history, the names of streets and buildings, symbols of European colonial oppression and exploitation.

    In a bid to reclaim the country's pride, Ugandan lawyer Apollo Makubuya is leading a petition drive to change those names.

  • Apollo Makubuya:

    We are targeting those, and on whom we have evidence to show that they perpetrated crimes against humanity, they violated human rights, and we object to their continued glorification on the streets of Uganda and elsewhere.

  • Michael Baleke:

    They propose to use the names of heroes instead. The events in the U.S. and Europe are creating more awareness in Africa about the history of colonial rule.

    This is inspiring Africans to take a closer look at the past and to think about how to reframe it, says Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa.

  • Mwambutsya Ndebesa:

    Colonialism, racism, discrimination, and whatever cannot be eliminated by merely removing symbols. But symbols is one of those efforts towards removing those injustices.

  • Michael Baleke:

    The U.S. protests have redoubled plans by some Ethiopian Americans to invest in their country.

    Feleg Tsegaye gave up on the U.S. seven years ago. He now runs a successful online food delivery service. Even with the threat of COVID-19, he says Ethiopia offers more opportunity for him and his business than the U.S. did.

  • Feleg Tsegaye:

    I never thought there might be that many people that would want such a service here. And, in fact, even my own family thought I was a little bit crazy at first.

    But we have seen over the past even three years, we have grown 2X year over year.

  • Michael Baleke:

    He runs Ethiopia's first e-commerce company, a 21st century success run by and for Africans.

    And a world away from the business conducted centuries ago on the Cape Coast in West Africa, then the center of the gold and slave trades, key historical sites like the Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese and later taken over by the British, still stand in Ghana, the steel barriers and rusted chains that bound slaves before the horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic still in the holding cells.

    But as the rest of the world pulls down monuments that depict colonialism, authorities here are calling for the renovation and rehabilitation of such sites as reminders of the past.

  • Ato Eshun:

    You are here today, so you have seen it. What of those who will come after you? What will they see to learn from what happened in the past? So, this is critical.

  • Michael Baleke:

    But historians argue there are now different ways horrific events can be remembered.

  • Mwambutsya Ndebesa:

    I am not for erasing that history, because history is important, whether positive or negative. Those names should be put down in books or in a museum for people to recognize them in the past.

  • Michael Baleke:

    Last year, Ghana marked 400 years since the first slave ship sailed.

    This year, a policeman's knee on an African American's neck is a stark reminder of the enduring consequences of that voyage.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Michael Baleke in Kampala, Uganda.

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