Neglect for African life

Are all Human Lives Equal? Global Neglect For African Life

I recently found out that Economists can measure the worth of a mortal life using the term, ‘value of life‘. So I looked it up: Apparently, the value of life is simply a concept in economics used to quantify the benefit of avoiding a fatality. In social and political sciences, it is the marginal cost of death prevention in a certain class of circumstances. 

For example, in the event of life-threatening crises, with only limited resources available to intervene, who would get help? Well, there’d need to be a quick weigh in on the cost of intervention versus the lives’ worth. Factors to be considered would include the person’s quality of life, expected lifetime remaining, as well as the earning potential of a given person.

via Chicago Tribune.

I am not an economist but I am mortal and naturally, curious about what my life is worth if shit ever hits the fan. Maybe you should be too.

Already, we know that in theory all human lives are considered ‘equal’. But of course, that’s not what we see in practice. For example, it would appear that a white American life is more valued than a black life, as exemplified by the murder of Trayvon Martin and controversies following, or the treatment of white terrorists in relation to those of any other race. There have been ongoing discussions on how the current ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement relates to Africans. The leading argument is that it does not, simply because Africans and black Americans do not go through the same experiences and cannot be considered in the same light.

It also seems that the life and death of Africans are far less relevant than that of a European or American, black or white. The closest example is this August when hundreds of Sierra Leoneans were killed as a result of a terrible mudslide in Freetown. Very shortly after that in September, over a hundred thousand people were rendered homeless in Benue state, Nigeria by a devastating flood which received minimal international coverage or attention. Yet that same month, the world stood still, grieving with victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Of course, this is not a suffering or tragedy Olympics. After all, every human life is equal and priceless. But, paraphrasing the all-important question from Owen Jones’ 2013 article highlighting the Western world’s shameful hierarchy of death,

Why is a slaughter in Vegas, for example more shocking or newsworthy than constant tragedies in Nigeria?

It is a sharp contrast; the way the world responds with urgency when a Western life is threatened as opposed to the lone tears of loved ones shed on behalf of victims of the massive calamities in Africa or the Middle East. And it leaves one wondering. Who decides the value of a life?

Sierra Leoneans killed in mudslide in Freetown. Image via NBC News.

It is possible that, subconsciously, the world has come to accept death and suffering as a normal part of African life. How else would you explain how quick we are to move on from tragedies in our land, with bare minimum questions asked and short-lived outcry? Perhaps we ourselves have accepted that the death of a white man is more serious than our own. Our leaders seem to think so; in the wake of tragedies, often no public address is deemed fit, no remembrance observed. Lives are simply lost and forgotten to Boko Haram, diseases and ‘accidental’ government bombings as if we are a little less human, for being African. But our own leaders are quick to publicly sympathize with Western countries over their own problems.

If you look at those 3 factors economists use in judging a life’s ‘value’, then maybe you can make sense of the whole thing.

For one thing, the quality of life for a typical African is nothing to speak of. Sub Saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world, as reflected in the living conditions of the majority of its people. It is only the rich who have access to most things because they can travel abroad.

As for expected life remaining, the life expectancy of an African is only 60 years compared to 76.8 years in Europe. Our lives are often cut short by avoidable crises, disease or some other poverty associated symptom. As for earning potential? Many Africans are already at a disadvantage. Defunct educational systems and scarce opportunities leave over 120 million people, in Nigeria for example, living on less than $2 a day.

So the worldwide politics begin to make a little sense. If a scale of value existed based on these three parameters alone, then the lives of ordinary Africans would be somewhere at the bottom, right after that of Rich Africans. So maybe it is just that – the life of an African is just not worth rescuing or remembering. Perhaps the rest of the world simply doesn’t care.

This is something that we as Africans need to understand; that the Western world doesn’t care for us beyond their interests. Here at More Branches we say,

African for Africa by Africa.

We need to appreciate ourselves and decide our own value. The African skin isn’t simultaneous to death, pain, and corruption alone. In our madness, there’s creativity, innovation, art, style, music, agriculture – our lives are beautiful and so is our environment.


Ada Okoli

Sometimes I write. Sometimes I think about writing.

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