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Opinion

Opinion: When terror strikes, does every life matter?

After the Paris attacks, African political commentators took to social media accusing Western media of double-standards when covering terror attacks. DW's Chrispin Mwakideu says Africans, too, should share the blame.

Like everyone else watching the news from Paris, I felt sadness for the people caught up in it and for all of us living here in Europe. But as an African, I can't help wondering as well - where is the western world while Boko Haram terrorizes Nigerians? Where was that outpouring of grief and solidarity, seen in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, when Somalia's al-Shabab militants killed 147 students in Garissa College, northern Kenya?

It seems clear that the western world views terrorist attacks in Africa, the Middle East, or anywhere else, differently to those that have targeted one of the world's major capitals such as London, Paris or New York. But what I want to ask is why?

African beliefs and practices

Perhaps it has to do with differing attitudes towards life and death? When I was growing up in Kenya, death was a common thing. That has not changed. Scores of people die everyday, be it through road accidents, preventable diseases or violent crimes.

Chrispin Mwakideu

DW's Chrispin Mwakideu

That is not to say that in Europe there is no death, but what I mean is that in many African countries, death seems to be 'just around the corner'. There is a Kiswahili saying that goes wakufa ni wakufa which loosely translates as "those who are meant to die will die."

Such fatalism has penetrated every sphere of society to an extent that in most cases those who are meant to save lives depend not on their skills or expertise but more on the ability of the victim to survive. After all those who are meant to die will die.

Is one life more valuable than the other?

Just recently, a total of 1,210 people from several African countries including Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania died during a Hajj stampede in Mecca. Perhaps because of this fatalism, there was no real reaction from either the African Union or African governments. Even the African commentators who normally blame the West for double standards were silent.

Perhaps instead of blaming the West, Africa should start questioning its own fatalism towards death and start valuing every single person's life more. Whether you die at the hands of terrorists, curable or incurable diseases, or a reckless driver, your departure from this world deserves to be mourned by everyone.

I strongly believe that Africa should respond with one voice every time al-Shabab or Boko Haram Islamist terrorists kill innocent civilians. Only when we begin to respect the sanctity of every life, will the rest of the world follow.

Does the right hand know the left hand exists?

But then again, how many Gambians are aware that there is an ongoing political crisis in Burundi which has killed nearly 200 people since April this year? And how many Namibians know about the civil war raging in South Sudan which has killed tens of thousands and displaced more than one million people? Sadly I could go on at length with a litany of disaster and sadness that besets my continent.

By way of contrast, the moment the Paris attacks happened, the whole continent could follow the events in real time, and virtually everyone knew about them. It is a fact that western media does not give the same level of coverage to African stories as it does to western stories. It is true that the Nigerian Chibok "Bringbackourgirls" campaign only went viral after Michelle Obama joined the campaign. But let's be honest, how many African media houses have continued to follow up on the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram?

Instead of just griping about double standards, I think it is high time African countries began to take more notice of what is happening not only in their sub-region but across the whole continent. Africa boasts of 54 nations, but it took a non-African, a European county France, ironically, to push through a UN resolution on the ongoing political crisis in Burundi. Northern Africa is burning at the moment, is southern Africa aware of this?

Following the Paris attacks, there have been frantic calls for calm and sober minds to prevail. This is all for the good and I hope these calls will be heeded and that the mourning and sadness will help everyone to respect the sanctity of life, whatever color and creed they may be. I'm left with a terrible sense of fragility. As pessimistic as it may sound, I think Muslims and foreigners like myself now face an even more unpredictable future here in Europe. I can only hope that I'm wrong and things will get better rather than worse.

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