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A History of African Genocide: Should Genocide Education be taught in schools?
By Maurice Martinez

While there are those who argue that African genocide should be taught to children, it is necessary to have an appropriate historical understanding of genocide and Africa to explain it in the classroom.

It is impossible to know the exact numbers of deaths in any genocide; to date, genocides have been documented by using a hodgepodge of census data, population estimates and firsthand accounts. When historians use this method to piece together data on African genocide, it can be evidenced that genocide stands as the world’s largest and longest running Holocaust with more than one hundred million people dead. This is alarming.

Slavery became the direct result of approximately forty million deaths from the African continent. Records from slave ships verify that approximately thirteen million people arrived on America’s shores. However, between one-fifth and sometimes as many as three-fourths of those who left the continent died during the middle passage across the Atlantic. It is fair to say that as many as half of the people died on any given voyage. To add to this number, C.L.R. James, in his book Black Jacobins, estimates that one-fifth of the people brought to the fortress-like dungeons on the coast died and others have estimated that one-fifth of African captives died on the way to the coast. Working backwards from those who arrived, one comes to a number of between twenty-five and thirty million people murdered. When this number is coupled with those who arrived, it reaches forty million. These estimates do not include the tens of millions of people who were born into and died in chattel slavery; other groups facing genocide who have died in captivity have been counted in the total number of deaths in their respective genocides.

If this were the extent of the African Holocaust, it would be tragic, but it is not. According to Roger Casement’s report, King Leopold II, Belgian king and colonizer killed eleven million Congolese people. When coupled with the killings by other colonial regimes such as the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Germans and Portuguese, the total number of Africans murdered exceeds one hundred million people, and this is a conservative estimate. My research, of course, in no way limits, or underscores the many lives lost and atrocities faced by every group of people who have faced imminent genocide.

Genocide today on the African continent exists as an historical continuity from slavery and European colonialism. As far as one can ascertain from the historical record, it was virtually nonexistent before Europeans arrived on the continent. For example, the populations in both Rwanda and the Sudan were split by Europeans during colonialism. When Europeans departed, these divisions began to manifest themselves, and came to an apex in the modern genocides that have taken place in these countries. But still, there are those who attempt to extract African genocide from the historical reality of the African holocaust. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors argued that the African and Indian holocausts are not true holocausts because “ people were not placed on starvation diets as a matter of state policy. ” However, Walter Rodney, on page 149 of his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, points out that policy in many areas of colonial Africa paid “ a wage usually insufficient to keep the worker physically alive. ”

Similarly, on the cover of Dr. Firpo Carr’s book Germany’s Black Holocaust, we are met by a photo of starved Namibians that were placed in concentration camps which served as experimental grounds for German concentration camps during World War II. Robert F. Heizer’s Handbook of the North American Indians, Vol. 3, shows that Indians in Spanish Missions were systematically starved to death during the Native American Holocaust which too took more than one hundred million lives.

With an appropriate historical understanding of the African Holocaust, one can begin to determine the appropriate method of teaching of African genocide to children. These methods seem to vary depending on one’s local. “ If you were talking to American children it would be different than talking to children on the continent, ” said Dr. Bert Green, retired African Studies professor from the City University of New York. In many places on the African continent “ at least you would be approaching children with a little familiarity with the concept of genocide, ” he added. Dr. Green noted that in nations such as Rwanda, the Sudan and even perhaps Nigeria, there would be more familiarity with genocide because of the exposure to it. “ That would depend on the coverage. If it were on local TV, then of course the children would be aware of it, ” he highlighted.

So how would one teach genocide to African-American children? Dr. Green points out that one might make a comparison between illegal drug sales in our cities and genocide on the African continent. Because many children can grasp the concept of what drugs do to people in America, using this as a starting point to teach them about genocide on the African continent would be effective. “ All children over nine years old would have some understanding of drugs and one can consider that a form of genocide, ” Dr. Green noted.

This way of teaching genocide in American classrooms is in line with a student centered model of education. Within this model, one starts with a student’s experience, and then expands it to connect to an understanding of the concept that he/she is trying to teach. When students are taught by using their own experiences as a basis, retention tends to be longer because the lesson is more meaningful. Concerning the appropriate age to teach genocide to children on the African continent, Dr. Green specified that, “ I really can’t say what that age would be. ” This is because of the diversity of the understanding and exposure to genocide from region to region.

Perhaps, it is not age that is most important but how and why lessons about African genocide are taught. States thirteen year old Cravon Sheard “ I think children should be taught about it, so they know what went on, ” and so that in future they can “ stand up for people in that country and help them fight it. ”