Flat White

African community leaders can’t shift the blame

4 January 2018

1:30 PM

4 January 2018

1:30 PM

This is how I would like you to think of the growing youth crimes from a small group of young Sudanese in Victoria. As an African-Australian, I have been dismayed by the ongoing negative publicity surrounding “African-Australians”.

As someone who has run a political campaign for a local council in 2016, I saw and heard first-hand the public fear of residents and also received racial slurs against me as an African candidate. Personally, I want Africans to one day sit in the lower houses of parliaments across Australia, just like migrant communities before us have done. However, I fear this may not happen in my lifetime if this crime wave continues.

The reality is the Sudanese community must take stock and personal responsibility for what is a classic failure on their part to curb the behaviour of many of these young and immature teens. The community needs to ensure that they are not just being passive bystanders, but rather enforcing through disciplinary actions to their kids that current misbehaviour will not be tolerated.

In most African-Australian households, parents don’t tend to mix their words and actions. Almost all African-Australian families want their kids to succeed. Many expect their kids to have an occupation in the big five – doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant and nurse – and make the best use of the opportunities this country has to offer. Discipline and self-belief are fundamental tenets of many African people, and this is something that the ones who commit these crimes may be lacking in.

So how do we curb this? Well, first we need to understand the history of the Sudanese community, where they came from and why. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sudan has had two civil wars. The first occurred in 1955-1972, while the second occurred between 1983 and 2005, resulting in 1.5 million deaths and driving tens of thousands of people to neighbouring countries.

Sudan held a formal referendum on the sovereignty of the South and South Sudan was officially recognised on July 9, 2011. The story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is well documented. According to Rescue.org an estimated 20,000 young boys fled southern Sudan in 1987. Stories of young boys crossing through the African plains, some eaten by wild animals, some falling victim to starvation and some dying from exhaustion, have been well documented. The ones who survived fled to Kakuma refugee camp. Many of these boys were educated in Kakuma, and most were then resettled through the assistance of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to various countries like the United States and Australia from 2000-2001.

Most of these crimes being committed today in Victoria are not by the individuals who lived through the war, but rather kids who were born here.

Personal and cultural community responsibility is needed. African community leaders blaming politicians does nothing to address the behaviour. It does nothing to quell the concerns and genuine fear of residents from different faiths and cultural backgrounds. Parents of violent youths should acknowledge this is their responsibilities as a parent.

As an African-Australian, I would be embarrassed if any of these kids were mine. I would, like others have done, pack up their bags and accompany them to some of the best boarding schools within Africa (and yes, there are quite a number of them across Africa e.g. St Ignatius College – Zimbabwe), leaving them there to be disciplined, educated and to build self-belief all for a fraction of the price for a top boarding school in Australia.

Of course, some parents may not have the finances to do this immediately. But as many African families have done before and will continue to do we borrow from one another, or work multiple jobs or have been a part of a collective community saving system.  Boarding schools across Africa enact more discipline, structure and self-belief then a prison would here. They also have some of the brightest minds teaching teens; some teachers have studied at Oxford and Cambridge University and have grown up in Western countries.

The African diaspora is looking at not only making a positive impact on their new communities but also within Africa. Defence lawyers should advise parents and legal guardians of violent teens that a boarding school in Africa should be offered to prosecutors for first-time offenders with minor charges. This will be paid for by their legal guardians at no expense to the Australian taxpayer.

Sporting codes and associations can also play a part. Both male and female African Australians have shown and proven that they are world-class athletes. John Steffensen and Thon Maker immediately come to mind. Sporting clubs regularly interact with teens and many have proven to play a key role in engaging and curbing poor behaviour in individuals. Other remedies that should be considered is the implementation of the justice reinvestment concept.

If the moral motivation of African community leaders in Victoria is to deflect and pass the buck onto politicians – then life will become harder for future generations of African migrants living in Australia.

Kwabena Ansah is a former candidate for Brimbank Council, a former junior basketball president and one-time political adviser to a NSW Coalition police minister.

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