On June 9, we organised Uganda’s first Black Lives Matter protest and were subsequently arrested. The police alleged that we were breaking Covid-19 restrictions that were still in place, even though all in attendance were wearing masks and practising safe social distancing as much as possible.
One week later, the police concluded investigations and the charges were finally dropped for all 15 protesters arrested.
What might have been our biggest takeaway from this ordeal is that as we were driven off by the police, we realised that we were being arrested for standing up for black lives while Renee Bach, a white American missionary, has never seen the back of a police truck despite her role in the deaths of at least 105 black children at her illegal medical clinic in Jinja, Uganda.
Repeatedly, we see the systems that uphold white supremacy protecting perpetrators of anti-black violence. In the United States, excessive force continues to be used to quell peaceful Black Lives Matter, protests.
This is no different in Uganda where the police are more likely to arrest nonviolent protesters than they are to hold transgressors like Bach accountable, nor is it in Ghana where Black Llives Matter solidarity protests have ended in police clashes.
When many white protesters showed up at US government buildings wielding AK47’s and demanding that bars, restaurants and hair salons be reopened, they were not met with the same excessive force that Black Lives Matter protesters have experienced.
This demonstrates that the issue is not protesting itself, it is what is being protested. Although it manifests differently from the US to Uganda, it’s rooted in the same anti-black racism that views black bodies as disposable.
We need to understand that white supremacy has been the norm and not the exception and remain cognizant of the ways it has been exported globally which leads to the prioritisation of protecting white innocence over black lives.
One of the numerous byproducts of white privilege is white innocence; a universal belief in the innocence of white people even when proven guilty. White innocence upholds the narrative that white people are incapable of causing harm and maintains the perpetual morality of whiteness.
It grasps for humanity in white people and is desperate to justify their violence with good intentions, white innocence always gives whiteness the benefit of the doubt.
Despite the magnitude of the allegations against Bach and the amount of available evidence, there are yet to be any criminal charges brought against her and she is instead touted as a young and naive missionary who cared too much and who was overwhelmed by the need before her.
What we see is a fatal and age-long display of the lengths that the systems upholding white supremacy will go to protect themselves.
Whether it is Bach, Gregory Dow who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing girls in a Kenyan orphanage, or Simon Wood, a British Airways pilot who killed himself after being accused of molesting children across three African countries for a decade, these individuals often escape accountability because of their potential to expose more pervasive, institutionalised injustices.
We need to get honest about the history of missionary work which has been deeply tied to colonialism. It was used as a tool to control and exploit African people by instilling a distorted sense of morality in them and continues to be weaponised to carry out oppression.
When Renee Bach justifies her actions with an “unquestionable call from God,” she is tapping into the same power dynamic that the legacy of colonialism and missionary work has left across the continent.
In examining the history of policing in the United States, we can draw parallels. The police started out from white vigilante groups intended to control and terrorise formerly enslaved African people.
In that sense, the police were meant to protect white communities from black people, they were never designed to protect black people. How do you reform a system that is built to shelter anti-black violence and sustain it?
Whether Evangelical missionaries or American policing, the systems that perpetuate white supremacy are not built for internal or external accountability when it comes to anti-black violence.
Whatever approach we have to development must prioritize this truth, it must stem from a recognition of the inherent lack of critical examination in many development spaces and culminate in a resolution to change this.
Cariol Horne, a black police officer in Buffalo, New York was fired for stopping a deathly chokehold her white colleague had on a black man. Us, as well as thousands of others, have been arrested for peacefully demanding accountability.
We have to understand the risk involved with holding white supremacy accountable. As Assata Shakur taught us, these oppressive structures are not going to change by appealing to the morality of the people who actively benefit from them.
From being arrested during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Uganda and elsewhere to being referred to as “reputational terrorists,” as Bach’s lawyer has previously called the No White Saviors team, our goal for liberation is more important than any risks or costs that may be incurred in the process. We must remember this.
Caleb Okereke is a Nigerian journalist and filmmaker based in Kampala, Uganda. Kelsey Nielsen is an American social worker and activist working in Kampala, Uganda. No White Saviors is an advocacy campaign led by a majority female, majority African team of professionals based in Kampala, Uganda. The platform was started to counter “white saviorism” and the ways it manifests on the African continent.
This article was published in Mail & Guardian.