George Floyd’s death shows us how International development needs to change.

George Floyd’s death and other manifestations of inequality and injustice in the Global South, and how we deal with them have critical lessons to teach us about how the fight for justice is carried out in the Global North, says Segun Olowookere.

George Floyd’s death was unnecessary and heartbreaking but it is not, unfortunately, isolated. Hundreds of black lives are ended in this way every year in the US. The deaths occurring by the knees and guns of the US police, the list of names and the families suffering keeps growing. It just has to stop. 

Unlike other incidents however this one was filmed, it was blatant, with warnings and pleas from George (RIP) and those filming to stop. We cannot afford to be numb to this because I know that could have been me or any other black man you know.

Many in the UK specifically will say, well that doesn’t happen over here? Racial injustice in the UK may not be the same as in the US but that does not mean it doesn’t exist. BAME citizens are disproportionately killed by the police, black boys are 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched, the UK prison population is disproportionately black, and young offenders are locked up and set up for a life of limited opportunities and an increased probability of future incarceration.

This comes in the midst of a global pandemic that has caused an unprecedented lockdown around the world, especially in the Global North. The number of BAME deaths in both the US and the UK have been disproportionate compared to the number of BAME citizens. And BAME people also make up a disproportionate number of our essential workers,  helping to fight the pandemic on the frontline. It is interesting to me that the anger and frustration felt at George Floyd’s death has seemingly overtaken the fear of catching COVID19. Thousands have chosen to forego social distancing rules to march, in the UK, the USA and across the world.

The focus has now shifted to these demonstrations. When I see marches, protests, looting and rioting, I remember the great words of Dr Martin Luther King who taught us;

A riot is the voice of the unheard.”

Dr Martin Luther King

Now, I am not agreeing with the looting or the damaging of property, but we have to listen. People are frustrated, saddened, in deep pain and they must be heard. 

I’ve been reflecting on what I can do to prevent injustices like George’s death from happening again. I spend a lot of my time fighting for change, and against injustices as I work in the International Development sector. In many of the countries we work in these protests would not be allowed and would be countered with even more extreme violence. So how do we hear and listen to the pain, anger and frustrations that are coming out of the communities we work in?

In part the anger we are witnessing, and feeling, is caused by the US authorities’ speed to react. They were slow to arrest and charge the police officer who led the murder of George Floyd. The investigation that we should all follow closely, has lessons to teach the International Development sector. If we are slow to react, for fear of making a mistake or risking our board’s tolerance, we can make a problem worse and lose the trust of the communities we serve. Could the rioting, protests and looting in the city of Minneapolis have been avoided if a quicker arrest had been made? Could more people in the communities we work in be helped by making quicker decisions in funding and programme response?

Our organisations exist to reduce and fight the injustices in the world. Both the organisations themselves and the funding they channel come primarily from the US and other countries in the Global North. They lead the agenda, shape the narrative and choose the language used to fight injustice. It is crucial then how these countries respond to domestic injustices. And that we represent minorities better in our global operations. They need to be included on the board, in senior leadership teams and all other levels throughout. If we don’t stand to fight for our fellow citizens here, how will we fight for those in the developing world? 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr Martin Luther King

Currently, we fly in when there is funding and fly out when the funding dries up but the fight remains. We feel helpless when the funding dries up and as a Finance Director I totally understand the challenges of limited funding but what do the communities do in this situation…they stay and fight…they have too. Instead of having a fight or flight mentality we need to be fully committed to fight. 

Currently, funding is distributed unequally with only a small percentage actually going to the most impactful and rooted, local NGOs. We must shift the power to local NGOs but for this to happen we need our approach to change, our strategy should be much more focused on enabling communities to fight for themselves in a more effective way. This means empowering communities to drive accountability, creating new economies though better business brains, health care systems that are sustainable and provide quality care, supporting education systems that set up children to thrive and creating new values led, committed and passionate young leaders that are full of integrity and can drive forward the transformation before our funding dries up.

To rephrase Dr Martin Luther King;

Our organisations will begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Read more about fighting racism.

Segun Olowookere

Segun is a trustee for The Blagrave Trust and Treasurer for SafeHands. Segun spent 3 year working with Restless Development and then went on to work for Humentum, Comic Relief and the UN before coming back to Restless Development as Finance Director at the beginning of 2020. Segun is also a social entrepreneur and passionate about inspiring young people and helping them to achieve their dreams and is the author of the motivational book You Might As Well.

More Posts

  1. Thanks Segun for this useful article, as I can see, there are likely to be more George Floyd’s in the future…but I always ask myself, why can’t the whites respect the black people as we respect them? Why the violence? Though I do not support looting, in this case a riot became the voice and I hope Americans can stop this act of racism

  2. Thank you so much for this informative article. Countries Ned to implement policies that are acceptable a3 the youth should also be included. The unheard voices of the majority who are ruled should be heard and acted upon promptly to avoid the consequences that come along with the demonstrations which can in turn bring damage such as looting.

  3. Thank you so much for this informative article. For progress in any country, there need to be strong ties and understanding of the people at the grasslevel. The youth also should be included in policy making since hey AR part and parcel f our communities.

  4. Yes Segun, I stand with you. Despite the fact that we need the funding we still need to fight for our rights.
    Thanks so much Segun.
    The struggle continues

  5. All we need to do is learn to coexist. Cases of Rasicm is mostly perpetrated towards the blacks, so to say whites doesn’t recognise blacks as fellow humans.
    This has to be checked and stipped.

  6. Thank you, Segun, for a well articulated article. To make true progress we must recognize the systematic inequalities and injustices that start in the womb and continue through the lives of BIPOC . We then must create an anti-racist agenda.

    Really appreciate your MLK quotes and I would add this, “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

    Decolonizing development is long over-due. We have seen some important changes – Oxfam moving their HQ to Kenya for example. But more must be done, and faster. It may just be the donors who force this change with their move to funding local organizations as the aid industry as it is cannot survive without the significant overhead covered by donors. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend Raj Kumar’s book, “The Business of Changing the World.”

  7. Thanks Segun for this great article. The ideas you share are relatively simple and yet progress in this direction seems modest in the 25 years I’ve been in the sector. Often the international development sector behaves more like a business than a movement.

    1. Segun, great article! I think you brought up a lot of nuance and lessons we should take away as a sector. I just wanted to pull out how decentering the US and UK is absolutely necessary in development and part of decolonizing development. I also wanted to acknowledging that anti-blackness is pervasive and like you said, has very different systemic manifestations in different countries. What we can see is that the brutality in the recent US police response is part of a larger and historic violence, and that in fact, it’s rejecting rising militarization and surveillance states that we can all share in common, including of course, rooting out anti-blackness in our movements and organizations. Bravo on your article! <3

Have your say.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Power your creative ideas with pixel-perfect design and cutting-edge technology. Create your beautiful website with Zeen now.

George Floyd’s death shows us how International development needs to change.

by Segun Olowookere Reading time: 4 min