African diplomats in New Delhi are set to boycott an event organised by the Indian government to protest what they called renewed “racism and Afro-phobia” against African students.
In a protest to the Indian government, the envoys argued they would not attend Africa Day because they are “mourning” the Africans killed by mobs in India recently.
“The African Group (of heads of missions) has requested a postponement of the event. They have also decided not to participate in the celebrations, except the Cultural Troupe from the Kingdom of Lesotho,” said a statement signed by the group’s dean, Alem Woldemariam, who is also the Eritrean ambassador to India.
“This is because the African community in India including students are in a state of mourning in memory of their slain African students in the last few years, including Mr Oliver.
The envoys, including Kenya’s High Commission to India Florence Weche, met on Tuesday and also agreed to recommend to their respective governments not to send any more students to India because of frequent attacks.
“Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in India, the African heads of missions are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India unless and until their safety can be guaranteed,” they stated, demanding action from the Indian government.
Ms Weche said that the ambassadors had instead chosen to organise their own celebrations alongside the week-long festivities planned by the Indian government.
“We are currently enjoying [an] Africa Day reception organised by African Missions in Delhi. Africans will not attend [the] Africa Day function tomorrow 26th May organised by the Indian Council of Cultural Affairs,” she said.
“This is a collective decision of the African Group (of heads of missions) in Delhi.”
Africa Day is celebrated on May 25 every year to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa by 30 of the initially 32 independent African states. The OAU changed its name to the African Union (AU) in 2002 but the date was retained.
The Indian government, through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was due to host a similar celebration in New Delhi where African ambassadors had been invited.
But the latest protest results from the killing of a Congolese postgraduate student in southern Delhi after an altercation with locals over who should hire an auto-rickshaw, a type of tricycle used for short-distance transportation in India.
According to the envoys, the slain man, Oliver Kitada Masunda, was attacked on May 20 while returning from visiting a friend in the company of a colleague only identified as Samuel.
On their way back, they reportedly stopped an auto-rickshaw but as they walked towards it, another group of Indians forcibly boarded it.
“When Oliver objected, an argument ensued. The Indians insulted him and as Oliver responded, they got off the auto-rickshaw and began thrashing him,” said Mr Woldemariam in a press statement on Wednesday.
“They kicked Oliver on the ground and kicked him in the face and abdomen repeatedly. One of the Indians then picked up a large stone from the roadside and hit him on the head.”
A passer-by who stopped to help was equally beaten and the attackers fled only after they saw him unconscious.
He was taken to a nearby private hospital and later transferred to the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences Trauma Centre. He died on the way there.
On Wednesday, the Indian government was fighting a potentially image-damaging boycott.
India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj wrote on her Twitter page that the attacks had “embarrassed” her country and called the latest incident “unfortunate.”
She said her officials would meet with the diplomats, and later the students to assure them of their safety.
“We will also launch a sensitisation programme to reiterate that such incidents against foreign nationals embarrass the country,” she wrote.
This is the second time the diplomats are protesting alleged mistreatment of their nationals in India.
In February, they issued a protest note following incidents in which African students were attacked by mobs.
A Tanzanian student had been attacked by a crowd in the southern city of Bengaluru, some 2,000 km from the capital New Delhi, after being mistaken to have caused a road accident in which an Indian woman was killed.
The latest attacks represent a setback for India, which is trying to make inroads into Africa.
In July, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Mozambique and South Africa, as a follow-up to the India-Africa Forum Summit of October 2015, according to the Indian daily The Hindu.