Black History Month: From the Comoros to Scotland

Abdourahim was born in the Comoros Archipelago on the island of Grande Comoro (Ngazidja) in 1953 into a family of ten and grew up in the capital city of Moroni. There, he received both his primary and secondary education. Following the award of his French Baccalaureate Diploma, he got a scholarship to further his studies at the University of Aix-Marseilles, in Aix-en-Provence, France, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree (B.A. and M.A. Hons) in English Language, Literature and Civilisation.

During his stay in Scotland, having previously been a French Assistant in High Schools, he joined Glasgow University’s Department of Education, where, as a Research Assistant, he was associated with the Research on Ethnic Minority School Leavers in Strathclyde. He obtained his MPhil in Comparative Education Studies there, before joining The Save the Children Fund as a Research and Development Officer in charge of developing a multicultural and anti-racist work pack for the under-fives for the city of Glasgow and Strathclyde region.

He returned to the Comoros in 1989, and served in various Departments, but mainly in Education. As a professor of English in the then National School of Higher Education (which would go on to become the University of Comoros) Professor Bakar became its Director before he was appointed Minister of Education.

With the change of government, he found himself promoted to the post of Chief of Staff of the Speaker’s Office, which gave him the opportunity to access training in Paris where he graduated from the International Institute of Public Administration on Government and Parliamentary Work.

Soon after, he was given the challenging post of Principal of the Capital’s major secondary school for four years, before being contracted by UNICEF–Comoros as the administrator in charge of education.

In May 2006 he was appointed Minister of National Education and Government Spokesperson for two consecutive years before being entrusted with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in charge of Information Technology and Communication.

Finally, in 2016’s elections to choose a new Governor of the island of Grande Comoro, he became the General Secretary of the Governor’s Office for 3 years, at the end of which, he became the Interim Governor of the island before new elections were held. While now retired, he still teaches at the French School in Moroni and also the University of Comoros.

Content warning: this article includes racial terminology used in context by the author to illustrate the racism he experienced living in Scotland.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Autumn Voices for giving me this opportunity to voice some ideas about Black History Month, an annual event which requires deep reflection beyond the superficial celebration.

Following the assertion that every day is Women’s Day, we can say that every month is Black History Month. Black people should not have to wait until October to be recognised as having a history of their own, be it in their country of origin or for historical reasons, or in Europe, where Black history is represented in street names, statues, office buildings and trade and commercial activities.

How could Black history be reduced to one month a year? The history of Black people reflects the history of all humanity from its creation to the present day, and from a European perspective, this celebration approach is meant to raise people’s awareness of Black history and show its contribution to the history of Europe as well, of course, to that of the human race.

How could Black history be reduced to one month a year?

Black history, apart from the slavery period with its triangular trade, had been deleted from official history books until in the last 30–40 years, when the works of Cheikh Anta Diop, Ali Mazrui, Ba Ambalavaner Sivanandan and Basil Davidson, among others, have tried to redress the imbalance.

As a Black person who had lived in Scotland for years, I came to realise from lived experience that the existence of Black people in Scottish communities had not been recognised. Scots assume that they are tolerant (and this is true to a certain extent) and that racism exists – but on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall. But, if we scratch the surface, xenophobia can be found at various levels in Scottish society.

At school, curious and innocent children meeting someone of a different skin colour, or with different hair, want to touch and feel the different skin or hair texture, so different from what they have perhaps grown up with. The notion of ‘difference’ should positively be encouraged so that the child perceives it as natural and normal and develops positive attitudes of acceptance from the earliest school years. Children would come to see differences as the rule rather than the exception, and this is what school programmes should be focused on.

Back in the 1980s when I was the Research and Development Officer for the Save the Children Fund Anti-Racist Educational Work Pact Project for the Under-Fives in Strathclyde, this was exactly what we were trying to achieve. A multicultural and multilingual approach was meant to help Scottish children grow up in a more open and tolerant society. What is the outcome of that approach more than 30 years on? Those who are in the field today should be able to assess its impact and show whether the expected attitudinal change actually occurred.

From primary school to college, when dealing with history, a non-biased and more objective international perspective should be the rule, without neglecting local and national history. A non-discriminatory international viewpoint would engender a positive realism in the teaching of historical facts and geopolitical elements, rather than painting a picture of a world of white masters ‘civilising savages’. The messianic impulse as a colonising ideology should be revealed in its crude form as a way of subjugating and decimating whole populations from entire regions of Africa and other continents, in the quest for lands, resources and cheap labour.

Keeping students’ minds away from the slave/master stereotype and focusing on high Black civilisations, from the kingdoms of Zimbabwe, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Benin, as well as studying the Boer War and the Apartheid regimes of southern Africa and the North Africa liberation movements, would mean that no one would come out of school feeling superior to anyone, but would treat different people with respect and dignity, having understood the real reasons why colonial settlers went into those continents spreading injustice with the bible in one hand and the gun in the other.

Those same students wouldn’t meet someone like me, walking peacefully in the street on a sunny afternoon and call me ‘nigger’ or ‘blackie’, and wouldn’t end up ‘paki-bashing’, or threatening me with a knife, or killing an innocent Somalian student in Edinburgh, because we will not ‘go back to the jungle where we belong’.

For those of us who tried to integrate and lead a normal family life with a local girl, how frustrating, embarrassing and shocking it was to hear white boys calling a local white girl ‘a nigger lover’ because she had the courage to marry ‘that black bloke’. Such a marriage was only perceived as an insult to the community and more so to the white lads who felt that this white girl had betrayed them by not marrying one of the local boys.

On the other hand, some Scots showed a certain sympathy or understanding, and some would be able to see themselves as similarly oppressed by the English occupying forces, if viewed from the point of view of Scottish history. But can we really draw a parallel between internal occupation and discrimination based on the colour of skin and underpinned by a sense of racial superiority because one’s skin is lighter than that of neighbour’s a couple of blocks away?

Racism pervades the whole administrative structure within a society – and from a personal perspective, from form-filling at the local job centre, to the reaction of hotel managers when they see you, it was obvious that Black people, like Asian people, were not welcome here.

In working-class depressed areas where unemployment was rife, Black people were singled out as the root cause, rather than focusing on the ageing capitalist system and the closing down of docks, naval industries and coal mines.

Black interest groups started to emerge in the 1980s to counter discrimination and bigotry from local institutions. The Multicultural Education Centre in Edinburgh was also created, as well as the Ethnic Minority Small Business Centre in Glasgow, and the National Association of Teachers of English and Community Languages to Adults, with the radical campaigning group The Lothian Black Forum rising to prominence in 1989. All these organisations were support groups, but they also proposed training programmes for institutions such as the police and educational establishments and job centres, and raised people’s awareness of institutional and systemic discrimination and racism.

More than 30 years later we can see that much has been done through studies, research and conferences as well as demonstrations. Many changes of attitudes can be seen, and job opportunities have been more open to qualified Black people. I trust those who stayed in the UK and, particularly Scotland, can now see a better situation than the one I experienced. But even so, I am bound to ask what happened to the murderers who stabbed Axmed Abuukar Sheekh to death on the streets of Edinburgh back in 1989 – and I would reiterate what I said to the national press at the time of the sentencing of those assailants: ‘it is as if the death of a Black person is not important’. Will we find more ‘Pandora Papers’ on the judicial system in Scotland? Has anything really changed in three decades?

Peace of mind will only come when all members of the community are perceived more positively as part of a nation where diversity is celebrated as providing richness rather than as something to be discriminated against, and no groups or individuals are singled out on racial or sexual orientation grounds, and when those who are ‘different’ are seen not as part of a problem but part of a solution. Peace of mind will only come when Black history is seen as a given and not just an annual monthly celebration.

Abdourahim Said Bakar

Autumn Voices would like to thank Abdourahim for his time and effort writing his article, and permission to publish it here on the website. It’s extremely generous of him to allow us a glimpse of his recollections from his time living in Scotland – some of which was painful and difficult – and the life he made here for years. 

We would like to encourage you to listen to this BBC Radio Scotland broadcast made to remember and examine the murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh and address racism in Scotland.

4 thoughts on “Black History Month: From the Comoros to Scotland”

  1. Wonderful to ‘hear’ your voice again Abdourahim. It was a honour and a pleasure to get to know you a little back in the 80’s in Edinburgh…
    Thank you for this article
    Sending good wishes to you and your family
    Margaret Baxter x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *