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Paul Kagame is right on Banning Import of Skin Bleaching Chemicals

By Alexander Opicho
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During the mid-years of the last century, the Spanish painter, poet and playwright, Pablo Ruiz Picassomockingly asked that ‘if black is beauty why are black people struggling to become white?’ He posed thisquestion in one of his metaphysical works on politics and economics of race.This question was not answered, instead it only provoked emotional outbursts that emerge whenever there is a pique on the harmony of inter-racial relations. Let Picasso rest in peace since his death 45 years ago, but as of today majority of black women and men all over the world still fake Western accents, use European names, fake their ways into the West and still spend their hard earned money to buy skin bleaching perfumes manufactured in Paris, America, Switzerland, Italy and other western countries. More sorriest is that most of the blackpoor people in Africa are substantially spending dearly on chemicals that can lighten their skins so that they can look like a white man.

The statistics has it that most men and women in Africa believe that lighter skin enhances beauty. This is why skin bleaching products tend to sell well in Africa. This perspective of beauty economics has become center-piece of social media and conventional media controversy when Paul Kagame the president of Rwanda recently banned the practice of bleaching in Rwanda and immediately set about to confiscate the skin lightening chemicals in Kigali.

Paul Kagame tweeted at beginning of December 2018 that the national health ministry and police will work together to rein in on bleaching cosmetics. Surprisingly, it became such a bombshell when the joint task force sprang into action immediately to cull skin bleaching out of Rwanda.

The commercial statistics have it that most of the bleaching products, which alter skin pigment from dark to light, are usually smuggled into Rwanda and all other African countries. There are some other African countries like Ghana and South Africa that have lawsprohibiting the import of bleaching perfumes, especially those that contain the harmful chemicals like hydroquinone, but Paul Kagame has sternly decreed that bleaching perfumes are not to be imported into Rwanda regardless of the chemical content.

One of the Rwanda citizens, Brian Niwenshuti expressed his concerns on the social media that Kagame's intervention on skin bleaching could affect both cosmetics traders and users in Rwanda. In a tandem, the people in Rwanda protesting the move by Kagame are faulting him for not starting to deal with more harmful products like Cigarettes and alcohol, however Kigali pharmacist Brice Hirwa fully supports the government's move.Hirwa pointed out that, bleaching weakens the skin, making it easier for one to get cancer and other diseases because the skin is no longer capable of providing protection, and also it is difficult to restore the skin to its original complexion after bleaching.

The World Health Organization (2018) report on commerce of bleaching and skin lightening perfumes reveals that the highly unregulated global skin lightening market is estimated to be worth billions of dollars in a year. The report further revealed that at least four out of every 10 women in Africa bleach their skin.

Critical outlook at Kagame’s move is plausible from ideological and economic perspectives. In spite of mixed reactions among some followers of Kagame on tweeter, some have congratulated him in the sense that no white man is ever trying to be black by color, that Africans are only disgracing themselves. However, another follower shot back by countering that white people spend millions on skin toning creams and solaria to tan their skin and hence there is nothing wrong for blacks to whiten their skins.

The big question here hinges on the psycho-philosophical observations by Frantz Fanon in Black Skins, White Masks that, ‘black man struggles to become like a Whiteman, but a white man struggles to become a human being’. The analogy can be extended here to observe that the white people tanning their skins are not importing the perfumes from Africa, but the black people import all the bleaching or skin lightening products from outside Africa. And also, most of the whites tan to make themselves look good, but Africans bleach out of struggle to look like a white man. The question is what made a black person to doubt the colour of his or her skin?

Paul Kagame deserve a support in this plaque of self-doubt among Africans. I call it the plaque in economic sense and political sense. The current case for its economic sense is evinced inthe Western economic opportunism on Africa like the one observed in the US reality TV star Blac Chyna over a bid to sell her own brand of skin lightening product in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.

Similarly, the current economic conditions on the streets of Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali, the cheapest tube of skin bleaching cream is not less than three hundred shillings. The local media in Ghana recently had a feature story that schools girls in Accra are more focused on bleaching themselves that on reading. Allthese blends into nothing else but into money flowing out of Africato the West, and in reverse, the non-essential commodities flowing from the West into Africa.

Bleaching and skin lightening as a political and racial question in Africa should not be left as a burden of political leaders alone. This is due to cunning nature of Politics and economics of race relations, and how it can be very trick for the un-awakened peasant societies like the ones we have in Africa. This is why the media and learning institutions have moral duty to educate the masses and young people in Africa on facts of Africa’s historical and racial consciousness like black is beautiful movement that was started by African-Americans in the mid of the last century . Similarly, the media, literary institutions andall learning institutions have to promote self-dignifying virtues like black consciousnessonce promoted by Steve Biko in South Africa to counter the mistaken racist perceptions of black facial features, bodies and hair as ugly.

Some populist online politicians from around Africa have faulted Kagame for going against the law and infringing on the human rights of the bleaching perfume users in Rwanda . Yes, It is true, self-bleaching is not crime in Rwanda and even in most of other African countries. It is the fundamental human right for one to choose on how to look, but any fundamental human right of African person that makes Africa to suffer financial hemorrhage, a right that makes Africa to bleed economically, a right which makes an African to sink deeper into abyss of self-doubt, and only to be economically suffocated from there by the wiles of those perpetrating avarice of capitalism, that right need to be declared as a fundamentally misplaced right and hence be abolished.

Damaris Nanjira of the institute of Gender studies at the University of Nairobi does not blame any black women for bleaching and skin lightening. Nanjira blames the vice of ‘colorism’ as fueled by the culture of patriarchy in our African society. Nanjira defines ‘colorism’ as a situation where most of the men give economic and social favours to ladies with light skins. Africa’s economic system is substantially controlled by man, hence women bleach to get the right level of skin colour in order to win favours of economically and socially powerful man.

However, neurosis of a man favoring a light skinned woman is not only an African problem, when you read literature on black slavery in America you come across the same psychological failures of man when exposed to a dark skin. Alex Haley, Malcom X, Harriet Becher Stowe, Napoleon Hill and Angelou Maya have all written about American slavery experience on the plantation farms where light skinned Negroesused to be assigned more light duties like working in the kitchen and working as clerks, but the dark skinned Negros were condemned to hard-work in fields. That light skinned Negros were preferred for meeting with the white slave masters. The question is what is wrong in the black skin? I believe there is nothing wrong. This is why I fully support Paul Kagame on his move to abolish skin bleaching.

Alexander Opichof from Lodwar, Kenya [email protected]