Over time, I have come to notice with dismay the frequency with which the descriptive “East African male” has been used by the University of Minnesota Police Department in its safety alerts. As a Kenyan male, I find this not only annoying but utterly disrespectful.
First, let me start by explaining that East Africa is not a country but an economic trade union made of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and most recently Burundi and Rwanda. East Africa is a region made up of three subregions: the Great Lakes region, which includes Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi — all of which are members of the intergovernmental East African Community; the Horn of Africa, which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia; and the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros and Seychelles.
These distinctions are made based on different types of vegetation, the availability of water and the topography of the three regions. As such, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter “East African male” identity.
What are there? Kenyans, Sudanese, Tanzanians and other such national categories — people whose country falls within the region that is East Africa, people who are very different from one another.
I would like to know how one knows what an East African male looks like, because the last time I checked, I didn’t see a badge on my forehead proclaiming my “East African male”-ness. With this in mind, one can see how problematic the description is. As a region, East Africa covers three subregions, none of which share the same cultures, languages or dialects.
It is thus a fallacy to describe one as an East African male; there is no such thing. I understand the need for security alerts and the need to get information out there, but I find it frustrating that the trope “East African male with short, black curly hair,” is constantly being used. This poses the problem of how to describe one who commits an offence such as a robbery.
Well, my answer to that is to give a description as best as you can that does not rely on the East African male trope, as it is as general and futile as saying a “Midwestern male committed an offence.”
I, as a Kenyan, do not look or sound like a chap from Uganda or Djibouti. Why should I be lumped with someone from either of these countries who commits an offence?
I write this as a Kenyan who is consistently disappointed by stereotyping and a lack of adequate information whenever an offence is committed and the perpetrator is identified as being an East African male, even by some faculty as was evidenced by the Carlson case a few weeks back. This is because, as a citizen whose country is a member of the East African community, I understand that such alerts are fallacious, futile and stereotypical to say the least, and have no place at an institution of higher learning.
Wahutu Siguru, University undergraduate student