Last year, a wave of social injustice protests swept across the African continent. Like the 2010 Arab Spring, it was spearheaded by youths and driven by Social Media.

Even though it was the End SARS protest in Nigeria that took the headlines on the continent, there were other voices of dissent on the continent. The End Anglophone Crisis Protests in Cameroon, the Rape National Emergency Protests in Liberia, the Child Trafficking Protests in Côte d’Ivoire & Ghana, the AmINext Protests in South Africa, the Shut It All Down Protests in Namibia, the Zimbabwean Lives Matter Protests in Zimbabwe, the Amhara Genocide Protests in Ethiopia, the End Police Brutality Protests in Uganda.

Africa was awash with protests. And it wasn’t just Africa. The Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States rocked most parts of the world. The protests began after the death of George Floyd, who suffocated to death because of a Police officer’s knee on his neck. These protests were fuelled by the same thing; the need to exist on one’s terms. The need to bring down the walls of segregation in all its forms. 

Human freedom is the right of humans to exist on their terms, in their own beliefs, in their bodies, protected by the security apparatus of their nation. It is the right to be, or not to be, and how it is expressed by an individual without coercion. Human freedom is then the ability to self-determination, in so much as it doesn’t hurt the sensibilities of others. When nations fought for independence from their colonial masters, it was driven by their need to be something, to have an identity. Independence of nations mirrors what human freedom entails, and why it matters.

Oppression on the other side, is a system that forces people to be what they wouldn’t rather be. It is a system that takes away choice from the oppressed. Freedom is a system that ensures that human choices are protected, and respected once they do not hurt the existence of others. Without freedom, basic humanness cannot exist. A robot is a robot because it lacks the awareness of choice, while a human is human because of choice. The ability to choose to be or not to be. Without this essential ability, humans are mere robots. 

Human freedom is imperative to a just world. The entire civil rights movement was built on the belief that all lives matter. And what it means to matter is to be seen, heard, listened to, and respected on the simple basis of one’s humanness. There is then a melting point between Human Freedom and Human Rights. As it is impossible to have rights when one is not free. Rights are a result of freedom. Slaves cannot claim rights as it defeats the entire idea of slavery.

The UN defines Human rights as rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. It believes that everyone has the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Oppression breeds outside of these essential liberties. The hallmark of a truly civilised society is how free its citizens are. How much of themselves they can be, without the need to apologise for existence. 

Societies create laws for order to reign. Laws are formulated to ensure that people do not use their freedom to hurt others, that there is basic sensibility in how one expresses their freedom. However, laws must not infringe on the freedom they were supposed to protect in the first place. Laws must not segregate, for when the law starts to segregate against a minority, oppression will start to breed. For instance, the choice of partners should be an essential human right, and laws should not exist that infringe on them. In societies where laws infringe on this right, individuals must conform to society’s expectations, or risk being leached by a mob. It is impossible to discuss Human Freedom in such societies as a society is only as free as its most vulnerable member. 

One of the lines in the Declaration of Independence says we hold these truth to be self-evident that all individuals are created equally. It is impossible to talk about equality in societies where human freedom is still a luxury. And in such societies, protests will become commonplace. As, it is natural for humans to fight back against oppressors, by whatever means available to them. 

This article conveys the views of the author and not necessarily that of Ominira Initiative

About the author

Temitayo Jaiyeola

Temitayo explores and simplifies social complexities around Africa through his writings and storytelling. He tweets @theTemi_