Canada’s lack of race-based COVID-19 data hurting Black Canadians: experts

WATCH: Unlike the United States, provinces and territories in Canada, are not collecting data about which groups have been impacted by COVID-19. Health experts say governments need to commit to collecting this data because, otherwise, it’s difficult to glean a full picture of how minority communities are being impacted.

Rachel holds multiple jobs as a social services front-line worker in the Greater Toronto Area.

Recently after a long shift, she left work, went to the grocery store and returned home to her children. Global News has agreed to use a pseudonym for Rachel, as she fears reprisal from her employer.

That night she got a call from a crying co-worker  — a resident they cared for was sick and was sent to the hospital to be tested for the novel coronavirus. Both she and her colleague are Black women, as are most of the relief and part-time staff where she works, she said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — City of Toronto to start gathering race-based data connected to COVID-19

While her colleague had learned about this from another co-worker, management did nothing to notify staff that a resident was sick and was now in hospital, Rachel said.

“Had the management contacted staff to say ‘Hey, we’re not going to disclose which resident, but we’ll keep you in the loop to the results,’ I would have been satisfied,” she said.

This is a facility where management or on-call staff would be available to support the residents if anyone decides not to come in due to a potential coronavirus outbreak, she said.

But the failure to be transparent with staff about the wellness of residents, especially when many managers are able to do their jobs at home, makes her feel they simply don’t care about the safety of her and other Black women taking care of residents.

“It’s disheartening,’” she said. “But when this happens … they don’t have the responsibility to notify us to self-quarantine or watch out for symptoms.

 Toronto Public Health begins tracking race-based data for COVID-19
“It’s the devaluing of my life and the lives of my colleagues,” she said, important to recognize that Black people are over-represented among front-line workers, who bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rachel says there isn’t widespread recognition of racialized workers putting themselves at risk everyday often in jobs they can’t afford to quit. With no national or provincial efforts to collect data about whether Black communities are more likely to be infected or die from the coronavirus, she said she isn’t hopeful policy changes will come about that could provide solutions.

The impact of coronavirus on Black people

In the United States, data from 29 states shows that the coronavirus has killed Black Americans at a disproportionate rate, according to the Atlantic.

Earlier in April, an analysis by the Associated Press found that 42 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. are Black people, double their share of the population. Health disparities, a higher chance of working front-line jobs, less access to health care and being more likely to live in crowded, denser neighbourhoods are all factors contributing to a higher death rate, according to the AP.

In Canada, race-based data about which groups have been impacted by COVID-19 hasn’t been collected. Toronto Public Health announced on April 22 that it would begin to collect this information so it can address health inequities.

U.S. minorities face greater risk of death from COVID-19

U.S. minorities face greater risk of death from COVID-19

READ MORE: Coronavirus is killing Black Americans at a much higher rate

Even without that data, the health of Canada’s Black communities has long been a concern and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a statement from Black leaders in health care across Ontario published by the Alliance for Healthier Communities on April 2.

In Ontario specifically, research shows Black people face barriers to employment and often rely on gig economy jobs, which are more precarious. Black women are more likely to be working front-line jobs as personal support workers (PSWs) or registered practical nurses, for example, according to the same statement.

 

A study by Ryerson University in 2009 — the most recent study available — found that 42 per cent of PSWs identified as a visible minority, close to double their share of Canada’s population at the time.

This week, the death of 51-year-old Arlene Reid, a Black woman who provided home care in Peel Region outside Toronto, sparked comments from the union representing community health-care workers across Ontario, claiming PSWs do not receive proper protection.

Why health inequalities exist in Canada

Black Canadians historically have worse health outcomes due to a myriad of factors that all stem from anti-Black racism — including the types of jobs to which they have access, where they live, income levels and lack of available resources, said Arjumand Siddiqi, Canada Research Chair in population health equity.

“What we know about the relationship between race and health suggests that it’s almost impossible to imagine that these disparities aren’t happening,” said Siddiqi, who’s also an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

For instance, Black women are 43 per cent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, according to the Black Health Alliance, a national health advocacy organization. Black women are consistently underscreened for breast and cervical cancer, Global News reported last year.

Those who face various forms of systematic oppression and a lack of resources as a result almost always suffer the worst health, Siddiqi said.

Lack of access to safer jobs during the coronavirus pandemic — meaning workers can stay at home — is also a concern for Black communities, as they are currently more likely to be front-line workers, she says.

“Autonomy and income from those jobs also provides us with the resources to eat better and to live in more comfortable homes,” she said. “This is why these kinds of fundamental things about your resources, and your status, start to affect every mechanism to every disease.”

COVID-19 pandemic has ‘highlighted disparities’

Safia Ahmed, executive director of the Rexdale Community Health Centre west of Toronto, says she sees a clear health disparity in the communities her organization serves.

“What COVID-19 has done is that it’s highlighted those disparities,” she said.

Ahmed says her organization provides health promotion services to residents in the community of Rexdale and addresses social determinants of health that may prevent them from accessing care.

Many of their clients are either new immigrants or Black Canadians and have either lost their jobs due to COVID-19 or are working on the front lines, she says.

“People in these communities are experiencing food security issues, unemployment issues, and some are struggling to pay rent,” she said. “There are all these other social factors impacting one’s health … not having access to medication, your outcome when you contract disease is worse.”

The announcement that Toronto Public Health will start collecting race-based data for COVID-19 has been encouraging, and she hopes this data will be used to inform decisions and tackle health disparities in communities like the ones she serves, she says.

But beyond Toronto, the provinces and the federal government need to commit to keeping this kind of data as well, otherwise, it’s difficult to glean a full picture of how minority communities are being impacted, she says.

The need for race-based data 

The lack of data available, along with the absence of a national conversation on which groups are the most impacted by COVID-19, continues to put minority groups in danger, said Kathy Hogarth, an associate professor of social work at the University of Waterloo.

“When our society is built on inequality, we already have those that are way outside that social safety net,” said Hogarth. “And it makes some bodies disposable.”

“Without data, it’s all speculation, and as long as it remains in speculation, we can dismiss it,” she says. “What we need is a very rigorous way of collecting our data that looks at inequalities. I guarantee you there are inequalities; we are not all impacted in the same way.”

As Canada goes through this pandemic, it’s important that we think about how we want to collect data so we can better prepare in the future and work to protect marginalized communities, she says.

“Though we haven’t put the resources into collecting that kind of data, will we do it now? I wish that we would because I think it’s a detriment that we don’t.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Arlene Huggins was handpicked by Education Minister Stephen Lecce to investigate the PDSB’s compliance after its failure to adhere to 27 Ministerial Directions it received.  The former president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) earned a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1989. She was also on the founding Board of […]

Following the release of a damning report of systemic anti-Black racism within the Peel District School Board (PDSB), Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued 27 directives on March 13, 2020 that were to be implemented by the organization under strict timelines.

In a news release, the Ministry of Education stated that these directives to the PDSB are “aimed at addressing the systemic discrimination, specifically anti-Black racism; human resources practices; board leadership and governance issues.”

The PDSB, which is responsible for over 155,000 students across 257 schools in Caledon, Brampton, and Mississauga, has since admitted to “systemic racism” within the Board, and issued a formal apology for the “hurt and harm” inflicted on the Black community.

Last November, the Ontario government announced a formal review of Canada’s second largest school board, stemming from years of racism and human rights complaints. The three-member Review team was led by Human Rights lawyer Ena Chadha, lawyer and former president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) Shawn Richard, and former deputy minister Suzanne Herbert.

From December 2019 to early February 2020, they considered over 160 written submissions, conducted 115 interviews and held 4 community and engagement sessions, where they heard from more than 300 individuals in various Peel and Toronto locations.

Below are some key findings from the Review published in March:

  • 83% of high school students in the PDSB are racialized yet 67% of its teachers are white
  • Black students were subjected to constant police intervention
  • Black students were grossly overrepresented in suspensions, some as early as junior kindergarten. They are only 10.2% of the secondary school population, but account for 22.5% of the students receiving suspensions
  • Black students felt that they were held to higher standards and different codes of conduct in comparison to White or other racialized students
  • Black students expressed that Black History should be a part of the curriculum and it should be more than just about slavery
  • Teachers and principals made degrading, inappropriate and racist comments about Black students and staff
  • Failure to intervene on the part of teachers regarding the frequent use of the N-word by students and micro-aggressions in the classroom
  • PDSB Director of Education Peter Joshua has served in his role since July 2017 but has never had a performance appraisal
  • Numerous Black educators had been promoted out of their positions when they spoke out against White supremacy and oppression

Despite saying work had already begun on the directives, reports are that little has changed in the Board. After a breakdown in mediation last month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce took further action and appointed lawyer Arleen Huggins to conduct an investigation into the PDSB’s compliance with the Minister’s binding Directions.

Lecce said he would not tolerate “delay or inaction” when it comes to “confronting racism and discrimination” and “will do whatever it takes to ensure these issues are addressed immediately and effectively.”

Ms. Huggins is expected to deliver her report to the Minister by May 18, 2020.

Minister’s Directions: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/new/minister-directions-pdsb-review.pdf
Final Report: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/new/review-peel-district-school-board-report-en.pdf

As we enter into 2020, as a community, let’s reflect on few things. Life is short but we can make it count for something bigger than ourselves. Something that will outlive us. Something the prosperity will remember you for.

What is man o Lord that you’re so mindful of? You were created for something greater than yourself and your family. You created to be a blessing to others. You’re a tool in God’s hands to affect humanity. There’s no one like you throughout the world. No one can become you no matter how hard they try. You are uniquely formed to do unique things. You have a choice to make, however. It’s in how you want to be remembered when you a long gone. What do you want to be remembered for? The builder or the destroyer? The one who gathers or the one who scatters what others have gathered?

Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself these questions; who am I? What do I want? Why am I here at this very moment? I do not believe in coincidence. We are here for such a time as this for a reason. Make it count for something. Let the injustice and racism spur you to something great. Associate yourself with community builders and fellow citizens who care deeply about service. Be a servant leader and lead by example. 

Nelson Mandela once said; It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

ACAO is fortunate to have leaders who have a real following and exhibit the character of servanthood. I am talking about leaders who answer the 3 am phone calls from people other than their family members. Yes, I am talking about community leaders who unfortunately endure hardship for others, leaders who sometimes have to bury the dead in their communities. That is unfortunate, but that is what I have seen many of you do. You comfort widows and their families. Many times, you have to negotiate to get relief for a family whose breadwinner passed interstate. And you do it gracefully without grumblings and without asking for recognition. You have demonstrated the spirit of a servant leader over and over. Yes. You do it quietly without much fanfare. You are my heroes and heroines.

As a human, you sometimes second guess yourself. You sometimes ask; why am I doing this or that? Sometimes, it looks like giving up is the easy option. But you have resisted the noise, the distraction, and sometimes the ungrateful community you lead. You have always looked at the bigger picture. You have remained when others have given up because of the noise from those whose mission is to destroy and scatter. Make it count, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

For those who are getting saddled by noise, the insults, and manufactured chaos, I dare you to be strong. It is never about you. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on. Get inspired by the works of our great men and women of old, the character of their perseverance and the content of their hearts. You can do it. You are my hero and heroine. 

I urge you all to continue the good work. You know it is never about you. It is about our children. The opposite of poverty they say is not wealth, it is justice. This justice is denied to our people because of the colour of their skin or where they came from. If no one has told you, hear it from me today, you’re making a big difference. I know you may not see the results of your efforts but believe me, you’re a big deal. 

Some of you have planted many seeds than you can count. God is bringing the increase. Like those who came before us, we may never live to see the fruits but you continue to plant them anyway. Your efforts are multiplied when you partner with like-minded people. That is where ACAO comes in. This is not just a WhatsApp platform for community building, it is a powerful movement capable of changing the Canadian landscape for good. Yes, there is nothing we cannot do if we come together with the prize in mind. Those who have received much, much is required of them. You have received much, make it count. 

Our community has great people doing amazing work. Let’s support each other. Let’s unite and work to defeat the common enemy, “the System”. We are not each other’s enemy, we are friends, we are a community with shared history and promise. The reality is that there are good people, builders here but sadly we also have those who have no greater vision beyond their selfish dreams of wanting to be famous. Don’t aspire to be famous. Aspire to be great. Serve with dignity. Be respectful and give people spaces to also flourish. Let your words be seasoned with salt. Build people up with your words. Encourage one another. Live peacefully and let others live. 

As you look yourself in the mirror and reevaluate your purpose and ask yourself critical questions, remember it is never about you. Keep up the good spirit and let’s join hands to fight for our children and our children’s children. Let’s be optimistic.

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” Nelson Mandela. 

IGNORE the NOISE, Keep your eyes on the Prize, Hold on.

Happy New Year!

 

From your  servant, Hector.

 

By Godlove Ngwafusi, Atonaa Media Group

Crisis in Cameroon (while the Canadians party on like rock stars)

The Canadian Connection, eh?

Genocide!

Rwanda 2.0 has been simmering in Cameroon / Cameroun for years and counting.

But hey, who’s counting?

As long as there are a few bucks to be made, jobs to be created in the metropolis, and politicians who get to crow at election time about ‘jobs’ created in vote-rich constituencies, who cares?

A bunch of negroes gets killed, the rest get traumatized for generations, who cares?

It’s uncanny how for multiple times in a row in Africa, when hapless, hopeless, helpless Africans get butchered, because they dared to ask for equity, for fairness, to be treated like human beings with regular human needs.

And which Canadian company beat the ultra-cheap Chinese out of the Douala Stadium contract?

Would that be SNC Lavalin, perchance?

The infamous Montreal-based SNC Lavalin?

You know how that goes down, right?

Bribery, corruption, getting awarded contracts even when they flunk the technical score (much like for the Ottawa light rail debacle with trains that fall apart at rush hour … 😞

Now, back to the corruption bit.

It would appear that SNC gravitates towards jurisdictions that score ‘scandal’ on the Transparency International scorecard.

Cameroun is right up there with the biggest and ‘baddest’ bribers, that’s a fact.

If SNC hadn’t wiggled its way into the Yaoundé kleptocrats’ bank accounts, France would’ve despatched a planeload of ‘conseillers’ to come to pry the contract away from the winning bidder, lowest price and high technical score notwithstanding.

France has a ‘coopération’ contract with FrançAfrique that guarantees Élysées-backed French companies first dips in colonial contract awards shenanigans.

It doesn’t matter who gets genocided, and who’s rights get trampled upon.

It’s just a bunch of dead negroes we’re talking about, right?

Canada has routinely ignored the slaughter happening in Cameroon-Cameroun, the other bilingual English-French territory so similar to Canada in its linguistic dichotomy.

Canadian Foreign Affairs ignored the genocide when it started.

Canada still ignores the genocide as the BIR gendarmes switch to a ‘total solution’, Nazi-style, killing and maiming any human that speaks English, burning down their abodes and ancestry.

What are Canadian companies busy doing while that Central African territory sinks? Canada is rearranging the deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.

The media ignored it for the longest time.

Diasporans from that genocide triangle ignored it. It didn’t matter, that, whole families were slaughtered in their sleep: it’s just ‘dogs’, ‘rats’, ‘Biafran enemies in the house…’.

Just a bunch of hapless Africans with a lot of resources that everyone covets.

What better way to get at their resources than to eliminate the inconvenient negroes standing in the way?

So, it’s just like that unfortunate Canadian General who stood by, wringing his hands helplessly while they slaughtered the Rwandese.

Canadian diplomats and Canadian business are currently busy, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks, just because they could make a few quick bucks while the Cameroun gendarmes slaughter babies, rape their mommies, and burn their grandmas in their beds during scorched-earth bombing raids against a hapless people running around in slippers.

Since they couldn’t be assimilated into the French sphere of exploitation, better to kill them off and get them out of the way to their numerous resources.

“Dr. King was one of the moral giants of the 20th century. He devoted his life to equality, justice, and non-violent social change,” said the UN chief in a statement attributable to his spokesperson.

“Decades after his death, he continues to inspire all those around the world who are struggling for human rights and human dignity in the face of oppression, discrimination and injustice.”

Dr. King’s advocacy and pronouncements against discrimination, and in favour of social justice, of global understanding and the virtues of diversity are more relevant today than ever, added the Secretary-General.

Born in January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King was shot and killed on the evening of 4 April 1968 while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city.

In 1978, ten years after his death, the civil rights leader was posthumously awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, honouring him for his outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments.

Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

It’s Sunday night at Aba House, an open-air bar in Lomé, Togo’s capital, and stylish young men and women in modern African dress fill the dance floor as the bass guitarist pumps up the tempo. Powerful! Soulful!

The lyrics are in Mina, a local language in southern Togo and parts of neighboring Benin, but the music is unmistakably Afro-Cuban, a genre with global acclaim.

The weather is cool, the air filled with a misty marine breeze coming from the roaring Atlantic Ocean.

Across the street, onlookers marvel at the colorful dresses and practiced dance moves and watch as patrons nibble on finger food and wash it down with beer, whiskey and soft drinks.

A few minutes earlier, the band had played an up-tempo reggae tune and a highlife rendition of a Christian hymn, but it was the sound of the Afro-Cuban rumba that got people spinning, shimmying and swinging their hips on the now-crowded dance floor.

“This is my father’s bar and we play here every Sunday evening,” George Lassey, the bandleader, told Africa Renewal. “We play all kinds of music: reggae, gospel, salsa and others.”

However, Mr. Lassey says, salsa is “by far the most requested during our live performances.”

Salsa music has remained popular in West Africa since it was introduced in the region in the 1950s, reportedly by sailors.

From Lomé to Bamako in Mali, Conakry in Guinea, Cotonou in Benin and Dakar in Senegal, live bands have gained international fame playing catchy Cuban dance tunes.

Among the well-known bands incorporating the Cuban groove are Orchestra Baobab and Le Super Etoile de Dakar, the latter famed for mbalax and Latin-influenced dance music, in which Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour, who is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, shot to fame. Others include the Rail Band in Bamako and Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou.

African-flavored salsa

In early 2010, some of Africa’s renowned salsa vocalists joined forces with New York–based musicians to form Africando, a group that successfully brought African-flavored salsa to the global music market.

Growing up in Benin, Angélique Kidjo, now an internationally acclaimed artist and another UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, felt a strong connection to salsa.

“As I was listening to Celia, I could hear Africa,” Ms. Kidjo remembers, referring to Celia Cruz, often called the “Queen of Salsa.”

In the heart of Accra, Ghana’s capital, just a few meters from the United States embassy, lie the tombs of W. E. B. Du Bois, a great African-American civil rights leader, and his wife, Shirley. The founder of the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People moved to Accra in 1961, settling in the city’s serene residential area of Labone and living there until his death in August 1963.

Mr. Du Bois’s journey to Ghana may have signaled the emergence of a profound desire among Africans in the diaspora to retrace their roots and return to the continent. Ghana was a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

In Washington, D.C., in September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora, giving fresh impetus to the quest to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora.

At that event, President Akufo-Addo said, “We know of the extraordinary achievements and contributions they [Africans in the diaspora] made to the lives of the Americans, and it is important that this symbolic year—400 years later—we commemorate their existence and their sacrifices.”

200 yrs

since the abolition of slavery

US Congress members Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, diplomats and leading figures from the African-American community, attended the event. Representative Jackson Lee linked the Ghanaian government’s initiative with the passage in Congress in 2017 of the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act. Provisions in the act include the setting up of a history commission to carry out and provide funding for activities marking the 400th anniversary of the “arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”

Since independence in 1957, successive Ghanaian leaders have initiated policies to attract Africans abroad back to Ghana.

In his maiden independence address, then–Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah sought to frame Africa’s liberation around the concept of Africans all over the world coming back to Africa.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, who first traveled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit. “He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Ghana’s parliament passed a Citizenship Act in 2000 to make provision for dual citizenship, meaning that people of Ghanaian origin who have acquired citizenships abroad can take up Ghanaian citizenship if they so desire.

That same year the country enacted the Immigration Act, which provides for a “Right of Abode” for any “Person of African descent in the Diaspora” to travel to and from the country “without hindrance.”

The Joseph Project

In 2007, in its 50th year of independence, the government initiated the Joseph Project to commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery and to encourage Africans abroad to return.

Similar to Israel’s policy of reaching out to Jews across Europe and beyond following the Holocaust, the Joseph Project is named for the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt but would later reunite with his family and rule Egypt.

The African-American community is excited about President Akufo-Addo’s latest initiative. In social media posts, many expressed interest in visiting Africa for the first time. Among them is Amber Walker, a media practitioner who says that 2019 is the time to visit her ancestral home.

For centuries, unfinished materials for clothing manufacture—silk, cotton, hides—have been sold and shipped from Africa to the fashion capitals of the West, such as London, Paris and New York. In return, a small number of ready-to-wear clothes, cheap shoes and secondhand garments head back to Africa—at vastly marked-up prices or as charity donations.

Now an ambitious startup called the Walls of Benin, led by 30-year-old Chi Atanga, a man of Cameroonian descent born in Manchester, England, seeks to break with history by building factories in Africa that make sleepwear and loungewear—comfortable casual clothing that is stylish and sophisticated, suitable for “all night raves, boats, trains and jet planes,” according to the company’s website. Finished items are sold to high-end shops in Europe for their fashion-

hungry clientele.

The brand name Walls of Benin refers to the world’s largest man-made structure, which was completed in the 15th century: a system of moats and ramparts designed to defend the ancient Kingdom of Benin, which is Benin City, the capital of present-day Edo State, Nigeria.

Mr. Atanga calls himself “chief evangelist,” instead of chief executive officer, of Walls of Benin, and says that the company’s goal is “to spread soft power through culture.”

Taking on the Goliath

Mr. Atanga researched and designed the business plan for Walls of Benin. Buoyed by $100,000 seed money from the Portuguese government and an apprenticeship with the Erasmus European Entrepreneur Programme, he was able to finance his dream. “Using his gift for networking, Mr. Atanga secured an investment from the Lunan Group, the team behind the well-known brand Fiorelli,” according to facetofaceafrica.com, an online publication.

He is now setting up production operations in a “special economic zone” outside the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city.

“Our concept is not about riding the stereotype, Africa-to-Europe, textile/raw materials value chain, but a new paradigm,” he declares. “Can we take on the Goliath Victoria’s Secret on lingerie in Africa?” he asks, and answers with a firm “Yes!”

How will it work? “Our business model is simple: we take the spirit of African print textiles and swap wax and heavy cloth for more luxurious and ecological fabrics,” he says. Kente, Ghana’s famous silk-and-cotton blend, is an example of an African fabric, while silk and Tencel are natural fibres with extra softness and moisture-wicking properties. “We feel fashion brands in top cities in Europe should manufacture some of their wares in Africa and create jobs, and not merely export jeans, suits and other garments to Africa.”

His first trip to Africa as an adult was to Ghana in 2014, and it was an eye-opener. “Everything was bright, vibrant and alive. It amazed me to see African print textiles everywhere. It dawned on me that this was a part of my heritage.

Currently, Walls of Benin operates from Kenya and Rwanda and it is importing silk and Tencel from Portugal. In April 2018, the company partnered with Wildlife Works, a wildlife conservation group based in Kenya, to launch an African production. The hope is to export luxury loungewear made of extra-soft silk and Tencel to Europe and elsewhere. The production is first of its kind on the continent.

Wildlife Works can manufacture a thousand loungewear items per week using digital screen prints. “From the east of Africa to the south of Europe, we are building the value chain,” enthuses Mr. Atanga. He believes that the loungewear fashion industry in Africa, once ignored, has a bright future.

Meanwhile, rapid changes are taking place on a continent that a top British supermodel once chided for not having a Vogue magazine. “Africa’s fashion industry is right now super exciting! It is new, at the same time it is centuries old. We are talking about the 55 countries in Africa and huge diaspora populations with billions of dollars of spending power,” says Mr. Atanga.

In a sweltering monsoon afternoon in Xiaobei, in Guangzhou, a city in southeast China, a group of young and middle-aged African men take positions up and down a street lined by shops, alert to the passing of potential clients. Not far from them, in an adjacent street, another group of Africans—three women and a man holding a child in his arms—huddle around bales of merchandise. As the sun slowly sets, the town square fills up with people.

“Welcome to Oversea Trading Mall,” reads a neon sign in front of a midrise building overlooking the square. Posters advertising different products and services are plastered on nearly all surrounding buildings.

This is Xiaobei, also known as ‘Little Africa’, in the central neighborhood of Guangzhou, China’s megacity, where the Oversea Trading Mall is the main attraction for thousands of sub-Saharan African traders in search of good value merchandise. Guangzhou, nicknamed “Chocolate City” because of the large number of Africans living there, is a megalopolis with a population of 13 million.

Having dragged their bales to the edge of the square, three women and their male companion try to negotiate fare with a taxi driver. Sensing a lack of progress in the negotiations, due perhaps to a language barrier, one of the African men gathered around the porch of a nearby shop steps in to facilitate the transaction.

“This is what we do,” Magloire, an immigrant from Côte d’Ivoire, told Africa Renewal. “We are helping our brothers and sisters with their business needs.” He was reluctant to give his full name.

Like Magloire, hundreds of Africans who live in Xiaobei and its neighborhood in Guangzhou see themselves as “brokers.”

As the capital city of Guangdong, China’s richest province and arguably its economic powerhouse, Guangzhou is famous for numerous wholesale markets and its annual International Canton Trade Fair.

Inside Xiaobei’s subway stations, on its streets and at the bougainvillea-adorned pedestrian overpass along the main road, Africans can be found speaking Arabic, Bambara, French, Portuguese, Lingala, Malagasy, Yoruba or Igbo—a reminder of the cultural diversity of this migrant community.

Until about three years ago, Xiaobei bustled with business activity. Wholesale traders from sub-Saharan Africa regularly streamed in.

In the first nine months of 2014, for example, 430,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa entered or left the city’s border posts, according to official Chinese data.

“Booming China-Africa ties attract Africans to pursue dreams in Guangzhou,” declared China Radio International in 2015, summing up the growing movements of population and goods between the southern metropolis and several countries in Africa.

And just three years ago, local media pointed out the economic success of some of the migrants. A quick survey of residents of Little Africa showed that 2 out of 10 earned over 30,000 yuan (US$4,800 at the time) a month, more than the average monthly income of local Chinese workers. The rest earn less, comparable to the earning of the average local Chinese worker.

But fast-forward to 2016, and Little Africa is losing its shine. “Commodity dip hits China’s little Africa,” the Financial Times reported in July of that year.