From the Front Row: Violence, trauma, and social determinants in Africa and Hong Kong

Published on November 5, 2020

 

The following is a transcript of an episode of From the Front Row: Student Voices in Public Health, the University of Iowa College of Public Health’s student podcast. This episode features a roundtable discussion between CPH students Oge Chigbo, Toluwani Adekunle, and Megan Pospisil. The three discuss examples of ongoing human rights violations in Africa and China and how they relate to global public health.

Stevland Sonnier
Hi all. This is Steve jumping in briefly before our episode starts. This episode about global public health includes discussions about heavy subjects, including police brutality and sexual assault. If you need support, call 2-1-1 for mental health assistance.

Oge Chigbo:
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to From the Front Row, brought to you by the University of Iowa College of Public Health. My name is Oge Chigbo. And if this is your first time with us, welcome. We’re a student-run podcast that talks about major issues in public health and how they are relevant to anyone. Both it, in and out of the field of public health. Today I’m joined by my co-host Megan.

Oge Chigbo:
So Megan is new to the team, this is a huge welcome to the From the Front Row family. We also have a guest joining us today, Toluwani, who is a PhD student from Nigeria in the community and behavioral health department at the university.

Oge Chigbo:
Hi Tolu.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Hi Oge, Thanks for having me [inaudible 00:01:04].

Oge Chigbo:
No problem [inaudible 00:01:05] today.

Oge Chigbo:
So what are we doing today, Megan?

Megan Pospisil:
Well, today we have a very special episode. We are going to host a global series on the podcast soon and to give a head start, we decided to use our platform to talk about several human rights violations around the globe and how they tie into public health as a means of creating awareness.

Megan Pospisil:
Earlier this summer, we spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and how racism is a social determinant of health and now we’re here to shine a light on other movements or lack thereof and how that’s also relevant to public health and to all of us, regardless of location.

Oge Chigbo:
We’re going to have three sections of this conversation today, and how it’s going to go is that we already picked a continent and by we, I mean me and Megan, and then we have like a country or two that we would like to speak about.

Oge Chigbo:
So here, we’re just trying to present mostly facts of what we know, but there might be a few speculations that are going around, which we would say are speculations. But the first section and the first question, what continent did you choose and what is happening in the country or countries of focus?

Megan Pospisil:
Okay, I had the Asian continent in mind, but I chose China specifically just because of the protests that have been going on for about the past year and a half and all the protests in Hong Kong. And I just felt like China is a very central player in that region, a lot of what happens there affects other Asian countries.

Oge Chigbo:
You said there are protests happening in China right now. What are the protest about? Or what is the basis of the protest?

Megan Pospisil:
Basically this is a little bit of an older situation, but still very pertinent to what we wanted to talk about today, but it actually started in June of last year and the reason that they started protesting was because the Chinese government was trying to create a bill that would have allowed extradition of fugitives to mainland China and people who live in Hong Kong didn’t want that to happen because they’re under one country, but two systems; governance.

Megan Pospisil:
Basically, Hong Kong has wanted to not have that bill passed because they didn’t want people from Hong Kong to be thrown into the legal system of China and that was how it all started.

Oge Chigbo:
So for me, I chose my own home continent Africa. I’m African, I’m from Africa. Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent next to Asia. It has a total of about 1.2 billion people and living in 54 countries.

Oge Chigbo:
So right now in Africa, there are multiple movements trending and by trending, I mean if you go on Twitter or anywhere, on CNN, news are carrying all these movements, so these are things that have actually been going on, but to name a few; we have the Rape National Emergency that is currently going on in Liberia and Namibia, the Am I Next movement against sexual exploitation and domestic abuse in South Africa, we have the Child and Human Trafficking in Ivory Coast, South Africa, Ghana. We have EndSars in Nigeria. We have the Anglophone crisis, which highlights the Cameroonian civil war. The civil war that’s currently going on in Cameroon.

Oge Chigbo:
So all these things, and it’s a lot of things going on at the same time, I would like to focus more, just talk a bit more about the ‘EndSars’ movement, which is also why I have to live here with [inaudible 00:04:54].

Oge Chigbo:
Because I’m from Nigeria, she’s from Nigeria and I just wanted a different perspective of what I have to shine the light on what’s going on. And then I also want to talk about the Congo is Bleeding and that’s currently happening in the democratic Republic of Congo.

Oge Chigbo:
So just a start, I will start with the EndSars. Nigeria, located in the west in West Africa has a total of 200 million citizens. It’s the most populous country in Africa. What EndSars is; SARS stands for a special anti-robbery squad, which was put in place in 1992 to oversee crimes of theft in Nigeria.

Oge Chigbo:
Before SARS it just used to be… Overseeing theft used to be the responsibility of the police, but then they created a special unit from the police and since then they went rogue.

Toluwani Adekunle:
SARS, which is the special anti-robbery squad was made in 1992, around that time, and over the years it’s been a consistent struggle to get this agency to actually implement the policies and implement the… The organization was created to fight against kidnappings, carjackings and robberies in Nigeria, which is obviously a good cause but what we saw over time was erosion in the original cause of this organization.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Whereas the police themselves began to implement violence and perpetuate all these killings, basically we can call it police brutality.

Toluwani Adekunle:
So what happened with the most recent EndSars movement was instigated by a video that was shared online and went viral. The death of a young man, eventual death of a young man that was manhandled by the members of this special agency, the SARS and so that led a lot of Nigerian youth.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Meanwhile, up to half of the Nigerian population is 19. The median age is 19 years. So a lot of youth, and SARS targets 18 to 25 years. It’s targeted, especially the males. That’s what data has, but they also target male, female, but the predominant population is youth 18 to 25 years.

Toluwani Adekunle:
You see a lot of youth going out saying, we can’t have this anymore. We’re tired of it. SARS became this movement that evolved from just fighting against this special anti-robbery squad to just Nigerians thinking about the social inequities in place and understanding that this generation, we want change.

Oge Chigbo:
Maybe just talk more… So the thing about the whole EndSars movement is, it’s not a new movement, just like how even BLM isn’t something that’s new. It has been going on for years. And the government in Nigeria has been disbanding SARS since 2017, every single year you get a report that this sector is being… It’s out, we have disbanded it, it’s gone.

Oge Chigbo:
But then they keep on coming back, even right now in 2020 some speculations of people actually living in Nigeria is that we still see these people. A lot of youth, as Tolu said, are being marginalized. If you have an iPhone and I teach, so I’m a TA and I was trying to tell my students, young adults all of us here are the same age, you have an iPhone, you have tattoos, you drive a car, you have dreadlocks, you have piercings, things that young adults do.

Oge Chigbo:
And then you’re being pinpointed as, “Oh, you’re into thievery because you look like a thief.” So I don’t know honestly what to call it because there isn’t any really logical explanation as to what’s going on.

Oge Chigbo:
And in Nigeria currently, there was protests that was going on for about two weeks up until the 21st of October. On the 20th of October we had the Lekki massacre which has been going around. They say it’s a speculation, although otherwise we have seen something different and what we saw was people who dressed up in an army [inaudible 00:09:33] who shot into a crowd of protestors, that was a really dark day to be Nigerian, especially living in Nigeria and a lot of anxiety, but we’ll talk about that more when we go into the public health impacts of that movement.

Oge Chigbo:
Then the next thing I want to talk about is DRC.

Oge Chigbo:
So Congo is located in central Africa and its capital is Kinshasa. It has a total of 19 million citizens, it’s the second largest country by size, by area. And it’s the fourth most populous country in Africa.

Oge Chigbo:
Congo is notably known for its natural resources, it has gold, copper, diamonds, coltan. And coltan, especially is used in the production of smartphones and laptops. Our iPhones, Samsung, all those things, they have coltan and due to this and many other things, they’ve been a silent genocide that has been occurring in Congo over the years.

Oge Chigbo:
Because I thought, I just literally heard about the silent genocide recently with all the whole movements in Africa going on. I did more research and I realized, Oh, this is something that’s been going on and up to now there is more than 6 million deaths.

Oge Chigbo:
And a lot of the bulk of those deaths are children who are also being exploited to dig out all these natural resources that are being sold or being traded to developed countries and things like that. Recently Congolese women have been leading marches of thousands of people to protect against unprosecuted sexual assault crimes, conflict, war crimes, all those things that have arised as a consequence of wanting to exploit the natural resources in Congo.

Oge Chigbo:
Alongside this, there’s the pandemic that has been happening. We’re all in the pandemic right now and Congo is currently battling their 11th Ebola outbreak which honestly, the 10th one that they had last year, August of 2018 was one of the largest. You can imagine there’s just a lot of things that are going on at the same time. People who live there are currently very, very vulnerable because they’re being exploited.

Oge Chigbo:
Since we have presented all these issues at hand, that we’re talking about in continents, Asia, Africa right now. How is this related to public health? Why should we care? Why should other people care? Why should we even pay attention to all these things happening?

Toluwani Adekunle:
One of the biggest things we look at in public health is determinants, the social determinants of health. And we know, it’s been established that social inequities play a significant role in people’s health, the environment in which you grow, people are not safe. People don’t feel safe, people don’t feel like they have equal opportunities and this is so important. Not only do they feel like that, it actually is so that you can get brutalized by the police for an unjust cause for instance, in the Nigerian situation. In Congo, in Namibia people get raped.

Toluwani Adekunle:
People don’t feel safe and these things really impact on their health. You see that people… First of all, we have to talk about mental health. I know that after the EndSars movement, a lot of mental health crisis, Nigerians not understanding why there was a massacre, especially with the massacre that occurred on the 20th.

Toluwani Adekunle:
You have to look at those mental health variables or should I say constructs, or how would you define those mental health. The important thing is that you have to look at, how do people deal with trauma? How do people move past trauma? And how does that determine, for instance, kids exposed to trauma, adults exposed to trauma, how does that affect your health, your cardiovascular health, your fight or flight response just those things that you look at.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Yes, it’s definitely important for public health because even within that system, we already have pre-existing conditions. We already have pre-existing weakened infrastructure and now dealing with this, in addition to all those things, the social inequities definitely impact on people’s health.

Oge Chigbo:
Megan, do you want to go next?

Megan Pospisil:
My situation is definitely not the same, but a lot of what they’re seeing in Hong Kong with the protests is police violence and that’s a lot of the reasons why it’s made the news.

Megan Pospisil:
Because they have had a lot of protests going on there. I was looking up some statistics, which are only from June to December of last year, but they had over 6,000 people arrested and they had 2,600 hospitalized. They also used, according to CNN, 16,000 rounds of tear gas, which I think it’s a lot for people.

Megan Pospisil:
One, that’s not great for you regardless. Two, I think it does go back to what you were saying, Toluwani about the social determinants of health but additionally, it is bad for your mental health to not feel like you can trust your government. I don’t think that that is something that’s specific to Hong Kong or just to China right now. I think that, that’s something that we’ve seen a lot in the past year or a couple of years around the world, I think that’s why that, to me, relates to public health.

Oge Chigbo:
I honestly believe we do need to have series on this podcast highlighting how police brutality is a public health issue on so many levels and how there are millions of people who face this. If you have sides of police brutality in the United States, where else won’t you have it?

Oge Chigbo:
Because the States is held at this very high standard. A lot of people, a lot of countries look to the United States for direction, for leadership. It’s just something that keeps on going on.

Oge Chigbo:
Tolu, thank you for talking about mental health impact, which I think I really love where we are at right now as a society or population. Where we’re bringing more focus into what mental health is, the impact of mental health and even talking about the genocide in Congo. Then you have a variety of outcomes.

Oge Chigbo:
You can have depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, PTSD, and then you have children and you’re bringing them into that stressful environment. Not even talking about the chronic diseases or things that will go on from having such a shut down immune system.

Oge Chigbo:
And then obviously decreased quality of life, then you talk about life expectancy, in Congo, life expectancy is 48 years for men and 52 for women. That is so… Then if you compare it to the U.S where you have a 76 years life expectancy for men and then 81 for women, that’s a lot of years, that’s half. And most of these places in Africa, so you now have the top causes of death being infectious diseases actually, respiratory infection, diarrheal diseases, malaria, things like that.

Oge Chigbo:
That are totally avoidable, then talking about why other countries should be invested. I think the biggest part of that will be looking at trading. The way the world is built up is that, we have what we call social systems and the U.S has its own social system. Mexico has its own social system and all those things, Nigeria, everywhere.

Oge Chigbo:
But then how do we interact with each other? It depends on our dynamic even when you [inaudible 00:17:36] we even talk about global warming and all those things. If one country has a lot of instability and you’re not able to trade with a different country, you either don’t get what you need, which then directly impacts the people who live in those communities. Imagine not being able to let’s say, trade actively, fairly trade coltan between Congo and the United States or between maybe Congo and China.

Oge Chigbo:
We’re not going to have our phones. We’re not going to have the technologies that we need. Then those kinds of things, they probably even need to inflation, then when you start to talk about inflation, everyone gets directly impacted because the economy is going to go into this downward spiral of poverty. People not being able to afford food, basic healthcare, education.

Oge Chigbo:
Most times I think I would never really say; Oh, it’s the duty of a different office of a country of another country to fix a different country like, Oh, the United States has one of the largest economies so they need to fix every other country. I think that’s unreasonable because every other country needs accountability, both for their governance. Most of the problems that we see in Africa is as a consequence of bad governance.

Oge Chigbo:
So, which is a fact, anywhere you go, you see that. Now, how are the resources that we have? How is it being used? What are you doing? Do you have that rapport of trust and support between your citizens and the leaders? Do we trust you to actually lead us in the right direction? Do we trust you to take us out of a recession to make sure that the poverty level in this country is lowered? Because if we’re even thinking back in the day, in the early 19 hundreds, there was a time when a dollar was equivalent to a naira. I feel like it was very, very brief period.

Toluwani Adekunle:
It was, stronger than the dollar to the pound.

Oge Chigbo:
And then how did we go from that? The naira is being decreased or being depreciated in value over and over.

Toluwani Adekunle:
I always love to remind people of the role of colonialism in a lot of these factors and how a lot of our systems have been used and used and re-used and used again for the gain of the Western world.

Toluwani Adekunle:
And we now have a legacy that was handed down. A lot of it ties back to colonialism, so I don’t want us to forget that yes, there was that time, but then we inherited a system where minorities [inaudible 00:20:27] the majority and it was a divide and conquer type system that continued over and over again. And it’s still continuing now with the minorities [inaudible 00:20:36] by the majority. It’s just a lot, it’s not very simple, it’s not a simplistic approach and we can never forget the role of colonialism

Oge Chigbo:
If you compare that to adverse childhood experiences or things like that. So in other words it wasn’t your fault that something happened, but now it’s your responsibility [inaudible 00:20:56] not just even transcends personal issues to [inaudible 00:21:00] countries, where if you know; you know. You aware that, these things happen, but now everyone is calling for the people who now have decided; “okay, yes, we can lead you to the right direction” [inaudible 00:21:14] responsibility of whatever is happening right now and at least lead us to somewhere that we can decide, okay, this is a start. This is a level at least that we now at, an actual level and not just like speculating, are we on the ground? Or are we in the air or what is happening, this whole state of confusion where nobody knows what’s happening.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Nigeria definitely, these countries in Africa definitely do frustrate me a lot because your question is, where do we actually start from? We have governing systems that we know the weaknesses of the systems. We know the level of corruption that exists. We know what’s going on, but where do we actually start from? There are no checks and balances.

Toluwani Adekunle:
You can totally shoot into a crowd of peaceful protesters and get away with it as far as things are right now, hopefully that changes soon and something is done about it, but it’s really frustrating. I think you can agree with me that it’s super frustrating, but I feel like the youth are taking it upon themselves to create a change.

Oge Chigbo:
It’s not our responsibility but we’ve taken it as our responsibility. Because we are being directly impacted.

Megan Pospisil:
So what is being done to tackle the issue? And if there isn’t anything being done, what could be? And then if you could predict how might life look if issues at hand are solved? And what if they aren’t?

Toluwani Adekunle:
If you could predict how my life look like if the issues are solved. That would be the ideal world. Isn’t that a utopia, where things are perfect, that’s what we are hoping for. Now being realistic, first of all, let me start with what is being done to tackle the issues.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Nigerians created a five for five, which is the five demands they had. One of which was to disband the SARS, which the government has disbanded SARS five times now so we need systemic reforms, definitely systemic reforms, a lot of systemic reforms or re-haul of the governance system in Nigeria.

Toluwani Adekunle:
We need to step up. It’s enough. We need to step up, take responsibility. We are losing our experts. Look at us, look at Oge and I, very intelligent young women, Nigerians here in the United States. We should not be here. We should be back home, but because there’s no space for us, we are here in the U.S trying to make a living for ourselves and trying to make a future for ourselves.

Toluwani Adekunle:
We need spaces where we can thrive, and I think that we are not giving up though, because we are here, but we are still doing the fight. We’re still fighting. We’re still fighting and we’re supporting, and that’s the role of the diaspora. I feel like there are so many intelligent diasporans here in the United States from all over, from countries that have not extended that opportunity to them, to those citizens from those countries. And they’re so intelligent doing great things in this country, but I feel like we still have a role to play and we must never forget where we came from.

Oge Chigbo:
Thank you. As Tolu said, the five for five demands. Part of that was looking for justice and accountability for all the things of police brutality.

Oge Chigbo:
Release of all the arrested protesters, because a lot of protests… The thing about protest is that with every protest, which is what I think every government or every country is scared about with protest is that riots will always emanate from protests and it doesn’t mean that it’s the protest who are rioting.

Oge Chigbo:
But people whose sole goal is to riot and loot, who always use protests as that shield to do what they want. The whole point is to make sure that you listen to your citizens and give them what they need to avoid having a protest in the first place, there is no need for a protest.

Oge Chigbo:
If there is a protest trying to figure out why there’s a protest and how we can solve it. It doesn’t have an outbreak of a riot. Nigeria needs a whole new policy reform, which there are articles talking about that because the population is growing faster than the economy, which isn’t stable at all. Then due to political instability in Nigeria investors might be hesitant to invest in our country, if you don’t have investors willing to invest, you’re going to have a high rate of unemployment because there are just not job opportunities, which is what we’re seeing.

Oge Chigbo:
We would have poor education system, a high brain drain, as Tolu has talked about, you have a lot of people leaving as she said, and I always try to remind my students is that if your home is in the best condition, the only reason you’re going to leave is for vacation.

Oge Chigbo:
I’m not going to leave my home to go live in a totally different place, unwillingly. Most times when we talk about refugees, so you talk refugees are asylum seekers, they left, they had to, they were forced to leave their countries which also makes me really sad that when you all these conversations of people looking down on refugees or immigrants or not wanting them to come in.

Oge Chigbo:
They have to, and if you don’t want them to come in, help them solve their problems so they don’t have to come in the first place. And then like in Congo, they’re really trying to talk to the United Nations to recognize the genocide that’s been going on and to repair the damages that already exists and with that, the United nations already has been helping, in April of 2018, they held like a donor conference and they raised about $1.7 billion to provide food, shelter and medical attention to the Congolese people.

Oge Chigbo:
Then next thing you ask is where did that $1.7 billion really go, because most times you will hear. We could be given stats and even in Nigeria, there was money being donated. Money came in but where did the money go? That’s the question we all ask because we don’t know. I can’t say, I don’t know where the money went, but there’s money somewhere.

Toluwani Adekunle:
The pandemic aid or whatever, what was supposed to be palliative care for the pandemic. People were finding the warehouses and looting the warehouses for the palliative care that should have been sent out when people were under lockdown

Oge Chigbo:
Because it’s for the people but they were being locked up.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Right. Exactly. So, those are the things we struggle with. But I wanted to say this at the start, today in Cameroon is the national day of mourning for the kids that were killed. So I think it’s quite ideal that we had this today to talk about these issues.

Oge Chigbo:
Megan, you have anything, so sorry that we went off on a tangent also sorry to our listeners. I get really passionate.

Megan Pospisil:
Honestly, I really appreciated that you had brought this up because when you’re talking about EndSars in the group meet, I was like, Oh, I should really look that up. I feel like I’m not aware enough of global news and stuff like that and I feel like when I looked into it, I was like, how do I not? It’s crazy to me how many things happen. How many genocides, how much police brutality happens. It’s really easy in America where I have a roof over my head and I can order in food. It’s easy to just be really ignorant so, no, I definitely appreciate, obviously I don’t know anything about this topic, so I appreciate listening to you guys talk about it.

Toluwani Adekunle:
I would like to say this, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So we cannot be complacent in the face of injustice we always have to use our voices regardless of where this is going on. Whether it be the protest in Indonesia, China, wherever.

Megan Pospisil:
I feel like that’s something I became a lot more aware of this year, just with Black Lives Matter and stuff like. A lot of my friends were like, you aren’t black, so you need to talk too, you need to be a voice for us I was like, that’s good. It’s good I think for people to be like, we need help. It can’t just be us. I felt like that’s obviously something that I’m still learning about, but I felt like this year was really important.

Oge Chigbo:
Did anyone have anything else?

Megan Pospisil:
Basically what happened with the protests in Hong Kong is that they ended up having a list of five demands and this is a really brief overview, but the first demand was that they wanted the government to withdraw that extradition bill.

Megan Pospisil:
So eventually that actually did happen, that was one of the things that resulted from the protest, which I think is cool because I feel like recently in America with the protests that we’ve been seeing, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying that protesting doesn’t matter and I think it does. Especially when the majority of it is peaceful.

Megan Pospisil:
Additionally, this is not as helpful of news, but Beijing has passed a national security law in response to the protests, I believe. That makes any acts of sedition illegal and a lot of people in Hong Kong have ended up fleeing to Taiwan just because they really feel like this is the nail in the coffin that is destroying Hong Kong’s autonomy. I didn’t really mention this earlier, but just an overview or going back to the one country, two systems thing, basically Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1970 or 1997.

Megan Pospisil:
And then they handed Hong Kong over to become a part of China. Hong Kong was a lot different than China. They had a lot more independence. Their views were different because they were a British colony versus being like a part of China part of that culture immediately. When they were handed over, they had signed a bill that basically said that for at least 50 years, they would have their own autonomy so that’s why we see a lot of the separation in governments between Hong Kong and China. So they were supposedly guaranteed to have their own autonomy until at least 2047 but a lot of people feel like this bill and these protests and stuff are the end of that for them.

Oge Chigbo:
And how long did you say the protests have been going on again?

Megan Pospisil:
So they started in June of last year and there were thousands from June to December, or there were at least over a thousand I should say. And then I know that they did continue through May. I looked into it and obviously it doesn’t make the news as much anymore because I’m sure some of the protesting has died down, but I would speculate that people are still protesting just as people are still protesting Black Lives Matter and it just doesn’t make the news every night, that would be my guess.

Oge Chigbo:
Thank you so much.

Toluwani Adekunle:
Megan. Thanks for sharing that. That’s very informative.

Megan Pospisil:
Thank you guys.

Oge Chigbo:
I hope that everyone was enlightened by the conversation and really all developed an interest in global studies and if you’d like to know more.

Megan Pospisil:
You can find us on Facebook at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and we’re also on iTunes and Spotify as the University of Iowa College of Public Health. You can go ahead and let us know what you thought about this episode and if you have any thoughts about the series, we have an email which is CPH-gradambassador@uiowa.edu.

Megan Pospisil:
it is C-P-H dash G-R-A-D-A-M-B-A-S-S-A-D-O-R @ U-I-O-W-A. E-D-U.

Oge Chigbo:
This episode of From the Front Row was hosted by Oge Chigbo and Megan Pospisil. This episode was written by Oge Chigbo. It was edited and produced by Steve Sonnier. Thank you to our guest Toluwani Adekunle for coming on the pod this week. This podcast is brought to you by the University of Iowa College of Public Health. See you next week, happy social distancing, stay safe and continue to have that uncomfortable conversation.