by Damola Awoyoku
Decision not to prosecute G4S over Jimmy Mubenga’s death is depressingly consistent with UK state’s record of racist abuse.
What struck me when I saw the seating plan of the BA77 flight on which Jimmy Mubenga died on 12 October 2010 was his seat’s proximity to the toilet at the back of the plane. Also was the fact that he was hedged in left, right and centre by G4S operatives. As The Guardian reported, on that same flight, there were British, American and Canadian engineers going to make money for themselves and families from Angola’s lucrative oil fields, diamonds, gold and copper mines. Jimmy Mubenga was the only citizen going back to his own country in chains, seated by the back toilets.
The Crown Prosecution Service last week decided not to prosecute G4S or its employees over the death by “restraint” of Jimmy Mubenga. Former chief prisons inspector Lord Ramsbotham said: “In the face of all the evidence . . . I find that CPS decision, at kindest, perverse.” Indeed it was perverse in the full sense of that word, not just against the evidence, but wicked — and entirely consistent with the British state’s attitude and behaviour towards citizens of “lesser countries”.
Angola is five times bigger than UK in land mass, it is Africa’s third largest producer of oil but it ranked 148 out of 165 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. Just over 70 per cent of the population live under the poverty line. Nearly 30 per cent of the population is illiterate, while over 60 per cent have no access to potable water. And UK companies are among the multinationals raking in billions every year from that country, indifferent to plight of the Angolan peoples.
The Guardian reported that on the plane Jimmy was apparently resisting deportation. No, he was rather resisting the imminence of protracted hunger and poverty; he was resisting an unjust economic order that skewered his country resources away from him to the benefit of western powers. “Help me! Help me… they are going to kill me…” were Jimmy’s cries in the plane when he was heavily restrained by the security operatives. None of BA’s pilots or stewards called for a doctor on board, neither did any of those expatriate passengers going to Angola for a better life moved from their seat nor raised their voices to save Jimmy. Michael, an American oil worker on board said: “For the rest of the my life I’m always going to have that at the back of my mind – could I have done something? That is going to bother me every time I go to sleep. I didn’t get involved because I was scared I would get kicked off the flight and lose my job. But that man paid a higher price than I would have.”
It is that same dynamic of indifference on the plane that plays out on the ground in Angola, Nigeria, Congo or anywhere multinational companies squirrel away billions annually while being indifferent to the plight of natives who live on less than a dollar a day. When Nigerians led by Ayodeji Omotade bothered to challenge G4S operatives over the inhuman force meted out on another deportee in a BA 75 flight in 2008, not only did the pilot ordered him and his cohorts off the plane and BA barring him for life for being “disruptive,” the police stripped Mr Omotade of his cash and charged him to court.
That same week when Jimmy was killed on board, American commanders were agitated, running helter-skelter after bungling the rescue of a British citizen kidnapped in Afghanistan. General Petraeus flew over to London within days and President Obama called to reassure the Prime Minster and console the family. Had Jimmy Mubenga been an Australian, or a Canadian or an American, what happened on the BA 77 flight would never have been. In 2008, the British girls convicted of drug related offences in Ghana were later released to the British high commission in Accra.
Even Alan Hodgson, who was sentenced to 20 years in a Ghana prison for the same drug related crime, was later released to complete his term in London. Simon Mann, who with Margaret Thatcher’s son was convicted of a coup plot against the government of the oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, was sentenced to 34 years, but served only one year. As British citizens, they are not obliged to serve in African prisons. And yet in 2010, more than 80 Caribbean and African women were on six weeks hunger strike in Yarl Wood detention centre protesting the violent and vicious ways they and their children are being treated to by Serco operatives running the centre. Eliud Nyenze, a Kenyan died crawling on the floor in Oakington detention centre after his repeated cries for medical attention were ignored by G4S operatives running the centre. The Nigerian businessman Frank Ogboru died also screaming, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”, when he was restrained by four policemen in Woolwich in 2006.
The Crown Prosecution Service decision not to prosecute G4S only confirms the lived experience of Jimmy, Eliud, Frank and so many others.
The degree of respect the UK shows to a foreigner is proportional to the respect they show his/her country of origin. The maltreatment of Jimmy by G4S was not just an isolated case on the plane, it is routine treatment of citizens of lesser countries that is most manifest in the detention centres, ports of entry, and in the discriminatory immigration laws. Had the Guardian not forced the case into national attention by making it a front page headline for two consecutive days amidst other ‘worthwhile’ issues, a lot of people would not have known that such is going on and we might have believed the Home Office and G4S approved lie that Mr Jimmy Mubenga “took ill”.
by Damola Awoyokun is a writer, former Associate Editor of Glendora Review, and former Managing Editor of Farafina Online. He lives in the UK.