By Mohammed Odusanya
In the midst of a global pandemic, one in which suffering – especially for those who are poor and/or live in the global south – has been needlessly prolonged by the greed of a capitalist class and Western governments unwilling to cede their interests in profit and domination, I have been doing the work of writing letters, drafting dossiers, compiling sources and drawing attention to human rights abuses occurring around the world.
At the beginning of my internship, I was worried I would be consumed by pessimism. How else would I process the epidemiological (amongst other things) disaster of COVID 19 and the ongoing violence of human rights violations?
To my surprise, this has not been the case. Part of it, I suspect, is due to the optimism of my colleagues at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Their dedication to the causes they champion made it difficult to not be a little bit hopeful, in spite of, well, everything.
I also think that I am more overwhelmed by the feeling that the world is ending. I don’t say this as hyperbole. Our pre-COVID world, for better or worse, is firmly in the past, and it is clear what will emerge after will be significantly different. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed the unsustainability of our current economic system and modes of governance, it has also shown its resilience. More than anything profit has dictated who survives this pandemic, and it is only those who survive who will be able to shape our world.
This summer was, according to the Canadian government, supposed to be the beginning of a return to normal. There were even hopes that my internship would occur in person. Yet, as the summer dragged on and I struggled to find appointments for my immediate family and me on overtaxed booking systems in two provinces, while also worrying for my extended family in Nigeria who had virtually zero access to any COVID-19 vaccine, I concluded that universalist principles of the Human had reached their end. Previous modes of dehumanization (war, genocide) have become so ubiquitous that (Western) governments feel no need to provide justification as to why a majority of the world’s peoples remain unvaccinated for no other reason than profit.
Rather than attempt to reconcile the widespread dehumanization of the world’s poor with the work I was doing, this summer has lead me to consider what it means to move beyond a framework of the human? If the idea of shared humanity (a notion that has always been violently contested) cannot prompt those in power to save lives then perhaps it is time to abandon it altogether.