The Image of Africa
Ogochukwu Nweke challenges our view of the continent and asks if merely being born in Africa makes you an African.
A friend of mine once did a survey with the question – “what comes to your mind when the word AFRICA is mentioned?” 70% out of 100% answered along the lines of poverty, wars, conflict, aids, corruption and other unpalatable experiences that have characterised the Africa of the late 19th to 21st centuries. The second question: what comes to your mind when you see a Blackman and a Whiteman walking or working together?
In answering this question, other questions come to mind – who is an African? How do you identify an African? How do non-Africans see Africans? How should an African see himself? How should Africans be seen?
Who is an African?
An African is not merely someone that hails from an African country, with a black skin and a tongue twisting native name. An African, just as any other nationality, is what he is because of what he represents and the fruit he bears in terms of what he knows and what he does. An African is a product of a history – a tradition that is age-long, from which the root that gives him life begins.
He is not a beggar who believes that there is nothing to be proud of and nothing to believe in as far as his culture and heritage are concerned. An African is not someone who does not know the history and the experience of his people, and thus believes the stories that strangers to his history tell him.
To the non-African (from the activities we have seen for sometime now), an African is the son or daughter of a former slave, who deserves pity and reparation for the way his forefathers were treated. Others think that they are a bunch of blind people led by senseless men and women, who take what the East, West and the Arabs say hook, line and sinker, depending on their affiliation. Others watch with pity and describe Africans as people who they imagine are incapable of doing anything that is constructive enough to bring about meaningful progress in their society.
But Who Is An African?
How can you decide the image of your father with whom you have stayed all your life, from the story of a stranger who has known your father for just a handful of years, and based on his disposition towards your father? Do you have Africans in the same sense as you have the English, French, Americans or Chinese? When someone says that he is English for instance, he identifies himself not merely as someone from England, but he speaks of a culture, a legacy and a pattern of behaviour typical of people who say, “I am English”. He is a man who knows his history and resists every pressure that seeks to pervert what he stands for.
The African, whether black or white, is a person of unequivocal identity, proud of his past and ready to build a future that is as glorious as his past. Man or woman, the African is like any other human being. The African is highly sensitive, emotional and easily excitable. Africans are so sincere that they never smile, laugh or hurt, unless it comes straight from the heart.
The African stands out tall, calm and moves very gracefully. Bold as a lion, gentle as a dove. The African always eats food from one plate and would drink from one cup, which keeps him and his people together, knowing that they are not different from each other. In Africa, we never eat when our neighbour is starving next door. Africans are really warm people on the inside. They are not greedy people, but a people with a conscience who always think of the consequences of their actions on their family, their neighbour and posterity. Are you an African?
Vices Are Not Peculiar To Africa
There is not one thing which Africa has been described with that is peculiar to Africa. HIV is everywhere, poverty is everywhere, and people (both black and white) sleep on the streets of New York. If leaders don’t lie elsewhere, why did the UK denounce Tony Blair as their leader and why is George Bush (jnr) less popular today than he use to be?
Show me a country without witches, and I will show you a country whose people tied up their mothers and wives on stakes and burnt them. Show me a country without vile and promiscuous men, and I will show you a country whose women caught their husbands and fathers, castrated them and scraped their taste boards off their tongues. Show me a country in 2007 without corrupt leaders and I will show you a country whose citizens are either blind or naïve.
We must not allow the African to be described in terms of universal issues. The easiest way to stop someone else from telling your story is to tell your story yourself. Our pride is in our history. Our glory is in the foundation our forefathers laid, which we must build upon. African youth beware!
Now That You Know
If you are an African by birth, there is more to being an African than being of African descent. Being an African by birth is something that no one can take away from you. As you would have noticed while reading this piece, being black and from an African country does not qualify you as an African properly, if you do not understand and consequently project the true image of Africa. We are not beggars; we are not savages; we are not illiterate merely because we do not speak English or French. We must not judge ourselves based on challenges that are global in nature.
There is an African proverb that “in spite of the ugliness of the monkey, his mother still loves him so much”. We must love our history. We must love our Africa as much as the American loves his America. Will you be an African to yourself, to your environment, to your family and your neighbour? Will you still stand up and be counted as an African, no matter what you see or hear? Will you do all that you must, to see that Africa and the African is seen from a different light? Will you be a true son of the soil? A man that will boldly stand and declare that he is an African, even to his own hurt.
Food For Thought
I will be most grateful to get your comments on the following illustrations:
Who is the African: Gbanga, a Nigerian by birth who talks, lives, dresses and acts like a British, and is not proud to be associated with anything African – Brian on the other hand, is an Irish-American who dresses, talks, and acts like an African, and believes that Africa is a great continent? His views and feelings about Africa are sincere, and he believes that we should have American-Africans in the same way as you have African-Americans.
Who is the African: An African who is unwilling to send his kids to an African university because he is fearful of cultism in African schools. Instead, he is very happy to send them to an American school where kids suddenly get into a trigger happy fit and kill every school mate in sight?