On Being African
The danger of a single story. You will recall Chimamanda’s fabulous TED talk on when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative. It is often that we are very quick to bash all those non-Africans saying to be travelling to Africa, we want them to mention the specific country or region. We don’t like a narrative applied to Africa as a whole. There must be a specificity to one or some of the 54 African countries. Because if we are reduced to one, it’s our humanity being taken away, we say.
Africa is rising. The African emancipation. LOL. We are not. It is more of a reaction, a response to globalisation. I mean the global evolution is imposing us to adopt new measures and build infrastructure just to adapt.
Anyway, that’s not my point. I want to point out how we approach our emancipation. We now identify as one. We are 54 identical children of mother Africa.
I see the danger of the single story within us and that’s exactly what we reflect to the world, being one. Before being elected President of the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF), I was fortunate enough to hold several other positions within the African region. It gave me an opportunity to engage with many other Africans — from, I can confidently say, 45 of the 54 countries. As I discussed and asked questions about society, lifestyle and history, the fact is our differences in culture, principles and history is quite striking. We grow up being taught that before colonisation we had monarchs and everything was similar everywhere, well, except for Egyptians and the Ethiopians who made it to the bible.
I don’t like to use this example, but you can easily distinguish a German from a Portuguese when you talk to them. They will always reflect their unique values. They — at least those I have had a chance to interact with — rarely identify themselves as “proud Europeans.” I have also come to believe that the strength of the European Union is in what each country contributes, its uniqueness and how to leverage that for the best of all.
The danger of a single story within our “emancipation” won’t allow us to identify what is unique about each of us and to a maximum advantage, acknowledge and build on each society’s uniqueness and strength. Pan-Africanism initiatives, African Leadership Academy or, say, the Young African Leaders Initiative and other school of thought that are supposed to be driving our emancipation tend to make us think that we are similar and we need a one-size-fits-all solution to our problems.
We think we all (or want to) share the same values and cultural principles, and want to call them ‘African roots’, and it is okay. Is it okay? I wonder.
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