Africa is rising from the abyss of darkness that has been its unfortunate home for centuries. Africa is now ascending into the glitz and glam of modernity. It is finally cracking the glass ceiling of exclusion and it is finally being acknowledged as a potential equal and, even more ambitiously, a competitor in the global market. The middle class is emerging with increased purchasing power. Africa is the next big thing in consumerist culture.
These are the sentiments that grace countless articles, reports, talk shows, and conferences as of late. Many Africans, and especially Non-Africans, are captivated by this supposed phenomenon. I recall watching a Nigerian commercial that portrayed sharply dressed people in beautiful backdrops happily absorbed in texting and talking on their sleek new cellphones. The faces of Africa Rising are these affluent and confident men and women and their slogan is: Africans are just like everyone else.
So what are my issues with this new discourse on Africa?There are plenty, but I will focus on a few:
Firstly, the Africa Rising narrative does what previous more negative narratives did. It reduces the diversity of an entire continent into a generalizable and simplified mass. Whereas before the monolith that was Africa was only darkness and pain, it is now emerging into light. This rebranding effort may be more positive but it is also condescending and prevents critical analysis. It is laden with assumptions of what Africans need and want that I find dangerous to the continents development. The fantastic media blog Africa is a Country does plenty to prove that here, here, and here.
Secondly its rather misleading. There have been major advances in human development in Africa, but the vast majority of Africans are still destitute. Skyrocketing GDP rates do not necessarily translate into improvements in human life. So while Africa has become one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world, it still suffers from the highest rates of illiteracy, the second highest rates of unemployment (next to the Middle East), and the highest rates of child mortality. Although there have been commendable improvements in these indicators and these statistics are varied from country to country, the big picture is glaringly clear: Africa is mired in poverty and the only groups that are rising is the 1%.
Because the rebranding project is misleading it is distracting us from naming our pain. The Dark Continent narrative, which still remains strong, created apathy and hopelessness but the Africa Rising narrative is creating conformity. Very few people are discussing exactly what Africa is rising to. Is it equality, freedom, and justice for all Africans or is it instead globalization, neo-liberal capitalism and consumerist culture? Does the latter truly equate to the former? If anything, Africa blindly aspiring to join the mainstream will effectively ensure freedom and justice do not occur, or if it does, for a very few at the expense of many.
To conclude, I would urge all pan-africans concerned about the future of their homes to think critically about the assumptions of Africa Rising. Instead of ‘catching up’ to and replicating the dominant ideals of today, African communities should create alternative systems of development that are not as destructive to life and nature. What we need is not the ability to shop more as this article in the Economist seems to suggest. What we need is a revolutionary break from a mainstream that has caused our problems in the first place. That is the only Africa Rising narrative I will support.