A month ago, Binyavanga Wainaina, author and founder of the African magazine Kwani, had an article published in the BBC. You can access the article here. When my friends and I read through this article we were taken aback by the bitter tones and the accusatory undertones that the he dished out to readers. One of my friends commented that he sounded like a person who had been denied a visa at one of the foreign embassies in Africa. If one can look past all the rants and laments, he did bring up some points which, in my opinion, every African should think about.
We Africans have come to see ourselves through the lens of the Western world. We are often portrayed as never good enough; our cultural beliefs have been labeled as devilish and barbarian. Even now as the world becomes more culturally sensitive and people seek alternative ways of life and try to elevate the African cultural existence, we still have problems finding our perfect identity without referring to Western dictionaries for the definition of who we are. But even with all this, we have become confident and are learning to be unapologetic about who we are, despite the fact that our histories and cultures will always be mixed with a little bit of western ideology. It is due to this confidence that we as Africans have found our place in the world today and continue to thrive beyond the dreams that were previously set for us by the Western world.
Wainaina states that Africa will never look like Switzerland —and this is the plain truth. As we get to know ourselves more we realize that the façade of perfection presented by the Western world is cracking, and that the West has just as many problems as Africa. We are beginning to create our own dreams of what Africa should look like in 100 years, rather than trying to create miniature Londons, Parises and New Yorks in Africa. I believe that this truth needs to be emphasized: Africa is different. We are the continent that skipped the widespread use of land-line phones and went straight to mobile phone banking. As a result, we have to think of ourselves differently. We do not necessarily need to build cobblestone streets or to have 2 children per household, but we need to be able to have access to the basics of life. How we get there does not have to be dictated by an outside influence.
Is China really the enemy it is portrayed to be by the West? The West claims that it makes African countries comply with various regulations which not only improve development but also ensure that the donors accomplish their goals. That statement is a debate that is worth a whole other blog post. China makes no such claims but still tends to achieve its aims in Africa. Yes, Africans are tired of being treated like children; we are ready to have a say in what projects are implemented in our communities and to stand up and oppose ludicrous regulations. As Africans become more involved in the world economy, we begin to realize that we do not have to be what we are told to be, we do not have to play with only “approved players”. While there are consequences, both adverse and pleasant for every choice, this is an opportunity for Africans to learn on their own what it means to be a player in international political economy, and to have some say in what affects their lives.
As we step into our new realm of existence, where Africa is growing economically, politically and socially, it is beautiful to see how this new generation of Africans will produce a unique group of people who will merge hope, confidence, cultures and knowledge into a formula for progress. There will be tears and hardship but there will also be lots of freedom and happiness. Wainaina’s rant was not altogether unfounded; one just needs to look a little closer to understand what influenced his tirade.