Football is one of my other full-time passions. Anyone who truly knows me will tell you this. I am one of the ‘biggest’ Manchester United supporters out there. I have followed my beloved team for years and I am also a proud owner of a signed football (the whole team including Cantona, Giggs, Becks and others) from the 1996/1997 team. The location of this prized possession remains a secret of course. A few weeks ago, I walked into my local pub and sat at my usual spot and ordered my usual pint of beer. The crowd and the bar staff know me; not because I’m a famous blogger or anything. I’m usually the guy shouting at the TV and/or celebrating/commiserating with my other ‘ManUtd Crew’ but more importantly because I tend to be the only ‘African’ in that pub.
A few weeks ago, a gentleman who has now become part of this ‘crew’ I mentioned earlier and whose name I have now forgotten, asked me about Mama Africa. I turned to him and we started talking about Her and the intricacies of my homeland. Like most people in this city, we all watched the World Cup in South Africa, constantly glued to our TVs for an entire month whilst the players battled for World Cup glory. The positive effects of this world cup are evident but one thing that I have immediately noticed is the heightened curiosity about this unknown and ‘dark continent’. This particular ‘crew member’ continued to ask various questions about Africa whilst we attempted to watch the game. As the conversation continued, I could tell that he really wanted to understand my perspective. We stopped watching the game and focused on the conversation. Others joined in and I suddenly found myself somewhat lecturing to a small group of people. One question that resonated throughout the entire discussion was ‘what the Africans themselves thought or felt about’ this or that. I found it very interesting that this group of diverse individuals had taken this position i.e. they wanted to know how we felt and what we thought about regarding pertinent issues such as aid, their perceptions of Africa et al. There I was, standing with a pint of beer in left hand sharing, educating and learning. I was reminded by one of my favourite blogs written by Mama Afrika on being an African ambassador. Here I was doing just that!
This moment I was sharing with my pub mates was very interesting to say the least. In all of this, I realised that part of the misconception related to what they perceived to be the African person. WHO is this person? I had a question for them this time regarding this. So I just asked them who they thought this African person was. The room went very quiet as they pondered the next step. I could tell that some were thinking of the politically correct answer which I might add was something I was expecting. But today I just wanted the truth – some good old fashioned honesty would only do. After much deliberation, the verdict was delivered with a variety of answers that centred on an African being ‘a black person’ and mostly limited to the Sub-Saharan region. I smiled knowing full well that this was part of our rebranding issue I had been discussing lately – the identity crisis.
They (whoever they are) have excluded a number of people who make us all African. The white CEO of ABSA in South Africa, the Egyptian banker, the Mauritian taxi driver, the Indian Nigerian, the mixed race guy living in Manchester, the Zambian couple I met in Nairobi in June this year who happen to have Pakistani heritage and yet are very proud Africans just like me – examples of Africans. I have a white Zimbabwean friend (I use race to illustrate a point here) who is British by way of his heritage but maintains that he is 110% Zimbabwean through and through. His father happens to be Scottish i.e. he left Scotland in the 1950s and re-settled in the then Rhodesia. Due to ill health and the increasingly worrying economic situation in the late 1990s, they left ‘home’ and moved to the UK. My friend and his father dislike living in the UK and cannot wait till they both return ‘home’. Who are we to deny them this right? After all they too are African just like me. So I explained all this to my ‘ManUtd Crew’ and we parted ways for the day. In case you’re wondering, we eventually won the game. ManUtd Forever!
So I turn to you, the reader. How many Africans do you know? Do you associate the ‘African’ identity based on race or does it transcend other barriers? When people speak of ‘empowering the African people’ economically and otherwise, what does it really mean to you? Who are these African people they keep referring to? Are YOU an African like me?