HAPPY New Year my good African people. We have lived to see another year despite the sangoma’s (shaman) concerns.
Now, at a global meeting towards the tail end of last year, my fellow Africans complained how people from the west couldn’t tell the difference between people coming from various parts of Africa. To these people in the west (and indeed Asia and Latin America) Africa was one massive place. My fellow Africans then started wasting time trying to explain to ignorant non-caring westerners that Africa is indeed 54 or so countries and territories.
Sadly comrades, our dear friends missed the memo. Africa is one place not only to non-Africans but also to Africans themselves. We know jollof rice is “West African”. But is it Nigerian, Ghanaian, or Gambian?
Whose instrument is the kora? And, yes, there is the “African print” or kitenge cloth. But to which African people or country do we owe it? You can cause a war trying to settle these issues, but we are all agree that they are African.
It gets better: Ask an Egyptian to differentiate between a Botswanan and a Namibian and you will be amazed. To the Egyptian they are one and the same thing.
Ask a Mozambican what the difference between a Guinean and Burkinabe and you would get a blank stare; a Kenyan or Ivorian would be very puzzled why I am asking the difference between a Tunisian, Moroccan, or Egpytian.
Failure to differentiate
Nearly 99% of Ethiopians, or for that matter other East Africans, would fail to tell Ghanaians and Nigerians apart from their names, hearing them talk, and seeing them walk.
Simply put, my friends, Africans can’t differentiate Africans either. If you are from Sierra Leone or Liberia it doesn’t matter to the Southern African, he will only remember you are from West Africa.
So if we can’t tell each other apart why should the rest of the world be expected to?
An insignificant Algerian once opined after a heavy drink or two that nobody knows what it is to be an Algerian. He said he could tell you what it means to be from the Berber “tribe” and then waxed lyrical about Berber customs, culture and lifestyle. Sadly couldn’t do the same about what it is to be Algerian.
Ditto that across Africa, South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma can write books (if he can write at that level) about being a Zulu, and sure dance a solid Zulu dance, but cannot match the volume of content when asked about what it is to be South African.
Therefore my friends, these artificial nations that have no culture or way of life that is unique to them collectively, can be argued to be as pointless as the (colonial) architects who demarcated African borders.
On the other hand ask a Nigerian, a Congolese, a Kenyan and Namibian what it is to be African and the answers will bear striking similarities.
While these so -called African countries try to differentiate themselves with their capital cities, it is amazing how rural Africa is similar: In rural Africa, you will live in a mud hut with a thatched roof or tin roof if you are slightly well off. You will not enjoy piped water - instead you will fetch it from a river or borehole. You will not have electricity and therefore electrical products will be unusable and probably unaffordable too.
So as the rulers and city slickers try and differentiate their countries, the rural majority on the continent understand all too well that they share similar experiences and fate across the continent.
In fact, if you ask the clever people who have read many books, many of them find it easier to describe the bigger Africa than their individual small nations.
They might tell that Africa shares a common experience of colonialism; maybe slavery too; most of it became independent became from late 1950s to early 1970s; its citizens are mostly people of colour; that the modern version of the continent is not highly industrialised; its politics is dominated by strongmen; and in all the countries the poor far outnumber the middle class and rich, and so forth.
My friends, Africa is one country, we just don’t know it yet!
When asked where you are from stand tall and proud and answer, “I am from Africa”.