Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"But I Changed that African Part..."

An overall re-orientation that puts Africa at the very heart of African Consciousness is needed
I was recently approached by a primary school classmate and good friend of mine who resides in China. Like me (and millions of other young Zimbabweans in the past decade), he left the country at the peak of its socio-economic crisis and currently works in some capacity at a Chinese elementary school. When he called, he explained to me that he had been asked to present a speech for a Children's Day celebration they were having, and was thus seeking my assistance in coming up with something thought-provoking. I spent an hour or two throwing some ideas together and send them his way. A couple of days later, he shared with me the forum on which the final speech had been shared, and, as it turned out, he had presented the speech as I had given it to him verbatim (absolutely fine by me.) Well, almost verbatim. See, I had signed off my version as follows:


"There is an old African proverb that says 'If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing'"

In his version, the 'old African Proverb' had been changed to 'old American proverb' and, before I had come to confront him about the wrongful appropriation of wisdom, he offered up the explanation that 'I figured they were more likely to take it seriously if I said it was an American thing..." I was livid.

In recent years, I have published a discussion in commemoration of Africa Unity Day; beginning with the largely debated "What is Africa really mad about?" piece of May 2012, and its counterpoint "AU at 50: 5 Reasons Africa is Celebrating this Africa Unity Day." Overwhelmed by life's mandates, I had not planned to do one for 2014- until I had the interaction with my comrade in China.

For in that one ill-fated, apparently light-hearted quip lies the summation of Africa's biggest downfall: the resignation to the worldview that She is a second class citizen. Much like my friend, the continent has, on many fronts, given up the eternal fight for its rightful seat at the global table; to such an extent that we are more comfortable shying away from even our finest moments if that means separating ourselves from the 'African' tag that weighs upon the unwitting mind. It is in the bleached skin, the correlation of social status to one's grasp of their relative colonial language, the adoration of Western fairy tales at the expense of the wealth of folklore that traveled with the smoke from the ancient village fires across the Kalahari and Sahara landscape.

The perpetual inferiority complex that plagues Africa was set in motion by the past guile of outsiders (much of which continues today in slightly different forms),and the psyche of Her people- at home and abroad- was broken. The mandate of the conscious mind is not to fight the external forces that have so much to gain from Africa's continued subservience; that fight is unending and unsustainable. Such a mindset accounts for how post-colonial Africa still finds itself under the firm thumb of the Western world despite the bloodshed and promises of independence, and how large communities of Black America is, in large parts, only marginally better than in pre-emancipation days.

The fight, instead, ought to be based on the reconstruction of the awareness that realizes the worth of what it is the continent brings to the table. That, combined with the eclectic incorporation of the external values that have worked well for others and, most importantly, a savage insistence on the African core that defines the essence of the continent. Without it, the continent will forever live under a succession of masters; ones that may not even have to beat us into submission anymore, seeing as we are prone to just cowering without a fight.

The example above is particularly fascinating because it occurred in China. As global dynamics continue to evolve, the 'South-South' relationships of countries outside of North America and Western Europe has been billed as the potential great equalizer in international relations. Now, if Africa's children fall into the same trap of obsequious subservience to those who have been deemed as partners in the struggle away from the grasp of the traditional powers that have held us down; the continent is forever condemned to second-class status.

(I mean, if the USA is only a couple hundred years old, how insecure are we that we would rather attribute ancient wisdom to such a fledgling culture instead of claiming it for our battle-hardened, tried and tested one? Ancient American wisdom, really? I digress)

Africa's place at the international table is not dependent on the pitiful invitation from the others; it is a birthright up for Her claiming. Inferiority complex makes it incredibly easy for the oppressive, nay, even the indifferent mind, to cast the one aside; but a proud clamor that repossess and reestablishes Africa in all her wisdom and might makes it impossible for the continent to be ignored.

None of this is far-fetched; it is in the essence of the same Zimbabwean proverb that sparked these writings;

"If you can walk, you can dance: if you can talk, you can sing."

The mandate to make a difference is upon you; the power to do so is within you.

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