I learned something interesting when I visited Brazil many years ago.
Many Brazilians do not appreciate the use of the word, “America” in reference to the United States.
Each time somebody said “America”, they would frown, wave their index finger and say
“No, no. You either say ‘United States’ or you specify that you mean ‘North America’.
You do not just say ‘America’ because we are American too. We are South Americans.”
Up until then, I never thought anything of how I used the word, America.
Now, I try to be more careful and respectful.
Fast forward to today, and I find myself asking the following question:
Why do Nigerians, Kenyans, Ghanaians, etc. acquiescently accept the label “African”?
What exactly is an African?
More importantly, which “African” really identifies with the word, Africa, as a meaningful, tangible identifier of heritage?
As far as I know,
-Nigerians identify as Nigerian (or Yoruba, or Igbo, or Hausa etc.)
-Ghanaians identify as Ghanaian (or Ashanti or Ewe or Fante etc.)
-Kenyans identify as Kenyan (or Kikuyu or Embu or Meru etc.)
Why then do we quietly acquiesce when painted with the lazy brush stroke, “African”
Why do we welcome, with open arms, all sorts of projects and products that are supposed to help “Africa”?
To put this into context, I have never seen any product in the United States that is targeted towards “North Americans”.
Such a product would be doomed at worst and naive at best.
How does one produce a useful product that simultaneously meets the needs of all Mexicans and Canadians?
Yet, company after company, crops up with lofty dreams to “help Africa”, “save Africa”, “invest in Africa”.
Please, my Nigerian brothers and sisters, we are better than this.
One of the inalienable rights of a free people is to choose their own name and chart their own course.
Why do we so easily give up these rights?
To be fair, we did not choose our own names.
However, I believe that there are subtle power moves in the direction of progress.
Owning our name – without question – is one of those moves.
We must understand that though we stand as one, we are also unique.
We have our identities and nationalities that cannot simply be brushed away.
More importantly, let us remember that our solutions must come from us.
So, the next time someone comes near me talking about “Africa”, I might have to ask them to shift.
I’m not bothered about “Africa”.
I am bothered about Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania.
Specific countries with unique people, contexts, and problems
People, contexts, and problems that cannot be summed up in the faceless word, “African”.