Can We Please Talk about Africa in a Way that Actually Makes Sense?

lets talk about africa in a way that makes sense it is not a country

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”.

5 thoughts on “Can We Please Talk about Africa in a Way that Actually Makes Sense?

  1. When someone puts their thumb on the little things that Keep us afloat we just have no choice accept every statement that comes from them no matter the insult. I love your thoughts we really need to speak about these little things and define our identity. Go team Betamotivation!!!!!!!

  2. I absolutely agree with this thought and have in fact advocated for this on several occasions. I do have to say though that Nigerians, South Africans and people from some of the other stronger countries are much less likely to identify as “African” than those from the tiny countries (eg Malawi, Rwanda) or those from the Eastern countries (Kenya, Uganda).

    Personally I put this down to the fact that some of those countries have a smaller footprint and therefore weaker identities. If i go anywhere in the world and say Im from Nigeria they know roughly something about it or have at worst heard the name, or come across a Nigerian footballer. But if you go to a remote part of Asia or meet a less exposed “westerner” and introduce yourself as being from Burundi, you will inevitably have to explain where that is.

    I also find that Kenyans in particular, and Ugandans, Zambians etc often embrace the Africa brand as it gives them credibility as though they are from a stronger unified entity. Their governments and corporations benefit from attracting foreigners to their countries using this Brand Africa.. “come and see our lions and monkeys and mountains”.

    As a Nigerian it is very frustrating for me because it seems to just perpetuate an annoying stereotype that wont go away.

    1. I really appreciate your perspective, Ire and to be honest it’s making my head swell to be from Nigeria haha

      On a more serious note though – you make a solid point about the branding aspect for East African countries. Now I want to ask my non-Nigerian friends how they feel about this issue.

      For the counties with weaker identities. Don’t you think it’s even more important that they identify with the name of their countries? If for nothing else, maybe it might encourage the listener to look them up on a map?

      1. One would think so, but I can imagine they get frustrated having to explain every single time. Eventually they just cut conversation short and lead with “Africa”. Also, they don’t often perceive the negative connotations of the Brand Africa that we feel, so its not as big a jump for them.

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