Afro-nesia and Afro-tortion

There are two interrelated and false ways in which the image of Africa is presented to the world. In this post I explain what they are and how they connect.

Afronesia: Look closely at most global narratives, media coverage, fiction, films, non-fictional writing etc. When the topic is of global relevance and significance, Africa is often left out or forgotten. For example when we look for something superlative, or say something is the best in the world, (unless we are talking poverty, corruption, disease, strife or conflict) there is usually no data or record from Africa. For some of these lists, it is clear that Africa has not even been taken into consideration. The best science and maths students in the world – no Africans, best drummers no Africans (!!); only one African dish shows up in two best foods lists (the only thing we eat is sand, you know); no African ever told a joke (how can we when we are constantly at war?). On a ranking of national anthems, the only African country to place above 40 is South Africa. When you consider that the Zambia and South African national anthem are very, very similar, that is just weird. Apparently Africans can’t sing either. This list of lists could go on, but I think we have established one thing – I hate global lists (See previous post on ranking of universities). They cause Afronesia – forgetting that Africa exists as a valid separate continent of people.

Afrotortion: On the occasions the existence of Africa is remembered, ‘Africa’ becomes a synecdoche (a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa), or the subject of such distortion of narrative that belief is not only suspended but literally obliterated, or ‘Africa’ is used as a false adjective steeped in negativity. (See previous blog on Hearts of Darknesses). Someone will go to a remote village in Kenya and write an entire thesis on how ‘Africa’ is coping with malaria. See for example the following:

Fortune 500 companies are still hesitant about settling in Africa

Italy’s prime minister: Don’t let Africa become ‘second Chinese continent’

Girl guide leader fundraising to go to Africa (She is going to Zambia!)

Africa’s example: How democracy begets democracy (A story about the 2017 Gambian election)

Africans wary of US travel after series of border denials (Ostensibly a story about Nigerians travelling, but a short paragraph of alludes to other countries)

Afrotortion: stereotyping Africa, misrepresenting Africa, creating a false image of Africa and then portraying that as all that she is and all that she can be.

Afrotortion and Afronesia are closely linked. If you believe that Africa is only dust, hunger and war, you will not go looking for the best in her. And if you do not know of Africa’s best you are more likely to believe that Africa’s worst is all she is and all she can be.


We Must Always Remember That Time in April

I can never forget the Rwandan genocide. April 1994. I was in secondary school. Still wearing the chequered frock of Junior Secondary and not yet the elegant pinafore of the Senior set. On April 6, 1994, an aircraft carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. That barely registered on my radar. The African Cup of Nations was going on in Tunisia and Nigeria would eventually go on to win it. We had also qualified for the World Cup in the USA. All-4-One’s greatest hit ‘I Swear’ was on the lips of every schoolboy. Sonny Okosuns had brought his distinct style of singing to Gospel. The Rich Also Cry was on television and we were still enthralled by Living in Bondage.

At the time I could not identify Rwanda on the map. Rashidi Yekini had more resonance for me than Kigali. Hutu and Tutsi were words I had never heard. All cockroaches meant to me was the scourge of our kitchen, those creatures that insisted on defecating in our gaari. But soon the news from Rwanda brought the horror into our television sets. 800,000 Rwandan people were killed in 100 days. (Read that sentence again, let it register.) This was not aerial bombardment. This was not a case where weapons of mass destruction were used. Most of the killing was done with machetes, done by neighbours and family members… ‘friends.’ One seemingly little known fact is that the Hutus and Tutsis have the same language; the same religion; the same culture. The physiological differences between the communities were greatly emphasised by the European invaders of Rwanda and Burundi, first the Germans then the Belgians, as an instrument of colonial rule.

So I listened to the news. Every day. And the horrific truth was that the whole world had seen it coming. And we were silent. Colonialism enabled it, neo-colonialism let it happen. 800,000 people tortured and killed. 800,000. There are currently about 70 countries in the world whose population is less than that. 800,000 people.

Years later, I would watch the film Hotel Rwanda and weep uncontrollably at the main character standing in the middle of a sea of bodies hacked down as they fled to safety. I watched Sometimes in April at end of my second Term at Enugu Law School, the very last day of term. I watched it twice, I could not sleep for months. I can still taste the horror I felt. Miles and years removed from the violence.

In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly designated April 7 the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. One of my professors at Lancaster told me that her students do not remember Rwanda because it happened so long ago, before most of them were born. But we should always remember. How can we learn the lessons of the past if we always forget the past? How can we learn that looking away will almost certainly result in destruction? We forget so easily. How do we learn that difference should be celebrated and not obliterated? How do we remember that the path to destruction starts with dehumanisation? HOW?

As I write this, gas attacks are happening in Syria, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, bodies drowning in the Mediterranean, for the first time in history 4 man-made famines are endangering lives across the African continent. So many more horrors than there is time and space for. And we see these coming, we are turning away from people who are different. We need to remember, so we can change.

I hope and pray that never again will human life be taken for granted, never again will we see human skulls as the raw materials of an interior decor display, never again will our backs be turned as a world descends into hell, because if we do again as a world we will lose more of our humanity… and truthfully, we do not have much left to lose.

Today is the 7th of April.

Today we remember.

Tomorrow we must change,

So we do not stand here ever again.