Writing from the time honored capital of Africa, Addis Ababa, Alieu Bah brings home the need for a balanced view of the continent. Not one locked in exotic discourse or Job like lamentation but one that is at once righteous and striving.
I’m writing this essay from Addis Ababa. At least parts of it. It’s been in the works as I contemplate the ongoing discourse around the motherland. It’s an ancient one; a tough and hard one to de-centre, this conversation. But this is written as both transgression and prayer. In an attempt to contribute something in this dialogue across oceans and landscapes, amongst Africans home and abroad. Here then is something worthy of reflection:
Africa isn’t the province of any academic with a geopolitical opinion in the age of the misinformed. It isn’t the holy ground of a nirvana, burning bush-seeking hippie. It sure isn’t the exotic body on which romantics can write their identity hangovers. This land is one of the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the striving, the sleeping and the awake. It’s a land that defies binaries too. It can’t be reduced to the either/or narrow-minded conclusions of the overzealous. But black and white arguments can mean more than a thing or two if you caught the pun then it’s something to hold on to.
This is a land of everyday people, the types you find everywhere on our little planet. Where people use parables and cliches, proverbs and songs to communicate. Even though hardly visible, Africans laugh deep hearty laughs and cry hot and cold tears. All of this is to say: this is a land not of the exotic or the damaged-by-dispossession, but of human beings living and loving, sometimes passionately, sometimes tersely. Trying to achieve the fullness of the human promise, some through greed while others through righteous strength.
Africa isn’t a country, even though I so wish it was but we are working on that. In the meantime, it’s a continent of a mishmash of neocolonial states who continue to vie for loyalty with their masters, the imperial states. The rulers of these nations, nations created by the cold callous hands of colonialism, are heartless human beings who take it upon themselves to announce oppression and pain into the lives of Africa’s beautiful children. Some leaders, afore time, were defiant and revolutionary, they wanted to create another way of being and living for the continent. But one after another they were picked clean off the continent through assassinations, coups, civil wars, etc., you’re familiar with these stories, so I won’t dwell on them.
But as young Africans meet and recount tales, they’re telling similar stories. These are stories of nostalgia, of unfinished liberation projects and post-neocolonial Africas. They meet in virtual communities or sometimes at conferences organised by the imperial masters. After they have played by the book, they would sit at night by fireplaces and bars to tell stories and trade hopes of a new, beautiful, re-crafted Africa. Their meetings are inevitable, pushed by the old but strong hands of time. They believe in their victory. I believe it too.
Africa isn’t a post-colony. It isn’t a text or textual-scape to be deconstructed in the heavy hermeneutical tradition of postmodernist thought. Many wouldn’t get what that sentence even remotely means. That’s exactly how it feels to read ivory tower, ontologically privileged professors and scholars who write about me and my people down home in Africa. Also, we do exist. Please don’t make us invisible as you debate the existence of imagined communities whether this is the Occident or the Orient. They have tried to erase us and the likes of us for centuries, but we persisted. We fought back scourge after scourge. We became both spectre and hunted, and we are still here. A word to those who participate or are granted the unspoken authority to debate the existence of bodies, spaces and times: our existence rests precisely in our defiance of your definitions of who we are or should be. Try deconstructing that as we try to stoke the fire this time.
We love our jungles and we everyday causally dismiss the tropes of the dark continent
Our brilliant tenacity and survival throughout the ages isn’t the result of charismatic leaders or prophetic figures. It’s the existential struggle of a people whether it’s resistance to colonial invasions or rebellions abroad on slave ships – resisting, rebelling, revolting and defending the terrain of life in the beautiful homeland. Our history twisted, embroiled in bitter struggles to make us grow into self-hating, loathsome little people, there is nothing else you can tell us. How we rise out of it all is a wonder! Our stories, the variant errant narratives of them, are miracles. We will tell and retell them in every age as we continue to refuse death and affirm life. Through it all we reject perfect stories and sympathetic narratives. We have camped out over the continent and reflected on the ongoing legacies of white supremacy, neocolonialism, patriarchy, and how bossy and sweet a form they can sometime take. We refuse it all. We are here for the violent Africa, the soft and peaceful Africa, the starving children Africa, and all such stories which are the legacies of oppressions upon us. We refuse none. We embrace them. Oh! and the wild animals ones. We love our jungles and we everyday causally dismiss the tropes of the dark continent. We learned how to live harmoniously with nature as her children, and now the whole world is trying to catch up as we stand at the precipice of a climate and planetary crisis.
Africa is a land of over a billion people, both home and abroad. They inhabit all types of spaces, some believe in the God of Abraham, others don’t. But they all walk with the ancestors, in joyful and solemn times, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Some ancestors we find in the whirlwind, and others in the calm before the storm. We pay homage to all of them, since they are with us every time a baby utters her very first cry among us. Whether it’s Nehanda chanting to Mwari or Garvey proclaiming Africa for Africans!, we rise and fall under the shadow of powerful beings and when we say they watch over us, we mean that. From Afro beats to Hip-hop, we continue to bring ancestral wisdom and joy to the world. We always gave more than we ever received anyway, and we continue to give, knowing we are the axis upon which capitalist modernity rotates, as we are ripped off raw materials and the knowledge and supreme understanding of our forerunners.
All of this is to remind the whole world of the complexities, worlds, poetries and universes that Africa and Africans continue to inhabit in the grand scheme of things. We are not a land of ill-informed geopolitical opinion-formations, academic guinea piggies or imaginal revolutionary fantasies. We are a vast billion of breathing bodies. Of scarred and beautiful souls. Of brilliant and thinking minds. Honour Africa accordingly. She doesn’t need your pity writing, exotic painting or romantic revisionism. Just your unalloyed truth as her child, and your silence when you’re not of her.
This was, by a long stretch, an ode and a homage to the motherland. The one who wasn’t ashamed to live, nor petrified to announce herself: Africa.