I once posed the question “Who is an African?” to my colleagues. Without thinking twice, one said, an African is a black man with a flattish nose. It was a response I was sure was going to be said, just not as fast as it had come out. My second question was, “What about those countries in the northern part of Africa, are they not African?” This time, I was met with a silence that lasted some three minutes before he said, “they claim to be Arabs, so not African enough.” I am yet to find the actual answer on what it means to be African. So, what exactly does it mean to be African?
It takes me back to once being on an African creatives meet up and the topic came up. There was a consensus that a lot of African creatives were not African enough. Or rather, most were swaying from the African way, thus not really telling the African narrative and stories accurately. But during the conversation, one dared to ask what it meant to be African in the context. Was it speaking our local languages?
In all these conversations, it is obvious that most do not know what it means to be African.
Do we deduce being African to race? Languages? Our tribes? Or is something complex? Is it about originality? “What does it mean to be African?” is a question that has been asked from time ago, but the actual answer never seems to be stated. And I am not here to state it either, just to share my view of what being an African is.
Being an African in my words
In a continent washed by the foreign culture, being African really stands on the blurred lines. However, one thing I know for sure is that being African does not mean living in constant struggle. I once was told that a girl living in the rural area is more African than I was. Reasons being that she farms and is more family oriented than by urban self. A stereotype that we have to learn to flush out.
In my own words, being African is embracing our history and realising how it has impacted our lives today. It is understanding that we continue to change, but we remember where we are coming from. Being African is embracing our cultures and happily sharing them with the world unapologetically.
Being African does not mean wearing Chitenje made clothes, heck it shows that chitenje did not even originate from the continent, but to rather be from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Before I go further, something I have also noticed is that we use being “African” as a way of policing people. Things like “are you even African if you cannot write your local language?”
Being African should be about our shared love and values of the continent. The general respect we show each other, and the accountability we have towards this beautiful continent. So, when Africans become xenophobic towards each other, it becomes a worrying issue. Because, not only does it make us question our humanity towards one another, but also our Pan-Africanism.
Africa Day 2021
Now that I have shared my understanding of what it means to be African, let’s start our celebrations. This year’s theme centres is
Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want
And while this is exciting to read, as a creative, I tend to wonder just how much Africa as a whole values our arts. Although the music industry seems to be booming, especially in countries like South Africa and Nigeria, it seems stagnant in some. And somehow, we all could collectively blame our governments for the lack of support.
For example, in Uganda where internet was cut hours before the election was conducted, to stifle information moving in and out of the country. Which highly affected different creatives from there. In Malawi, a sum of K20 million ($24,968.79) was allocated as Covid relief fund for artists, an amount I find just too little.
Maybe these examples are just few in the eyes, but there is much to be said. And with a theme like that, the time for governments across Africa to wake up and actually support the arts and culture industries. These are part of tourism, an industry that has the ability to help boost the economies if treated right.
So, while we celebrate, it is also time that we demand more. But other than that, the best time to keep sharing our unique African stories and grow.
What does being African mean to you? Share your thoughts down below