Years ago I started an identity series titled I Am. This year is dedicated to more posts from that series:
I am African.
And I am weary.
Strive Masiyiwa does a news interview about the vaccine politics they have dealt with trying to procure vaccines for the African continent. It’s painful to watch and listen to. But I’m not surprised. How can I be when at the onset of the pandemic they were asking why we’re not dying? As though their casualties were a cosmic mistake and death should have come for us instead.
Our nations and governments are perpetually termed as corrupt, disorganised and unstable. Never mind the source of the disorder and instability is carefully crafted from without not within. Chaos is good for business when you’re on the right side of the negotiation table. The kind of table made to ensure that we remain third-world countries and they continue to soar on the back of our resources and our labour. The scramble and partition of Africa persists. Only these days it comes packaged in far more sophisticated ways.
They called us the dark continent. Supposedly because we were a mysterious continent just waiting to be discovered. I think back to the history I was taught in school. It spoke of many a grand explorer and their great exploits in discovering this so-called dark continent. There was little or no mention of the African tribes who lived right next to renowned landmarks and had a rich history of them dating centuries back. The words of Chinua Achebe ring true.
I’m reading a novel when the author mentions the Kiswahili language. I sit up in all my Kenyanness eager to see what comes next. However, what follows is a character speaking gibberish. I actually take the time to Google the words to see if they’re a different African language altogether. Nothing I find indicates so. Why bother talking about a real language spoken by real people if you won’t take the time to use real words that belong to that language? Would I get away with speaking about a western language as an African author and then proceeding to quote nonsense? Don’t get me started on all the movies and series where some fictional African nation needs to be saved by a western nation yet again. Or the ridiculous captions that are passed off as subtitles for our languages. There’s generally a fair amount of inaccuracy in the world of subtitles but when it comes to African languages the gravity of error can quickly go beyond comical to insulting.
A frustrated African in the diaspora tweets about yet another butchering of their African name. Followed by a flippant comment made about how difficult our names are to pronounce. This weary African asks a question that echoes in my mind to date. To paraphrase – how is it that you can perfectly pronounce Beethoven, Bach and Monet yet they are foreign to you too? It’s not that our names are difficult to pronounce. You simply don’t deem them important enough to learn how to say them correctly.
According to a 2011 World Bank and African Development Bank report, there were 650 million mobile phone users in Africa at the time surpassing those in USA or Europe. A decade later, the autocorrect function on my phone still insists on changing the African names of my loved ones to random English words. I can’t even quip in Kiswahili on text without wanting to hurl my phone across the room. My money must be good enough to meet quarterly sales targets but my African patronage isn’t important enough to invest in the technology required to allow me to communicate in my African language.
A good number of Africans grow up speaking two to three languages. Many, even more. But when that same African speaks English with an accent influenced by their mother tongue, they are thought to be undereducated and borderline illiterate. God knew better than to make me a renowned Kenyan athlete. I would do my interviews in Kikuyu and good luck to them as they find an interpreter. Why shouldn’t I? Don’t other athletes comfortably conduct their business in their mother tongue? In any case, Ngugi wa Thiong’o gave his acceptance speech for his Premi Internacional Catalunya award in Kikuyu. He’s an author. So am I. Hmm…
Someone else on these social media streets asks why we are immigrants when we go abroad and they are expatriates when they come to Africa. To this day, I have found no answer.
I am African. And I am weary.
I am also Christian. And this gives me hope.
There are those that dismiss Christianity as “the white man’s religion”. I don’t agree with the sentiment but I can acknowledge its source. How can I not when we still talk about having “Christian” names to mean having “Western” names? As though there is no Christianity to be found in our African names? What good does it do us to amp up the evangelistic efforts of missionaries on our continent centuries ago without acknowledging the terrible damage incurred in the process? How can we ignore that significant efforts to Christianize us were in fact efforts to westernise us? When we should have been learning how to be Christians as Africans, we were being taught how to be Christians like westerners.
I am first Christian, before I am African. It is not a denial or erasure of my heritage. It is giving my African identity its rightful position – at the feet of Jesus.
I am first defined by Christ before I am defined by my African heritage. It is only with the mind of Christ that I can find the true nature of my African identity. After all, it is God who made me African. In His image and likeness African. The colour of my skin and the texture of my hair does not diminish how much of Him is in me.
I am African.
I am weary.
But I am also incredibly hopeful.
That the Lord, our God, who made us ALL in His image, would equalise these scales. More so the scales that exist in our minds.
It is easy to blame “them” for all our African woes.
But how many times have “they” been Africans like you and me? How many times have we been the ones to diminish each other for the very things we claim to be proud of? How many times have we sold our birthright because we never took the time to understand its value? How many times have we stepped on and kicked down our fellow Africans on our way to the top? Because we held onto the lie that there is only room for one African at the top?
Yes, much needs to change. But I think a lot of that change has to begin with us. With you and me. With our understanding of what it means to be African from God’s perspective.
Only then can we be the Africans He created us to be. Only then can we play our integral role in our nations and in the global Body of Christ. Not as beggars who know not where their next meal will come from but as co-heirs who know their place in the kingdom of God and are secure in it.
I am African.
And I’m determined to do my part to see this beautiful continent flourish as God intended it to.