Thursday, March 31, 2011


A few weeks ago my friends and I sat in front of a television screen and viewed as a panel of eloquent speakers delved into contemporary African ideas on homosexuality. Being an educated lot, we listened with horror as a Ugandan member of parliament spilt vitriol and bayed for the blood of perpetrators of this ‘heinous crime’. At the end of this all, his argument had been simple. It was unAfrican. And this word stuck. UnAfrican. And thus it got me thinking what does it mean to be African?

So today I figured it out. I have the answer. It didn’t come to me in a dream or in some ultimate moment of enlightenment. Despite that, it was a moment. There was no shaft of light from the heavens and neither was there an inspiring chorus from some choir. It was simple. I changed the channel. That was the moment.

The news had begun with the same old rubbish. Some MP’s proclaiming Uhuru ‘King of the Kikuyu’s’ while Raila’s party flip flopped over the ICC issue for the 56th time. I’d had my fill of it all. This was Africa. This was what it meant to be African. Dread. Hopelessness. That focus on all that is pointless and irrelevant. And I had had enough of it. And I changed the channel. That was the moment.

I have grown up in a world that strives to paint a negative image of this continent. AIDS. War. Poverty. My interaction with stories on CNN about ‘the black continent’ have been met with trepidation as I wait for those key words; coup, destitute, civil war, poor. And I had cursed the Western media for their myopic view that had simply bordered on criminal ignorance. But it seems that the more you grow up, the more you shed this fairy tale image of who you are and where you are from. This image for me isn’t being fractured. It shattered into tiny little shards. And that’s why I changed the channel. That was the moment.

I can’t put down all the intricacies of the African story into this and in that sense I run the risk of simplifying the complex social and economic factors at play. In a way though, that aids my narrative since it requires you only to view this story from a broad angle. The story is simple. On a continent where many can’t be sure where their next meal is coming from, politics is the opium of the people. It’s all about power. The oppressed seem too weak to change things and those with the power to make a change are too comfortable. So I got tired. And that’s why I changed the channel. That was the moment.

Thus today I was African. I did what I was told and I didn’t question those who work for me. I wrote glowing compliments of those in power and ignored their flaws. I did my part in turning a blind eye to that which ails me. Today I looked out for me, myself and I. I spoke in euphemisms and parables about this tribe and that, careful not to mention them by name and ruffle no feathers. Today I lapsed into a devout Christian when it suited me so I could castigate everyone else. But I changed the channel. I didn’t care. I grew weary. I blamed someone else. Passed the buck. That was when I became an African.

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