Runners that compete in two different races; in two different circumstances cannot be compared or measured using the same criteria. Each one needs to be evaluated relatively – against their own, unique criteria.
The African today finds himself in a world very strange to him; a world that is continuously furnished and decorated but in which the African does not make his unique, African contribution because he has lost a sense of his African-ness. The picture continues to be painted and coloured without the paintings and colours of Africa and the world becomes ever-more strange to the African. He has to be taught how to live in it; how to express his African-ness in it; how to behave in it; how to speak in it. This eventually leads to the dissolution of his heritage, his sense of humanity and the emergence of a pre-defined heritage and humanity by those who are actively involved in the furnishing of this world. So these become the masters of the African from whom he continually learns the ways of this world.
Africa is told that it is a “Third World Country”, as opposed to being a “First World Country” according to criteria that we (Africans) never set. We are told that we are “the Dark continent” according to standards that we have never agreed to. We are told that we need to look in the direction of the United States of America and Britain and become more like them, because that is the (supposedly) absolute metric of life in the world we live in today. In response to this, owing to a weak sense of self, Africa has silently agreed, as the servant adherently does to the master. She strives to fit in with the criteria the rest of the world has given her; she does not ask herself, “How can I make this criteria more African?” Instead, she asks, “How can I make myself fit in to this criteria?”
What the rest of the world is doing; how they are living isn’t the absolute way to do things and to live. We have to learn to take that and transform it to fit into our culture, our mould, instead of trying to transform our culture to make it fit into what the rest of the world is doing – as is currently.
Furthermore, ‘African’ must be a part of what the rest of the world is doing and how they are living. I am afraid that Western cultural imperialism has taken on a new face – the face of ‘civilization.’
The lack of contribution from the African end to the furnishing of the world we live in; the poverty that is prevalent in Africa and everything else that is supposedly negative about Africa is not something that is specific to the African nor to the African continent; it is something that is specific to anyone or any continent with a history of oppression. The African identity is separate and independent of these things; it is global society and our perception that has married them together; and it is the duty of Africans to divorce them.
In the quest to embrace the dawn of democracy and freedom from colonialism in Africa, I am afraid that we have neglected the most important aspect of any transformation – the process of healing. Africa was not allowed her time to grieve and mourn; instead, in the South African context, immediately following the apartheid era, different segments of society which were previously so divided, were expected to ‘forget’ and live in hegemony – and any manifestations of past wounds would be labelled as “racism.” Forgetting and avoiding dialogue based on racial lines is something that was necessary in 1994. Confrontation is what is necessary now…because regardless of how much we try to avoid speaking about it and ‘forgetting’, manifestations and expressions of a mind conditioned by our history still express themselves in our society – and most importantly on our campuses.
It is clear that in the quest for our true humanity as Africans (regardless of skin colour), we need to redefine what it means to be African and give the world a more African face.