by Ruth Aine - 01 May 2015
This month we get to celebrate Africa Day. Designated by the African Union as an annual day of celebration of the continent’s unity, it seems to be observed a lot more outside the continent than on the continent. Over the past years celebrations have been noted in cities like New York, London and Dublin, but not so much on the continent itself. Maybe the date needs to be declared as a continental holiday, but I think that we may need a statute and convention to put that in place, if they don’t already invisibly exist.
As I write now, there are a couple of things that for me in a way present to us situations that put us as Africans in retrospect. One would think that a continent in the 21st century with such a wealth of resources, we have a lot to celebrate and milestones to show for our growth. Instead, we have disasters and misfortunes, most of which are self-made. While they are to a certain extent an indicator of growth (no publicity is bad publicity they say) they still bring out the worst in us – showing our weaknesses and flaws off to the rest of the world as if we don’t know what it is that is wrong . As a result, they paint the worst picture for the younger generation.
The Issue of Migrants
It just saddens me that we have people leaving the continent in search of greener pastures and while they are at it, they die because they have believed that Europe is the best place to be. It is even sadder that our leaders are not taking responsibility for these disasters, but the European Union is. It is the EU that is setting up meetings to discuss this ‘migrant’ issue. We have made a mess, the least that we can do, is at least own it. Why are we afraid to address that world as it is? Our politicians turned leaders or is it leaders turned politicians (I forget the right order), seem exhausted and afraid of addressing our issues and problems to help us getting to where we want to be. As my fitness trainer always says – eat for the body that you want, not the body that you have. We seem incapable of making decisions and addressing issues for the Africa we envision or want. And we have no one else to blame but us. Whatever our discourse, we need to be able to take charge.
This is a touchy issue because it is very complex. I have heard so many narratives of what is going on and the causes of the attacks against foreigners in South Africa. When you begin to see countries demanding that embassies close and diplomats go home, I wonder whether we stop to think: How did we get here? For a long time I have been proud to call myself a product of globalization. Why? Because my life at any given time will be influenced by cultures from different places I have been to, and different people I have interacted with. I know when I talk to Kounila from Cambodia about crispy duckling she will understand my craving; that when I talk to Aya from Tunisia about couscous she will understand what I am talking about. And when, for example, I wake up thinking about deep fried plantain I can always turn to someone from Nigeria or Ghana and eat out my heart. Why? Because they get me! But now I am afraid that I will lose the South African experience because it will be overshadowed by this gruesome history that is being written out. I want to remember being in Soccer City Stadium hearing the deafening noise of Vuvuzelas and everyone singing Shosholoza, regardless of whether we know the lyrics or not. I want to remember eating braai with pap as a delicacy – that is something that I never want to forget. But with all the pictures and videos of people being set on fire, I keep wondering which of these memories my mind will choose to keep. I have heard of people that have just canceled trips to the country until further notice. It is sad though that there are attacks on foreigners in South Africa. Whatever the challenges, there should be no reason to shed blood.
But there are also things that make me proud to be an African:
I watched in awe as young people labored to bring the news of the elections into our living rooms through online platforms like Twitter. This generation had taken part in creating history and rewriting it – it is an experience that they could never forget. It was great to see offline and online activism operating in both spheres. The instant networks’ truth of what was happening on the ground tramped all the spin, lies and propaganda of those who may have been seeking to maintain the status quo. Defiant optimism: Yes, change can happen. I was proud to be African at that moment. Happening was a willingness of citizens of one country getting their crooked and venal politicians under control, empowered by new technology and social media just as in the rest of the world.
As we celebrate Africa Day, I would have loved to have more great things to rejoice about and be proud of. But today the bad outshines the good. The good is there – it exists, but we also must talk about and highlight the ills that keep us awake as a continent. And so, I salute all Africans that work tirelessly for the continent – those that carry the spirit of Ubuntu-ism within themselves. Africa is proud of you.