Write Now – D.M. Aderibigbe – What We Mean When We Say Africa Is Rising

D.M. Aderibigbe was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He graduated with a BA in History and Strategic Studies from University of Lagos in 2014. His chapbook, In Praise of Our Absent Father is an APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series selection. He has received fellowships and honours from Provincetown Fine Arts Work Centre, The James Merrill House, OMI International Arts Center, Ucross Foundation, Jentel Foundation, Dickinson House, Boston University where he received his MFA in creative writing, and was a recipient of a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship. A graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at UWI, Cave Hill, his essays have appeared in Rain Taxi and Blueshift Journal. His poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, jubilat. Ninth Letter, Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, and elsewhere. His poetry received a 2017 Puschcart prize special mention. His first manuscript is a finalist for the 2015 and 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets.

 

WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY AFRICA IS RISING

 

1

 

“and I think of my brothers with ”black skin and white masks”

( I myself am one heh heh heh)

my sisters who plaster their skins with white cosmetics

to look whiter than the snows of Europe” Syl Cheney-Coker

 

I woke up the other day, took to social media and saw a scholar of African descent arguing over the catchphrase Africa is Rising. According to this scholar, the catchphrase is a façade used to shield the problems of the continent from outsiders by Afrocentrists. To him, Africa, as a matter of fact, is not rising but losing her ability to walk with each passing day. Of course, any African will not need to research to understand what he is referring to, as their daily life (past and present) is a clear mirror to this. Take me for example. My childhood was a combination of constant economic hunger and social hunger. Yet, I was seen by peers as the “rich one” because we had a malfunctioning TV set and an old video player in the tiny one room apartment I shared with my mother and two sisters. And to think that our poor lives (me and those who saw me as the “rich one”) in the Bariga area of Lagos, Nigeria were better off than those of our age-mates who grew up in several war-torn parts of the continent (we witnessed several riots but no war in the Lagos of my childhood), such as Darfur, Juba and other parts of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia among others is a greater testimony to this fact. And even today ongoing wars in Somalia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo (this is a topic for another day) lend further credence to this argument, so yes, I understand where this scholar is coming from.

 

II

“I give you thanks my God, for having created me black,
White is a colour for an occasion,
Black the colour of all days” Bernard Binlin Dadie

 

In my Historiography class as a 3rd year undergraduate student in the History and Strategic Studies Department of the University of Lagos, I learned the thoughts of the Nationalist thinkers of the ’50s and ’60s including Leopold Sedar Senghor, Julius Nyerere, Terence Ranger, B.A. Ogot, and Kenneth Onwuka Dike among others.  One “weakness” in their writings was that of “Narcissistic Illusion,” –in which they painted the continent with all positive colors, neglecting the negative aspect of the land. This narcissism of course has over the years been flogged and flogged by those who see it as covering a serious injury with powder so that passersby will not notice. Who are you fooling, if not yourself? This group will ask. Why not just say the truth, so that the problems can be solved? Certainly, the scholar from the internet who argues that Africa is not rising is part of this group. Again, we see you all. We see where your clouds are stretching from.

 

III

“How can I face such slaughter and be cool?

How can I turn from Africa and live?” Derek Walcott

 

In spite of these views and their undeniable merits, I do not agree that Africa is not rising. As a small-town person, I will approach this from a personal perspective. In my first few months as a graduate student in Boston, I began hunting for fellow African students, grad or not, Afrocentric or otherwise, interested in knowing what they felt about the Motherland. I came across so many. Some first generation Americans, some second generation Americans, some directly from home. I had conversations with them all. These conversations went differently, but one thing was common—the continent was at the center of their heartbeat. This desire, this want for Africa by these young Africans can only be rivalled by those of the Nationalists who fought for independence. But as then, there were way fewer Africans with quality education compared to now. And like we know, population is a potential power.

Walking out of the academia a bit, recent events stemming out of the sports and entertainment worlds have all but added more muscles to my feet. At any point in time, there has never been this rate of European players of African descent who turned down the countries of their birth for their fatherland. Think the 2016 German Bundesliga Player of the year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, think the 2016 PFA Player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, who both had the options of lacing their boots for France, but chose Gabon and Algeria respectively. Think Yacine Brahimi, who like Mahrez picked Algeria over France. Think Kalidou Koulibaly, who picked Mali over France. The list of these world-class players goes on. Even among the emerging generation this precedence is already being followed. Think Alex Iwobi, who picked Nigeria over England. I should sharpen my voice more to emphasize that just two decades ago, none of these players with their abilities and influence—and prospects in the case of the youngsters—would have dared come close to putting on the “cursed” jerseys of their parents’ homelands. Just think Claude Makelele, think Zinedine Zidane, think Patrick Vieira, think Marcel Desailly, think John Fashanu among ocean of others in this latter group. But all hail the sea of consciousness sweeping not just across the continent, but beyond it to Europe, to The Americas, where these stolen ones are being brought back by the retreating water. Where they now understand that Africa is not a stumbling block to success, but rather its original source. Same thing goes for the entertainment industry where we have European and North American singers of African origin now openly proclaiming their Africanness and showing concerns on issues surrounding the continent. Think Belgian artist Stromae, who a couple of months ago shared a picture of himself and his Rwandan grandmother in Rwanda when he was a kid. Think Tinashe, think Emeli Sande, both born to black fathers from Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively and decided to have their African names as part of their stage names because that is their identity. Think Wale, think Jidenna, both called American artists, but have been embracing their Nigerian ancestry loudly (to be sure, see Jidenna’s A Little bit More, and Wale’s Allelu.) Think Nico and Vinz, a Norwegian duo known for their international hit, Am I wrong (shot in the Safari). They titled their album Black Star Elephant, an homage to Ghana (their senior national football team is called Black Stars) and Ivory Coast (their senior national team is called Elephants) where their parents migrated from. Think. Think, is not this development in the music industry an antithesis to previous generations when you had Dame Shirley Bassey, Sade Adu, Tunde Baiyewu of Lighthouse Family, Seal among others whom no one will never know that they had African parents except through research? The same revolution is erupting in Hollywood. Just yesterday, as soon as I logged into Facebook, the first thing I saw on my news feed was a video of David Oyelowo, talking about his frustration at how his name was always being mispronounced. More importantly, he talked about what Nollywood (the Nigerian movie industry) meant to me. “We are about to take over” he declared.  “I’m a proud Nigerian,” he added afterwards. The second statement echoes that of John Boyega of The Star Wars fame. Who declared after being racially attacked for his role in the movie, “I’m a proud black man. A proud Nigerian man.” Likewise, how can we ever forget about the proud African women breathing new life into Hollywood? Think Danai Gurira. Think Lupita Nyong’o. Think Queen of Katwe, the movie about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, which hit the cinemas few months ago from Disney. Think of how this story might have been told without the instrumentality of Lupita Nyong’o especially, and David Oyelowo (if it would have been told at all.) Are you still in doubt? When we say Africa is rising, this is what we mean. The pool of human resources has never been this high. We are not asserting that the continent is free of poverty, wars, diseases and other negatives that have become our last names—of course these are significantly present. But the potentials of the continent as a result of the rise in consciousness are unassailable. Africans who wield so much influence and power in different sectors of human endeavor have come to the realization that the destiny of the continent is also theirs irrespective of their places of birth. As the most powerful person on earth, Barack Obama said on his visit to Kenya last year, “There is a reason I’m called Barack Obama, my father came from this part of the world.”

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