Africa is diverse, which means we have the amazing and the deplorable among our people. I recently came back from a trip to Nigeria, after being away for ten years and was taken aback by what I experienced in terms of the growth, advancement, and technological development. I soon realised that the reason it was such a shock was because I had become desensitized to images, news and information about Africa. I felt strongly that there was no justification for the western media to continue to propagate a negative, de-contextualized stereotype of the continent, particularly as they have the power to re-present certain identities in ways which have a consequential effect.
At the same time, I could not fully join those who constantly maligned media, because I believe more than anything in our personal and communal responsibility to create the image that we want to see represented. However, can this negative stereotype be repaired despite the regular atrocities that are committed against humanity to further an evil agenda? There are despots, wars, famine, Ebola, and the unrelenting embarrassment that is Boko Haram. This group are as skilled in their untenable crimes as they in the game of misdirection; causing terror in the hearts of their victims and confusion in the minds of those watching their heinous acts. It is true that we Africans are often integral to the perception that we elicit and I can find no good rationalization to participate in the typecasting.
I remember addressing a group of Afro Caribbean students during Black History Month where I spoke on the subject of personal responsibility. I spoke to them about their role and responsibility to change the way they are viewed, in the classroom, at work after graduating and generally being a member of the society. I spoke to them about having a responsibility to be ahead of the game, to ask good questions, to study beyond what they are being taught and to have an inquiring mind. The students were young, largely uninterested, many of them just wanted to party. I didn't blame them. Safe in the cocoon of their classrooms, they were yet to experience the real world.
I have found that the more vocal proponents of challenging and changing this image of Africa are the older Diaspora. They are concerned for their children and grandchildren, because they no doubt have the stories to tell of how they have been personally and professionally marginalized because of their heritage. The idea that Africa has been alienated from telling its own stories by the west remains prevalent in the minds of many, yet we often derail ourselves when we control the narrative.
For instance, I attended a dinner recently and the cultural distribution of guests at our table was unequal; swung on the side of Nigerians. There were: two men from East Africa, one from Sri Lanka, two British and the rest were Nigerians. The discussion, to my chagrin, was completely dominated by the cancelled elections, corruption, and the rather shocking statement that the answer to Nigeria's problems was to "kill off all the former presidents and heads of state". Ridiculous.
The Nigeria that I grew up in had its challenges. However, it is the place where I learnt the value of friendship, gained a rich education, and developed a lifelong love for Africa. As a literature student, I became enthralled by my continent, reading in its works of fiction - art imitating life- the stories of struggle, resilience and triumph. I studied South African poetry, East African prose, the plays of Amos Tutuola and Wole Soyinka. It has made me who I am and I will be darned if I deprive my children even a semblance of knowing that.
If I had the opportunity, I would say to my fellow African, as I did the students. You have a responsibility as an African or a person of African origin to use your voice, lifestyle and your great attitude to change stereotypes. You don't need others to do it for you; it is your responsibility. We change the way the world views us, by speaking, acting, and being uniquely ourselves, African.