Why do we persist in feeling astonished every time an uncommonly brilliant innovation, solution, creation emerges from an African brain on the African continent? When this happens (as it frequently does) why do we acknowledge it as an astonishing exception to the rule rather than a norm? This land of ours is the very cradle of humankind. Here, resourceful alchemists have for centuries made magic, medicine, tools, feats of engineering and art from the earth. Why won’t we embrace our own brilliance?
I have fairly often observed relationships which perplex me, which are dependent for their ‘success’ or longevity on a dynamic that requires one party to lead and the other to follow, one to perform and the other to applaud, one to be extraordinary and the other commonplace. One forever in the role of the inferior but admiring friend. And it occurs to me that Africa has been and persists in being cast in this role. That she has been complicit, even, in allowing this dynamic to endure.
I suspect that if we are all perfectly honest, we may be able to admit to ourselves that we have become accustomed to an Africa which (though undeniably exotic) is profoundly admiring of all things Western. An Africa which is second rate, less than, diffident, modest, grateful. Brilliance, sophistication, elegance, genius – those are the domain of our dazzling Western friend in whose shadow we admiringly trail. Our successes unsettle us and lead us to believe that we are imposters. Or that any success is a fluke, a once-off or an outlier. (And when I speak of “us” I include Africans of every colour and gender). We owe it to our ourselves and to our future success as human beings and as Africans to find the self-awareness, strength and tools to unpack this and then to repair it. And in order to do this we must first alter our narrative. Let’s retell our stories.