Why Africa's International Image Is Unfair
Let us imagine that Africa was really like it is shown in the international media.
Africa would be a country. Its largest province would be Somalia.
Bono, Angelina Jolie and Madonna would be joint presidents, appointed by the United Nations.
European aid workers would run the Foreign Affairs Office, gap year students from the UK the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Culture would be run by the makers of the Kony2012 videos.
‘Wholesome and ethnic’
Actual Africans would live inside villages designed by economist Jeffrey Sachs.
Those villagers would wear wholesome hand-made ethnic clothing, dance to wholesome ethnic music and during the day they would grow food communally and engage in things called income-generating activities.
For our own protection, American peacekeepers and Nato planes would surround the villages - making hearts and minds happy and safe.
We would give birth to only one baby per couple - this way we would not overwhelm poor, suffering Europeans with our desire to travel outside our villages and participate fully in a dynamic world.
We would not be allowed to do business with the Chinese and we would not be allowed to do business with the country formerly known as Gaddafi’s Libya.
Africa would discover the child in itself, and stop trying to mess around and be a part of the rest of the world.
How to Write about Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina, GRANTA 92.
A classic on maintaining colonial representations:
“Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.”
“I decide to spend some days travelling around, to avoid my parents, to follow a road and think about things other than what is wrong with my life. What a wonderful thing, I think, if it was possible to spend my life inhabiting the shapes and sounds and patterns of other people. ”—
Binyavanga Wainaina | One Day I Will Write About This Place (2011)
Saw him read from his memoir at the Farafina Workshop closing event in Lagos’ Eko Hotel on Saturday night. He is hilarious and has a way of seeing the world that’s so thrilling and strange that it makes you want to climb into his skin. Spending time reading his beautiful writing is the next best thing.