Talking about Africa
One of the biggest bugbears for us here at Essential Curriculum, is when people talk about Africa as if it were a country.
It is a continent of 54 countries, each with a long and complex history, each with multiple cultures and ethnicities and in fact many of the countries we now know do not reflect the original groups and cultures who originally lived on that land, but that is another story.
For some inexplicable reason, the word Africa itself has been given a power unlike any other, to unite billions of people but also to undermine the vast and complex diversity of our continent. For example, when people descirbe something as African, what does that mean? Does it mean from the continent of Africa? Or does it mean indigenous to Africa? And again, which part of Africa exactly? Any country in particular or is this something that is common across many countries in Africa?
This may seem pedantic, but think about it. If someone described a very specific foodstuff from France, would one consider it to represent European cooking as a whole? Possibly not. Often, we even have explanations of the delicacies of different regions in a certain European country. Yet African cuisine is often described as just that. Would the people in Mogadishu really be eating the exact same food as their relatives in Casablanca?
Coming back to the world of books, perhaps it is time to acknowledge that writers come from all over the African continent and their stories will not all be the same. An African writer may write about their life outside of Africa, it could be about their travels, it could be a fantasy or about a made up character. They may not even mention Africa at all!
The geography of Africa and the size of some countries can sometimes be misleading. The vastness of the terrain and the wonderfully intricate and complicated ethnic tapestry means that many Africans have nothing in common with neighbouring countries or even their own compatriots, in terms of language and culture. So please, let’s not put ourselves in one category when it isn’t necessarily accurate. If we stop doing this maybe non Africans can learn from us too ?
We’d love to see more written about East, South, North and West African writers, and celebrate authors from individual countries too. When we all know everything about Brooklyn, Portland and L.A., it is now time to celebrate Lagos, Dakar and Cape Town and many other vibrant cities.
It isn’t that difficult. If the story covers many countries then of course it is an African story. But if the writer focuses on one country or one region, let’s give them the chance to home in on that region and celebrate it for what it is. Not just because it is in Africa.