With all that is happening in today’s world, and with all the rapid technological advancements by humankind, Africans find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. It is now viewed as retrogressive to fully embrace all African ways of existence that predated the advent of colonialism. And it begs the question – what does it mean and entail to be truly African?
A short trip into history will reveal to us how the imposition of the European religion of Christianity meant everything African was bad and evil. Imperial domination from the days of the slave trade to the days of colonialism resulted in African lives and culture being stolen from its people to the point that it became the new normal despite the despicable depravity. The aim of stealing culture from the African peoples was to alienate them from everything that represented their worth and being so that dignity and self-respect would be attached to European civilization.
With their religions criminalized and viewed as backward, paganistic, barbaric, and devoid of etiquette, Africans absorbed the ways of the Europeans as they were assimilated into the modernity of the towns, cities, and institutions created by the colonizers. Material possessions defined by the colonizers became the new symbols of individual success. Capitalism became the order of the day as the cheap, almost free labor of Africans was exploited.
Fast-forward to the post-independence epoch, you still find atomized individuals who are confused and misguided because of the vicissitudes of neoliberal capitalism. This strand of capitalism is markedly defined by high levels of individualism, narcissism, consumerism, and superstition/religious fanaticism.
All of this works to diminish what it means to be African. And in all honesty, it is hard being truly African in the contemporary world. It is difficult for one to strictly adhere to African customs and values not adulterated by European Christianity without being labeled in derogatory terms. It is difficult for one to completely view their rural areas with the positivity they accord to their urban dwelling. It is difficult for one to imagine a future without an individual car or sending their children to private, expensive schools (former colonial schools for that matter).
Or to even revere original African instruments of music such as the thumb piano (mbira). Or to properly respect one’s ancestors and building statues in honor of them around towns and rural areas. Everyone has become so Westernized, faster than the West itself, and African ways are denigrated in extremely repulsive ways. Social media has destroyed the true African sense of esteem as people become malleable to Western standards of existence, that does not apply to African contexts where more pressing matters preside. These may read like the same issues being repeated time and again, but the effort to do so is worth it. Because Africans are losing themselves to the external world. The originality of Africa is being denigrated at the altar of money. It cannot simply be wished away but calls for more action.
And these questions surface again – what does it mean to be an African and is it hard being African these days? Perhaps the more we attempt to answer these questions, the more meaningful and inclusive development we create for everyone on this continent. Perhaps it means the more equitable distribution of wealth and reduction of the glaring inequalities dividing this beloved continent.