On a scale of 1-10 how African do you consider yourself to be?
While pre-occupied with trying to rate your ‘African-ness’ allow me to present to you a scenario. Picture in your mind a muscular, tall and well-built black man, height- close to 2 meters , clothed in a colourful dashiki, nice khaki chino pants and fine brown leather sandals making his way to a nearby bench in the park. As the man settles he starts strumming some sweet African rhythms on his acoustic guitar. Just beside him there is a novel, and as one looks closely you notice it’s another one of Chinua Achebe’s great works of literature. As you are fascinated with this fellow brother you approach him, to try strike a conversation and that is when you notice his English accent that is deeply buried in his native language of Swahili. You also get to realize that he is a well-travelled man who has visited over twenty African countries and is fluent in at least 6 languages, including your very own native language. If the above scenario was actually a mirror of reality, I would probably give this fella a nice 10 out of 10 for his avid ‘Africanism’ if there was ever such a thing as ‘Africanism’.
Now let us go back to where we began, ‘on a scale of 1-10 how African do you consider yourself to be’?
As for me, do I own a dashiki? Well to be honest, no! However, I have always desired to have one, I mean a dashiki is a must have if you African according to the contemporary fashion trends. Can I speak more than one African language? Indeed, I consider myself bi-lingual in my attempts to alternate between Ndebele and Shona though at times my attempts are futile. Do I appreciate and embrace various types of African lifestyles and culture? Of course I do, I mean my music playlist is rife with African music more than that of any other continent, one of my hobbies includes playing instruments and Afro Jazz is my muse. I also do, have quite a number of African friends from other African countries, perhaps about 5 or so which is quite impressive taking into consideration that I have not had much experience on planet earth. It’s too early to judge my travel experiences within Africa however if I was to write this same article a few years later I believe I would have reached my goal to travel to every African country. I think I might have a good rating. Oh snap!!! I do not have dread locks unfortunately. I would probably give myself a nice 7, meaning there is potential to be a ten and you are free to rate me as you see fit. However, the sad reality is no matter how one tries to express their ‘African-ness’ or ‘Africanism’, they might never make the cut for one reason or another, perhaps this lies in one simple question, what is it to be truly African?
A rather simplistic definition of ‘African’ would confine the term to place of birth per se; I mean if that was the case then we would all be a ten out of ten. However, what if I told you that Elon Musk the Super tech guy from Pretoria boys high was born in Africa would you grant him that perfect ten, really would you, the dude has ‘beeeeeeen’ in America for a while now? My point is that, there is more to just birth that brings out the Africanism within an African child; it’s really more than what meets the eye. Boxing true Africanism to dashikis and African novels is rather simplistic. What about the men and women in suits who sit in conference rooms, the strategic brains behind development in Africa strategizing ways and means to make Africa a better place for its inhabitants, what about those who dedicate their lives to extensive research into the roots and heritage of Africa to contribute to the knowledge of Africa’s cultural, social and political history so as to gain a holistic understanding of what true Africanism is, a truth that can be found in its aboriginal state. Don’t these people deserve high ratings despite the fact that their hair is void of dread locks but perhaps is nicely combed or perhaps a Brazilian weave settles on some of their heads? You can also question, hat about the typical modern age child who might not be in touch with his or her African roots but within their blood flows the true spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ displayed in their avid role in society and the community, should we deprive them of that ten?
A certain close friend of mine who is currently studying in the United Kingdom told me about a small incident that occurred while she was in a grocery store in the U.K. She is the typical beautiful black magic girl with dreadlocks. A certain black man approached her and chanted ‘Watagwan Sista!!’ which is a modern age way people from South American islands greet each other. It turned out that the man thought she was perhaps from Trinidad and Tobago or one of those Caribbean islands and to his surprise he was shocked to realise that she is Zimbabwean. No matter how hard she tried to express her African-ness, someone still thought she was from South America. Oh! What about my friend Kirstyn, born in South Africa but she is Chinese? The fact remains that she was born in Africa and Africa is what she knows, hence why she is taking lessons in Mandarin. Then there is my dear friend Chrysta, from Trinidad and Tobago who also regards herself as African, a fact validated by the history of the Slave trade. Finally, there is my dear white Zimbabwean friend, Luke who considers himself Zimbabwean and African before anything else. Luke is passionate about seeing change in his beloved nation and Africa as a whole, a trait I saw when we usually engage in our heartfelt conversations on politics. This brief bio of my friends reveals the fluid nature of Africanism that we at times, take for granted. The result is this, at the end of the day, even though we claim to be one people, we continue to exclude others from expressing and embracing this same ‘Africanism’.
This is what led me to write this piece, perhaps I will never be African enough because I have not made the cut or criteria that was constructed by who knows who. Today I dare myself to challenge the inferiority complex that makes me or anyone incomplete with regards to being African. I believe that at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide and disposition yourself to a conviction that you are African and only you can define yourself that way. Africa is not just a continent, but also the blood that flows within us, it is the food we eat, the beautiful places we travel and see. It is the beautiful and diverse African tongues and dialects that expose our uniqueness as a people. Africa is the different experiences of its people; it could be the beautiful story of Mohamed’s experience living in Cairo or Thato’s story of her experience living in the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, or perhaps Tapiwa’s unique story of growing up as a foreigner in the United States of America. Africa, is the richness of our minerals and innovation found within its people’s minds, their creativity that channels ideas to drive this continent forward. Africa, is our rich heritage and history, yes even the brutal aspect of our history such as the Slave Trade and Colonialism. Today, however, I am glad that I have fellow brethren in ‘Africanism’ from all parts of the world, yes African Americans, African British and the Africans who are in the diaspora, all of you are my blood and I am yours too. Above all Africa is ‘US’, the people and wherever you go you carry that ‘Africanism’, no one can take it away and I am glad that CheckoutAfrica is there to promote that African identity within us. As I conclude never question whether you are African enough because there is no one true measure or standard of African-ness, you are enough as you are, you are African enough.
By Josiel Muroti