By Matthew Ayibakuro
In case anyone missed it, Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who plays his club football as a striker for Borussia Dortmund in Germany won this year’s CAF African Footballer of the Year Award; deservedly so too. But unfortunately the headlines following the award ceremony were all about the runner-up, Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure.
In expressing his anger at loosing out on the award which would have been his fifth consecutive CAF African Footballer of the Year Award, Toure resorted to using words and expressions that should be a cause of concern for anyone interested in the perennial controversial issue of portraying the most appropriate image of the continent of Africa and the ramifications of such portrayal.
“Sad”, “lamentable”, “indecent” and “pathetic” were just some of the words Toure used to express his feelings about loosing out on the award. But there was more. According to him, “This is what makes the shame of Africa. To behave in this way is indecent! But what can we do? We Africans, we do not show that Africa is important to us”.
Why This is All Disturbing
Firstly, it must be stated that there is nothing wrong in expressing your feelings about not winning an award. Any rational competitive person in Toure’s shoes should be expected to state their disappointment and work harder to win the next. We have seen Messi and Ronaldo, whom Toure himself referred to in his infamous interview, do that in the last decade or so with the Ballon d’Or. However the manner in which Toure has gone about expressing himself leaves a lot to be desired.
At a sporting level, Toure’s words show an absolute lack of respect for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who won the award, Andre Ayew of Ghana who came third behind Toure and all other African professional footballers. To assume that he is most deserving of the award for a fifth year in a row and failing to recognise the talent and efforts of his peers smacks of a repulsive lack of humility and sportsmanship that has no place in the beautiful game of football.
But if this was all of it, then I would not have spent precious time writing a piece on this issue. After all, this is a player who in May 2014 at the age of 31 ridiculously created a lot of fuss about leaving his club, Manchester City for the failure of the club to mark his birthday “sufficiently”, and only recently took out time to hit out at “disgusting” critics or “beasts” who question his performance this season. To say that he could have acted otherwise in these situations is probably subject to debate; one that I am not inclined to engaging in here and now.
Ramifications of Toure’s Words in the Bigger Picture
His latest interview however appears to suggest that Yaya Toure is either unaware of his position as an ambassador firstly for the people of Ivory Coast and for the continent of Africa in the bigger picture, or he has simply chosen to ignore it. Or perhaps, he just does not understand the ramifications of his words and actions. Whatever the case, to use his failure to win a personal award to cast aspersion on a whole continent is simply inexcusable.
The power of the game of football to promote peace, unity, development and other positives in society is well established. In fact Yaya Toure himself is a Global Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with a particular focus on protecting endangered species like elephants on the continent. However by stating in his interview, and in the third-person too, that “Yaya will look after himself, and let Africa look after itself”, he displays a palpable hypocrisy as an ambassador working for a positive cause in the continent.
His words reiterate the regrettable trend of celebrities and wealthy people using their fame and position to display an ill-informed and displaced concern for the ‘exoticness” of the continent of Africa without the slightest understanding of its people, its history, its successes and real challenges. Only this time it was coming from someone who is African!
Changing the wrong perception of Africa is a challenge that is as serious as any: one that some would argue is over-flogged and yet quite saddening when confronted by. Even now, it is an unbelievably usual occurrence to meet youths from Europe and other parts of the world whose only knowledge of the continent of Africa is about famine and wars and diseases like Malaria and Ebola. The challenge is real but progress is being made. Changing this wrong perception and portrayal is pivotal and this is where global stars like Yaya Toure can be most instrumental.
Alas, at a time when the footballing world is trying to get its head around the corruption scandal rocking FIFA, Toure’s decides to extol “even FIFA” with all its “history of corruption” over the process of awarding the African Footballer of the Year. As I noted earlier, whether Toure’s claims in his outburst are justified or not is secondary, a person in his position should not be the one assisting to smoulder further the image of Africa as if dealign with the ignorance of many in the West and the prejudices of the media is not difficult enough already.
What Being an Ambassador for Africa Entails
Instead of being concerned with crying foul over a personal award, I reckon his time and resources will be best utilised in making a positive impact in his country and possibly beyond. If confused, he can get inspiration and insights from his countryman, Didier Drogba who used his position as footballer to bring peace to a country at war and continues to do wonderful things in Ivory Coast and beyond in confronting the real challenges faced on the continent.
In some way, we are all ambassadors of our individual countries and of Africa. Whilst we progressively confront our challenges, we owe it to ourselves to project a positive image of our homeland at a time when headlines are more receptive of the bad than the good.
Yaya Toure claims that he has often being told that he “shouldn’t worry too much about Africa, because Africa will be the first to let you down”. Well, I am not sure who he is talking to and what continent his informants are from. But anyone who is enlightened would realise that there is hardly a continent flowing with milk and honey these days. I hope that when the dust settles, he would come to the realize how much he has let Africa down.
By Tayo Farai
Cultures will naturally disperse. The world is a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. This is not only true of our contemporary lifestyle but of history itself. Cultural exchange has been an integral part of human civilisation. Africa is no exception.
With Africa however, there is a mist or veil of colonialism which subtly, and in some cases brazenly distorts one’s view of African history and culture. It is a tragedy, this. I cannot even begin to fathom the extent of the damage, the seeds sown by some imperialist agents so many years ago have germinated and grown into the very fabric of our minds.
Of course we are products of western education, without which we would remain ignorant in today’s world. However, let us think outside the colonialism box. We might then perceive western education as the “invention” of the west, brought and benevolently bestowed upon us by the west. After all, they continually made it a point of labelling us “savages” as a result of their limited exposure to the African culture. We don’t hear or read of the accounts of proper interaction with African kingdoms by these western immigrants all those years ago, as often as we hear of their incidental contacts with a few isolated tribes.
Yes, the education thing. Simply tracing the origins of western civilisation from the little I know reveals a gradual cultural migration from the east through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires among many others. We hear of Plato, Socrates and all other lauded names of yore. We read about the scientific, artistic and technological achievements of these great people. Then we continue to follow the “progress” of civilisation through the west. From Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo. From the fabled King Arthur to Isaac Newton. From the establishment of Parliament to the industrial revolution. We are presented with a linear timeline of a specific history. But where is our own timeline as Africans in the midst of all this? Slavery? Colonialism? Wait a minute! How can Africa be an isolated continent?
Throughout the ages of civilisation, it is simply ridiculous to think that apart from the pyramids of Egypt, very little more is known of the timeline of Africa’s history. Like I said, the world has always been a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. Several empires existed in Africa. Art, culture and technology was as vibrant as anywhere else in the world. The great wall of Benin, Sungbo’s Eredo; all great examples of a rich and glorious past. Do check them out. I certainly will!
Education is an integral pillar of any civilisation. As civilisation changed, forms of education followed suit. Obviously we know of wars and the expansion of empires. Some cultures were able to dominate others, thus imposing their systems on the subjugated. It is natural throughout human history. The educational system we have today is the product of centuries of cultural migration and interchange spanning several civilisations throughout history. It is not simply a linear progression through the west. The world is at a state of civilisation as opposed to being at some point on a western defined linear timescale.
It is unfortunate that the account of history we see today is through the veil of western imperialism. It is only natural that contemporary education has spread the world over. In Africa, it obviously came along with western culture. And all its baggage. Don’t get me wrong, every culture has its positive and negative aspects. I just don’t want us to be deceived into thinking we have been “saved” or “liberated” by the west. Absolute rubbish! What pains me most is the callous destruction and plundering of our artefacts those years ago by these so called liberators due to nothing other than selfish interest. Case in point (among several others), the Benin expedition.
Let us discard the notion that modern infrastructure was benevolently bestowed on us by colonialists, as if it was some gracious western gift. We built our infrastructure like everybody else. Unfortunately we are constantly painted a picture through which Africa is perceived to be at the receiving end of charitable technology. The African continent, like the American continent, like the European continent, like the Asian continent comprises individual nations and entities of hardworking people who continue to contribute and share knowledge for the advancement of humanity.
So where is my culture? Cultures will naturally disperse and mingle with other cultures. The world is dynamic. It is a beautiful thing. The English etiquette, Indian food, Chinese proverbs are all reflections of the creativity and rich history of the human spirit. We live in a world where social interaction is at our finger tips. My generation is of the post-colonial Nigeria. We are young and educated. As we explore the world and its ways, we imbibe different cultures and habits. I implore us to continually explore our own culture and history. For by so doing, we explore ourselves.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or’ Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, or ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow,’ ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’, and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.
It is about ten years now since Binyavanga laid down these wise words for fellows like me who are grappling with the challenge of discussing development in Africa to follow. His article is simply witty, mildly aggressive and funny at the same time – a refreshing read indeed.
Overall, the article demonstrates how complex the task of thinking and talking about Africa – knowing Africa – really is. For a continent of fifty-six countries with about one billion people and over 2,000 languages, it would require thumbing through endless literature on politics, economics, history, social science and anthropology to acquire a meaningful conception of the countries and peoples in the continent; some herculean task that would be.
Luckily, you may not have to go through all that stress. Nowadays, there are experts on Africa everywhere very eager to imbue you with their specialised knowledge of the continent. There are those who work for the ‘mother’ development institutions: the World Bank, UN, IMF, USAID, DFID, etc., setting the agenda and trends on what the continent needs to do to develop and alleviate ‘the people’ from poverty. If you are not opportune to meet these palatial people, then you are sure to gain insights from very confident academics working in some specially-funded development department in a Russel Group or Ivy League university. These people know Africa, its economy, politics, culture, problems and they know the solutions too. Some of them have actually been to Africa for a week or weeks, months or on the odd occasion, years. How can we therefore question their wisdom? I humbly don’t.
Beyond the academics, there are also experts who are part of classy think tanks located in one of the many posh capitals of the world thinking and talking Africa. You must have met or at least seen some of these experts. You cannot miss them on CNN or BBC or Aljazeera dishing out wisdom on the continent after some customary disaster in the horn of Africa or at its tail, or perhaps after the visit of a very important leader from another part of the world to Africa – what does this mean for the continent, how many people have died already from the disaster and how many more will die if nothing is done, what needs to be done now to prevent another disaster??? By the time the news anchor says, ‘Thank you for speaking to us”, all the answers are there. Time to move on, albeit leaving behind quite farcical conceptions of the continent that have made campaigns like the one depicted in the picture above imperative.
So, with all these experts guiding our thoughts and opinions, we have come to know Africa. We can also claim to be mini-experts now. We know some of the prognosis of Africa’s problems and can argue the solutions too. For Africa to develop, it has to collaborate with Western countries in trade, investment and technology, etc., so it can also be ‘modernised’ with tall buildings, railroads, and all the other beautiful things. Alternatively, you can argue along the lines of my personal favourite, which you are sure to come across when we mini-experts are talking about Africa – the problem of Africa is the west with its insincere aid, suspect business deals and capitalist corporations that keep exploiting Africa and disrupting its ability to develop on its own. Classic!
About a year ago, armed with the expert-driven knowledge and mentality that we all need to ‘help’ Africa develop, and equally passionate about the development of the continent, I decided my starting point would be to blog about my theories and thoughts about the continent. I was excited about the many things I would write about – how aid is bad for Africa, how financial institutions in western countries are aiding the perpetration of corruption in African countries, how China is suddenly becoming so prominent on the continent and the need to be suspect of their intentions and impact, and my preferred of all, I would blog on the theme of “Africa Rising”.
I needed to do some research. I started with Binyavanga’s article. Perhaps I should not have, as it delayed the commencement of this blog for over a year, but I am glad I did. In the months that followed, instead of writing, I ended up reading more articles and blogs and books, realising all the way how one could easily fall prey to the many undue generalisations, fallacies and (mis) conceptions about the African continent.
So, does starting this blog now mean that I have found the ‘holy grail’ to thinking and talking about Africa? Sadly not. What I found though, is that when we do not take the time to read and think about Africa as Africans, others would and are actually doing the thinking for us. If we do not start talking about this continent and the issues affecting it from our perspective, others will continue to do the talking for us and spoon-feed us their perspectives. It then becomes utterly ridiculous when we turn around to vehemently criticise their opinions when we gave them the initiative in the first place, and put ourselves in an undesirable defensive position.
It is on this note that I invite you to join this dialogue on issues of development in the various countries in the continent of Africa. Perhaps we will find the many answers we seek by talking about the few we now possess. In doing so, we will try, like Kwame Nkrumah posited, to ‘face neither east or west‘ this time around, but ‘face forward’ at all times.