A tale of two Africas

By | July 14, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

By the middle of the year 2013, the continent of Africa finally put her foot down and said to the world that enough is enough, “We’re taking over the reins of our future and giving voice to our own story.”

Ghana and Kenya took control of their elections, so much so that Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT) monitored international media online, going as far as to use their collective voice to force reporters to validate the veracity of their stories (#someonetellCNN).

Ugandan born Ashish J Thakkar, the entrepreneurial businessman behind The Mara Group and The Mara Foundation recently made headlines for telling Donald Trump off  on his ignorant comments publicly on Twitter.

In the meantime, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo dukes it out with billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, exchanging ad hominems online while Bono gets asked why he thinks he should speak for the “poor African” among the world’s most powerful people. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg of pushback getting louder as globalization and connectivity finally begin to level out that flat playing field so beloved of Bangaloreans and Thomas Friedman.

This is the tale of two Africas.

One, belongs to the NGOs and the philanthropic foundations of charity and goodwill, seeking to uplift the downtrodden even while giving voice on their behalf, relegating them to pitiful images of hunger and misery.

The other, the other belongs to the African herself, grabbing the mic and speaking out loud and strong on what is really needed to be changed on the global platform, be it the lost revenues from taxes as pointed out by Kofi Annan or simply tweeting en masse in order to be heard.

The democratization of technology and the rise of social networks have done far more to empower the everyday African than they themselves currently realize. From a passive acceptance or even, ignorance, of the media’s narratives around Africa’s poverty, hopelessness, disease and backwardness, the instant access granted by the handheld computer in every pocket has also opened their eyes to their image and reputation on the global stage.

Just yesterday, I was requested not to use the term “sub Sahara” by some folks on Twitter, offering up citations and links to articles that pointed out the subtly racist nature of the phrase, whereas I’d been completely ignorant of the baggage and only considered its geography and common usage. But today I find myself conscious in my choice of words and I doubt that I would ever use these words again. All because of a few 140 character tweets exchanged with virtual strangers.

These are only the first drops in the bucket, poised to become a deafening flood of voices, as Africa – all 53 countries, hundreds of languages and myriads of peoples – roars loudly against the misrepresentation and yanks back the reins of her own narrative and agency.

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