Africa: Our Identity

By Tendai Saungweme

I recall battling with differential equations in high school and vowing they were definitely the hardest thing I would have to tackle in life. Unlike Mathematics which is more of recall and application; defining a complex identity such as that of Africans requires a sophisticated amalgamation of observation, experience and narration.

A lot of dictionaries will tell you that an African is someone from Africa but even for a mediocre English student like me that is just too malnourished a definition. I have heard conversations with people who have the widest imagination of what Africa is. A jungle with wild animals roaming around amidst people. An area where there are slums and poverty stricken people waiting to receive aid from the west. A place where Ebola calls home. When it comes to the human being identified as African, is it the hair colour and texture? The short kinky hair that never grows past the shoulders. Or is it the black tan skin that made former African soccer players get mistaken for baboons in Europe? No single phrase in this world can fully explain Africanism. Many attempts to define the African Identity dwell along the lines of geography, race and dialects. While all these definitions highlight common characteristics of that which is usually coined African they still leave a lot to be desired. Being African goes way beyond where we are born and raised, the languages we speak, the music we listen to, the way we dress and the food we eat. It cannot be completely defined by coarse hair, the amount of melanin in one’s skin, full lips, thick thighs or massive behinds. So then what is it?

The African Identity is a calling to have a heart for Africa. Regardless of all the factors commonly associated with being African, it is the inner will and love for Africa that matters most. There is no better representation of a true African than that of one whose vision, goals, enthusiasm and energy are all channelled towards building Africa and empowering fellow Africans. I for one feel empowered by virtue of having this platform to express my identity. The African Identity is in fact a brand and those who earn it know how to protect it with their lives. I am however disappointed in the way our brand is usually put across by the world.

The system of describing Africa is often incomplete, stereotyped and specious. For years the narrative of African identity has been filtered through the lens of famine, poverty, disease and corruption. I will not on any day try to deny the reality that being African comes with its own struggles. Yes; natural disasters ravage our nations, our people sometimes starve, innocent people die in the streets, funds vanish, diseases break out and our rights are time and again violated but hey; is that all that is there to talk about? Fact is, every continent has its own share of these problems and more, but sadly, there is an international tendency to magnify the problems faced by Africans when in actual fact we are all fighting the same battles.

George Kimbe accurately said, “The only thing dark about Africa is our ignorance of it”. There is just so much more to Africa than the world sees. In this regard, I challenge my fellow Africans to be the torch bearers that will shed some light on our royal identity and get rid of all the dark corners in which the world’s attention commonly lingers.
According to the internet, Africa is the poorest continent in the world with the majority of our people living below the poverty datum line but with all due respect that is rubbish. What the world fails to realise is that we are rich in a way that cannot be measured in monetary terms. To be African means to be rich and hence I call it Af-RICHER. The average amount of money that one spends per day is by no means a measure of one’s life worth. Fact is there is absolutely no point in having everything to live on but nothing to live for.

I get so irritated by the cliché statement that pops up in many movies, “There are children dying in Africa”. Again I cannot deny it but children are dying everywhere. “Children are living in Africa”, let’s put some volume on that. People are living in Africa. We are here and our lives matter. Allow me to take you in on our plenitude.

Africans have the richest culture. The African Cultural Heritage is commendably loaded with inspiration and vitality. Our culture moulds one from within and this is the true root of being African. In Africa we speak of Ubuntu, an ancient Bantu word that encapsulates the idea of shared humanity: “I am, because we all are.” Community, love, respect, hard work, morality and obedience are the highlights of what drives in life. In view of these values, our way of life has cascaded from those who came before us and up to this day remains the centre of our being. Regardless of the current diversity within the continent; the culture lives on and complements modern ways.

We are artistically wealthy. African art brilliantly exhibits the profusion of our culture. Paintings and carvings carry the value and the beauty of our heritage. Our unique music ranging from mbira to marimba among others is not only entertaining but also soothing to the soul. African music is taking the world by storm and lately afro dance has been joining in this train to the top. All these tell a story of a people who will never back down no matter what happens.

To be African is to be a part of a huge family you can always count on so yes; we are rich in family. Africans are typically the ‘brothers without borders’. I always marvel at the way my brothers when watching movies refer to any guy linked to Africa as “homeboy”. That in itself is a constant reminder of our oneness. Lately we have been facing a lot of battles but in unity we stand and shout “Our Lives Matter” because they do. The way in which Africans stand together is evidence that the borders and nationalities that we often cling to are trivial. We are one.

The African brand is accompanied by an elite set of values and ethos that guide us through life and these are reinforced by our never dying spirit to be better. Our deep customs of love and respect knit us all together in a laudable way. All elders are treated as parents and age mates as siblings. It is no surprise to find an adult reprimanding a child to whom they are not related. We believe a child belongs to the community and hence everyone has a special role in moulding each generation. Nods, smiles, waves and greetings to strangers in Africa are not an anomaly but simply a symbol of veneration of our brand.

Rambling about Africa without a mention of Agriculture would be a total injustice. Over the years, Africa has proven to be an agricultural giant. Africa has enormous potential, not only to feed itself and eliminate hunger and food insecurity, but also to be a major player in global food markets. The vast array of our crops is nutritious and keeps gaining popularity among food enthusiasts. This upper hand in Agriculture is made substance through the spirit of hard work that dwells within Africans. Africans never die; they rest, because when they live, they do it to the fullest.

Ask someone about what we get from Africa and they will name you an entire zoo and pages of geography. From savannahs to rain forests; we have it all and our landscapes are hard to ignore. Africa is clearly the mother of nature as evidenced by the abundance of wildlife and vegetation. Clean air and fresh water are some of the perks that come along with our dazzling land. Africa also stands as the source of about thirty per cent of the world’s minerals. You will be shocked by the amount of natural resources that flow from Africa to other parts of the world annually and that in itself shows that Africa is the vertebral column of the world.
Slavery and apartheid often pop up whenever there is mention of our history.

I mean, yes, we took a punch or two but we do not stay down and that’s something. Africans always fight and rise above the tides. Like tennis balls, the harder we are hit, the stronger we bounce back. When I look at Africans I see fighters. I see masterpieces. I see potential. I see the future of the world. I see myself

3 July, 2023