It’s interesting. Sometimes somebody can say something to you in passing that you never forget. They’ll probably forget it because it wasn’t a statement they actually put together because of it particular potency. They were just expressing a tangent thought or fleeting sentiment with no grander intentions. But for you it’s like an insight into a huge mystery and you can’t forget it.
It’s especially interesting when I comes from a parent, because despite all their efforts to instill in you the values that they actually believe to be essential, it’s those inadvertent words that actually make the biggest impact. That’s what it was like when my dad turned, looked at me and said, “Don’t ever let anyone look down on you because you are an African.”
I don’t remember anything else from that conversation, but those words were pure poetry were to my ears. Partly because the statement was so different from the pacifist exhortations I had grown used to as hearing as a good Adventist. However, apart from that, how could it not be? It was the rhetoric of revolution, like the scream for freedom by Mel Gibson character, William Wallace in Braveheart; or King Leonidas’ “This is Sparta!” in 300. It was defiance in the face of subjugation—a deliberate self-determination. It said, “I am African and that is all I’ve ever had to be.”
Yet that wasn’t the real reason why it stuck with me. It wasn’t the bold defiant statement that he was explicitly making. It was what he was implying—something that I was only beginning to understand. It was much quieter, more earnest voice about who he was and as a result who I was. African. A people whom history hasn’t been very kind to. At least not the history that we are constantly presented: the oppression, poverty, diseases, and massacres.
Now, I’m not saying that we don’t have bright spots in the African story. Of course we have triumphs and goddamnit, we are proud of them. Like the way we celebrate independence—have you heard our songs? Nkosii sikelel iafrika! And you should have been in Kenya when Obama won the presidency. Jay-Z is black and his May Bach is too, so we wear New York Yankee hats and rap his lyrics. We are pretty convinced that we do Western religion better than the West. And you can’t even begin to tell us that the ancient Egyptians were not black. But these are just statements and this is what we are saying: “Don’t let anyone look down on you for being African.” We are really implying something else.
I think I’m finally beginning to understand the implications and I find them quite sobering. True, the implications are not very loud, but they are deeper. They aren’t celebratory, but they are earnest and they remind us that there is still a work to be done, that the revolution isn’t complete. When everything is said and done, it is these invisible, inaudible words that actually drive the real and lasting changes.
So as an African, understanding that the revolution isn’t complete is important, especially as an African in the 21st century. Because at this moment in history, I see a world that is undergoing a fundamental change. The power systems that have determined the global politic-economic direction, once thought to be indomitable are being unsettled. And the engine behind all of this is the digital revolution. I am anticipating a new world emerging, with new rules and new ethics and new leaders. I’m not alone in this either—some of the most eminent economists, political scientists, and technologists are also singing the same tune.
It’s with this in mind that I want to explore where Africa belongs in this brave new world. I want to see whether we can rewrite our history, and I’m going to bet a shiny penny that come out a stronger, more united, more just and more prosperous Africa. I can’t help but hope that our generation can finally complete the revolution that our forefathers began so many years ago: a deferred revolution of sorts.