A lie told often becomes the truth.
Africa is leaving proof of the above statement. Being away from the country and outside Africa has exposed me to one thing, that blankets a lot of small things: misconceptions about Africa are outrageous. Hear me out.
When I got to America, I remember a classmate who, I’m sure meant well, asking me how I could afford tuition in America. Going to college in America is expensive. Attending graduate school in America is twice as expensive. When she asked, I, harmlessly asked why she was worried over my paying tuition. We weren’t very close and I had only known her for a solid week. She explained that she had seen images and videos in her country from certain Non-governmental organizations that were asking to donate money to ‘help salvage the plight in Africa‘. The said videos were accompanied by shots of children sitting in filthy water, flies on their faces , eating off the grounds….just pitiful content. Content with music that could make you shed a tear or to, if you are super faint at heart. I explained to her that I had worked for an NGO, with a similar mission, back in Kenya, and I did not relate to what she was talking about. She proceeded to show me one example of the video and My God, you wouldn’t blame her curiosity as to ‘how a person from Africa could afford tuition in America’. In the course of the weeks (to this date still) I get hit with such questions based on my saying, ‘Oh I’m from Kenya’ such as:
‘Do you speak English?’
‘I am going to talk very slowly for you to understand what I am saying’
‘I thought people from Kenya were super black. Why are you light skinned?’
‘How come you have such good English?’
‘Do you know Obama?’ (For the nth time, Just by name.)
‘Do you know how to read and write? Should I show you how to sign?’
‘What is the horrible story that you went through for you to come to America?’
I won’t name all of them. Let’s talk about the danger of a single story instead.
Kenya just had its election. To be honest, I did not know what to expect from it. The only coverage that I got was from my family, a cousin’s WhatsApp group page, Facebook and Twitter updates. My biggest concern really was not on who was going to be voted in or out of office, rather on the coverage that the election would get, ESPECIALLY FROM THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA. Why? Just before Kenya held its elections, fellow African country, Rwanda held its elections too. As with the rest of the world, I was keen to follow on what was happening in the country. This, despite my only knowledge of its political leaders being limited to Paul Kagame. I am still moved by the Rwandan Genocide to date, in spite it happening even before I was born. I still cry every time I watch the movie Hotel Rwanda and read Left to tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Though the election attention on Rwanda has significantly reduced, analysts from across the world have to synthesize every little thing about the nation. Nothing new there. What caught my attention was tweets from certain heads of Human Rights’ agencies that camp in Africa that would criticize the hashtags used to spread peace in the country by its citizens. These tweets were quick to call the citizens ‘trolls who spread peace against criticism of the country’s murderous dictatorship‘. The replies to the tweets were rudely stunning with people, not Africans if I may add, calling for another war in the country, or ‘nuking Africa and having white people colonize the continent to make it beautiful‘. It was baffling. I prayed to God that they wouldn’t give attention to the Kenyan elections.
Like I mentioned earlier, Kenya just concluded its elections. Just before it began, I exercised my limited patriotic duty and posted on my social media accounts, asking the Western media not to spread false and doctor any images telling the world that Kenya is at war. (I don’t have that wide of an audience reach yet.) Why doctored information? In 2007/2008. Kenya witnessed a harrowing post election violence that led to the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more from their homes.
I have never seen an election where ‘international observers’ were this involved in the country. Never. Of course, you expect bodies like the African Union or the East African Community to say something about the elections. That is one thing on its own. It is a another thing to go online and see foreign media pages that you may or may not follow have negative thing(S) to say about the elections in a country. Literally before the voting process began, a number of international media agencies were already tweeting of ‘Tensions high in Kenya‘ accompanied by archive images of people at war from the 2007/2008 post election violence in the country. LITERALLY. Of course there will be tension. Why use an insensitive archived picture though? Some would even have their own total counted votes and a ‘predicted winner‘, one different from the one the body conducting the elections would have. Let us not forget about the opinions of the analysts comfortable in the homes and offices in the west about the country, many on why Kenya was ‘better off being under a British regime in the colonial days‘. And how is going back to the colonialism days a good thing? Isn’t that why we have history classes and books? To remind people of the terrible wars and slavery that African kingdoms were put through?
I am still confused by how people can go to a completely different country and already have an opinion of how its people should leave. I mean, we don’t go abroad and start dictating things. I consider myself very luck to be in America, a country giving me a chance to fulfill dreams I barely knew I had. And I do it whilst respecting its people and its way of doing things despite me having personal opinions. It is considered common courtesy. Why say that the place you currently reside in should be destroyed? What emboldens such recklessness about people’s lives simply because it is Africa?
What irks me is the constant need for the international media to want to paint Africa in such a negative light. Think about it. The media tells you what to think and what to think about. I watched one and their coverage was ‘Politicians in Kenya use helicopters to travel during the campaigns‘ proceeding with a long clip of a helicopter landing somewhere and people looking so happy. I am not going to comment on whether this is a good or bad thing. Don’t politicians worldwide have helicopters and other means of extravagant travel though? When it is used in an African nation context, suddenly it is the biggest and worst deal. I make a habit of reading the comment section, most of which leaned towards ‘No wonder they are so happy, they have never seen planes before!’ or ‘What a hellhole‘ or ‘This is where my donation goes to‘. No wonder the rest of the world thinks Africa and its residents are dirt poor, uneducated, starving folks who need salvation from the West. The one consolation that I got was from fellow Kenyans online who would unite and explicitly shame such content. Not blindly, of course, by presenting their own alternative facts with pictures of them living their lives or the information that they knew was true.
What baffles me is the attention that this particular election got from the international community. I’ve been told it is because of Barack Obama. Huh. Others say it was because of the presence of John Kerry in the country. Yeah and? The reason I am closest to be convinced by is because of the 2007/2008 post election violence in Kenya. I don’t find this entirely plausible because that happened ten years ago. While wounds and memories never fade, I don’t think the metric of any elections in the country should be conducted on ‘because of what happened in 2007’ ENTIRELY.
Fellow Africans, we are the watchdogs of our own stories. Stories for and about us.
Have you watched the TedX Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on ‘The danger of A single story’? If not, I would encourage it. The Danger of A Single Story.
You are welcome.