Wednesday, June 4, 2014

5 Things Not to Say When You are in Africa: A guide for White Travellers


Don't do this, ever!


I have had the opportunity to travel to various parts of Africa, or as my mom would say: "wander across deserts and jungles." It's okay, she's African.  In my travels, I have come across of great number of white people looking for an adventure or looking to save the continent from one perceived catastrophe or another.

All of which is fine depending on how it is done. What has always shocked me however is how ill prepared many white travellers are for traveling through predominantly black countries. This lack of preparedness leads some to make statements that are culturally inappropriate at best and downright rude at worst.

But no worries, below, I highlight some of these shocking statements and assumptions and explain why they are inappropriate and offensive so that the next time you go to Africa you will avoid saying these things. 


1) "Now I know what it feels like to be a minority"

Actually, no, you don't. On the surface, this statement could be true. Being one of the only white people in "The Heart of Darkness" technically qualifies a white person as a minority. What is not true, however, is how many people mistakenly believe that because they know how it feels to be "different" means they now automatically know what it means to be racialized or marginalized. Being a minority in the American context means that historically (and presently) your racial/ethnic group was subject to systemic, legal and institutionalized  marginalization. In Africa, there is no history of white people being subjected to that. In fact, it is the exact opposite, white Europeans subjected black (and Arab) Africans to imperialism, colonialism and slavery for centuries. So, though it is true that being in Africa makes a white person a minority because of your skin color, it does not automatically mean that you now know what it is like to be black, native American or any other marginalized minority group throughout the world.

2) "I don't see race here, everyone is so nice!"

Well, just because you don't see it doesn't mean that it is not there. Race in Africa takes on very different characteristics than it does in the United States, however, the privileges that come with whiteness are universally recognized and understood even in Africa. People in Africa  are nice to visitors because they want you to have a great experience. Their "niceness" does not negate their blackness. Most importantly, the fact that you are saying you don't see race "here" because everyone is so nice implies that you believe that black people by nature are hostile and unfriendly. You should work on reconciling your prejudices towards black people before going to Africa. You should also work on figuring out what it is about YOU that may make some black people unfriendly to you. I remember a woman telling me this when I was in Kenya and I will never forget how disgusted I felt.

3) "Wow, you speak such good English!"

*Everyone rolls their eyes" As a consequence of colonialism, many African nations have been introduced to European languages and many speak it as though it were their native language. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find Africans that speak 5-7 other languages fluently in addition to speaking a European language. The problem with expressing surprise at the fact that a person in Ghana/Nigeria/Kenya etc speaks fluent English or that a person in Togo or Senegal speaks excellent French is that it 1) illustrates your lack of knowledge about the history of the country and 2) implies that you didn't expect "these people" to be capable of speaking European languages.You can see why that might be problematic. If you do catch yourself making this statement rest assured that at least one person is muttering hilarious profanities in their language towards you in response to your ignorance.

4) "Everyone is so happy here even though they have so little"

Please don't use other peoples suffering as a foundation for your spiritual awakening. Like most people around the world, Africans are generally hospitable to visitors.They are also proud of the village, town or city they grew up in or currently reside in and try to make visitors feel welcomed and embraced in their communities.  Do not use their friendliness to support your "spiritual awakening" to the fact you could be happy without all your material possessions. Many poor people suffer from a great deal of economic instability that causes them incredible amount of anxiety. Asserting that they are much happier than you despite their limited possessions can be insulting and as it belittles the harsh economic difficulties they face.


5) Assuming you now know everything about Africa

Despite what celebrities like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney might have you believe, spending time in Africa or studying genocide in a particular region of Africa does not make you an expert on all things Africa. When you come back from Africa, share your experiences in a way that highlights the fact that you are speaking only about the specific region or country you visited/lived in. Do not make broad statements such as "when I was in Africa" etc. Otherwise, you will just look like a colonialist and that is not a good look. I have met far too many people who go on one visit to a particular country in Africa and come back thinking they know everything about the African continent and its people. Even with all the traveling I have done throughout Africa and the years I spent studying/living in various parts, I also try really to be conscious of the fact that in the grand scheme of things, I know next to nothing about the vast continent.

Friday, May 2, 2014

How to get involved in the "Bring Back Our Girls" Campaign






Two weeks ago, a terrorist group known as Boko Haram kidnapped almost 300 school girls in North Eastern Nigeria as part of their effort destabilize Nigeria and make it ungovernable. In addition to the kidnapping they have also been responsible for mass shootings of University students and bombings all across the northern region of Nigeria. It is speculated that this part of their effort to ensure that Goodluck Jonathan is not reelected in the upcoming 2015 elections.

I admit, when I first heard of these kidnappings, I failed to comprehend how much of a tragedy it actually is. Yet, as the news poured in and I saw pictures of the marches and protests staged by women in Nigeria under the banner "Bring Back Our Girls" I began to understand the devastation that this has had on so many families. I also keep thinking about all those girls and the unspeakable horrors they must be going through.

In all this, I was amazed by the lack of media coverage of this issue and the Nigerian government's inability to protect its citizens. Its children.

Though I don't really know how much it will do in terms of bringing these girls home, I still believe awareness is important so I have posted videos and articles below to provide you with more information about this tragedy and how you can get involved.

There are protests and marches in various parts of the country and you can find some information about one of them on the poster below. Please share with your friends in the NYC area. You can also sign this petition. You can also post these posters on facebook and other social media platforms to raise awareness about this very important issue.

Here are some links with important information about Boko Haram and the recent kidnappings:

http://africasacountry.com/our-hearts-are-bleeding-we-are-mothers/
http://africasacountry.com/who-is-boko-haram-and-how-did-they-come-to-be/

Stay informed. #BlackGirlsMatter. Lets beat our war drums for them.



Monday, April 7, 2014

News Brief: Nigeria becomes Africa's largest economy, overtakes South Africa





‪#‎Nigeria‬ surpases ‪#‎SouthAfrica‬ to become Africa's biggest economy after  it overhauled its gross domestic product data for the first time in more than two decades (Guardian) 
But most Nigerians are not impressed:

"I'm not really impressed. I don't feel it in my pocket... It's not the masses who are rich," said Richard Babs-Jonah, 47, a small farmer, expressing the common view that Nigeria's economy is rigged in favour of a handful of well-connected oligarchs.

"Those controlling the economy, those with government contracts, get all the money." 

Despite its consistent growth in recent years and now a bigger GDP, Nigeria still trails South Africa in basic infrastructure - power and roads - necessary to lift its people out of poverty. However, Nigeria's new position is expected to enliven competition for investor capital at a time when South Africa faces challenges such as striking workers and high current account and budget deficits.

Interesting fact: As cheesy as its movies are, Nollywood, Nigeria's film industry makes up 1.4% of the country's GDP


African Imports