Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
IT’S quite refreshing that many Africans — both black and white — have refused to submit to Eurocentrism, where all things from the West are viewed in utopian terms in which everything is projected as perfect, on the one hand, while, on the other, everything from Africa is looked at as dystopian or is associated with great suffering or injustice.
For one, Senegalese-American singer, Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam, better known as Akon, while speaking at an event for hundreds of African youths last month, made thought-provoking observations, saying that Africa is better than the United States in many ways, but that Africans are not telling their story.
“The images they show about Africa are so negative. This is conditioning what we believe. Africa has a rich story too. More people died in Chicago, more school shootings in America,” he said.
Akon stated that the US seems like the greatest country on earth because filmmakers, directors and even the media seem to pass out only positive stories about the country and water-down the negative, but that Africans are not telling their own story.
The renowned singer said to counter that, Africans need to start telling their positive stories to their children and help curb the spread of negative news about the continent to the rest of the world.
Well, this resonates with earlier observations made in the Zimbabwean context by Cynthia Marangwanda, a young Zimbabwean woman, who is a proud — not self-disparaging — African.
Not only that, she has also identified the factors behind that proverbial selling of the soul to the devil: filthy lucre. Yes, people are being persuaded to do things — especially bad things — because of the money or other rewards they will receive for doing that.
Says Marangwanda: “Donor funding is killing arts in Zimbabwe. We need to get our economy fully functional again so that artistes are not forced to work on projects with themes like HIV and Aids, poverty and child marriage just to make a living. Our artistes deserve the creative licence to create freely from their souls and not feel pressured to create work that pushes a Western stereotype of Africa.”
Indeed, we should not perpetuate Western stereotypes that lump and objectify Africans. Africa needs people with such consciousness to take its place as an equal among other peoples. A Eurocentric concept of Africa cannot explain the ways of Africa and vice-versa.
Some sections of the private media in Africa have also shown sickening deference, docility and obsequiousness to the Eurocentric ideas of media freedom to the point of being dystopian and even racist against themselves, accepting, for instance, without really thinking the annual so-called Press Freedom Index compiled by the Western-centric Reporters Without Borders, which routinely finds that there is a deficit of Press freedom in Africa and a surfeit of it in the West.
But, how factual on the ground are these findings by Reporters Without Borders? Don’t private newspapers criticise and draw cartoons — some of them inflammatory and provocative — of President Emmerson Mnangagwa day in day out and nothing happens to them? You find cartoonists based in Zimbabwe who have made prosperous livelihoods from drawing caricatures of former President Robert Mugabe and now his successor Mnangagwa, saying there is no Press freedom in Zimbabwe. That’s a glaring irony.
Besides, don’t some newspapers seem to make it a point day in day out, week in week out to lead with reports that are mostly uncomplimentary and hostile to the government and ruling party? Doesn’t that show media freedom in operation?
As one can see, besides filthy lucre, what is in short supply in Zimbabwe are journalists who are up to date with current affairs and modern history and know how to localise and apply that knowledge. Those Western journalists who pointed out the lies behind reports that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — which was used as a pretext to invade Iraq in 2003 — were labelled traitors by government officials and the mainstream media.
Observes Stembile Mpofu: “I think the Western establishment has finessed their control of their journalists. Those who tell the real stories are ostracised and can never find success in the mainstream. They will never be given the space.”
As for African authorities being accused of harassing local journalists, those with knowledge of current affairs know that whistleblower website Wikipedia founder Julian Assange and his lawyers are also saying that he was a victim of State harassment when he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorean embassy in London by the United Kingdom authorites and arrested last month, and then jailed for a year, and after release, will face deportation to the US, where he could be jailed for life. And recent history shows that former US President Richard Nixon harassed Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to intimidate them from exposing his Watergate Scandal in the early 1970s.
Furthermore, those singling out African leaders as being secretive about their private lives as militating against media freedom, citing Mugabe’s refusal to provide his health record to the media, ought to know that US President Donald Trump instructed his own doctor to falsify his health records. Up to now, the American media and the American public do not know Trump’s true health status.
No wonder Mpofu has observed: “I am always very wary of these type of media surveys. They are part of the propaganda used to make some societies look worse than others . . . There is likely more Press freedom here than in the US. But the statistics will always tell us that we are worse.” On point.
As observed by acclaimed Pan-Africanist Kenyan academic, Professor Patrick Lumumba, we should not let foreigners appropriate and then misappropriate the essence of who we are. Says Lumumba: “Those who claim to be experts on Africa are in many cases not African and, therefore, when they write about Africa, they write about it as if it was an object of curiosity. If you listen to former colonial states in their unguarded moments speak about former colonies, they still speak of them as if it were still their territories. And if they are speaking to them, they speak at them in a very condescending way.”
Yes, why should the Piers Pigous of this world posture as the foremost authorities on African politics? Why should Western-centric organisations impose themselves to declare what’s good and what’s bad for Africa? Africans should discard this Eurocentric mindset which falsely paints us as inherently undemocratic. We should stop aping the West and find our own niche in the world like the Chinese did with great success.
The West, which includes Europe and the US, “behaves as if they have a divine right to tell Africa what to do, and unfortunately, Africans also behave as if they have a divine duty to listen to what they are being told,” added Lumumba.
Yes, it’s time to slap on the wrist those cringing yes-men and sycophants among us so that they wake up from worshipping and aping the West.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org