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Time to wake up and start telling our African story

Africa has been the cradle-land for many of the

I recently attended a forum where the speakers reiterated the need to work hard at ensuring the African narrative is not just told, but told well.

They helped us perceive just how badly we were telling our stories by making some inquiries.

“How many of us can name a few brands in the fashion industry in America?” Several hands shot up, while those who couldn’t wait to be picked simply shouted the answers.

There was no shortage in our minds for these examples. She went further and asked about designer perfumes from the west and, again, chorus answers permeated the room.

The sobering moment came when we were asked to name a few African brands in the fashion industry. I got amused, but also terribly embarrassed at the silence in the crowd. I tasked my mind to float a few suggestions, and could only count a few brand names.

“My point exactly,” the speaker said. “I will bring it to your attention that we have amazing talent in Africa across any field you could ever come up with. We have been excelling on many fronts for decades, but we are hardly getting any information out on the gems we have. Our eyes are fixed on the latest trends in other continents while our own wilt right before us.”

She was emphatic about getting her point home. Africa has been the cradle-land for many of the things we enjoy around the world. We are a melting pot for most of the inspiration for story tellers. Our continent, for one, is eye-candy for movie-makers, who make a kill shooting many of the award-winning scenes for their shows.

Just to point out one of my all-time favourite cartoons, it was the lions prowling the pride lands in Africa that inspired the Lion King movie. It fascinated me, but also saddened me in equal measure, that we have all the resources for greatness that others could see, yet we remain almost oblivious to this fact.

We have become comfortable in letting others tell our stories on our behalf, and they are having a field day while at it. Since the piper calls the tune, they get to choose ‘how’ they tell our stories. Your guess is as good as mine on the results of that. Many of the African stories told by the West are overshadowed by war crimes, hunger, poverty and all things dark. What is even sadder about it all is that we, as Africans, have believed and even retold our own narrative based on this skewed perception.

Having come through our fair share of troubles, bad leadership, wars, famine and a pile of many other woes as a continent, it may be difficult to ‘unsee’ it all. We may not even be able to ‘untell’ all the negative and underwhelming sequels.

Yet, we can choose to recognise and appreciate the gems of hope right here, right now. The turning tide in the wake of an arising continent that is gaining a new pulse, cutting-edge innovation that is changing the rest of the world, young inventors on fire to revolutionise their environment, and an African heart pulsating with new hope where it once bled.

So I will not sit back and simply look forward to the day when the African narrative will be told to the rest of the world in its authentic light. We can each start now, in our own small way, to retell it afresh; to promote our own and fiercely protect how the story goes.

The canvas in 2018 is blank, ready for whatever we choose to display there; it’s time to refocus our gaze, adjust our lenses, zoom in and make each African memory memorable.

Truphie Njiru is a publishing consultant, editor and writer.  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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