There are perceptions or views of some individuals about a place or a people you may not be able to change. The kind of perception that comes with a mild mixture of confident arrogance and awesome ignorance. The default position may be as a result of the messages and the images they have absorbed from western media. So, there are ways to tell African stories to non-Africans, in a beautiful rendition that may massage their ego. Let me give some sort of unsolicited advice to Africans who may like to save their strength or conserve their energy when they meet a non-african that is adorned with a stereotypical close mindedness.
First of all, don’t argue about Africa being a continent with fifty-four countries of over 900 million people of diverse tongues and tribes. That’s not necessary. You may be wasting your time. Just agree that Africa is a country, and relax. They ought to have studied the names of the continents and countries in primary or elementary school.
They may ask you if you speak Africa, whatever that means, don’t flare up or fly off the handle, but in a sweet retaliatory interrogation, ask them too if they speak European or American or Asian. Never bother to tell them, Nigeria alone has over four hundred languages. You will only trouble them to a point of giving you a free lecture on the differences between language and dialects. So, just smile and give them a thumps up, when they say, it is not possible for a country to have that number of languages.
They will ask you about lions and elephants and monkeys and chimpanzees. Whether they roam on your street or in your local community. Don’t tell them, you saw lions and elephants the first time your school went on an excursion to a zoo in a city, or on a family vacation. No! Tell them, your pets include lions, elephants and some beautiful apes, that your grandfather gave you on your last birthday. In fact, tell them that your personal lion is so harmless and romantic that it sleeps on your bed. They will be frankly fascinated and ask some more questions. But don’t reveal all the alternative truth they want to hear, let them use their imagination to visualize the possibility. By the way, we are all born with ability to imagine.
When you are in a group discussion about Africa, lead the conversation on topics of poverty, corruption, diseases, starvation, female genital mutilation and the terrible patriarchal tendencies of many African men who enslave their wives and deny their daughters education. That’s what they have heard in the media, that’s what intrigues them, that’s what they will believe. For those too emotional, you may see them shedding meaningful tears and asking you on how to set up a charity organization in Congo or Benin Republic or Burundi. In fact, they will begin their charity by giving you a lot of their used clothes and shoes in a pitying gesture. You may be embarrassed, but don’t reject it. You can give it back too as charity to their few homeless citizens. Every prosperous country also has poor people.
However, deep in your mind, you know the truth but what you may not be able to correct is the alternative truth that has been misrepresented for years. So, save yourself some energy and listen to them and wear a small insincere smile.
But what if your non-african interrogator knows about the numerous software developers and programmers in Lagos and Nairobi, creating amazing apps and programs or the scientists and technologists in Johannesburg and Kigali that are attracting global attention or the ambitious youths who are creating their own reality with grace, grits and guts, even in the face of hardship.
You may not bother about telling him how many Nigerian doctors, engineers or university teachers and other professionals that have been taken away by the western world, and are contributing immensely to the growth of their host countries.
You don’t need to talk about the growing entertainment industry in Africa, a typical example is the Nigerian movie industry, which is the third largest in the world. They may ask you not to confuse quantity with quality but you know the truth of the movie industry as one excellent example of most loved, home made products.
Better still, you don’t need to make any annoying comparison such like, Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the U.S is less beautiful than Capetown, South Africa, or Lekki-Lagos, Nigeria is more beautiful than Baltimore or Sacramento in the U.S and the list goes on. So, to avoid an unending lecture about Africa, tell them what they have known and leave them to find out for themselves, things they refuse to know. And that’s how to tell African stories to non-Africans that are stereotypical.
By: Theophilus Enemali ©2018