Community, Diaspora and Immigration

An “African-American” Speaks on Africa

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“The curse of Africa…” he began, “is that we were able to escape and come here and be successful. We the African Americans made it”.  Cursed?   Hmm, I thought.  The African-Americans, descendants of slaves are successful, and the Africans are cursed.   The African-American brother in the popular Washington, DC restaurant continued, relentlessly criticizing “The Africans”, and how their entrepreneurial pursuits from 400 years ago, contributed to our being sold into slavery.  “They are mad at us for having made it after what they did to us”.  His cursing of Africa continued, with his opinion of shame to Africa that because of ethnic tensions between the Luo’s and the Kikuyu’s, “Barack Obama could not even be elected in his own ancestral land of Kenya”.


My head spun, as I began to process how I would refute his arguments.  African Americans made it? Based on what?  And more importantly, why would we compare the African American situation to Africa, a continent rich in minerals and resources that the world depends on, yet poverty stricken overall as a result of economic exploitation from the world powers of the developing world.  And by what means was the African American representing those who “made it”.  Ask a young brother or sister in the ghettos of Washington, and they might have a different perception of the concept of “made it”, and the impact it may have on their future.  As an African-American who has lived and worked in Gabon, and Senegal, and who has traveled to various parts of the African continent, I have never thought of Africa as a continent that is cursed.  Conflicts? Yes.  Corruption? Yes. Unexplained poverty (or shall we say “incomprehensive”)? Yes. But beneath all of these complex issues related to Africa’s development that are constantly brought to our attention through media exploitation, lies a continent of beauty and strength, and a people who are interested in contributing to its development, and advancement.  To say that Africa is cursed, is too easy a concept to embrace.   


There has been a long standing often unspoken opinion of Africans by African Americans (for the purposes of this essay, I am referring to those of African descent whose forefathers were slaves and freemen in the US) that Africans see themselves as better than “us”, and as a result, look down upon us.  It is this position that has, in my view, prevented the creation of dialogue that has been needed to inform and educate both groups of each other’s culture as it relates to where there is cultural commonality, adaptation, and where they diverge.  My belief has always been that an Africans’ negative view of African Americans has been based upon ignorance, and the fear that African American culture is only represented by what is portrayed by the media.


To relegate Africa as a place that is cursed, and that cannot exert power over its own future, is to be ignorant of those Africans both within the continent, and outside Africa who are creating businesses, development programs, and investment opportunities to create a sustainable environment, and to initiate growth in the area of human development.  An example of this can be found in Carol Pineau’s documentary film “Africa Open for Business (www.africaopenforbusiness.com)”, a visual journey, where the world is informed of people like Adenike Ogunlesi of Nigeria, founder of Ruff ‘N’ Tumble children’s clothing, Michael Kijjambu, owner of Uganda’s 1000 Cups Coffee House, and Pierre Sauvalle, of animation design studio Pictoon, based in Senegal.  There are others featured, who are revolutionizing the telecom and banking industries and mobilizing resources to create business and development opportunities on their own soil.  
There are other examples of members of civil society in Africa who have taken action towards sustaining their own development through organizing, and creating their own opportunities.  All one has to do is use the internet to research information about the mobilization of citizens, and their impact in their home country.


It is important to note, when discussing a pre-conceived notion of a “curse” of Africa, that within the past 400 years, much has occurred in Africa that has deterred its economic, social, and political development that was not completely self-imposed.  Walter Rodney, in his 1973 landmark publication “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, outlined the implications of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on the human and economic development of Africa, based on the fact that its’ human population was decreased, citing its implications on both a pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa.  I believe that Mr. Rodney was on point with his analysis of African development when he espoused “The question as to who and what is responsible for African underdevelopment can be answered at two levels…the operation of the imperialist system bears major responsibility for African economic retardation by draining African wealth and by making it impossible to develop more rapidly”.   Speaking specifically to the Africans role in the TransAtlantic slave trade beginning in the 16th century, Rodney notes that Africans initially aggressively resisted the Europeans attempt in forcing them to participate, namely Congo, Benin, Angola, and others.  However, through coercion, isolation, and forced control of the smaller and politically divided African states, the Europeans were able to benefit from the trading of human cargo with the assistance of African leaders.  The author goes further into analyzing the contribution of both European and African leaders who have participated in the exploitation of Africa’s resources within an international capitalist arena.  


It is not my intention to ignore the atrocities that some current and past dictators and governments have committed against their own people, and the wars and violence that have been initiated on African soil, often with the assistance of European, Asian, and American involvement.  It is also not my intention to make Africa out to be a mythological haven where everything that is inherently “African” is good, or positive.  My desire is to simply initiate an internal dialogue that allows one to examine Africa, its development, and its relationship to the rest of the African Diaspora in an objective fashion, while taking into consideration its global context historically, and within the present moment.   


In the end, it was revealed that all Mr. “the curse of Africa” wanted was an apology.   He wanted an apology by Africans for their participation in the MAAFA or TransAtlantic Slave Trade, which has, on many levels, disconnected us culturally, socially, and spiritually from our ancestral homeland.  Anger and rage came from not understanding Africa and its complex systems, and not being able to communicate effectively with those Africans living in the United States, due to misperceptions and stereotyping on the part of both cultures.  It is my hope that we can one day come together and initiate dialogue that speaks to these misperceptions, so that collectively we can recognize our commonality, strengths, and resources, to assist in the building of communities representing the African.
by Alfia Johnson

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