“Before the metal snake crossed our lands, there was a dense forest on the other side. That forest was the house of 'nyatonglo,' tubers, medicine for athritis–and an ogre.” The little girl stoked the fire and said to the grandfather, “Continue, Papa.”
To own her future, Africa must tell her stories herself.
Stories encapsulate our culture: they highlight our interactions with life and death; what we celebrate, what we shun; what we eat, what we dress; our leadership structures, our political systems; our religions, our customs…
Through stories, we find belonging. Stories define our identity. When someone says, “I am African, I am Kenyan, I am Catholic,” they reference the stories that make them of a particular tribe.
Welcome to Afrilenstories: We shall not be the last ones to say that stories are powerful.
By 2023, it had not been confirmed yet if Africa was one country or fifty-four countries. Africa was also known as the land of wars, a place of want, and now and then, its young people would drown on the Mediterranean, on attempting to swim to better lands.
This is a practical image of Africa, as seen by some outside eyes. Stories make images, and images stick.
Indeed, stories make societies. Whoever tells a story, settles the fate for whom the story is told. To own her future, Africa must own and tell her narratives.
Africans have sufficient stories to tell.
For thousands of years, Africans have shared stories via oral tradition. Oral tradition encompasses the use of tales, songs, poetry, art, prose and other modes to transmit cultural information from one generation to another.
It is a reasonable claim that Africa, even after the invention of writing, has relied more on “orature” than literary works to tell stories. While we have relied on oral literature for thousands of years, we now should ask ourselves how spoken word has fared in the modern age–the information age.
A good example to consider are the legendary Griots of West Africa. Who were they?
“Preservers of history and oral traditions since the 13th century.”
--As a hereditary role, they would play their kora while narrating stories; and other times they would serve as advisers or diplomats.
Outside of Mali (and West Africa in general), a history and culture student, researcher or history enthusiast would likely know who griots are; what about the rest of Africa?–likely not. And therein lies the problem. Who is to propagate African stories to Africans at home and abroad?
Islam and Christianity are the two main religions that have greatly influenced Africa.
It is estimated that Christianity arrived in Africa in the 2nd century, AD; and Islam, the 7th century AD. Intermingled with trade, education, innovation, inter-tribal wars, cultural transfers, slave trade (and later on, colonialism)–-from the promoters of the Koran and the Bible, Africa changed for good.
Today, you will meet an African who identifies as Muslim or Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, or any of the other religions; but hardly will you meet an African who claims to practice traditional African religion (animism). What happened to the traditional African religions that existed long before external influences?
While the Middle East and Far East stories are not pivotal to this article, it’s important to ask how these regions have told their cultural stories, especially against the backdrop of foreign influences.
What must Africa do?
Going into the future, what must Africa do, to control her narrative?
Today, one of the ways of creating a story is in the field of research, scientific research. When a scientist writes a paper, they make a claim of how they perceive their world. It must not necessarily be a ground-breaking discovery–-the claim may even be refuted with time–-but it provides a basis for others to expand the understanding of the claim, and even trigger adjacent ideas.
We consider that science is a form of storytelling–-to understand the physical world. Scientific storytellers in Africa are comparatively few. Indeed, the number of researchers per million inhabitants in Africa was 35 while in France and the United States, the corresponding numbers stood at 2500 and 4000, respectively.
As Africans, we must therefore focus on scientific research, and other technological developments (such as AI) to take charge of our narratives. What advantages do we have? Is it a youthful population? Creative population? Abundance of natural resources? Arable land? How are we positioning ourselves for the future, in our own language? A language that upholds and sustains African values, whatever we say they are.
Certainly, there are highlights of African culture that are significant. Nollywood Movies, Afrobeats (and others--Rhumba, Lingala), African cuisine (Nyama Choma, Jolof), The Maasai Culture, Nigerian fashion--all have spotlighted African experiences. But African storytelling must deliberately go beyond this.
Africa must have and implement an integrated vision. Agenda 2063 exists, with flagship projects to “accelerate Africa’s economic growth and development as well as promote our common identity by celebrating our history and our vibrant culture.” We note that this vision lists ‘Great African Museum’ in the list of projects. We (Afrilenstories) will do our part to support the realization of Agenda 2063.
We must be united. Whether through The AU or otherwise, Africans should speak in one voice. A concern affecting an African in one corner of the continent should be the concern of other Africans elsewhere. With unity and high regard for other African countries, it would be easy to trade and also make trans-African travel easy.
And we must be courageous. What political and cultural stands do we make on the global stage? Do we do this united or as individual countries? Obviously being beholden to other countries for financial and military aid, limits African sovereignty. Nevertheless, we must make known our stands on the global arena, based on our lived values. There’s a phrase in Swahili that goes, Maskini jeuri--poor but tough headed.
Positivity. Despite the challenges Africa faces, Africans, especially the youth, must maintain a positive outlook of the future--and most important, toil towards it. Innovation is needed most where there is stagnation and lethargy.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has,” ~ Margaret Mead.
African Abundance. We have enough for all of us and the rest of the world. But we still fight in-country, and fear opening our borders to other Africans; as if our resources are limited. We must change this attitude. African youth will be our greatest human resource by 2050, for innovation and mass market. How are we positioning ourselves for this?
African Heroism. How do we celebrate our heroes? Do we immortalize them in songs or movies or books or statues? It is important for Africans to take pride in their heroes and heroines--both real and mythical. We must place a high premium on excellence. Those amongst us who do marvelous things must be celebrated in words and deeds.
Education. Education pays the biggest dividend in storytelling. Pride in African culture and truth in Africa’s history must be entrenched in our education systems across the continent. It is the easiest way to mold and strengthen an African identity, especially amongst the young.
Thank you for reading. What are your thoughts?
This article has been produced by a contributing writer.