African Spirit, German Efficiency…
A South African friend of mine recently made this comment to me, while we were organizing for an Africa Day cultural event, and it got me really thinking hard…
It mostly took me right back to a Leopold Sedar Senghor quote we were asked to comment on in essays time and time again by our French literature teacher in high school (beloved M. Diop), namely: “L’emotion est negre, tout comme la raison est hellene…”
But is Africa really only Emotion? and Reason (including efficiency) a domain safeguarded for Europeans or peoples of European descent alone?
For me this begs the question: today, at the dawn of the 21st century, who are we as Africans? what are the fundamental characteristics that set us aside from the other peoples of the world? in short: what is today our contribution to humanity?
I will not resign myself to accepting that we are only known for our wars, tribal hatreds and blood-drinking primitive tribes (as featured in a recent TF1 TV series called “bienvenue dans ma tribu“/”welcome to my tribe” by the way,,,). I, and all of you who care enough to visit this site, KNOW that Africa’s much more than that.
But what much more exactly? Let’s unpack this for a moment!
I think we can all agree on the following traits that characterize us :
– We are black. I think we can agree on this. Save for the white minorities in the lately decolonized countries of southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia) most of us who call ourselves Africans are black, have big flat noses (or some version of that), are born with kinky hair (regardless of what we grow up to do with it!) and have what we could label as “African features”.
– We have this “Emotion” that the Senghor quote relates, or “Spirit” as my SA friend labeled it that is really unique to Africa and people of African descent: it’s the loud thunderous laugh that you can hear all the way from the doorway when you enter an African home, the energy with which people interact, tell stories and haggle at the market, the strength of the mother who will continue to sell at her stall until she has enough to feed her children, …
– We carry within us wherever we go what I could label cardinal African values, that seem to be shared among all our countries: the habit of greeting one other, respect for our elders, sense of responsibility/duty towards parents and younger siblings, the gusto for DRESSING UP GOOD (or maybe that’s just francophone africans, colonized as we are to the spine!), the emotional dependence on the family, the love of good food and good living, the resilience in the face of adversity.
But what else guys can we agree is fundamentally African? Anything BIG that is missing form this list attempting to define what distinctly identifies us as Africans ?
Or is this in itself a futile attempt? and there is no such thing as an “African identity” that sets us apart from others?
For sure at the rate uncontrolled and un-sieved globalization is penetrating our countries, whatever remnant of Africa identity is left may be phagocyted very soon!
Would it be possible in all honesty, without it being a dissonance, to rephrase my friend’s statement as: “African spirit, new-generation African efficiency?”
Food for thought…!