In a Pan-African state of mind

by Leonard Quarshie

I have been feeling nostalgic lately; nostalgic not in a sort of having-been-there-done-that- kind of way. But in a kind of what- would- Nkrumah-think-about-this kind of way. I guess, it’s because I haven’t read anything nourishing in a long time. So much is happening in the world with such speed, that there is hardly time for perspective; for context, for reflection. I would be lying if I said I hunger for the works of Achebe, Awoonor, Armah and other African writers of yesteryear. But I hunger for their perspective, for that unique African sensibility they brought to things; to events around them; to the news and happenings of their time. Times are different, of course. But the Africa –whose fate they agonized over and shed many tears over– has not changed very much. It is still very poor. It is still very dependent on others. It contends still with the same issues their generation wrestled with.

I wonder for example, what Nkrumah would think about the impact of AIDS? What would he think about Barack Obama? Nkrumah’s warnings about neo-colonialism are well-known, but five decades later, what would he think about the state of regional integration? What would he think about Africa’s 2% share of global trade? As I look across the continent, –I see that a lot of time has passed– but the issues remain the same. We are still heavily dependent on others for sustenance. For validation. For acceptance. Our development models are still unoriginal; imported; inorganic. Yesterday’s ideas. We are still playing by other people’s rules. The themes, the writers of old wrestled with—after the euphoria of independence– are still the headaches of our generation: the place of the African in the world; his experiments with development; his insecurities about his identity in an ever changing world; his efforts at understanding his predicament; his disappointments; his fears about being left behind.

I think about these things quite a lot. I don’t know why. Living in the West, heightens this feeling. This state of mind. Reading and watching the news about Africa can get to you. Then, there is a sense of insecurity here, which one cannot escape. A sense that one can wake up one day and lose all of one’s lifework and sweat. It’s a palpable, ever-present feeling, which never goes away. No matter how successful you become, you sense very quickly that this is not the place you want to spend the last years of your life. The West is not home. Africa is home.

Here, you are pre-occupied with survival; with living. You have to pay the bills and make the payments. You have to make certain, that you are not kicked out on the streets. You can’t go to anyone for help. You are on your own. It’s a foreign land, after all. You come to realize that even your African-American brethren—the descendants of your ancestors brought here four centuries ago—still contend with the strangeness and unfamiliarity of this place.

That’s when one begins to care about what happens to Africa. That’s when one begins to feel anger and resentment toward non-Africans who talk cavalierly about Africa, as if it were a child in need of a parent to instruct it. That’s when one gets tired of patronage, the snide remarks, and the nonsense on western television that passes for analysis on Africa. That’s when one gets tired of well-fed, avuncular, western journalists—who have built flourishing careers—reporting mostly negative, stereotypical stories about Africa —coming up with insane and nonsensical documentaries such as “why is Africa poor.”

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