Africa Break Free Of Many Burdens

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Alex Perry’s The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free (2015), published in paperback in 2017, is an important book that should change Westerners’ perceptions of Africa.

Here’s the Amazon.com description:

“Taking the Great Rift Valley – the geological fault that will eventually tear Africa in two – as his central metaphor, Alex Perry explores the split between a resurgent Africa and a world at odds with its rise.

“Africa has long been misunderstood–and abused–by outsiders. Perry traveled the continent for most of a decade, meeting with entrepreneurs and warlords, professors and cocaine smugglers, presidents, and jihadis. Beginning with a devastating investigation into a largely unreported war crime-in 2011, when the US and the major aid agencies helped cause a famine in which 250,000 Somalis died-he finds Africa at a moment of furious self-assertion. To finally win their freedom, Africans must confront three last false prophets-Islamists, dictators and aid workers-who would keep them in their bonds.

“Beautifully written, intimately reported, and sure to spark debate, THE RIFT passionately argues that a changing Africa revolutionizes our ideas of it, and of ourselves.”

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Egypt: Middle Eastern Or African?

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I took this photo in 2009 on a visit to Cairo. It struck me as an image of Africa.

Most Westerners think of Egypt as Middle Eastern, Mediterranian, Arabic and Muslim, but not African. Ask a native of Egypt and he will likely say proudly he is a “descendant of the pharaohs,” Arab rather than African.

Yet Egypt certainly experienced practices that shaped most of Africa, such as Western intervention (by the U.S. CIA), European colonialism (mostly British) and foreign rule (by Ottomans and briefly, the French).

Shahira Amin did a piece for CNN’s “Inside Africa” in 2007 and an essay on Egyptian identity in 2012 and offers a good analysis. Of all the Egyptians he interviewed, none consider themselves to be Africans. First, he points out that Northern Africa is often not considered truly African:

For centuries, the  Sahara Desert has been viewed as a vast impenetrable barrier dividing our continent into two distinct areas : Northern “white” and sub-Saharan “black” Africa. The countries south of the Sahara have long been considered authentically “African” while those to the north have been perceived as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Islamic.

While most anthropologists refute this perception of Africa as “inaccurate”, it has nevertheless, influenced the way people think about the continent and our region in particular. Apparently, it has also impacted the way Egyptians view themselves.

Many Egyptians are oblivious to their “African-ness “, failing to identify themselves as Africans. When confronted with the reality of their African roots, some Egyptians are stunned, others reluctant to acknowledge the fact.

Though I hate to admit it, we are a racist people. African refugees living in Egypt often complain of discrimination and verbal and physical harassment on the streets. Egyptians look down on darker-skinned sub-Saharans as their “inferiors,” they claim.

Historian Jill Kamel confirms this, explaining that it may be attributed to the fact that across generations, Egypt’s elite community was made up mostly of lighter-skinned Egyptians whereas the underprivileged Egyptians were those toiling under the hot sun to earn their bread. “Egyptians have thus come to associate fair skin with elitism,” she said.

This may be the result of British colonialism and Ottoman (Turkish) rule in Egypt, a form of internalized oppression. Or these attitudes could be tribal in origin.

Amin concludes that Egyptians must learn to embrace and celebrate their entire heritage:

“If we hope to revive our glorious past and re-create the Egypt that was once a melting pot of cultures and a crossroad of civilisations, we must celebrate our diversity and take pride in our roots: African, Mediterranean or Arab. It is this mix that makes us who we are: Egyptians.”

 

Must-Read African Literature: ‘Things Fall Apart’

Thing Fall Apart is Chinua Achebe’s classic, published in 1958. It is the most widely read book in modern African literature, about “Africa’s cataclysmic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political and religious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order.”

Wikipedia: One critic called the book “a classic study of cross-cultural misunderstanding and the consequences to the rest of humanity, when a belligerent culture or civilization, out of sheer arrogance and ethnocentrism, takes it upon itself to invade another culture, another civilization.”

Achebe, a Nigerian, explained his novel’s popularity: “This was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’.”

He was a professor, first at Bard College from 1990 to 2008, and then at Brown University from 2009 to 2013. He was born in 1930 and passed away in 2013.

More interviews with and about AchebeMore interviews with and about Achebe on Youtube.com.

Movies Set in Africa Inevitably Shape Our Perception of the Continent

If I’m lucky, I might spend a month of my life in Africa, which is certainly more than most North Americans could ever hope to do, but still is not nearly enough to fully grasp nor understand a continent. Most of our perceptions of Africa, let’s face it, will come from the news media or the movies, for good or ill.

Movies Set in Africa (Googled).

Movies about Africa that I’ve seen.