Your cousin from Germany

This is one the interesting things I”ve stumbled upon a while ago. The filmmaker, Zina Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian-British woman asked Africans and Africanists about their vision of Africa. This is one clip.

What struck me is not the content itself. It’s the running commentary below the video. One person was talking about how all of the people featured (including Colin Firth…couldn’t help mentioning that) were detached from the continent, in one way or another. Which is true. Some work in Africa. Some were born in Africa. Others were raised there. All live in England. So, does that mean their commentary is irrelevant? detached? biased? misguided? If someone were to ask you today, “What problems does Africa face?”, you could probably list ‘lack of good governance, stable infrastructure, ability to control its own resources, foreign debt, HIV, tribalism, etc’ all in one breath. However, because you do not currently live in Africa, should your comments be as valued as the ones of people living “on the ground”? Does living “on the ground” allow you to have better answers or does it make you near-sighted? Does living away provide you with a wider scope to analyse issues or does it make you romanticize everything about the place where you no longer live?

Let’s suppose it’s similar to this situation. You wake up one morning to notice that the roof of your house is leaking. You remember that the plumbing had stopped working earlier. Your kids are home because you can’t afford school fees this month and the electricity has been cut off. Along comes a man (or a woman) who says, “I’m willing to help you. However, you must tell me exactly what you need help with. you can’t just say “everything”!”. Before you could open your mouth however, your cousin who has been living in Germany walks in and starts to talk with the person. “Well, as you can see, the roof is looking and the electricity is shut down. What’s wrong is the system. My cousin, here, lacks the ability to fix all these for himself, because you keep stepping in, trying to help. His electricity is shut off because the government keeps giving away natural resources to others like candy. His plumbing no longer works, which means that there will be soon an epidemic. We need more hospitals!”

So, you’re standing there, thinking “…but you don’t even live here!” Can we say “once an African, always an African?” Can we believe that distance, in no way, impacts the way we view problems in Africa?

To find out more about the documentary “This is My Africa”, go here. It premiered on HBO last month.

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2 Responses to Your cousin from Germany

  1. tchefor says:

    would love to watch. Do not have HBO … other other options?

  2. tchefor says:

    The cousin scenario (which so vividly captures the distance issue … awesome!) looks more and more complex each time I think of it. Cousin in Germany has experience and knowledge to deal with the MAN (you know what I mean … gov’t,ngo,etc) but might not have been able to pass this on to family because of distance. Because of this same distance, he is not able to fully appreciate the issues on the ground. Well one solution is the education of the family on management of resources and also how to interact with the MAN to improve their living standards. Of course the cousin scenario raises deeper issues.

    What does it mean to be African? is it a birth-rite thing? or is it a proximity and involvement to the things of African interest thing? Or is it an anti-anti-African thing?

    Which ever way you look at it, I think once an African, always an African … and yes distance is an issue.

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