The Danger of the African’s “Single Sided Story”: The importance of knowing OUR Continent

Sandra Appiah April 26, 2011

By: Zahra Baitie

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The ted talk by Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story falls into the category of "most riveting" and is definitely one of my favorite ted talks! She sums up in a way more articulate than I could possibly imagine considering my frustrations with the stereotypes related to our Continent and the misconceptions that so many people have.

I can’t even fully articulate how angry I get when ignorant people project what they see in the media about one or two countries in Africa on to the entire continent. I choose my words carefully – Continent not Country! I bet everyone has met that average Joe who refers to an entire continent made up of 54 respective countries as one country. “We work in Brazil, India, Africa and other countries.”

I bet that is not JUST a grammatical error, rather a more subconscious and subtle construct in which Africa exists not as a place of diversity but where from North to South there is just one story. I personally am proud to see myself as an African and not just a Ghanaian because I understand what it means to refer to myself as an African. But half of the people in the world do not understand!

“Africa” for them is a blanket term that they use without any regard whatsoever to the rich diversity, languages, different cultural systems and the whole conundrum. But I fear that WE, Africans, are just as guilty of having our own subconscious single story of Africa and in some ways it is more harmful than the naïve and myopic one the rest of the world has of our continent.

“Africa" is synonymous for a lot of people to war, poverty, hardship, etc, and this myopic view of a continent that is diverse and has a plethora of issues gets annoying especially when that is not our particular reality.

But, I think that’s where half the problem begins. We ourselves subconsciously are victims of having a single story. We have a story of an Africa that is more than poverty, rape, hardship and wars- it’s one about good schools, cars, relative prosperity, weekends at the pool and beach, parties and bouncy castles, and the list goes on. We, possibly as a reaction from the rest of the world having a negative single story, have cushioned ourselves within our own single story. We are insulated from some of the realities of our continent and that in part has led to serious inaction.

I am not suggesting that we are not aware of the hardships other people face within the continent, but I believe that for most people they are so far removed and distanced from some of the REALITIES of their own continent that we almost become like foreigners/outsiders also watching the news, mere spectators in the affairs of our own continent.

We have constructed cocoons for ourselves within our societies and it is too easy for many of us to live our lives in a way that shield us from some of the hard facts. Ghana, for example is generally a model of peace and prosperity in Africa as a whole and we Ghanaians are proud of that! But Ghana is far from not having any issues and while we all know that there is “poverty” in Ghana we do little to address that in what ways we can.

We unfortunately do not realize that while those “stories” of poverty and hardship do not necessarily reflect our lives, they are still very much our stories. We get so wrapped up in our lives and constructing our own identities outside the stereotypical African story that we lose track of where we really are. Many of us, I’m sure, have little or no understanding whatsoever of what’s happening in the Ivory coast which is just a few hundred of miles away from Ghana. We do not know the real history of Sierra leone and of Biafra and the repercussions of those wars, let alone concern ourselves very much with what is happening in Sudan, Darfur, and Libya in particular.

We really have to realize that we are where we are merely by accident of birth; we could be Congolese, or Darfurians. While the stories of many of the people who live in those places will be stories that we can never fully relate to, we do have to realize that we are all Africans and what happens in one place, one village, one town should matter to us all.

Its one thing to know about the two stories of Africa: one story of peace and prosperity and another of war and hardship. But the real merit comes from trying to bridge the two stories, allowing that of peace and prosperity to affect that of war and hardship. When we allow that to happen, when we use the privilege that some of us are lucky to have to affect our community, then we really will be presenting Africa as it is, and embracing all of the continent – the good and the bad and refusing to allow either story to dominate to the detriment of the other.

The consequences of Westerners having a myopic view of Africa that pertains just to war, HIV, malaria and the entire wardrobe of the Apocalypse is that they are patronizing and think poor Africans all over the continent are in dire need of a hug and a pair of shoes.

Well, that’s terrible but what’s also really, really terrible is that OUR single story has spelt in most instances, into complete inaction! So it’s the obronis/muzungus who fly over, paying 1000s of dollars to come to “AFRICA” to help the children, teach them, love them, read to them and we in those exact same countries, spend our time partying, chilling, and in the process, ignoring these other “stories”.

I have definitely been guilty of this and while I have tried to do some work and help, I have not done even a quarter of what my brain and my physical capabilities demand of me to do! I have been complicit in the criminal act of inaction but luckily I am not old nor senile and so while I may have lived my life in a way that is not in full service to my continent and my community so far I still have my whole life ahead of me but it requires me acting from this very moment. It requires all of us to act from right now! We must join the revolution of change in Africa.



Last Edited by: Updated: June 19, 2018


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