When I first read up on the history of Lesotho, it was in books written by European settlers and missionaries. The same was true when my research extended to other African countries. In retrospect it is easy to understand why this was the case – before the arrival of these travellers from the north our history was for the most part documented orally – but it was still unsettling to discover irregularities in what certain symbols were said to mean and the way in which certain cultural aspects were misrepresented. This in addition to the blatantly offensive language used to describe African natives. Despite all this, it strikes me as odd that we still consider information about our cultures more interesting when it is told to us by ‘the other.’
On the outside, looking in
We wait for our uniqueness to be given status and prestige by our melanin-deficient brothers and sisters in order for us to sit up and pay attention. The depth of this is evident in the number of people who ‘blow up’ and start gaining unprecedented recognition only once they have been endorsed by Western institutions – magazines, critics, prizes, you name it.
As much as we complain about outsiders exoticising our cultures for financial gain, sometimes our complacency has laid the groundwork for it. Too often, only when we realise that outsiders are positioning themselves as having discovered something beautiful about our continent do we sit up and take notice.. Yet many of us do not possess the same curiosity and fascination to explore our continent. How many people brag about the number of European countries they have been to but do not take the time to discover their own backyards because they find it less captivating? It’s time we shifted our interests towards learning about our cultural heritage and wealth instead of taking pride in our enrichment of the tourism sectors of the West.
By appreciating our own beauty, potential and strength, we will stop looking to the West to validate our experiences, be they good or bad.
Making something out of nothing
The fact that nationals from other parts of the world are migrating to and settling on our continent should be an indication that there is something magical about Africa. Sure, poverty, illness and corrupt governments are ever present but there is life here. Africans manage to make amazing things happen with very limited resources. For example, there is no government-funded housing in Lesotho yet everyone has a home, regardless of how poor they are. Kids have to travel unforgivable distances to get to school, yet they manage to persevere and make something of themselves. While people elsewhere rely on generational wealth and privilege, we channel our creativity to make our lives comfortable and our survival possible. We know how to make something out of nothing.
To this day, narratives about Africa that come from elsewhere still tend to be stereotypical but the current generation of thinkers and doers from the continent are disproving these preconceived notions. While most Western media outlets offer little or no factual background about the African condition, except for third-hand information by people who are not intimately acquainted with our lived experience, there is a rising number of Africans who are committed to telling authentic African stories and owning their Africanness. There are young innovators who are creating and making great strides in industries that were previously exclusive to the West, such as film, fashion, science, engineering and communications technology. The beautiful thing about this renaissance is that its core principles embrace the collectivist ethos that African societies are founded on. We are slowly undoing the ‘divide and conquer’ approach that was used to dismantle the sense of solidarity we could achieve regardless of our diversity.
Looking within and taking pride
Africa is waking up but to be fully conscious we need to start taking pride in our identity, the road we have travelled to get here and the power we have, intellectually and otherwise. We must abandon our dependence on outsiders to qualify us as ‘good enough’. We need to be the ones setting the standards for what we produce, consume and share with the world. This new awakening will not happen overnight but it begins with us breaking down distortions and the tremendous amount of ignorance that informs how we perceive ourselves. We need to recognise that we have all the tools we need to be self-sufficient. By appreciating our own beauty, potential and strength we will stop looking to the West to validate our experiences, be they good or bad. The difference between us and non-Africans is that others look within to solve their problems and set their own standards, while we would rather doubt than trust our own. We need to love ourselves wholly as a people and as manifestations of light.