African Pride, Does it Exist?

I have been teaching English to Korean students for the past year and a half. My students have taught me so much in the past 18 months. Surprisingly, the primary lesson learnt, is about who I am as an African. You may ask how students aged between 8 to 15 years of age can provide such insight. I shall elaborate.

I often hold conversation contests in my class and my students get to practice what they are taught during the week. One student Kevin, was on the losing team and he remarked that the opposing team who were defeating them were either American or European. He went on to say that, his team was African because they were losers. Comments like these are very common in class and I am no longer offended when my students make such remarks. Truth is I cannot even defend my continent because many of the statements they make about Africa are true.

I sometimes ask my students to explain certain things about their culture that I do not always understand. They always end their explanation with a simple statement, “Teacher, I am Korean” ,this they say with pride. I ask myself how children so young can have such immense pride in their culture, language, cuisine and history. I also ask myself why Africans cannot foster this kind of pride.  Middle and High school children (age group 13-18) are required to do 24 hours of community service each year, which amounts to about 2 hours per month. These kids clean public parks, stadiums, swimming pools, and help the elderly walk in the subway stations amongst other things. I am starting to understand where their pride, accountability and sense of ownership come from (It is something our continent’s governments should consider ).  They are required to contribute to their country’s well being from a young age.  Korean children love speaking their language and have great respect for their culture, they are extremely proud of Korea’s achievements, almost fanatical at times.

I had a phone conversation with a Ghanaian friend a few days ago and we were talking about the subject of African pride.  He made some statements, which initially offended me, but after careful consideration, I could not dispute what he had said. He said, “Africans are inferior when it comes to knowledge and implementation compared to Europeans, Asians and Americans.” We have highly learned Africans but we fail to translate this into anything concrete. Why is this the case?

I have come to a few of my own conclusions as to why we cannot even get the basics right on the African continent. We have no pride, accountability, sense of responsibility and ownership. This includes politicians, citizens and civil society in our continent. We are mediocre and accept mediocrity instead of demanding excellence. We have no benchmark to measure ourselves against. Let’s stop blaming: slavery, apartheid and colonisation for our mediocrity. We have nobody but ourselves to blame. It is 2010 and many African countries are celebrating more than 40 years of independence. We have, however failed to achieve anything tangible in this time. Let us foster some pride and take responsibility for the poverty, hunger, corruption that prevails in our countries. Our continent’s success solely rests on every African’s shoulders.  We as Africans need to create the standards we deem acceptable for Africa. Africans should hold politicians who plunder our resources for self-enrichment accountable. If someone tried to steal or take advantage of your family, you would be outraged. This is the same principle we need to cultivate as Africans. This continent has so much potential, we all need to start believing and actively striving for excellence starting from the way we treat each other as Africans, our work ethic and how we use state and public resources.

Those of us blessed with children need to teach them about who they are, teach them to speak their mother tongue because it is easier to understand and learn about your culture through language. Self-hatred of our skin colour, language, culture, and heritage needs to end.  We have a rich history, which needs to be taught. In the age of the World Wide Web, many of us have access to information about our history.  One can never understand who they truly are if they do not know where they come from.  All too often, we take the negative aspects of westernisation and replace our cultural norms with it.

I no longer defend our continent when I am asked about Africa and why it is in the state it is in. I merely acknowledge that we have many challenges, which I believe will change in my lifetime. For such a revolutionary change to happen, it has to begin with you and I. It starts with little things like: arriving at work on time, being honest, helping someone in need, teaching our children respect, participating in social and civil society, taking initiative and not relying on our governments to save us and lastly looking after  state resources. Take pride in every aspect of your life, be accountable for your actions and have a sense of ownership for our continent. Whatever little contribution you can make, make it. Not only for yourself, but also for the generation which will follow.

Kate Tutu

Social Entrepreneur,Business Consultant, Editor of Feint & Margin, a young woman who's passionate about Africa's people and development.

12 thoughts on “African Pride, Does it Exist?

  • October 15, 2010 at 9:42 am
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    Hi Kate,
    Interesting views. But something I’ve been thinking about lately is, why do Africans need to be proud of Africa? Hear me out.

    The name Africa initially came from the name of the province that Carthage was in under the Roman empire. Africa then became the great unconquered continent that the Europeans hadn’t explored, and decided to split it up among themselves. Before this, the average man in Africa didn’t refer to himself as African. He described himself

    The only unifying factor we have as Africans is that we were grouped together and conquered. There is so much diversity on the continent, that one will find few similarities between the Tswana tribe in Botswana on one end of the continent, and the Jukun tribe group in Nigeria. The only reason that people say they are similar, is because someone decided to classify them according to the negroid racial classification at some point in time, and another decided to broadly classify them as African at another point in time.

    So now, we build all these theories such as negritude, and black consciousness, and black pride and African pride, and dress it up in terms such as the need for an African renaissance, but this is all a glamorous house built on a weak, shallow foundation that we’re all meant to go and live in. Sooner or later, this house will come crumbling down. By saying we are all one, and unifying ourselves, and finding pride in ourselves, we are perpetuating this shallow identity classification that someone else defined us to be.

    Have I missed the point?

    Reply
  • October 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm
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    Patrick Kayongo: Yes, indeed, you have missed the point, by a wide margin, too. The question is not where we area diverse or a homogeneous grouping. It is why we shun so much about ourselves from language, culture (which ever one among the thousands each of us have). It is not so much that we were diff before, but that TODAY, we seem incapable of loving ourselves, which ever part of Africa one comes from. Think about it, despite the diversity yu point to, why is it that all of us, where ever in Africa each comes from, we have this one similarity. We detest ourselves like no other people in this world; we love everything and everyone un-African. That is the point.

    The writer has it spot on. Loving ourselves must start from an early age. In my country, we start teaching kids to love and emulate everything European and American. It is not only fashionable, but it is a sign of progressiveness and sophistication for a 5yr old to speak English with an accent. We even ban the speaking of vernacular both at pre-school, school and at home, because that way, the kids learn the foreign language better and faster!! And as we grow up, and as we travel abroad, we begin to question our cultural practices. The practice of them is immediately dropped as one becomes more sophisticated. These are the things we need to stop, NOW. It is never going to matter that we are diverse, or that our name came from some foreigner. What matters is what WE perceive and accept of ourselves, and what standards we set for ourselves.

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  • October 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm
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    Patrick Kayongo:

    Dhongi has it spot, what you are describing(Patrick) are mere semantics. As much as were were conquered and named by foreigners doesn’t change some very obvious things no matter which tribe or country we as “Africans” belong to. I used the word African because I’m addressing all African from North, South East and West. In African Pride I mean being proud to be Ghanaian, South African, Ugandan etc. Its a little ironic that you mentioned how little we have in common but we seem to be on the same path when it comes to corruptions, poverty and unstable governments. As different as we may seem as Africans we all seem to be in the same boat when it comes to the negative aspects like Corrupt leadership, lack of accountability, self enriching tendancies of our public servants.

    Its very easy to focus on the past and why certain things do not apply to us because of our history. Think its time we call a spade a spade and not sugar quote things by focusing on the semantics of it all. It only continues the cycle of the bad state of many African nations

    You may not consider yourself African according to what your definition of it is. But you happen to have been born on this continent so technically for lack of a better word you are African. If you have an alternative word that you’d like to introduce I’d be happy to adopt it.

    So yes you’ve totally missed my point…

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  • October 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm
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    Hold on, maybe I didn’t communicate what I was trying to say well enough.
    A classification was made, and one group was called black, and another group called white. One group was called African, and another group European. This categories came with their own presuppositions behind the categories, and identity behind the category. This was the foundation of it. With that in mind, I’m not just human in my identity, but an African human, and my German counterpart is a white European human.

    These qualifications make it difficult to find pride in something the original definition. There have been attempts to change this definition, but pieces of original thinking will always filter through. What I suggested, was being defined as a human being first, on an equal footing as everyone else, and then other classifications brought in to describe us. Because I’ve been thinking, what defines me as black besides the melanin concentration in my skin? And if I’m defined as black, what does that mean about who I am? Secondly, what defines me as African besides the fact that I was born in Africa? Or that my ancestry is African? If that’s the case, will those of European descent never be classified as African? Does my African-ness go beyond the geography in which I was born and I exist? Does it relate to my character, my personality and my identity?

    *Note: These are not conclusive statements I have made. It’s something I’m still exploring myself as I grow in understanding who I am, and my identity on earth. For this reason, it would be appreciative for people not to take sides (i.e. Patrick vs. Kate) and meaningfully contribute to a collaborative conversation.

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  • October 15, 2010 at 2:18 pm
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    Patrick: You are making those classification never in my article did I refer to Africans as blacks neither did I reference Europeans as whites. In South Africa you have Africans who are white, they are still African/South African born on this continent.

    It has nothing to do with taking sides but more to do with trying to get a point across. If you feel you were being unfairly attacked please accept my apologies. It was never the intention.

    Just think you are over analysing the “semantics” of what defines you as an Africa. Its different for everyone. But as the status quo dictates it is what it is. That is how our societies define certain groups and until we can find different more acceptable definitions I’ll be using them to get my point across.

    I would much rather we debate some of the points I raise instead of being side tracked about what defines your “Africaness”.

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  • October 15, 2010 at 11:43 pm
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    Thanks for the spanner in this one Kutessa (spelling?)…

    This, I think, is the argument Patrick is putting forward: Why be proud to be African and not simply be proud to be you?
    By seeking to be proud to be African, one is working from a predefined idea or concept and then rationalising why the prescribed attributes (or the majority thereof) are worthy of taking pride in.

    As a simpler analogy for this, imagine being given a fully-furnished house which is yours to reside in and you have no alternatives to choose from. The architecture of this house and it’s furnishings are unfamiliar to you and evoke no instinctive attraction or fondness nor are they distasteful. Having accepted the house, I’m sure you acknowledge that a sense of pride in it is what is required if you are take care of it and enjoy its benefits. So to get to the state of being proud of it you consciously look to find things about it which you can may have initially overlooked but may now be fond of. This is the rationalisation mentioned earlier.

    The alternate to this analogy is that you construct your own home from the ground up and furnish it as you please. This way your state of pride in your home is natural. Hopefully the similarities between the home and “identity” are evident.

    Now to realign this with your article, consider a neighbourhood constructed in the latter scenario where each brick was placed with meaning as appose to the former where the inhabitants are forced to find meaning in each brick. Which is likely to have a greater air and one which organically instills a sense of pride?

    Should we thus not seek to get Africans to simply take pride in being themselves as individuals and as a consequence the collective identity will be one which one can’t help but be proud of?

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  • October 16, 2010 at 9:02 am
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    Something dawned on me while writing the previous comment (and this is somewhat less philosophical than the above). In getting to the state of pride and sustaining it, motivation is required to do that which we can reflect on with pride.

    In your article you stated that, as Africans, we seem to lack this motivation and this you ascribe to our acceptance of mediocrity and I concur. How did we get to this state though, as surely we were not always this way (the struggle stories will attest to this).

    I have a take on this, but so as to aid your understanding of my perspective I’ll precede with this: I am of the view that continuing to blame colonisation, slavery and other forms of oppression is merely a means to evade dealing with the bigger internal issues we face.

    With that said, my view is that the generation of Africans who won the fights for liberation may be the reason for our current state. Consider for a moment how this hard fought victory may have been received at the time, taking cognisance of the fact that freedom had possibly become the sole pursuit for many at the time. Once attained, the reasons for the fight itself (i.e. why freedom was of such importance) may have been forgotten as this was, for some, ‘merely a fight inherited from the previous generation’ and for which they had not found their own greater meaning. While, for others the world that had now become theirs was so markedly different ,as the colonisers had shaped it to their liking, that the they now could not identify with it as their idea of the beloved Africa.

    In both instances the victors of freedom would then have seen it as ‘ok’ to simply enjoy the victory and not aim for more, this had after all been a long fight. It is this state of contentedness which the subsequent generations then inherited and when the sense of content seemed to wane, all the people had to do(and continue to this day to do) was reflect on how great a reward our freedom on its own is (thereby placing themselves in the shoes of the struggle victors, w.r.t emotions).

    Should we then desist from reflecting on “the struggle”? I think it is what we take from it the struggle that matters. We should move on from reveling in the joy of being free to seeking to understand why being free was worthy of the fight.

    This thought process also explains a lot about our African democracies as many are in the hands of the liberation movements who reinforce the “revel in the joy of your freedom” thinking, seldom advancing my latter perspective. This though is an analysis for another day..

    Reply
    • October 18, 2010 at 2:22 am
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      Hi Andile,
      thank you for your response you raise some pertinent points.
      I agree with you with regards to the freedom fighters and their complacency once they’ve achieved independence. You’ve also made a very interesting observation that the majority of the parties that lead African countries to independence are still ruling to this day.

      I’m going to do further research on the points you’ve raised.
      Thank you, very insightful indeed!

      Reply
  • October 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm
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    We’ve got to avoid saying “stop blaming colonialism or apartheid.” They ARE to blame for where Africa is right now. The point of departure in this conversation should be what and where was Africa BEFORE that destruction happened, and how do we reconstruct it so that an authentic African identity is rebuilt. Then we can start talking about African pride!

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    • October 26, 2010 at 2:29 am
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      Hi Kehinde,

      I’d be interested to know where we were before the destruction happened. Colonialism, Apartheid, Slavery happened nobody can deny that. I believe like everything in life we need to let go of the negativity.

      I’ll use this analogy, a child born into a dysfunctional family, where the parents are drug addicts and low lives, this is all the child knows from infancy, but as time passes and the child matures into adulthood he/she has a choice on how they’d want to lead their lives. They can:
      a)go the same lifestyle route as his/her parents
      b)decide that he/she can overcome the legacy of his/her upbringing.

      I just believe that we’ve had enough time to ponder over these things and its time to like you said @reconstruct our Identity” according to each African. I just hear so many people blaming colonialism, apartheid for not being successful or productive in life. At what point to we as individuals start to take responsibility? Another 50 years?

      How do we move on if we can’t let go of our past hurts and pain, it just makes us bitter. Lets acknowledge and learn from the past but we should stop blaming the past for where we are now. There a nations with similar history to African countries. One that springs to mind is South Korea, but look how far they have come in 50 years? Just a thought.

      Reply
    • October 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm
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      As regards your comment, I am in agreement with Kate’s response. When you have control of your future, is your failure still to be blamed on those who, at your inception or at some point in your life, made things a little more difficult? Is the blame at the least not to be apportioned to your own efforts too?

      A more fitting analogy, one I can’t think will find than that given by Kate. Consider the response you would give to a man in his latter stages of life who was living as a beggar on the streets, if he told you that this is his life because of an abusive parent who he escaped from in his youth. Personally, I would acknowledge that the abuse hampered some opportunities but I would be hard-pressed to overlook all that he could have done between the escape and where he is today.

      As for “Africa before the destruction” and rebuilding it, I understand where you’re coming from but I think it can’t be rebuilt. Too much has changed, both good and bad, to ever reconstruct a “pre-colonisation” Africa. What needs to happen is deep soul searching by our generation for the Africa we desire and then we should work towards constructing that. Much like the abused child will never get to relive their childhood as they imagined, but they can make the most of their future so too we should view Africa’s “existence”.

      Reply
  • October 29, 2010 at 4:01 am
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    The biggest problem with trying to reconstruct a precolonial Africa is geography. The colonialists came and divided the continent up as they saw fit, and now we’re pretty much stuck with this set up. it wouldresult in massive civil wars to try to return the continent to what it was before (essentially just one large country) when there are now economies and trade unions and so on in place.

    Secondly, it is a mistake to blame colonialism and apartheid for all the problems Africa faces. On one hand, of course they are to blame. There has not even been one generation between Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and today, so wounds are still fresh. On the other hand, where does pointing fingers get us? Nowhere, because it implies that you are unable to rise from adversity, otherwise there would be no need for finger pointing.

    Another problem is the disproportional distribution of food in the world. After WWII Europe and America experienced the Green Revolution. During this time, farming techniques were developed and perfected which resulted in a well-fed, happy society, which could then turn its attention to other things, like education and health care and so on. African was left out of this revolution because of all the wars and fighting over land which were still going on. What Africa needs is a green revolution.

    I’ve lived in Asia for a few years now, and I’ve come across people who have as little money as any poor African, but, at least in China and Vietnam, they don’t seem poor, because food is so cheap, and education is free for the younger children at least.

    I have more to say, but I guess my point is that it is probably difficult to have pride when it seems like there is nothing to be proud of, but then it is the duty of every African to stop bitching and make their home something to be proud of. Europeans are proud to be European and they’re just as diverse as Africans in terms of language and culture. We should also be proud to be African, and there are many many concrete things which can be done to make Africa a place to be proud of.

    Reply

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