Yesterday morning an article by Nick Kristof circulated on social media: 'Africa on the rise' where he aims at convincing his primarily American audience that Africa isn’t just a place for safaris or humanitarian aid. It’s also a place to make money.
I read the article. Puzzled. Left the house bound for a walk in Owino Market in Kampala.
I have for some time noted the trend to rebrand Africa. I do not know where it originates from exactly, we may be able to understand this retrospectively in some years. I do not mind the 'rebranding' as such, but I do not always understand the motions behind it and what the aims are. I often see fascination win over contextualisation, values, integrity, ideology and perspective when done. I see limited capability when describing the contrasts. I see journalists like Kristof picking one part, ignoring the rest which would have presented a more complex picture.
I see business people's interests collide with NGO workers', and I see Africans and people of African origin argue with expats residing in Africa - in particular on social media; not to forget the consultants, media people, researchers etc. going to and from the continent, many claiming that what Africa is on its way to is something positive.
Africa on the rise is a reality in Africa, but it is also a trend in the making. Meaning, we can only assume its turn. It is even a trend blending multiple strings like fashion, new technology, politics, resouces (ie. oil and gas) business, aid and development. Add to that the psychology of it all, the identity questions, who wants to be labelled what, and of the everyday realism for the respective African individual. Weighty debates illustrating the latter are i.e. how Ugandans answered back to Kony2012 or how Kenyans dealt with Korean Airways use of the word 'primitive energy'.
I tried recently to label a group of friends in Dar es Salaam 'Afropolitans'. That turned into several, repeated debates, but no agreement, though I thought they did fit the CNN's definition 'Young, urban and culturally savvy, meet the Afropolitans -- a new generation of Africans and people of African descent with a very global outlook.'
Shortly after I was tasked to take photos of 'middle class' Tanzanians for a Danish magazine, which again started a debate with friends in Tanzania - and yes, it did become absurd trying to label people as middle class and telling them to wear something African for the photo shoot... I am, however, not the only one with that experience.
Another is the Danish campaign called The World's Best News, which aims at promoting that 'the developing countries are making huge progress – and if we want to, we have the opportunity to end poverty.'
There is also an abundance of online media platforms which utilise the great potential of social media to put this dynamic on display embracing the fact that a dynamic like this shouldn't be defined as long as it is still in the making. Some of these are ie. Africa is a Country, Okay Africa, AfriPOPmag and ARISE.
We call it all sorts of things, i.e. we talk about another Africa.
To me there is not two Africas, but one consisting of many countries, cultures and people. I see, however, an ongoing dynamic between what once was - the tradition - interacting with the new trends, which gradually produces this change which ie. Kristof is defining as positive for Africa.
Rise, growth and development is happening. No doubt. And it is making the ones with an old-fashioned view of Africa stop up when Kristof reports about material progress from Lesotho. Kristof says that 'All in all, though, Africa is becoming more democratic, more technocratic and more market-friendly.'
Read my piece on contrast here if in need of concrete examples.
On my way through Kampala yesterday I once again came across the bodaboda drivers (photo left) which have increased in amount since I was in Kampala 5 years ago. Not a good sign as it basically means that especially young men are struggling to make a living.
And yesterday I took another photo (below) of a young man shovelling charcoal with his bare hands at the far back of Owino Market.
Africa is on the rise. Yes. I agree to Kristof's headline.
But - reading Kristof also reminds me that I am a socialist. And as much as I enjoy Africa rising, growing, changing and rebranding itself, I cannot look at the positive sides with a clean conscience if I also didn't ask the man in Owino market what he thinks.
In fact that is so much more interesting than what Kristof thinks. Kristof leaves out the inequality the growth enhances.
A growth so far only for the few.
People argue that new technology, the more people going into the middle class category, better taxation systems, more responsible politicians and less corruption will help this.
I wish. I only wonder how soon that will happen before the resources are emptied out.
Take the Tanzanian government's recent agreement on this year's national budget. Did it decide on additional taxes on airtime, or did it embrace the proposition from the opposition that telecom companies better pay a decent corporate tax.
Take the rest of the world.
Why would Africa be any wiser when navigating its growth into benefits for the majority?