by Iweka Kingsley
This piece is a rejoinder to A Farewell to Africa Rising, and Other Grand Narratives on Africa, an article written by Atta Addo, for the online blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where he is a PhD candidate in the school’s Department of Management.
In the article, Atta Addo discusses the impact of Ebola on the grand narrative on Africa.
It is true indeed that Africa has several ‘fundamentally weak institutions, lacking strong leadership, and bereft of self-efficacy’ – but I disagree that the outbreak of Ebola across several African countries is what exposed these situations, and therefore cannot be said to emaciate the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative in anyway. In fact, it can actually be said to have strengthened that narrative, especially when we look at how Nigeria and Senegal dealt with the situation. I am a Nigerian and I believe I speak the mind of many compatriots when I say that we were quite amazed at how well the situation was handled, with special recognition and applause to the government and leadership of Lagos State, which was the entry point of Ebola in Nigeria.
Africa is not a country, but we do realise that a light shining forth from one point will spread through and illuminate every dark corner and region along its path.
Hope cannot Die
The ‘Africa Rising’ narrative though very much affected, acts strongly against the actual realities of the continent. It is a different force, an opposing one sort of, and is not sewn from the same fabric as that which currently envelops the continent right now. Though open to many interpretations, as I am not the fore-bearer of this narrative, merely a contributor to this narrative, I believe what the narrative seeks to achieve is quite clear, and how it functions is by highlighting outcomes that provide a sense of hope and faith, and charges more people to join in pushing this force forward, in a continent where hope is extinguished and despair is so abundantly mixed with the air the people breathe.
You see, hope can never really die, it can be flattened by prolonged exposure to series of disappointments but it springs forth eternally from the human breasts. What we may seek to alter is the kind of hope and the manner with which we spread it. The ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, as with religion has many variations and so many apostles or prophets, and as with religion some of these prophets and their messages are without substance. For example, if we choose to spread the gospel of steady power supply in Nigeria, it would help to point to the already existing power reform projects that have kicked off, the duration it will take to deliver on these projects and what is expected of the average Nigerian to ensure these projects materialise; as against just declaring to the people that power will be restored in the country.
People and their Choices Matter
This, I believe, is the high point of Addo’s insightful article, where he makes what I consider to be the most profound contribution to the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative: “We need to humanise the process of change.”
It is written that – “Knowledge is not power, the people are power.” Of this, Addo puts it rightly when he says:
How do some countries in Africa manage to challenge their rise when others elsewhere rise to the challenge? It is time to focus on people and the choices they make! Despite complex causal webs that characterise all social, economic and political phenomena, human choice is a circuit breaker and can permit or disallow change. The difference between Mobutu and Mandela is the choices they made. And the difference between better-off and worse-off nations has much to do with human agency and choices.
As a continent, we are what we are, and will be what we become based on the choices we make. Addo Says:
Change is not only possible for Africa’s countries but also inevitable. How and what kind of change depends on the choices of Africa’s leaders and people. Rather than clutching to faceless grand narratives—pessimistic or optimistic—we might focus instead on how human agency and choices matter.
By moving from grand narratives that lack human agency, to narratives focused on people and their choices, we may begin a more meaningful task of empowering Africans to take ownership for needed change in their communities and countries. When we applaud change-makers and bring righteous pressure to bear upon those whose actions contribute to social, political, and economic ills, we humanise the process of change.
We cannot diminish the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative in anyway, it is the only way we can ensure that the light, no matter how little, stays shining till no dark spot remains. According to Physics, there really is no darkness, only an absence of light. What this means is that the more light we shed and spread, the more the darkness vanishes, across the continent. Essentially, as we begin to humanise the process of change, I would say that the more we become the light that spreads through Africa, the more the darkness diminishes, as we herald the dawn of a new day in Africa.