You walk down the streets of Paris and you can as well be on a rue in any Francophone African state. It’s the same architecture; the same arrangement of buildings in close-proximity; the same worn cobblestones; the same smells: fruits roasted on street-side braziers, baking confections from a boulangerie nearby, the bittersweet tang coming from the Chocolaterie with a sign above the door that reads: DEPUIS 1920something.
It’s the same cloying sense of history. The zest for life. The same exuberant gestures and fast-talking. The same friendliness and hospitality that makes a stranger kin in a matter of seconds. The same joie de vivre. And it all makes you realise one thing: that the French colonial-masters indeed left roots in Anglophone Africa, from where an emigré can easily settle into life in France, and not feel any culture-shock.
Why then is the same not true for indigenes of Anglophone African states? Settling into life in Britain, having come from Nigeria for example, can be unsettling and disheartening. There’s usually a non-alignment at first that goes beyond culture-shock. And I’ve thought if this should be so considering the confluence of the histories of the British colonial-masters and the conquered states…
There’s only one answer that comes to mind. That while the French Loi Cadre system was mostly about integration, the British colonial system sought only exploitation. Creating an air of suspicion between the nations that make up present-day Anglophone Africa, fracturing connections before they were even made, all the better to rule. “Divide and Conquer”, huh? Fancy term that makes the British colonial presence seem more concerted and logical than an opportunistic plundering perpetrated by a myopic, destructive, self-serving machine of whiskered bastards. Pardon my French.
Though the afore-mentioned system of administration might not be the sole cause, it’s undeniably contributory to the mostly-unfounded sense of distrust and acrimony going between the groups that make up these Anglophone states. The echoes of this system go beyond the surface to a place deep down in the consciousness of the Anglophone African, wordlessly handed down through generations like defective genes.
I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of incredible people from all over Africa, and in my experience I’ve found that Africans from Francophone (and Portuguese-speaking states) have a surer sense of identity, a deeper awareness of their Africanness than their Anglophone brothers. And I think this is because while the French way of being was introduced to them the English way of life was tossed at us in inconsistent blobs and trickles. Enough that the British had their way, but not enough that the colonised start to fancy themselves English. Resultant of which the so-colonised have a collective self-image that’s fractured all the way through the middle with conflicting influences.
I ask myself why Africans from Anglophone states are more often than not driven to strive for a westernised portrayal of self in the bid to come to a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. Why is it that the radio air-waves are dominated by British and American accents, some faux, all highfalutin? Why is skin-bleaching more rampant in Anglophone Africa? Why is a trip to the United States or England (both twin-seats of the “English” culture) considered a monumental achievement?
It would be arrogant of me to state categorically that this state of being is as a result of any one thing, because there are several elements that factor in the mix, but in comparison Africans from Francophone states seem to be more content with self, more aware of their culture and heritage, less conscious of social strata, and in my experience, generally not given to class-snobbery. And the differential in the general sense of perception in these erstwhile colonies juxtaposed, is to my mind a reflection of the fact that Francophone Africans do not feel the need to aspire to a western culture, because the French culture was wedded with local customs such that it became an indivisible whole, the hybrid of these independent forces becoming inextricable.
On the other extreme the British culture and local customs are perpetually clashing. And we’ve all been largely taught in unclear terms to pick a side. It’s always the local custom enthusiasts versus the “modern people”: weaves are un-African, prints are the way forward (a trend that became BIG in the West by the way before the ankara redefinition was deported back “home”) and if you don’t buy into the ridiculously expensive “African” textile and craft accessories then your sense of identity as an African is incomplete.
But is our Africanness dependent on the fabrics on our back? Does our identity as Africans depend on whether or not our hair is kinky or done in jerry-curls? Is it even a matter of our skin-tone?
NO! Not to me. Africanness is a state of being. It’s something that starts in our minds, but doesn’t end there. Not the other way around.
It’s a sense of self-awareness that’s not subject to calibration. A perception that’s whole, which though may be reflected in trends and outward appearances, is not defined by them.
Being African IS what it IS. There’s neither need for qualification nor relativity. More than a feeling, it’s a knowledge, and sometimes as an awareness it is a product of conscious thought, conscious effort. Or like in my case, it can be an accidental discovery, spurred by something, anything: African music, African fabrics, African fables, African literature… All of which sums up the African Spirit, the passion for which can spring a well of self-awareness, a thirst for history. The better to know Africa. Continguous to being African…
“Africa” is the continent. It has always been.
“African” is the state of mind. It has always been…
P.S: For all the failings of the French colonial Loi-Cadre system, this post underlines one of the things it actually got right: integration. It’s not my intention to make the French colonial presence in Africa seem like a bed of daisies for the subjects of that colonial dispensation. I’ve visited sites where African slaves where held during the colonial era in these Francophone states, and the memory of walking those halls, and seeing those crevices where humans where held live gregarious animals in indescribably horrific conditions still causes me to shudder.
This post is based largely on my experiences and my individual perception, not on research or any infallible references, so feel free to disagree.
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