I went to lunch at a local restaurant designated mostly for tourists and the wealthier Middle Eastern sector of the Gambia the other day; mostly for its Wireless and real coffee, but also for its somewhat serene environment. I had heard earlier in the day about Osama Bin Laden’s death and as a self described news junkie I needed to sit for several hours and pour over the happenings of the world for my own sanity. New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, and the Economist being my main spots online, but since the recent royal wedding I had avoided them for fear of seeing another comment or article about Kate Middleton’s makeup or dress. I went through my usual series of clicks on Nytimes. Home page, see if anything strikes my interest, open it in a new tab if it does, next go to “WORLD”, repeat the previous step, then I go continent to continent and then region to region. My favorites are of course “Africa” and “Asia Pacific” because of my current location and subconscious turned conscious desire to be Asian.
On my usual turn on the “Africa” home page I scan through the articles I have already read, click on one about Land buyouts by Western and Asian nations in Africa, and its damages to society and agricultural practices. A voice behind me says, “Africa has too many problems.” I responded to the man, a waiter named Justin from Sierra Leone that “Africa is a big continent, and problems happen everywhere.” He responded “But today America is celebrating because their enemy (Osama Bin Laden) is dead, we African’s don’t get to celebrate that much.” Shortly afterwards I invited Justin to sit down with me (the restaurant wasn’t very busy) and talk. Justin had fled Sierra Leone during the war and had moved to The Gambia five years earlier after brief stints in Liberia, and Guinea. We sat there and talked about what was going on in the world. How the revolts in Tunisia had spurned the revolution in Egypt, but how the world only cared about Egypt because “They are Arabs not Africans.” We talked about how some people in the Gambia still support Gaddafi, and how “America shouldn’t intervene in African problems.” We talked about the split in Nigeria and the two country solution in Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire’s ridiculous leader who refused to leave power. We talked of corruption, colonialism, and America. “America is a nice country, a good country,” he said. I told him “It is, but not for everyone, we still have a lot of problems ourselves.” “I know of your problems, but they are not like ours, not like Africans.”
I know in my last blog post that I said that not all of Africa was the same. That we don’t get to stand at the side and call it all the same and ignore the distinct nations, cultures, peoples, and experiences. We being Americans or westerners, but perhaps from an on the ground perspective it is more appropriate. It was not until the age of colonialism that Africa had a single similar experience continent wide. That was when the west pronounced these lands as “ours”, and parceled it off without concern for empires, kingdoms, regions, ethnic groups, cultures, or religions. After all it was all Africa, what difference could it possible make?
Now Africa is faced with all of the inherited problems of a previous era along with the idea that “You are all Africans.” We use it out of ignorance, because we never had geography tests in middle and high school on the various African countries as Europe was deemed a more pressing topic of concern. It is used because often we don’t know better and choose not to, but here the concept of being African has transformed and stayed since the Independence Era into a Pan-African ideal. I like to think of it as Globalization at its highest level: “We are all in this together.”
Perhaps this all contradictory and doesn’t make any sense, or maybe I am just putting a Post-Modern spin on world affairs with no real data and limited experience. But if you were sitting there with Justin and I at lunch, it would have struck you as a conversation worth having, and perspective worth learning. Our conversation ended abruptly when a group of people came into the restaurant, but our conversation ended with me saying that America has had a civil war, we have our own apartheid, we have corruption, and the streets are not paved with gold, but we too hope that it will all work out in the end.