Current Affairs

The power of self-belief

The power of self-belief
  • PublishedOctober 1, 2018

Although the epic film, Black Panther, watched by millions of people globally is fiction, we must not underestimate the power of fiction to shape reality. It shows what Africa can be if we believe in ourselves. By Allen Choruma

The fact that Black Panther has broken global box office records in revenue and viewer numbers, notwithstanding that it has a predominantly all-black cast and its theme is premised on Africa, in itself epitomises changes in perceptions on Africa; these perceptions have been so engrained and hardened in many people’s minds as to become more ‘real’ than the real Africa.

It is important to keep in mind that most of these perceptions of Africa were projected in fiction when writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan); H. Ryder Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines, She) and their ilk portrayed Africa as primitive and savage, a stage for heroics for white protagonists. These novels and their offshoots, including films, had far greater influence on forming perceptions than all the learned tomes in the various Western universities.

There have been many attempts to change perceptions through articles, books and studies but few have been able to match the sheer force of fiction.

It therefore took a major tour de force of fiction, which Black Panther represents, to counter views and in some cases, shift and change perceptions. Most significantly, the film has been changing Africans’ perceptions of themselves.

Never underestimate the power of fiction to shape reality. As James Early Brown, New York, US, in his letter to the editor (NA, April 2018) put it: “Today’s fiction is tomorrow’s reality.”

In this article I draw from contributions made on Black Panther and related topics by writers in New African magazine, in particular Anver Versi’s ‘Black Panther changing perceptions’, Onyekachi Wambu’s ‘A Wakanda rooted in reality’, Baffour Ankomah’s ‘Black Panther – I beg to differ’ and Kalundi Serumaga’s ‘Is our education system fit for purpose’?

However, for many youths the reality in Africa depicts hopelessness, marginalisation, and exclusion. The ‘Africa Rising’ narrative is not inclusive, it benefits others, not them.

But there is another, hidden reality of Africa that the film alludes to. That hidden and forgotten treasure – our great African civilisation, our incredible cultural heritage, our richness in human and natural resources – which is concealed from Africans by others and paradoxically, from Africans by Africans.

The eminent African professor, Mandivamba Rukuni, states that the erosion of African civilisation came about with foreign education systems and religions that were imposed on Africans through colonialism. This marked the birth of perennial conflicts between African cultures on the one hand and on the other, foreign education systems and religions, creating confusion in Africans that anything to do with African culture or ‘African-ness’ is backward and should be abandoned.

The history on Africa was distorted and written by others – those who enslaved Africans and people who colonised and exploited Africa for centuries.

Africans need to regain the lost ground and rewrite the distorted narrative; reclaim the eroded past so that our children are excited by their heritage and inspired by the lives and lessons of their ancestors.

Writing a new narrative

African Union (AU) statistics show that Africa has abundant natural resources – about 12% of the world’s oil reserves, 42% of its gold, 80-90% of chromium and platinum group metals, and 60% of arable land, in addition to other resources. Africa’s underdevelopment is therefore not rooted in a scarcity of either natural or human resources.

There is an African joke that goes: “If you throw a stone at random in Nigeria, you hit a professor”, meaning that Africa is not short of highly educated and capable people.

Africa’s natural resources are often wantonly looted through corruption and benefit only a few. Proceeds earned from them, in many instances, are stashed offshore by individuals, companies and even our own governments and are not working for Africa’s development.

“It is well known that [African] central banks are sitting on almost $500bn of reserves and in general, these are held outside [Africa] financing US and European debt”,  said Benedict Oromah, President  of Afreximbank, during a recent interview in London with African Banker magazine.

Paradoxically, Oromah says “it is those same countries [US and European nations] that tell their banks that it is too risky to lend to Africa, and who subsequently withdraw their credit lines to the continent for compliance reasons”.

The problems in Africa start from us not believing in ourselves, respecting ourselves and caring for ourselves and our community as espoused in our traditional African values of Ubuntu.

Anver Versi, editor of New African, says: “But for starters, if you don’t respect yourself, don’t expect anyone else to do so. And respect for yourself begins with respect for your people – if you do not love, cherish and respect your own people and stand up for their rights and dignity, you deserve all the lashings that the likes of Trump are all too happy to dish out.”

What is refreshing is that a new crop of young dynamic leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, artists, sports persons, academics, you name it, is rising in Africa and in the Diaspora, creating their own space to drive change and writing a new narrative for Africa.

For example, the prominent media personality, Sudanese-born Zeinab Badawi, did a groundbreaking eight-part documentary series covering the whole of Africa titled The real history of Africa, which was aired on BBC last year. The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), signed on 29 January, 2018 seeks to open African skies, improve connectivity, reduce flying time and costs and potentially create 6.8m direct jobs. The aviation industry contributes about $72.5bn to Africa’s GDP and this could increase phenomenally.

Africa produces about 75% of the world’s cocoa but receives a paltry 5% ($5bn) of the $100bn global annual chocolate market share, says Akinwumi Adesina, President of AfDB.

The AU’s ‘Value Addition for Global Competitiveness’ approach seeks to reverse this by the creation of manufacturing industries, producing high value finished products for domestic consumption and export. This will create millions of jobs for young people and curb forced migration to Europe.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), launched on 21 March, 2018 sets to break trade impediments inhibiting African trade development. According to Afreximbank, intra-African trade is a paltry 15% of total continental trade, or $170bn, compared to European intra trade at 70% or $6 trillion.

Once all countries sign up, CFTA will become the world’s biggest economic trading bloc, integrating 55 countries with 1.2bn people and a combined GDP of $3 trillion.

The prospects for Africa to scale greater heights are real, but can only be much more exciting than the fantasy of Wakanda in Black Panther, if there is commitment and strong political will to drive change in a manner that is inclusive and benefits all African people.  

Written By
New African

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