Yabome Gilpin-Jackson of Sierra Leone/Canada is a dreamer, doer and storyteller, committed to imaging and leading the futures we want through award-winning human and organisation development scholarship and practice. She is the co-founder of We Will Lead Africa, writing and curating African identity, leadership and belonging stories.
Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’. Whenever a relatively positive narrative is spun about the continent of Africa and her peoples, it is often one about resilience. After all, if African countries and African people continue to endure suffering and pain and yet continue to exist, then surely, it can be concluded that if nothing else, we are resilient.
I see this narrative is as trite and dehumanising; the patronising and patriarchal tone places ‘Africa – that dark continent’, as a passive recipient of a doomed destiny. In this narrative, suffering is inevitable and unstoppable for or by African peoples, especially African women, who are expected to carry the brunt of the load, literally and figuratively, of daily burdens and ongoing violence of all kinds.
Whilst there is truth and evidence for the common aphorism ‘what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’, and that transformation is a possible outcome of trauma, my own research on post-traumatic growth has also raised the perspective that a continuous narrative on ‘resilience’ is inhumane.
It is inhumane to continue to be bystanders to suffering for the sake of observing the collateral benefit of resilience, because an environment that perpetuates suffering will not only erode resilience, but amplify mental-health and traumatic injuries, in turn closing off possibilities for innovation and transformation.
The crises of COVID-19 and social inequality has revealed the environmental and social structures that breed suffering for Black peoples globally. But it has also opened up opportunities for African women who have been positioning to take space in all arenas: they are building on what our ancestors did quietly while fulfilling traditional gender-assigned roles, to boldly lead Africa’s progress – as we saw in documenting their stories for We Will Lead Africa, Volume II: Women.
As we respond to COVID-19 and shape Africa’s future, it’s time to not only look for the resilient solutions (‘bounce back’), but to take actions that allow us to ‘bounce forward’. Resilient no more! We are here to take and make space for Africa’s continued transformation, especially for African girls and women on the continent and in the diaspora.