Outsiders may see Africa as one homogeneous mass; but how much do we really know about each other, besides the usual stereotypes? As we’ve seen from the Africa Cup of Nations, some events encourage us to find out more about other African countries and bring us together. Let’s have more of them, says Moky Makura.
‘I am tired of meeting people for the first time on Christmas day, mum. Can we just hang out with family this year?”
That plaintive question came from my daughter a few weeks before the holidays and it made me stop and think. I have never really been a fan of Christmas as a theme – I don’t watch movies of that genre, and I don’t put up decorations and we are hardly ever at home for it.
Over the years, I have seen it as a social holiday, perhaps missing the entire point of it as a moment for families to come together, connect, learn more about each other and do what families do best: eat, play, fight… then repeat, the following year.
A few weeks ago, the Twittersphere in Ghana was abuzz with questions about a small island country on the east side of Africa called Comoros, which no one had heard of. The tweets were largely humorous but tinged with indignation because this tiny island had just knocked Ghana – the footballing giants – out of the Africa Cup of Nations. Chale!
As it became apparent that Comoros was in fact in Africa, people started rallying behind #TeamComoros, who were celebrating not just their first appearance at AFCON, but also making it through to the knockout stages.
Like Christmas for families, AFCON has always been a unifying moment for Africans. It puts the continent in the spotlight and gives us a shared interest through which we can connect. We rally behind our countries; we curse, fight and play like brothers from different mothers. We change our allegiances as the teams whittle down to the final two but we always, proudly and patriotically root for Africa.
This year, as many Africans ‘discovered’ Comoros for the first time, AFCON became not just a convening, unifying moment, but also a learning opportunity for Africans to find out something more about their continent.
Last year, during the qualifiers, the ‘Zambia national football team’ was the most searched term in Senegal. In Algeria, it was ‘Tunisia national football team’. In Tunisia, Togo and Benin however, the leading search terms during the AFCON qualifiers were more general – they were ‘Mali’, ‘Guinea’ and ‘Sierra Leone’, proving that although football may have triggered curiosity, learning more about other countries was an important by-product.
But in 2022, there is still so much Africans don’t know about each other.
Nearly 20 years ago, Big Brother Africa, season 1 aired. It brought together 12 Africans from 12 different countries to battle it out for a cash prize under the unflinching eyes of 24/7 TV cameras. 106 days later, Zambian Cherise Makubale walked out of the house with the prize in what had become a pop culture phenomenon and an entertaining journey of discovery into what other Africans were like. Few of us had met Angolans, Malawians, Zimbabweans or knew much about them, their countries or their cultures.
Big Brother Africa triggered conversations and debates about national identity, cultural understanding, continental unity, and morality – and for the first time in a very open, public way. The year was 2003, we didn’t have social media back then, so the SMSs which scrolled along the bottom of the screen were how we connected over the characters in the house. Big Brother Africa was one of those unifying and learning moments, like AFCON, that succeeded for a moment in bringing Africans together.
Dry humour and gentle ribbing
And there have probably been a few other moments that have tried, Africa Day for example, but one of the more memorable moments happened in July 2015, when Siyanda Moutsiwa, a satirist from Botswana, created a hashtag that immediately went viral. She asked, “If Africa was a bar, what would your country be?”
#IfAfricaWasABar became the Christmas moment that triggered Africans to engage and share how they saw themselves and other Africans. The dry humour and gentle ribbing sparked discussions about the economic and political state of many African countries. It helped Africans see beyond the stereotypical narratives they had about each other and provided a space for those narratives to be dissected and corrected. Siyanda had created a unifying moment.
In a world that sees Africa often as one homogenous whole, that assumes we know and even like each other, unifying moments are an opportunity, like Christmas, to bring us together. For a continent of 1.4bn people, these unifying moments provide the connective tissue that makes us family.
We do need more such moments – so let’s create them. Perhaps the AfCFTA could sponsor a campaign: If Africa was a market, what products would your country sell? Let’s see if they can get the party going.