My complicated relationship with Africa began when I arrived in the US. As an impressionable, West African, teenage immigrant – my thoughts of Africa, especially my native Guinea, was based upon belittlement. I trashed Africa on how ‘undeveloped’ and ‘unsophisticated’ everything was, compared to the infrastructure and quality of public service in my new home; New York City.
Deep down me, I was ashamed of being an African and would even feel some sense of relief when people wrongly identified me as Puerto Rican, Dominican or Haitian-Creole because of my light-brown skin. Mother Africa went about her business as usual, dealing with all the dehumanizing scars of slavery, colonialism and centuries of exploitation and even rejection from her own children.
Fast forward; I became a college graduate and a professional earning over $50K/year. Fast forward, again, this time 5 years… I am heading to England to earn my master’s degree at the #1 globally ranked school for national and international development studies – the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. The University is in a city called Brighton.
Though considered a city, Brighton has a ‘small town’ feel. Highlighting this part is very important because I became privy to the culture/way-of-life of what might be called ‘true’ English, not cosmopolitan English. However, In Brighton, it was Africa’s turn to laugh at me! Because, the very crown that was at the helm of slavery and colonialism and whatever “ism” there is out there, really wasn’t impressive in terms of its infrastructure or public services.
This didn’t sit well with me… I wanted to know where all the colonialism money went? How come buses and trains continue to break down, and houses look so “basic”? Why the people weren’t as impressive or as awe-inspiring as we were made to believe. Pointedly, how come white skin was not, in reality, better than brown or dark skin? Isn’t this sense of supposed ‘divine’ superiority of one skin-color compared to another at the core of America’s racism and aren’t the British ancestors to most Americans?
In the movie “The Lion King”; Timon, after looking at the dry and depressing pride land, asked Simba in disappointment and almost disgust, “are we fighting your uncle for this?” That is exactly how I felt, “wait a minute, all that colonialism, slave trade and the systematic destruction of Africa and Africans sense of self-worth was for this nonsense? Are you freaking kidding me?! This really was an eye-opener for me!
Of course, I am fully aware that Africa has a long way to go before she can capitalize on her infrastructure, or being able to lift the majority of its population of poverty. I am also aware of the often-incapacitating leadership affecting a lot of Africa. Yet, I have never in my life been prouder to be an African!
I am fully committed to accepting Africa, with all her flaws, and the beauty of her humanity. And let me emphatically state this, in the strongest terms possible – nothing or no one, is better than her, even if such an entity were “pooping gold, daily!”
Africa’s humanity and spirituality are unique to her. These two are more valuable than her gold and diamonds and all her tangible resources. Africa is resilient despite everything she’s been through and this is what Africa means to me now. I am glad I learned so much from my experiences.
About the Author:
Kadiatou Sylla: A daughter, mother, sister, aunt, and friend has her M.A. in international relations with a focus on poverty alleviation, politics, and policies at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex. Her research interest is in capacity building of minorities, indigenous and marginalized groups, particularly in Africa. Her B.A. in human rights coupled with her prior professional experience in the not-for-profit sector sparked her interest in social impacts research. She’s passionate about socio-economic and political equities and looks forward to serving communities of African descent and perennially marginalized groups.