Does it even exist?
September 27th, 2013
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There isn’t much that is African about the ‘African way’ ...
As the civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) unfolded, I found myself fascinated by the discussions and debates on social media forums, with many interesting perspectives being put across and as usual in these type of forums, quite a few half-baked opinions emerging.
The one perspective that emerged, which interested me, was from a few defendants of our calamitous government, who boldly proclaimed that it was imperative that the South African government intervened in the CAR, to prevent a fellow African government being overthrown illegally by rebels as part of the quest to find “African solutions for African problems” or the “African Way” as they called it.
It reminded me of those simple lyrics from Somalian musician K’naan’s song, The African Way, “It’s the African Way, what more can I say, it’s the African Way.”
Being the sort of fellow that I am, I couldn’t help asking a couple of questions when reflecting on this perspective, because it’s become a very popular argument for Africans to fall back on, whenever cornered – this mystical “Africa Way” that is. What is this African way? From whence does it emanate? Is there really such a thing?
Well here are some simple facts. Africa is a continent with over fifty countries, over a thousand languages, thousands of ethnic groups and an unquantifiable number of cultures and traditions. Africans are by no means a homogeneous people and as such it’s absolutely fantastical and completely disingenuous for people to talk about some nebulous concept called the “African Way” in a continent as richly diverse as ours.
Some African countries have over twenty different ethnicities represented in the one country and there’s often a struggle to create some kind of consensus within those societies and to form some sort of sense of nationhood. It leaves one wondering how there can be a uniform “African Way” when there’s not even a common sense of belonging to each other within African states represented by various ethnic groups.
So perhaps this “African Way” is just another meaningless slogan invented by politicians who tend to be professional ‘excusologists’, always looking for a way out of taking responsibility whenever things go wrong.
Here in South Africa, the search for the so-called “African Way” has led to horrific suggestions such as the Traditional Courts Bill, which received much public criticism. Not forgetting the touting of outdated practices such as polygamy, which to a proudly modernised, untraditional fellow like me seems like a harping back to the Mfecane (crushing or scattering) and Difaqane era.
The only place, where we Africans seem to be completely united and think alike, is in always looking to apportion blame and point fingers, when things go wrong, as opposed to actively looking for and creating solutions. Perhaps, this is the much vaunted “African Way” because it pervades the whole continent, every corner of it, all of its tribes and people groups. It’s the one place where Africans have found common ground despite their many differences and differentiators.
So there’s no such thing as the “African Way”, just a common human trait of passing the buck and shifting responsibility when things are not as they should be. We are much better off trying to find common human traits as opposed to this non-existent, supposedly Pan Africanist “African Way.” This is the only way we’ll ever move forward and progress as a continent and within our individual countries/nation-states.
So next time you hear someone harping on about the “African Way”, challenge them to break it down to you and explain it to you in layman terms, show you practical contemporary examples of where it’s actually worked. If you do this, you’ll find that, there’s not much that’s African about the “African Way” because in truth it doesn’t really exist.
It’s a fictional, mystical, nebulous concept which has no practical application whatsoever and offers no hope for us going forward as we chart a path towards what we all hope will be the “African Century”. To quote ancient Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, “ex Africa semper aliquid novi” (always something new from Africa).
It is indeed time for something new to emerge out of Africa, something focused on human values and humanness as opposed to Africanness and this impractical, non-existent “African Way.”
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