If I hear ‘This is Africa’ one more time…

The representative at Addis Ababa Bole International stared at me with those glazed eyes, and that familiar look of  vapidity commonly worn amongst customer service personnel. He lightly tugged at his hipster lens, and coldly retorted, “This is Africa, what do you want me to do?” Motherfucker Good gentleman, I want you to do your job, that’s what.  After cancelling my flight in error, insulting me in his native Amharic tongue, all whilst browsing Facebook; he still had the audacity to blame his ineptitude, and incompetence on Africa.  I stood there with a feeling of bewilderment, and my mind was overwhelmed with many questions. I was left in a state of perpetual trepidation. Questions like how does this man manage to breathe on his own without the help of machines and cue card prompts, and more importantly, how on earth did he obtain his job. Where did he get those funky glasses?. Lastly, why was this Charlie Brown/Teddy Ruxpin looking gentlemen blaming Africa?

As I traveled throughout Ethiopia and the Somaliland (Northern Somali for you die hard nationalists) region, anytime I encountered corruption, bribery attempts, sexual harassment, discrimination, incompetence, abuse, I was simply told ‘This is Africa.” Dare I ask, “Is that a Hyena in this restaurant?”, and someone within a few feet will retort ‘This is Africa’. This defeatist phrase reeks of internalized racism and self-loathing. It connotes that ingenuity, efficiency, transparency, and competence are foreign to Africa and Africans, and one ought to leave these particular expectations at the door when one enters the continent.  Common sense is for the white man, they say. For efficiency, go to America. And Human Rights, now that’s crazy talk, This is Africa. Surely we can do better, and demanding better is only holding our nations up to the standards we know it can achieve, and has achieved without colonial distractions.

In expressing some of my frustration with local friends and family in East Africa, I was advised to remove my first world gaze, and take this region as is. There’s wisdom in that advice, as one shouldn’t come to Africa with expectations that the materialism and privilege of life in the west will be replicated for us here. Our continent is rich, and alive with innovation, creativity, and beauty. We do not need to appropriate the assembly line mentality prevalent in western nations, and there is something uniquely African about our laissez faire approach to living.However, no African ought to tolerate violence, infringement of civil rights, sexism, absence of customer service, and endure complacency at the hands of everyone from government officials to shop keepers. As an African woman, why should I reply on western nations to bestow me with civil liberties? Why should anyone spend a dollar of their hard earned money feeding corrupt politicians and sub-par business establishments, simply because of this defeatist ‘This is Africa’ narrative. We need to demand better of our continent and nations.

Damn you Edward Zwick of the ‘Blood Diamonds’ fame and making ‘This is Africa’ the go to excuse for every act of incompetence and injustice committed across our beloved continent.  For those of you living in the continent, how do you deal with some of the frustrations and the nonchalant borderline insensible approach to getting things? Are we demanding too much? Or can my rant be filed under ‘first world problems?’.


15 thoughts on “If I hear ‘This is Africa’ one more time…

  1. ” We need to demand better of our continent and nations.”

    That is so true. I keep thinking, how can we as Africans be successful in a global system this is by definition against us and was built and is being built on out backs? A system that demands our inferiority to be successful. And how can I poise questions like that without taking personal responsibility from the so called Africans. I don’t know sis. Without being too afroromantic here, there’s apparently an “African” maah maah that says: “if you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito”.

    Also, how others choose to name us is one thing. But how we choose to accept it is like you said, a defeat. T.I.A could just as easily have been Dr Xaawo, Miriam Makeba, Nefertiti, Xasna Doore (of Sh Abdalla Hassans generals), Xaawo Taako, Hatchepsud and the countless sufi sheikas of the continent.

    My point has been made before, as madame Giovanni said

    “we are all imprisoned in the castle of our skins
    and some of us have said so be it
    if i am in jail my castle shall become
    my rendezvous
    my courtyard will bloom with hyacinths and jack-in-the-pulpits
    my moat will not restrict me but will be filled
    with dolphins sitting on lily pads and sea horses ridden by starfish
    goldfish will make love
    to Black mollies and color my world Black Gold”

    Lets color our world black gold. Sending you loads of love, love.

  2. Great article. As an American living in Africa – it always angers me when other foreigners use “TIA” to excuse the things you are talking about. In our minds, we see it as a form of empathy and solidarity with Africans – as in – “Don’t get angry bro, this is Africa, they can’t do any better…” But in fact this attitude is not empathethic or productive – it is actually racist and backwards because we’re secretly telling ourselves “we shouldn’t expect the same level of competency or common sense from Africans as we do from ourselves.” It’s a subtle form of arrogance that I see over and over in the aid industry. It took me a long time to get over this but now I eventually realized I wasn’t helping by expecting less from Africa or Africans.

  3. LMAO, hilarious and sadly true story. Glad u guys are tackling this issue, the expression drives me up the wall. I was saying to a friend the other day that I love K’naan’s music till he sang that dreadful TIA song! Personally, I am glad I don’t own a gun most days. Dealing with immigration officials with lowest IQ possible, government officials who think u should be grateful to be in ‘their space’ and anyone working in customer service born before 1985, is most frustrating. I have been back in the continent for nearly 5 years now and I refuse to let these ghosts chase me away. Am here to stay and I don’t keep my mouth shut when I encounter such bad service. Kenya is particularly bad with this. I went to the dreaded Nyayo House, where souls die and sit behind desks, to ask for proceedure to ‘reclaim’ my Kenyan citizen since I have lived out of the country most of my life and have nothing beyond a birth certificate. The lady behind the desk, with full-mouth and eyes that could kill, ask me with “If you are Kenyan and born here, why do u come here to reclaim your citizenship, aren’t you already one”!!!! I don’t run out of words often but this one left me speechless. After few seconds to gather my thoughts and breath deeply, I told her to give me her full name, title and her supervisor, the way she spoke was beyond acceptable. Then she suddenly changed her tone and tried to sound like she was joking. Big mistake, then I had enought time to breath and took out every single frustration I ever had with the Kenyan government. Poor thing was in tears, bitch. She things only a lazy civil servant and a fat government can be terrorists, we can give just as good. The biggest problem with ‘TIA’ is not demanding better and making excuses for poor services.

  4. brilliant analysis of EXACTLY what i’m thinking whenever i’m in bole international airport or having the distinct mis pleasure of traveling with Ethiopian Airlines.

    there’s just this pervasive *kanye shoulder shrug* attitude to things that i would just describe as fuckeries at least that’s what its called in my part of canada. the person who is conducting the fuckeries knows they’re in the wrong. the person experiencing the fuckeries knows this MFer is wrong. all of us in the airport terminal observing the fuckeries. knows its wrong. YET. everyone does the *kanye shoulder shrug* and says this is africa.

    …and the worst part is the level of authority the clerk/government monkey/representative/banking official/ passport checker/ bag checker/ iphone/blackberry checker/ international hotel worker/ feels entitled to berate you act condensing towards you because you share the same african heritage as them. but watch some german tourists walk in. FRONT of the QUE !!!

    • Hahaha! I feel you on this! I think the laissez faire approach to getting important work done is a destructive narrative in our day to day business dealings..we gotta do better!

  5. Afrolens, you are a self-loathing westerner. Don’t bring your Western expectations of how things should function and try to impose your culturally absolutist standards onto Africans. Let them run things in their own way. Your kinds of sentiments are abusive and unfortunately in my 20 some-odd years living in the continent, I have seen the irreparable damage they have caused. Shame,

    • Firstly, thank you Mustafa for dropping by and giving your stance on this issue. Secondly, if you bothered to read the article, you would’ve read this part , “There’s wisdom in that advice, as one shouldn’t come to Africa with expectations that the materialism and privilege of life in the west will be replicated for us here. Our continent is rich, and alive with innovation, creativity, and beauty. We do not need to appropriate the assembly line mentality prevalent in western nations, and there is something uniquely African about our laissez faire approach to living.”

      Quite frankly, I find your approach to be self-loathing, as you demand nothing of your continent. Do you deny that we Africans have a long way to go in terms of corruption and efficiency? Your approach is defeatist in that it assumes efficiency, competence, and transparency are monopolized by western societies. I don’t hold that notion, and demand better of my continent and its rich people. what’s wrong with pointing out some of our shortcomings? is constructive criticism not a path to development and growth? I suggest you re-read the article, and then approach your criticism with a nuanced and fair stance. Ad-hominem attacks directed at the messenger add little to this conversation about the direction and development of our continent.

  6. Pingback: Reblogged: If I hear ‘This is Africa’ One More Time… | Sound the Horn

  7. Africa is the most diverse continent on Earth, ethnically and culturally. A Chinese man and a Swiss man probably have more in common with each other then a Somali and a Gabonese.

    So please stop this colonial mentality. I am an African. But that does not define me or my character anymore then the notion of being Asian defines a gentleman from Mongolia or Indonesia.

    I refuse this simplification of our identities. I refuse this statement not so much for it’s defeatist implications (It’s used sarcastically most of the time) but because “Africa” only exists in geography books and the minds of simplistic westerners. For the inhabitants of this continent there is simply nothing tangible tying us together.

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