Afrika’s Vision Problem – The Future is Now!

Society & Culture | By Ryan Chokureva, Graphic Designer | 22 November 2014
PHOTO: © Ryan Chokureva

Just listening and watching everyday Afrika, you struggle to find or settle on an identity, a direction we are headed. There is a depressing sense of stagnation, a frustration of potential that leaves nothing but the heaviness of hope. That almost always promises, that never comes true and more and more it’s spilling out into the open with rather disturbing side effects. We seem to have this idea of a better, brighter Afrika that is as mysterious as are the plans to get us there. We are perpetually waiting to exhale. It starts with our leaders. Afrika has a leadership that has no idea of the Afrika it wants to create. We have no plan. It’s not enough to have good intentions or good ideas that do not come with a well thought-out process.

We are too caught up in thinking that as long as we are prisoners in our own jails that it constitutes some kind of freedom. That somehow it is better to endure suffering as long as we are the architects of it. Nothing could be worse because it gives us a false sense of progress. A vision is a vision only when we have a plan, when we have a process, anything else is and shouldn’t be good enough. If you are a leader who implements good ideas badly you are a bad leader. There is no other way around that. Good intentions are not enough. And yet we are meant to applaud our leaders for having good intentions and for trying, even when that makes no difference to the reality of our lives.

That lack of leadership is why we seem to be struggling with knowing and believing in an Afrikan future. You just do not see it. Not on TV, not in magazines and you don’t hear it out of the mouths of our leadership’s many speeches. Rushing to implement first world infrastructure does not address our identity issues. Who are we? What do we want, where we are going? What are we going to be 50yrs from now? What tools and skills do we need to be able to live in that world? What are the benefits and dangers of our actions now towards that future? It’s like we are stuck on some weird movie scene that continuously loops. War, famine, corruption, rigged elections and once in a while an overelaborate centerpiece somewhere we use as a symbol for progress. We’ve taken too much time talking about old glories, celebrating battles already won, freedoms already given, surely it’s time to move on. We can’t win the same prize twice. We seem to be so disoriented that we confuse moving in circles as being better than standing still. We are somehow moving forward without going anywhere and we are oblivious to it. We are stuck in a non-rewarding post-colonial basking period that’s not ending. The wars are over, those victories stale and the currency of those wins well and truly eroded.

We need to fight new wars on completely new frontiers while avoiding short sighted exercises meant to thwart dissent more than they are about building a solid vision. We need leadership that is willing to fight global systems, take on and change relationships with corporate superpowers that place ceilings on our development and progress. That is not going to be as easy as labelling them evil and name calling, it means reinventing our processes and policies to a point that we gain respect and a foothold for our opinions. It means having a vision that others are willing to invest in not because we have a sorry past, but because we have clear blue prints for the future. We need leadership that is willing to take on their own shortcomings, not cover them up so they can deal with global and continental problems. A leadership that can imagine the future and not continuously fight the past. If our people have land, and mines and no trading partners then what? How is that progress part of a bigger vision or plan? The idea that taking back what’s ours will somehow solve our lack of vision and due process is dangerous and limiting, often leading to waste. The problem with spending so much time fighting wars we should have settled 20 – 40yrs ago is that they keep us from planning 20-40yrs into the future, that means we are always going to be on the back foot and catching up.

This lack of vision is not just political it is becoming cultural as well. Let’s face it we are no longer a young Afrika. We are struggling to mature. We have been coming of age for too long. As a young Afrikan this is THE challenge; helping to put a face to the Afrika of the future. Can we close our eyes and imagine it? Do we create enough of that vision for people to buy into? Do we stimulate a desire for it? Surely if we want people to move towards a certain destination then it is our job to convince them that it is worth going there. It is worth building our self-confidence to the point that we just do not think about and dream of but actually build and implement. The problem is that home grown solutions and ideas across the board have hardly ever worked, so we are struggling to be motivated and vigilant for our own causes.

One tweet I saw, read “Afrika is predominantly black, but you can’t say that judging by the magazine covers on the stand” That is a small sample of our problem, its more complex than that as it is not just about the proportional representation of colour. We have an image projection problem, an identity problem, and vision problem? So we take everyone’s everything and make it our own. We try to cover for what we don’t have by making what others have our own. We are too willing to be thought for, led and dictated to what our change is and can be. We are lacking so much of our own identity that we are willing for others to name us, define us so we can approve. If you watch or listen to the Afrikan narrative you struggle to see where we are going. There is too much focus on where we were, and where we are. No one is willing to try and define a future, a path forward. What values do we want? What images, stories of our self-do we want to tell? A good portion of western films envision their people as bigger and better. Taking on not just the world but other planets. Their armies save the world, cure our diseases. On the other hand what are our stories? What do they say about us and our ambitions? How do they reflect who we are as a people? Even our constitutions are often handled with the same lack of vision and identity. We copy what everyone else has done, stamp progress on it and claim to be moving forward. The question is to where?

Whether its entertainment or informative media the way we project ourselves is the same as the western media that we are quick to chastise. We shame ourselves as quickly as everyone else does. We project ourselves exactly how we do not want to be seen. Slow to everything, struggling, all too happy to celebrate even in times of hardship. Smiling at things we should frown on. I find South Afrikan TV adverts targeting black people truly condescending. They are almost always stupid, silly, and needlessly loud and focused on exploiting old stereotypes. A big “Afrikan mama” laughing and dancing whilst doing her laundry. I haven’t seen a black woman anywhere who is so happy with hand washing her laundry that she will sing and dance to it.

We seem to cover current affairs with the same narrative everyone else does. Do we have our own voice? What is it? I have written about Nigeria’s Nollywood before and why we seem only obsessed with sharing and spreading our worst stories. We have seen enough witches, cheating wives and corrupt leaders. Let’s create new stories that challenge that and inspire us into the future. Let’s explore how and what can be done to end corruption. We have made and watched too many “Mother of George’s” surely if we want the world to look at us differently, if we want to change the narrative then we have to change how we speak about ourselves. We have to change our actions so that we create alternative characters to those influencing our story.
We can only gain global influence and confidence by solving our identity issues first. As long as we don’t solve something significant of our own we will always believe that having a vision means looking east or west. We need to define our vision so strongly that whoever partners with us does so because they are compatible with that vision/story. The idea that China loves us and will help build a new Afrika, when we have no vision of it is naive. We need to stop trading in the things we can’t replace for short term, often ego boosting gains. We are losing both leverage and influence. What I see now is a continent indulging is self-plunder. At some point the diamonds will run out, the gold will all be dug up and the oil wells dry, what will we have built with those resources? The one thing worse than corruption is short-sightedness, it simply costs us more. For too long we have been living a promise, an idea, we need to start living a process, a reality. The future is not around the corner, its long been here and we are squandering it. The longer we take creating a viable Afrikan vision the more we will lose not only what we have, but we also risk exhausting our potential.