Let’s Be Grown-Ups about Africa

Africans and their continent would benefit more from a change of mindset from the West than from the tales of woe used to fill those rattling charity tins.

Dear Non-Africans,

Forgive me if you honestly believe the following does not apply to you. But if any of the points below do hit home, please take them on board.

The truth is that we Africans are fed up – and for good reason. So, on behalf of my fellow citizens of our great continent, here are some rules we would like you to observe in your future dealings with us.

  • 1. Change your mindset. As we have (inevitably) proven false those among you who thought Africans could never host a World Cup and that FIFA should put a contingency plan in place, can you now get over yourselves and realise that it wasn’t a fluke but based on careful thought, serious investment and meticulous long-term planning.

  • 2. Be prepared to have adult to adult conversations with us instead of the adult to child approach that so usually dominates your thinking. In short, no more talking down to us, please, and no more not-so-subtle dismissals of our traditions and ways of doing things. If you don’t complain about our vuvuzelas, we won’t complain about your football rattles, rude chants, drunkenness and hooliganism.

  • 3. Please take the look of surprise off your face when you hear us speak English just as well as (and, dare I say, sometimes better than) you. We are not necessarily gifted or unique because we speak your language fluently; English is the lingua franca of many African countries previously colonised by Britain and, besides, many of us are actually pretty well educated.

  • 4. Quit looking astonished that we have successful world-class businesses and enterprises that thrive; it’s not surprising to us given the level of originality, entrepreneurship and ingenuity we see around us all the time. And, don’t worry; Gatwick Airport is in safe hands.

  • 5. Do stop damning us with faint praise and lose the condescension. It has strong overtones of that whole ‘noble savage’ era; it’s getting old, and does neither of us any favours.

  • 6. Please get the facts before you voice your opinions. No, you can’t comment on countries that you’ve had no experience of except through the writings of lazy commentators who are happy to repeat other people’s misconceptions. And if you did visit Africa 5, 10, 15 years ago (or even last week), it still doesn’t make you an expert.

  • 7. When you get it wrong, please put in just as much effort on putting it right. Okay, so we might be just a little optimistic with this one, but here’s hoping.

  • 8. By all means, give us your opinion about the governance failings of our leaders – believe me, we have our own criticisms of some of them too! But (see point 2. about adult to adult conversations) don’t get defensive when we point out the failings of your own elected officials and parliamentarians or reveal how it is your corporations that are paying many of the bribes to said failing leaders.

  • 9. Do remember that we are a continent of 53 countries with different cultures, languages, foods and customs, and not one entity. We don’t consider Greece’s economy to be the same as Germany’s, so can we ask you to start distinguishing us from each other. Use the names of the particular country or countries you are discussing, rather than the convenient shorthand of ‘Africa’. We enjoy our diversity and would like you to appreciate it too.

  • 10. Let’s have a balanced approach to immigration and trade (see point 2. again). Here’s the deal; we won’t come after your state benefits if you don’t come after ours. Agree fair terms with us on trade for our gold, diamonds, oil and minerals and we’ll have less incentive to access your assets. On the subject of immigration (by the way, why are we immigrants when we come to your country but you are ex-pats when you come to ours?), let’s agree that if you’d like us to know how to speak your language if we decide to come to your country, you will learn to speak our language when you ‘ex-pat’ to ours.

If you can observe these rules, there’s a real chance that we can forge a new relationship that benefits all of us – before we give up trying and start learning Mandarin.



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