Sick skinny children, bellies protruding revealing the very eminent symptoms of kwashiorkor, cracked lips and eyes staring so deeply into the reporter’s lens as though there was some sort of sunshine in them. “Of course, they need help, they need us, they are the third world countries” the reporter pleads with her eyes full of sympathy and pity.
And so, the CNN headline reads, another disaster, another famine, and even those that are not afflicted by natural disasters are under the oppression of the big brother of them all, wait for it….corruption! This is the default setting, this is how Africa is seen in the eyes of the world and this is the side of the story that is frequently being told.
Years and maybe even centuries have gone by and even though the other side of the story is slowly being realized, this side still by far dominates. I remember the first time I introduced myself as a Nigerian in the UK, the next question that often followed was “how are you enjoying your stay here” as though I had been set free from my tropical jungle and exposed to the lights of civilisation at last. I remember my housemate quickly rushing to my aid to teach me how to use a microwave, “this African girl must think this device is from outer space” she must have thought to herself. I could only laugh because unknown to her, our kitchen in my tropical jungle was more modern and equipped than this home in the capital of England, how ironic. I can never forget the look of surprise or may I say bewilderment when I told my colleagues at the charity where I interned that I had seen the first two sequels of the twilight series at the Silverbird Cinema back home in Abuja, Nigeria. Oh my God! you have cinemas in Nigeria? they asked. As Chimamanda Adichie put in it in one of her speeches, “their default position towards me as an African was that of patronizing well meaning pity”. And so, I guess I was obligated to tell them the other side of the story.
The menace of a ‘single story’ also applies to the self image of a Nigerian outside home. You have to be a strong warrior and always put on your weapons of ‘self defence’ to survive. This is because the default setting people have about us is that of corruption, fraud and everything negative, so we constantly have to prove ourselves to be the ‘exception’. We are already defined before we are known. This is saddening because there are a lot of Nigerians in diaspora making a difference. Here’s a perfect scenario. I’ve just been brutally woken up on this faithful morning by the reality of a morning lecture and rushing to the station to catch the train when I am welcomed by the newspaper headline reading “Nigerian teenager involved in gang shooting” lying peacefully beside me, and wide-eyed stares around me as though I was related to the boy in the paper, not again!
Whatever happened to 19 year old Nigerian author of The Spider Kings Daughter, Chibuzor Onuzo, who is also the youngest female author to win a two-book deal with Faber UK? She also sponsors kids at her mother’s foundation or Samuel Kasumu who established the Elevation Networks at the age of 19 which has transformed the lives of thousands of youth across the United Kingdom or even Chuku Ummuna, the 33 year old British labour party politican who has also been referred to as the ‘British Obama’ because of his fearless passion. This list continues.
Ever visited Obudu cattle ranch in the northern part of Cross River Nigeria, the exotic Eko Hotel and Suites, or heard that according to the World Bank in April 2012, even with the glaring poverty rates, Nigeria somehow manages to be the third fastest growing economy in the world? In Africa at large, people like the late Chinua Achebe, Chimamda Adichie, Dr Nawal El Saadawi, Nelson Mandela, Ngozi Okonjo, Emmanuel Yeboah, Philip Emeagwali and that woman praying earnestly in the pew of the cathedral for peace in the world and many more, have all left footprints in the world. These stories of hope are worthy of the headlines too.
In essence, if greater equality is what we really want today across the regions of the world, then there has to be a shift in our mindset. We have to imbibe the mindset of equality and love and not of stereotyping, because no matter how equitably redistributed the resources become among these regions, we will still remain unequal in our minds despite that wide grin smile and the diplomatic handshake representing friendship.
I am in no way antagonistic as I have come to love everyone deeply as my own but maybe, just maybe, I see the both sides of the story and that’s what makes me patriotic.
Photo Credit: ghbd.ca