Posted in Non-fiction Politics

Depicting an African election: still barbaric but capable of civilising

Depicting an African election: still barbaric but capable of civilising Posted on 4 March 20135 Comments

As 6 million Kenyans cast their votes today, newscast and media has been awry with fears of violence. Rather than focusing on the political concerns that the candidates represent, international news corporations have focussed on fears of violence/peace initiatives, illegitimacy of the candidates  or ethnic voting divides – all focusing on the failures of an African nation to abide by the laws of liberal democracy. The image constructed is the same – Africa as unstable, tribalist and incapable of being free of Western protection.

Is it no wonder that when the Financial Times was challenged by one of the Presidential Candidates, Raila Odinga, for misconstruing an interview as a call for post-election violence, many remained unconvinced that it wasn’t? And when voters are expected to wait up to 10 hours in order to vote because of faulty equipment, the Kenyans are blamed rather than Canada which issued the biometric recorders in the first place?

Once again, the repetition of Africa is of the white man’s burden – a continent incapable of being ‘sensible’ without Western civilising mechanisms. A dark continent is perpetuated, without any sign of hope or ideology. Kenyan history is ignored, with this morning’s violence in Mombasa  not being seen as part of a greater oppression of Swahili peoples in the postcolonial East African context. Africa, afterall, is a continent without history – its people are continuous depicted as starving and incapable of ruling themselves, while chances of development are considered only possible with Western intervention.

But it’s okay, they’re improving themselves…

Yet, Kenya is being heralded by the liberal press as a key sign of financial success, despite large rises in inequality and youth unemployment. Despite its “deeply entrenched corruption,” everything is progressing, according to the Economist, which was shocked that no-one asked their correspondent for  bribe!  In that same patronising voice, we are also told that Africans should be proud – they’re the ones who were able to do this, no-one else…

Sovereignty, it would seem, is still not something entirely possible for Africans though. As much as they are ‘hopeful continent‘ the language of colonialism is not dead. Africans are still being percieved as children who need educating and empowering. This is not only projected through the media, but through International NGOs, and scarily, through African peoples themselves. This is the real meaning of reverse racism – when the ‘native’ is convinced of his/her own inferiority and projects that onto his/her own community. And it’s a recipe to ensuring that African development remains in the hands of those who choose to exploit it.

But change in Africa can only happen by African peoples challenging this view of themselves. Tanzania, despite its faults and desperate poverty, remained stable for much of the 1980s/90s because it resisted Structural Adjustment. Empowerment wasn’t something given to Tanzanians, but one which was an inherent part of their being. And now is the time for all Africans to grasp that strength to fight back. The West is struggling to keep its power hold over the continent, China represents (a poor) alternative, but an alternative nonetheless. The path for equality is possible, it just has to be imagined and believed in.

Liberal peace and liberal democracy are great for countries where these were autochthonous developments, but they should not be used to retain a liberal world order. South America has woken up to this, but their colonial suppression was never quite as bad as Africa’s – with the exception of the indigenous populations who still remain oppressed. The chance is now, but will Africa grasp it? There is only hope.

Edit: Excellent satire (via @sajeraj) – Foreign reporters armed and ready to attack Kenya

5 thoughts on “Depicting an African election: still barbaric but capable of civilising

    1. Scramble for Africa? Yes, but there is more postcolonial history to think about – like the way that the Kikuyu have oppressed the Turkana, Ogiek and the Swahili (the latter because they were seen as colonial collaborators).

      1. borders are not natural, so bound to be conflict…still need to be recognised as ethnic groups rather than ‘tribes’.

  1. Hello,

    I agree with most of this, but one wee niggle: you say: “Africans are still being percieved as children who need educating and empowering.”.

    I can’t speak for Africans. But as a European, I think that Europeans – certainly British people – need education and empowerement. I don’t think we will get this from outside – from Americans coming over to run little schools and teach us how to make Holywood films and donuts, or whatever. But I think it’s dangerous to say that empowering and educating are things that are done to children. They are things we do together, with each other, through each other.

    1. When Great Zimbabwe was first encountered by Europeans, archaeologists claimed that there was no way that it could have been built by Africans as Africans were perceived as child-like and incapable of complex societies. It was something that the (then) Rhodesian government used to justify their oppressing black people.

      Secondly, in the case of current development discourse, the liberal idea is set around percieving poor people as managers of their own poverty – in other words, the idea is that Western aid organisations basically need to give people the tools to be responsible for getting out of poverty (like microfinance) rather than challenging the historical context which made them poor and the economic injustice that ensures that they remain so.

      Those were what I meant when I talk about being percieved as children/need educating & empowering.

      The key thing is that any rise against this colonialist discourse has to come from Africans themselves who don’t need to be taught how to do so by Western peoples.

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