Afropolitanism

By Amanda Fortier | April 07th, 2015
Afropolitanism

Wainaina, Kenya’s literary darling and self-professed Pan-Africanist, is a vocal critic of the concept calling it a “marker of crude cultural commodification”. Mbembe, Cameroon’s esteemed philosopher and political scientist, sees some utility in the theory – in its “promise of vacating the seduction of pernicious racialised thinking…” and its offering of an “African-mediated vision of the world”. And Tuakli-Wosornu, the British-born Ghanaian-Nigeria writer, who first coined the term in her seminal 2005 text Bye-Bye Barbar, sees Afropolitanism as an altogether positive, modern-day definition for Africans - living both on and off the continent - who are at once at home in Dakar, Joburg, or Addis as they are in London, Paris or New York. In short, Afropolitanism is a complex articulation with several critics and proponents. It brings forth a plethora of opinions on if, how and where this theory has utility in helping Africans view the transformation of their continent, in all its diversity, vis-à-vis both themselves and the rest of the world.  

When we first started discussing the theme for the 2014 OPENSpace edition - the first time Open Society Initiative for West Africa would take the lead in this OSISA-initiated publication and the first time it would include works from other African Foundations - many ideas were tossed around. We knew it should be a topic that could be equally represented throughout the continent, a topic that would be stimulating, topical, controversial, exciting and appeal to a broad section of Africans and even non-Africans - from young people, academics and journalists to artists, policy makers, members of civil society and political actors. So when the idea of Afropolitanism came up, it left a lot of us scratching our heads. What does this term actually mean, many of us asked ourselves? We lunged for the requisite Bye-Bye Barbar and countless other articles, websites and research materials searching for better footholds of understanding. Is the topic too abstract, some wondered? Too trendy, others argued? Ambiguous? What would we ultimately hope to achieve in terms of debate, forward-thinking and appeal in this publication? 

Our answer was quite simply that we wanted to help shift the conversation on Africa and offer a space for discussing and showing Africa outside the stereotypical tropes.

In this journal we want to engage the experience of what it means to be “African” and show how this relates to other parts of life on the continent – politically, economically, socially and culturally. We did not want to present purely academic or theoretical standpoints – but rather a blend of material that offer diverse articulations on Africa’s evolution, its agency and this effect on issues of selfhood and identity. 

This edition is a conscious attempt to show Afropolitanism as a “way of being in the world”; how it can offer new, albeit not overly optimistic nor simplistic views of Africa; a narrative that helps reposition the continent’s place, perspective and voice in a global context, one not solely relegated to victimhood, poverty, disease, war/conflict, corruption, or aid-dependence, and one not necessarily at odds with Pan-Africanism nor entirely connected with African Renaissance. 

The result is a kaleidoscope of material from commentary, interviews and reportage, to photography, blogs and info graphics that help concretize the otherwise intangible. We are especially delighted to share the work of many young contributors in this edition – African (and a couple non-African) youth who may or may not qualify themselves as Afropolitanists, but who are nonetheless negotiating their own identity and “African-ness” wherever they live in the world. The discussions by Wainaina, Mbembe and Tuakli-Wosornu are certainly the cornerstones of Afropolitanism, but we opted to stretch into the smaller spaces to hear from some ‘newer’ voices.  

From a political perspective, read about the “falsification” of many African democracies – a tendency that is demanding more complex democratic regimes on the continent. Or learn why Africa’s path towards consolidating democracies must build strong leaders, not simply strong institutions; how improved voting rights by Africa’s Diaspora is helping reshape democracy; and why Africa needs to move away from perceiving elections as a zero sum game.  

If you’re interested in how minority rights are evolving, we offer several perspectives. From a gender-based lens, we offer four thought-provoking pieces. Read two different viewpoints on the type of feminism Africa needs, a commentary on why measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ignores women’s contributions (and potential) and an assessment on how we can better include Africa’s most untapped financial market – women – to the overall economic and social benefit of everyone. For those keen to learn more about how gays in West Africa are portrayed in both local and Western media, read about how activists on the ground in several countries are trying to build a more holistic understanding of these groups. We also include a blog on African youth today – a personal reflection on what “driving change” on the continent means for the younger generation and what roles and responsibilities as change-makers they may have in getting us there.

We also include some cultural views from artists on the ground – a few interviews with a prominent filmmaker and photographers, some stunning photo imagery, a poetic interpretation and much more. 

It is our hope that there is a bit of something for everyone within these pages. As a broad and somewhat incomplete concept, we know it’s impossible to touch it all right here. But we hope this edition can help add value by making meaning of the continent in new ways, helping bridge stronger connections to its various interpretations and perhaps even providing a space for engaging a broader conversation, whether that takes place in the classroom, on the street, in the living rooms and kitchens or conference halls.

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