[ Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire ]
I wrote recently about African stereotypes in the Western imagination and how they pertain to my travels on the continent. Really, I just wanted to share Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s wonderful TED talk on the subject but got carried away.
All of this got me thinking about a wonderfully sarcastic essay from 2006 called How to Write about Africa. It was published in Granta and written by Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina. It is spot-on, and therefore hysterical.
After a paragraph on titles, he jumps straight into this:
“Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.”
You can (and should) read the full text here.