Oh Look! Another Book About Africa Written by a Foreigner.., So Cool!

For the longest time, I maintained a very strict cease-and-desist policy when it came to books on and/or about Africa written by non-, pseudo- and soi-disant Africans. My cue to toss a book aside with great force would be a blurb like: ‘Ryder Rainer-Dreadnought has an MA in Journalism from the University of Somewheretshire. He lived in Tanzania for a year. He now lives in Los Angeles with his stepsons Casablanca, 14, and Adonis, 12. He is married to fashion model and actor Sultana Proudhorn. When he isn’t writing, he likes to ski and take his two Labrador retrievers and three Rottweilers out for a swim. This is his third book on the region.’

 

Yeah, that's pretty much it.



Now, this isn’t to say that I have something against the city of air-brushed and photo-shopped angels, or the models that live there. Or even that I am against skiing, raising five dogs and living your dream with a Sports Illustrated cover girl. No. If you have all the above going for you, more power to you. My bone has always rather been the fact that a person like Ryder is unlikely to know anything worth knowing about Africa, never mind that he ‘dearly, dearly loves’ Africa and feels its pain in all the right places. Of course, you might ask, ‘what is worth knowing about Africa?’ I will probably have no ready answer. I will most surely change the topic and say, ‘you know how it is. You can’t help but think OK, this dude has been here for twelve months and he thinks he knows what’s what. Newts and salamanders, man!—I’ve been here all my life and sometimes I’m not even sure I know what the problem is.

 

I was convinced that all such books were close-minded, lop-sided and subjective affairs, and that the sort of analyses they attempted rarely ever left the ‘BECAUSE AFRICANS ARE BLOODTHIRSTY SAVAGES. DUH?’ building, the sort of heart-of-darkness logic that would leave any African, modern or otherwise, seething. Then, one weekend, I was asked to do some book-sitting for a friend while she bucketed along to some exclusive event. I unexpectedly found myself vis-à-vis Bill Berkeley’s The Graves Are Not Yet Full. As you can imagine, I spent the better part of that day wondering what this might mean. Was it a sign? Were the gods testing me to see how long I could resist the infection? I had passed the first test, which included sharing the same three dimensional space with It’s Our Turn To Eat for over a year and not even being tempted to touch it with a fifty-foot bargepole – with flying, jumping and somersaulting colours. Would I pass this test?

As it turned out., no. I would like it to go on record, today, here and now, that I tried to resist the temptation. Really, I did. In the end, though, I relented. I couldn’t keep avoiding these books. At some point, I was going to have to read one. I figured I’d best deal with them sooner, when I could afford to have an opinion, rather than later, during my ach-who-gives-a-damn-as-long-as-I-have-my-pension days. So I read the book. I have since book-sat, among other books, The Shadow of the Sun, I Didn’t Do It For You: How The World Used And Abused A Small African Nation and The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt For Africa’s Most Wanted. The thing with these books is that once you start reading them, you won’t want to stop until you’re done. Some of them are well written and appear to be very well researched. That I will concede. Still, few people would say that they always offer untainted explanations to the sort of woebegone phenomena that abound here; there’s always the risk of bumping into bits that make less sense than a folivorous frugivorous Edward Cullen does. Moreover, the jury’s still out on which people these books are supposed to be benefiting.

 

A video game that will educate American children about 'modern' African natives.

Overall, my response remains a mixed one. Shock. Indignation. Sometimes resignation and lethargy. Sometimes depression. Sometimes, an unnameable, eerie feeling. You know how you’d all be in class making the sort of 100 decibel noise that drives every class teacher insane and then everyone would suddenly go quiet?—and your neighbour would whisper something like ‘Satan has passed’ afterward?—or how, after getting a sudden weird feeling and a wave of goosebumps, your granny would say something like ‘a night dancer has stepped over your grave’? Yeah, that’s what it was like for me after reading these books.  Read them only if you can afford to go about like a zombie for a few days.  After the Graves Are Not Yet Full, I said to myself, ‘kumbe this is what the gods have been protecting me from? Well, then, this is the last book of its kind I am ever reading.’ It wasn’t, of course.

 

Recently, a couple of friends and I were mulling over our reactions to these books, wondering why they elicited the sort of response they did. Why, for instance, were we shocked when some of the stuff in some of these books is stuff we are actually acquainted with? Stuff we know. Stuff our very own journalists have been trying to talk about for ages. The stuff of open secrets. Stuff you can occasionally glean just by talking to the right people—corruption; tribalism, our ability to use and hurt each other far worse than any colonialist ever could. With our journalists, the attitude we adopt is one of, ‘Okay, okay. Stop screaming already. We heard you the first time. Geez!’ or ‘Dammit!—can’t you see that Anderson Cooper is on? Try to keep it down, will you!’ With Ryder Rainer-Dreadnought, it is, ‘My word. This dude has got insight.’ Sometimes, we even give him a standing ovation.

Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken in 1994 during the Sudane famine. the picture depicts a famine stricken child being stalked by a vulture. The child is moving towards a United nations food camp, located a kilometer away. Three months later, and only weeks after being bestowed with the Pulitzer prize, Kevin Carter committed suicide.

Why do we not sit up and take some sort of exceptional notice when something has been written by a local journo? Is it the ISBN and the £17 price tag?—are these a necessary part of the package that appeals to our modern sense of credibility? And why aren’t our journos writing books like these, anyway? Oh, wait. They couldn’t possibly write actual books of that sort because that would be unpatriotic and treasonous. Worse, they might have to spend the rest of their lives in exile. Far worse, stray bullets might stop by their doorsteps to ask for directions to the supermarket. Sorry, my bad. Actually, my worst. It was a foolish, misplaced question. Sorry, again. Let’s just pretend this never came up.

Carry on.

12 thoughts on “Oh Look! Another Book About Africa Written by a Foreigner.., So Cool!

  1. It’s different when someone else says it. It’s like how you can call your sibling an idiot, but you’ll break the legs off anyone else that does. Or how you get amused when a tourist enjoys a ripe mango, but when they leave you suddenly get a craving for one.

    Binyavanga wrote an article called How to be an African dictator. [Google it. Totally worth a click.] In the comments, someone said ‘Are you sure you’re African? Are you sure you’re not just some expatriate using an African pseudonym?’

    Two things: the commenter believes Africans don’t write ish like that, and two, apparently, there are people alive who haven’t heard of Binyavanga. The horror!

  2. Would that saying about the lion learning to tell his stories then they will always glorify the hunter, apply here? Not sure also but I feel it is also the same. The local journalist will want to tell his story as he sees it & not as how the readers want it to be. Africa is the *dark continent* and am sure we are not about to see the darkness erased out.

    3CB, am googling that article right now.

  3. I tend to be very defensive when I read such publications or even watch international news highlight Africa as the dark continent.

    Why?

    Not because we don’t have the issues they highlight, but I just feel there’s need to have a more balanced view of the continent, or I’m just tired of hearing the same things repeated over and over.

    Africa is popular. They want to write about us, they want to adopt our babies, they want to give us 1 million t shirts. Why not just let the continent be? We will develop at our own pace in my opinion. It didn’t take the US 50 years as an independent country to get where they are, why the pressure?

    Signed. Defensive African.

  4. You know, my problem with this is that those africans who do write about africa tend to be a bit out of touch with reality…. they have to be lesbian acitivists, or dreadlocked pseudo-rebels, exiled whistleblowers, married to a white man/woman…..take 3cb for example, her writing is phenomenal, she is honest and real, and YOU NEED TO WRITE THAT BOOK… but her voice is not heard, she needs to have tragedies if she is to be considered a true african ….. africans are simply not writing their stories….

    it was binyavanga’s article on how to write about africa, that made be more honest about my writing as well…write about living in the suburbs, calif, kawangware… be real because the war we are fighting now is not with the colonialists but the post-colonial mentality that africanness is defined by some certain set of problems, and that it is not the same as the collective consciousness of other human beings….

  5. You probably described my feelings about the reaction afterwards, and the feeling, but have you stopped to ask yourself why you react or feel that way? or even how you would react to a local journalist writing a book like ‘ITS OUR TIME TO EAT’? When I first read Michella’s book, besides feeling furious (at why Githongo did not use a local journo) I was mad at myself for being made to react that way, especially of things we all know about!

  6. First off,I love what Binyavanga is doing. The man is my hero and I hope I can participate in his work.

    Secondly, we can agree that we are regularly screwed by the west, who then come and help us feel sorry for ourselves. But to think that Africa is popular is a bit of a lie- I believed it too, until I went to study somewhere in the EU. I’m telling you, Africa is a non issue- the aid we get is a negiglible part of their budget, we contribute almost nothing to trade, we are an economic non entity. So, if you think that people sit around here discussing Africa, NOT true (except the failures that go into NGO work).
    About the writers: let’s be fair, a good book is a good book, and I’m glad that you read a good one. That being said, there is a lot of patronizing bullshit written about Africa, and a lot of outright lies.

    The only mistake we make is blame others for filling a void that is clearly there. Humans are self serving, and if someone sees a gap that they can make money from, then why not? Those Labrador wont feed themselves you know, and Adonis needs his tennis lessons.

    I think its time we stopped thinking like the world owes us something. It doesnt.No one will save us. No one will come and say, ‘stop taking advantage of Africans, its not fair- they are suffering so much already!’ And we dont need fifty years to develop- look at South Korea, Malasyia and now China.

    If we want respect we will have to take it.Until then, we will be the world’s doormat and any moron with a laptop can write whatever rubbish they want about us.

  7. most foreign writers who write about Africa write a lot of bullshit about this place they create an impression that we are so backward,they make others who have never bn to this place think we actually interact with wild animals during the day and only retire to our caves to procreate and relax….look at the non-sense Conrad Joseph wrote abt africa in `heart of darkness’ a lot of crap.pompous Conrad,the guy is such a pain in the rectum…let him go to hell.they always assume this know-it-all attitudes while covering or even just reporting on africa.

  8. I was checking on photos of my friend’s friend in facebook, that she had taken in Rwanda. Most of them were beautiful sceneries and with friends but one photo that striked me was a photo of a woman in front of a mud house and she had written, “a poor lady in Rwanda” and I wished that she had also taken middle income areas areas and written something like, “middle income of Rwanda”. That’s the reason if you google all slums in Nairobi you’ll find a lot of articles but you won’t find articles of Lavington, apart from only houses for sale being advertised.

  9. If you are interested in visiting Africa on a Volunteer program, for heaven’s sake do not go any where near “Dr” Peter Mc Hendry or Global Adventures, Christian ski or any other companies run by “Dr” Peter McHendry – have a look at what he did to this poor chap!

    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1987623

    Peter McHendry is a fraudster who has been deported from Zambia for breeching labour laws (not paying his poor village staff) and failing to register any sort of business interest in Zambia, he does not legally own any land there, only the President of Zambia can grant a lease in Zambia, most of his deceptions are based on owning things he quite clearly cannot and does not!

    The Police in South Africa are looking for McHendry in regards to Insurance Fraud and conning investors into his failed Global Bio Diesel and Akula Trading 227 PTY Companies.

    This man is very dangerous and is believed to have several personality disorders, such as Jerusalem syndrome, his wife and other girls have complained of violent behaviour and at nearly 60 “Dr” Peter McHendry has an unhealthy interest in young vulnerable women and strippers as the Lonely Planet article shows.

    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1987623

    The Lonely Planet confirms that “Dr” Peter McHendry had not paid his staff for at least two months when the volunteers’ had paid over $2500 US each to live in a tent with no food!

    BEWARE PETER MC HENDRY IS A FRAUDSTER IN LEAUGE WITH SATAN!

    He steals from poor African Villagers this is why a deportation order was issued by the Zambian government and why the South African Police are looking for him!

    response@saps.org.za

    Do not give him any money it will not go on any sort of good, it will all be spent on young girls that “Dr” McHendry has no chance of sleeping with, you can see lots of them on his website which makes many, many, false claims all of which are badly spelt!

    http://www.petermchendryisafraudster.blogspot.com

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