Yesterday, I happened to meet a few animation filmmakers who got nominated in the same category as my younger brother did. Most of these people were Africans from either Nigeria or Ghana. On screening the lot of their movies, one common feature was in the presentation of these animations. They not only had African names, but had our village/tribal setting. The village concept was prime and some of the animators did not hesitate to dress up their creations in attires that showed they represented Africa.
Unfortunately, my brother did not share in their perception as his key character wore a shirt, a tie, and was in the regular corporate setting. One of the filmmakers felt the need to ask me the reason for that. He felt the setting was too “western” and that it would have been better to showcase our culture by taking it a little bit more indigenous – with Ankara clothes probably. My explanation as to why it was done this way did not seem convincing enough, so I let the matter go.
Now, this stems from the typical identity challenge we face as Africans. Why do we constantly burden ourselves with the need to put up our African heritage on full frontal? There is such an incessant scream by pro-African activists and such, for us to go back to our roots, speak native languages, and shoot movies that show the pre-colonial era. I mean, I honestly have not watched any African originated animation that was not in an African setting.
The irony of this is apparent everywhere within Africa. Whether we want to accept it or not, portraying this is not portraying Africa. Why? Africans do not go to work wearing kente, Iro, and any other Africana outfit. At best we show this side once or twice a week, if at all. We do not go clubbing in half cut wrappers that cover our chest and are wrapped around our waists. Even the filmmaker that suggested the African inspired animation, was dressed up the “western” way. In other words, showing only the cultural face of Africa is slightly hypocritical.
As I have told people countless times, whether we accept it or not, the western way of life is now our own way of life. We have the colonization of African countries to thank or blame for that – depending on what side of the fence you put up your tent. It might not have originated from us, but it is a lifestyle we have adopted. We really cannot run from it no matter how we try as every piece of our lives rests on its back. If we constantly paint ourselves as monkeys in the jungle – as my brother would say, there is really little wonder why the westerners think zebras cross the road with us.
An interesting fact is that many parts of these western countries are also originally indigenous. The Hawaiians certainly have much more than suit and tie imbedded in their culture, and they do not hesitate to put it on display. What I pick up from them is that rather than try to deny the trend of modernization, they display their culture as an added advantage – more like a tourist attraction. Things of high value are not found every day, are they?
Do not get me wrong, I am not totally against the force against westernization or the western form of modernization; I also agree with the fact that western values are eating up African cultures and values as well. If somehow time could be reversed, and colonialism did not take place, maybe Africans would have been able to come up with a modernization that did not seem western in totality. Growth and development would have still happened, and maybe everything would have had the African touch we crave so badly. Right now, you can be African, buy African, wear African, but you cannot discountenance the western traits you were born into.
The reality we face cannot really be contended with – lest we preach one thing, and practice another. As far as I am concerned, decolonization is not only completely theoretical but highly illogical. More so, westernization is not such a bad deal. It is not a plague with which we run from or try to bury. It has come with a few not-so-good features, but we have enjoyed the benefits it has come with as well. For Africa to successfully compete for world domination, we need to accept the truth we live daily and possibly beat the lucky first comers to civilization at their own game.