Author: Fungai Machirori

Beyond Cecil the lion: Issues the media need to cover about Zimbabwe

The lion named Cecil was a popular attraction among tourists in the Hwange National Park. (Pic: AFP)
The lion named Cecil was a popular attraction among tourists in the Hwange National Park. (Pic: Zimbabwe National Parks/AFP)

Not since the unprecedented political and economic crisis of 2008 has Zimbabwe made consistent international headlines. Punctuated by a free-falling currency, extreme food shortages, a contested presidential election and the outbreak of cholera, the small nation of 13-million became a regular international media feature as its cumulative woes led to general disintegration.

What anyone who lived through this time of turmoil – myself included – might never have believed is that it would take the death of a lion to once more locate Zimbabwe within the world narrative.

Within days of news breaking of the murder of Cecil the lion, a global petition calling for justice for the cat – said to be the largest lion in Hwange National Park– has garnered over 300 000 signatures. International media has diligently reported the latest news on the situation with updates on the American dentist, Walter Palmer, who is responsible for the trophy hunt coming in thick and fast. Additionally, #CeciltheLion has trended on Twitter, with #JeSuisCecil also featuring prominently.

 Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of Dr Walter Palmer's River Bluff Dental Clinic in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Pic: AFP)
Protesters call attention to the alleged poaching of Cecil the lion in the parking lot of Dr Walter Palmer’s River Bluff Dental Clinic in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Pic: AFP)

For many Zimbabweans, international focus on Cecil stands in stark contrast to the barely audible attention paid to Itai Dzamara, a local anti-state activist who has been missing for over four months. Or to the precarious status of unregulated local street vendors as police mount a crackdown on their activities. Or to Sangulani Chikumbutso, a high-school dropout who has become the first Zimbabwean to design and manufacture a hybrid helicopter and electric vehicle. It is the deepest irony that in a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain traction in highlighting the differential scales used to value human lives, the world should cast its eye on Zimbabwe for its wildlife, with no thought or concern for its people.

This is not to say that black Zimbabweans do not have any affinity for, or pride in, wildlife. The historical totemic heritage of the Shona people, which is still practiced today, is premised upon peoples being classified into different clans named after animals and wildlife common to local terrain, including the lion. Such groupings, by clan, foment kinship and solidarity and are instructive on marriage patterns; for instance, it is not advised that two members of the same clan marry as this is considered a sort of incest.  Additionally, the pre-colonial legacy of the mhondoro  – protective spirits said to reside within lions when not visiting a human host or spirit medium – still endures.

In her article, ‘The white man’s dog’, Gillian Schutte challenges the idea that black people generally have no relationship to animals and states, that the “the black man’s dog” in many instances is used for protection and hunting; functions more inclined towards utility than a humanised relationship. She also brings to discussion the economic challenges to many of maintaining animals as pets.

Many Zimbabweans, if not most, would never have heard of Cecil until Monday. Most Zimbabweans will never have visited any of our tourist destinations such as the Victoria Falls or Great Zimbabwe, let alone gone on a game drive or safari. These are not activities associated with a population generally in survival mode and as a result, little exposed to the culture of travel for leisure. It then follows that  such activities continue to privilege a foreign tourist market and minority local middle class.

In my efforts to learn more about Cecil, I came across YouTube videos recorded by some foreign tourists on safari. In one video, camera shutters go off in paparazzi fashion as the visitors gasp and sigh in awe of the lion’s roar.

Indeed, Cecil was a majestic animal. And indeed, he died a senseless and unjust death. But this instance, as with many others, shows who has power to evoke global empathy and amplify select narratives about Zimbabwe.

And it isn’t Zimbabweans.

Even as the global narrative around Africa is said to be shifting, the continent is still generally depicted around two stereotypes: its poverty and its wildlife. And unlike stories of strife and suffering, often leading to general global apathy, it is far easier to quantify – and therefore exotify – an Africa of harsh savannah plains, regal animals and majestic sunsets. And in such depictions, the less African people there are to deal with, the better. Here, I think of productions like the The Lion King, still playing to full audiences around the world and theme parks capitalising on ‘the heart of Africa’ experience by re-enacting voyeuristic scenes of a perfect animal paradise.

In many ways this shows how the world, particularly the west, continues to interact with Africa; either as expatriates and missionaries (amplifying the poverty aspect of the stereotype) or as tourists (favouring the safari and wildlife experience). As a result, it’s an outlook that continues to omit the in-between realities; the rising metropolises, the complex socio-political terrain, the evolution of cultures, the human history.

To entirely denounce this attention, however, would also fail to profit on its potential. Zimbabwean tourism has been on the wane for many years now, and a national discussion on how to conserve and promote our diminishing natural heritage is long overdue, especially in light of the fact that government has taken to selling and exporting local elephants to Asian markets. It would be a shame for any generation of Zimbabweans to grow up without the hope of seeing any wildlife in their own country.

But it would be a bigger shame if this was all the world would ever show its empathy and humanity towards.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Zimbabwe’s game of political musical chairs is not really about us

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced yet another Cabinet reshuffle last week. (Pic: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced yet another Cabinet reshuffle last week. (Pic: AFP / Mujahid Safodien)

Last week, yet another cabinet reshuffle was announced in Zimbabwe, with one more Zanu-PF minister, Joel Biggie Matiza, losing his position barely six months after assuming it. His removal followed the grand purge of multiple cabinet members — including former presidential affairs minister Didymus Mutasa and former vice-president Joice Mujuru — late last year on allegations of leading and encouraging party factionalism against President Robert Mugabe.

But while Matiza was the only removal of this latest process, the largest media space has been reserved for news of the reassignment of Jonathan Moyo from the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.

The enigmatic Moyo — who recently had a public Twitter spat with the former governor of South Africa’s Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni — is rumoured to have been removed from his position as a result of deepening friction between him and Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents. Ironically, Moyo’s 2005 ouster from Zanu-PF is attributed to his keen involvement in a factional plan to bring Mnangagwa to the then-vacant post of vice-president, a position that was assumed by Mujuru until her expulsion.

Factionalism is indeed the staple offering of Zimbabwean politics at the moment, with the MDC — that once potent opposition — following suit with Morgan Tsvangirai’s own purge of 21 party parliamentarians on grounds of factionalism earlier in the year. As one joke goes, “If you send two Zimbabweans to the moon, they will come back with three political parties.”

The humour and bizarreness of it all aside, I am perpetually disconcerted by what gets amplified, and left out, in discussions around these ongoing purges. Take for instance, the terminology used to describe Moyo’s reassignment to the tertiary education ministry. This has largely been deemed a “demotion”; a control measure to put Moyo back “in his place”.

With a track record as a ministry where wayward Zanu-PF politicians are sent for “punishment” or as an “in-between place”, the negative connotations associated with this portfolio are hardly new. Former finance minister Herbert Murerwa was once “demoted” to this post in the same way that the late Stan Mudenge (once minister of foreign affairs) was meted out this same fate. In more recent times, the post has fallen to Olivia Muchena (who was removed from cabinet along with Mutasa and others) and Oppah Muchinguri, who replaced Muchena after vacating the Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development ministry as rumours swelled that First Lady Grace Mugabe would take up the Cabinet position.

I am well aware that not all ministerial positions are perceived to be equal in terms of power and influence when it comes to political manoeuvring. I am also aware of the reported hierarchal ordering with Zanu-PF’s politburo; a strategic line of succession to the presidential position. But something is very wrong when a ministry of tertiary education comes to be seen as the proverbial sacrificial lamb of a cabinet; a position of so little consequence that it relegates its occupier to near oblivion. That is saying a lot for a portfolio supposedly dealing with one of the Zimbabwean citizenry’s fundamental needs; education. And it would appear the gender ministry suffers a similar negative perception as, until the appointment last week of Nyasha Chikwinya to the post of minister, that position had been vacant since December last year.

If there was ever a time that these two portfolios could be deemed inconsequential, now is not it. Strikes, and threats thereof, have become the modus operandi of many state tertiary institutions. In March, following a lecturers’ strike over outstanding salaries, the University of Zimbabwe shut down abruptly, with students forced to vacate halls of residence indefinitely, the university reopening a day later against mounted pressure. Ironically, this was at a time when the strong #RhodesMustFall student movement in South Africa was influencing widespread debate and discussion around race, power and oppression, all leading to the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the grounds of the University of Cape Town.

I recall once having a conversation with an influential media executive with a large local company who remarked that she would always think twice before hiring a local graduate, favouring working with the few returning Zimbabwean students trained at western universities, or in South Africa.

“I don’t have to start from scratch teaching them basic things like how to work digital programmes and equipments,” she said, alluding to the fact that where learning does occur, it often proceeds with demotivated staff and outdated and scarce equipment.

“Time is money.”

So vast has become the rift.

What, then, are the chances of young local Zimbabwean graduates being professionally competitive if they are not attractive — even to their own job market, which, mind you, remains severely compromised by excruciating levels of unemployment?

Recently, also, Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana spoke in defence of courts that did not jail paedophiles who could “prove” that they had gained sexual consent from girls as young as 12. In his comments, which raised widespread uproar, he also recommended marriage for these young girls (to their sex offenders) as an alternative to poverty. In a survey conducted by Plan International and presented to Parliament last week, it was found that 58% of people within community settings did not see anything morally wrong with sleeping with underage girls.

Given these staggering challenges, and many more, Zimbabwe doesn’t really have the luxury of calling any one of its ministerial portfolios “inconsequential” or “unimportant”.

As enthralling and immersive as factionalism has come to be, it seems we have lost sight of the fact that it serves as yet another distraction from serving and representing our genuine interests, and those of many Zimbabweans not afforded much privilege to articulate their own grievances. The question, perhaps, is whether it actually matters to still have genuine interests within a media and political landscape that favours characters over causes, and sectarianism over service.

No doubt, Zimbabwe is currently suspended in a perpetual game of musical chairs, with politicians across the spectrum scrambling for scarce seats of power as we spectate.

But what happens when the music stops, no one really knows.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

My problem with Trevor Noah’s ‘Africa’

Trevor Noah. (Pic: Gallo)
Trevor Noah. (Pic: Gallo)

A few weeks ago, I helped organise an event in Johannesburg which convened artists from across east and southern Africa. What I thought would be a straightforward process, however, soon became a logistical nightmare with visa challenges for those attending, particularly from Kenya and Uganda.

The list of documents required seemed endless, as did the frustrated back and forth with participants. In the end, some ran out of time to process their visas and therefore did not attend. Others came in a few days after the event had begun, their visas providing legal status for the exact number of days of the event. Single entry. Non-negotiable.

I struggle to accept the arduous process of legalising movement within this continent, and find it hypocritical that as African nations, we decry the same western standards of legality that we then go on to reinforce.

Rules are rules, you say. But these rules suck.

A viral video of a satirical-cum-social commentary exchange between Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, is the reason for my latest introspection.

Received with widespread positivity and affirmation, I have been struggling to master the same emotions towards it.

Among the range of stereotypes and issues it broaches, we find Ebola and reference to the precarious race relations in the US which have recently combusted in the face of the non-indictment of white officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, in connection with the deaths of two black American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. At the same time, the revelations of the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag have returned white privilege in America into sharp focus.

The interchanges between Stewart and Noah are witty, and initiate discussion on a host of complex and important issues.

And also, we see Noah – even if he does provide commentary on his feelings of insecurity within the USA because of his race – corroborate the notion of the ‘American dream’. After all, here is a young successful comedian from South Africa, whose exponential growth has culminated in his making his mark on that most prized entertainment real estate that is the US of A.

While often controversial, Noah’s navigation of race in South Africa has – in large part, because of his own mixed heritage – provided a space where comedy cannot instantly be condemned as racist by virtue of the comedian’s race.

In one of his skits that still sticks out in my mind, Noah imitates a white South African who warns him that he’ll hit him so hard, he won’t know whether he’s black or white.

As the punchline to the joke, Noah shrugs his shoulders and raises his hands in comical apathy.

It is again, this fluidity of identity that serves him well in the USA. There – unlike in South Africa – he is not termed ‘coloured’. He is black, or mistaken for Latino, if his performances are to be understood to be based on his lived reality.

But most uniquely of all, he is African.

Where Chris Rock or George Lopez (and many others) might meet the comedic needs of America’s various non-white audiences, Noah’s is not an America he can navigate without the appendage of his Africanness.

And it is this Africanness that constitutes my indifference to his latest skit.

Under the broad banner of Africanness, the sort of injustices he calls out about America ironically constitute the injustices that many Africans live every day in South Africa. Additionally, the similarity of the US and South Africa’s current racial combustion is uncanny, and eerily so.

Just last week, a video surfaced of a group of white bikers attacking a black petrol attendant after he reportedly asked one of them – who was smoking –  to move away from a petrol pump. Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, was involved in more controversy in October after an altercation with Cassie Moller. As his defence, Malema stated that Moller had used racially derogatory language and words – including kaffir – on black restaurant staff. At about the same time, musician Steve Hofmyer publicised sentiments that black people were the architects of apartheid.

In an article on why South Africa largely resists the rest of Africa, Sisonke Msimang states the following;

“In the democratic era we have converted the hatred of Africa into a crude sort of exceptionalist chauvinism. South Africans are quick to assert that they don’t dislike ‘Africans.’ It’s just that we are unique…”

The ideas and associations that both nation spaces – the USA and South Africa – conjure in the minds of the rest of Africa are often interchangeable; these are places regularly described as hostile, impenetrable, xenophobic. The whole comedic gesture between Stewart and Noah therefore becomes unsettling for the similarities it easily discards for a good goad into Uncle Sam.

In the ‘Spot the Africa’ challenge, we see Africa, again, sanitisied and collapsed into one undulating territory. That this is also part of the satire is not lost on me, but the obliging game to, “just tell me which of these pictures was taken in America, and which one is from Africa” is reminiscent of the many toe-curling presentations I have had to sit through where presenters from the continent – addressing largely western audiences – ply their oration with images of the ‘real Africa’. This ‘real Africa’, usually featuring night scenes of the kaleidoscopic colours of traffic skating past skyscrapers in the metropolises of African capitals.

Stewart and Noah gloss over the complexities of each of their territories throughout the skit. A glaring point to ponder is when a class of Kenyan students is mistaken for students in Harlem (a stereotype within a stereotype?), and when a black child sleeping on a mouldy forlorn couch turns out not to be Stewart’s “go to” Somali stereotype, but rather a child in Detroit. In that moment, the commentary is less about the geography of territory and more about a poignant universalising politics of race.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t expect a five-minute exchange on prime time television to deconstruct these complexities in the fine detail that I write of. That people must become aware that Africa is complex and replete with its own charismas, characters and contradictions is ever necessary.

So do I disavow Noah of his right to speak? Should his Africanness be invalidated because of his South Africanness, and therefore turned to mute?


That the conversation has begun – and is beginning in many places and spaces – is a good thing.

Now, we await the nuance.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

How Ebola challenges the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative  

A medical worker checks his protective clothing  at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)
A medical worker checks his protective clothing at an MSF facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. (Pic: AFP)

A Cameroonian friend shares a conversation between two of his fellow nationals in an airport. One of them remarks that he is not feeling too well. The immediate, and hysterical, reaction of the other is that he must have Ebola.

“Maybe you’ve been infected with Ebola from those Lagos passengers at the arrival hall,” my friends recounts one of them saying.

On Twitter, a Kenyan user notes that passengers on flights from Entebbe to Nairobi are not being screened for Ebola. The checks are inconsistent, he notes, meaning the disease can be brought in to the nation via Uganda.

Last week, a hoax did the rounds on Whatsapp as Zimbabweans shared a Photoshopped version of a local newspaper with a headline claiming that the country had confirmed its first Ebola patients.

With news that the DRC has reported its first two cases of Ebola, fear and panic is set to deepen if the virus continues to spread outside of west Africa. A meme doing the rounds on social media shows a surge of people running in all directions from a central location with a caption to the effect, “When Pastor says someone in the congregation has Ebola and he’s going to heal them.”

It may all seem a joke, especially for Africans who are geographically distanced from the epidemic’s epicentre, but a scenario as posited in that meme is probably not far from becoming a reality. With inadequate health response mechanisms bedevilling many parts of the continent, death from Ebola remains a real threat. 

But as West African nations seal their borders to protect their nationals, as international airlines abandon routes that ply nations worst affected by the epidemic, and as western nations claim and evacuate their citizens affected by the disease, a larger problem beyond the virality of Ebola – both physical and mediated – is festering.

Over the last few years, meticulous work has gone into crafting the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative; a narrative founded upon the continent’s rising economies (like South Africa and Nigeria), the emergence of tech and innovation (think Kenya) and the growth of a middle class that we might call ‘post-African’; savvy, urban, cosmopolitan with no flies to swat off their faces and no begging bowls in their manicured hands.

In a May editorial, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote about ‘The Real Africa’ wherein he cited various economic measures – trade and mobile phone growth among others – to show why Africa has become “the test case of 21st-century modernity”.

The challenge I have always had with this narrative is that while the statistics do point to a truth, another truth, a truth of lack, still prevails.

Across the different parts of Africa I have had the privilege to visit in the west, east and south of this continent, I have seen the consumerist dream (high-end malls, cars, mansions and general financial exuberance) coexist with abjection, poverty and depleted social services. The rich do exist, but they are not the majority.

In many ways, the spread of Ebola shows up this suitable Africa Rising narrative. It shows hysteria, fear and othering, things which many Africans in poverty already have to live with daily, away from the narratives of luxury. Quite instantly, Ebola has become ‘the great leveller’ among Africans, reperpetuating stereotypes of barbarism and savagery; that Africans eat ‘strange foods’ like fruit bats and bush meat and other ‘filthy creatures’, that we are unclean, diseased and therefore dangerous.

A photograph taken from the window of a bar in Seoul, South Korea, aptly shows how collective and inclusive this othering has become. “We apologize, but due To Ebola virus, we are not accepting Africans at the moment,” the notice reads. The Daily Beast reports that in Italy, some schools have warned that pupils of African origin will require additional health certification before returning to school; something which has not been deemed necessary for white pupils who may have travelled to Africa over the summer vacation.

In palpable ways, Ebola has opened up way for the ‘dark continent’ narrative to re-emerge, if it ever really disappeared. And in its inclusivity, Africa is collapsed into one territory, one country, one race, even if the fatality of Ebola represents about 0.15% of the continent. Through these short-cut understandings emerges a dominant global hysteria that lends itself to racial profiling and generalisations that make me wonder just how far, if at all, the discourse around blackness has progressed. 

But the converse of this argument shows us, as Africans, being complicit in this typecasting in many ways. Ebola is serving to deepen regionalism (west Africa versus the rest of Africa) and the dangerous sort of nationalism that has often led to ineffectual collaboration across the continent; a superiority complex we tend to develop when we buy too deeply into the Africa rising ideology. Therefore, it is a ‘them’ that is diseased, a ‘them’ that must be avoided at all costs. And the great irony of it all is that a few months ago, the continent banded together to support African teams at the World Cup, the majority of them from the region that has since been affected most deeply by Ebola.

As we rail against news channels like CNN getting the geographical locations of Niger and Nigeria wrong, let us not forget the challenges we face beyond the semantics, which I agree are essential to get correct. If Africa – given its wealth of human and natural resources – cannot contain Ebola, then we must sober up and accept that we haven’t risen to where we should be, given the accompanying discourse of booming economies and commodity markets.

The truth, for me, is somewhere between the dichotomies (“rising” and “darkness”) that have been constructed for easy navigation of, and interaction with, Africa. The continent has great promise and developments, but it also has many challenges to overcome. For how do we term it rising if we must constantly fall to our feet in failure to respond to our own problems?

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Who can speak for the African experience?

(Pic: Flickr / Brendan Biele)
(Pic: Flickr / Brendan Biele)

Last week, I read with interest an article by Simon Allison of the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick, wherein he gave reasons why Zimbabwe’s long-time opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, should vacate office and make way for alternatives.

While I agreed with many of his points, it was his deconstruction of Tsvangirai’s character, which formed the main thesis of his analysis, that I found jarring.

“There was a time, not too long ago, when Morgan Tsvangirai personified everything that was good about Zimbabwe,” wrote Allison, adding descriptions of the leader as having once been incorruptible, tenacious, fearless; selfless in his pursuit of democracy for Zimbabwe’s people.

In reading this analysis, I felt – as I often do when I read content about Zimbabwe produced externally – dissonance with the narrative being presented to me.

Zimbabweans, I generally believe, have been cognisant of Tsvangirai’s political and personal shortcomings for a very long time, only ignoring them for the desperate want of political change. Therefore, to paint Tsvangirai as having once-upon-a-time cast stars in the eyes of Zimbabweans is inaccurate, at least to me.

But Allison’s is not the first case of inconsistency between high-level commentary and what ‘voices on the ground’ might articulate. And neither is it the last, as the trend favouring non-experiential knowledge, and theory, over the lived realities of those being spoken of continues to grow.

Recently, a heated exchange broke out online between two American social commentators on hip hop and rap, namely Elite Daily’s Doran Miller-Rosenberg and Rap Rehab’s Sebastien Elkouby. The former offered a sarcastic rebuttal of an Elkouby article in which he offered controversial ways to stop children being brainwashed by mainstream rap; Number 2 was to “Talk trash about every wack rapper you see or hear.”

Elkouby’s response to Miller-Rosenberg, a white American who has reported rap and various popular culture genres, was emotively charged to say the least.

“For many of us, hip hop culture saved our lives, or at the very least, gave it a purpose… Most of you are hip hop culture vultures on a safari of appropriation and exploitation. You take and give nothing back,” stated Elkouby, invalidating Miller-Rosenburg’s authority to speak on behalf of the culture by virtue of what Elkouby depicted as Miller-Rosenburg’s voyeuristic navigation of the genre.

The message clearly conveyed was that as a white man, Miller-Rosenburg had no authority to navigate the discussion given that hip hop and rap were birthed – and continue to grow – from the lived experience of blackness in a still racially oppressive America; an experience which, as Elkouby constructed it, was one Miller-Rosenburg would always be external to.

Telling the African story
In a TEDx talk last year, the late BBC newscaster Komla Dumor talked through the construction of authoritative knowledge – with his example focused on Africa – stating that while the idea of a haggis expert based at the University of Makerere might be laughable, the same is never true of an expert on Africa based in Washington, London or any space ‘other’ to Africa.

The appropriation of narratives is perhaps most often associated with race and historical privilege, but even the Afropolitanism movement has recently come in for criticism – by Africans – for  its perceived role in facilitating the appropriation and commercialisation of the continent’s narratives and artefacts through the hyphenation of ‘all things African’ with a touch of western  nuance.

While the Afropolitan might be a common sight in many parts of Europe and America, this ‘new African’ is not so often seen on the continent. So that the narratives of the African who does breakfast in Lagos, dinner in Paris, or who sips on fair trade coffee from Kenya while going through the complete works of Frantz Fanon at the airport departure lounge hardly resonate with the majority of Africans in Africa and abroad. Ironically, what is constructed as the alternative narrative to the dominant and macabre depictions of Africa becomes its own hegemonic and highly exclusionary representation of what a resurgent Africa – an Africa ‘on the rise’ – should look like.

Last year, Voices of Africa featured a piece in which Stephanie Kimou lamented her inability to find good African men upon recent return to the continent, having lived and studied in the US.

The combination of Kimou’s western historical context and sweeping generalisations about African men (“First, every African man wants a cook, like his mama”) led to debates – at least those that I was privy to – being less about the potential veracity of her views, and more about what authority she had to paint the continent’s men with one brushstroke as a recent returnee.

Additionally, the indictment of African men left many African women feeling judged for choosing to love them.

Pushback was, therefore, not necessarily founded upon disagreement with Kimou’s opinion; but largely upon doubts about her authority to speak as an ‘authentic’ African voice.

It may seem easy to dismiss the discourse of authenticity on the grounds of the internationalised lives most of us lead. Regardless of where we are, we eat, watch, listen to and wear imported products. But the fact remains that speaking on behalf of, especially where there is geographical, cultural or experiential removal, promotes feelings of emasculation in the person(s) being spoken of; especially where nuances about their experiences are omitted, and inconsistencies observed. And quite often, the response to such representations is defensive retaliation, even where this may be irrational.

Deconstructing privilege
The solution to these quandaries seems easy; that those spoken of should “begin to tell their own stories in their own ways”. But given that accepted opinion leaders often speak from powerful platforms and places with wide reach and validation, it remains difficult for alternative views – especially when expressed in spaces of low prominence – to gain traction.

Moreover, speaking against popular and dominant narratives often relegates the speaker to the margins where they are constructed as either being antagonistic for antagonism’s sake, or expressing counterproductive sentiments.  It therefore remains quite easy for the well-developed media machinery to silence – by omission – dissenting opinions and voices, or the alternative voices that it does not want to hear.

The answers to addressing this situation are complex and don’t lie in disengaging from inaccurate representations. Neither do they lie in engaging in angry undirected pushback. That is after all, the easiest way to invalidate an opinion.

In acknowledging and deconstructing privilege – who gets to speak, on behalf of who and why – we have to be realistic in our understanding of how hierarchies develop, gain credence and perpetuate.

With social media now facilitating conversations with institutions that might previously have seemed impenetrable, this at least provides some channels through which to register one’s opinion.  But of course, substantive change entails much more; the sharing of influential space and a greater willingness to welcome, and listen to, multiple alternatives and realities.

The question is: Is the world ready for this?

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter