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Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'm not part of an African Elite

I've never been one to quote a comedian but I so agree with Trevor Noah: "when you look into some people's eyes, you just know that no matter what you see there is no hope".  This past week I had flu and had to spend a lot of time indoors.  I did do a lot of work for my thesis but I did spend a considerable amount of time online as well.  Most of that time was spent following the Madonna story in my home country of Malawi and another part of that was spent catching up with the regular internet sinkholes: youtube, facebook, etc.

Reading on the Madonna stories made me realise there is a subsection of society whose purpose in life is to bash anything alive in Africa (and Malawi)...except for the "gawjus" wildlife.  It was sad really, reading the comments that crystallise my home as : a "cess pool", "over breeding", "corrupt"...you get my drift.  True, I have never been a fan of Madonna and if the saying "you shall know a tree by its fruits" is anything to go by, any well-meaning Malawian has no doubts about Madonna now.  What struck me most in this "Madonna effect" is that the angle of the news stories in the foreign press that targets the net's usual comments section addicts .  The fact that most of those editors have crystallised Malawi and many countries in Africa into three-dimensional entities: over-populated with children, poverty-stricken and led by corrupt officials.  You would think that my home is where money is pumped into by the West for a mass of kids who grow up and become corrupt officials who spawn new kids for whom money is pumped in again by the West and those grow up and become corrupt officials who spawn new....again, you get my drift.  I read up a bit on comments by people like me, who are neither children nor so-called corrupt officials and I was surprised to hear responses that culminated in: "Shut up, you don't exist in our conscious, you are just part of an Africa elite who is both irrelevant and greedy. Besides aren't you typing from outside Africa, all Africans in the Diaspora are elite too!" We have more to contribute to those poor, poor kids in Africa than you lot.  Wow.

I first heard I am part of the African Elite in class about a year ago.  I was defending the entire continent (what a burden as it has 52 countries) from a professor whose ideologies can only be described as racism coated with what I call "academic lingo sugar".  He looked at poor old black me in the face and stated flatly, "You say that but YOU are part of the elite.  Who is to say other [read: typical] Africans would agree with you?" ...and I was thinking, ''and  they would agree with YOU, Mr. I-know-the-answer-to-all-Africa's-problems-if-only-they-would-listen-to-me.  Needless to say, his comment has led me to question whether I am indeed part of the oft described as notorious African elite.  Many instances have come up since of this labelling, the fact that both my parents own their houses (brick-fenced, satellite dishes and all) has been used against me, the fact that I'm on to my third post-graduate degree has been thrown into it and so on.

I have concluded in the end that I am in fact not a part of an African or any other elite.  It is simple, elites would tell you that they belong to a group that is privileged and works to maintain those privileges.  How can I belong to that group when despite my parent's achievement, I know that they have only come to enjoy any privileges associated with elitism since their forties.  They were too busy paying school fees for all under 18s in their house (and their closest relatives' houses where need be).  They were busy paying taxes, for funerals or deceased relatives, medications for family members and towards local causes including the church.  One of my Dad's oft repeated phrases was, "I don't have the money for that" and he usually didn't have money for anything but the priorities.  He hasn't driven a personal car in over ten years and he's a professor!  Some could put holes into all these but the bottom line is, only the elite dish out money when their children so much as cough and absolutely no elite can fail to put a permanent solution to their broken-down car sitting on the front lawn. Coming to me, as I sit on our lovely hand-me-down couch taking a break from my studies for which I had to qualify for an academic merit scholarship (which I had to qualify for by working hard in my previous university where I also had a 30hr a week job and a merit-based scholarship to keep afloat
) to get...I dare say I do know something about those spaces between a so-called mass of poor, poor, African children and the evil, evil, corrupt officials.  Yes, there are poor children in Africa, many of them. And yes, there are corrupt officials, many of them and we despise them too. But there are so many PEOPLE living in Africa and its Diaspora.  We wake up, we eat, we sleep and we know what it means to change our circumstances by studying so that we can achieve more not just for ourselves but our families and communities.  We also choose for ourselves why we are people of faith, why we have our own children and why we support both local and foreign initiatives that support the poor and bring the corrupt to book. We understand that collaboration and solidarity work and not condescention and racism.

So, I don't own a house yet but I am working towards that. Why, because then I don't have to filter what I earn into rents forever. Besides, it's a solid collateral for other ventures that won't just help me but my own family (hubby and kids) and whomever else would depend on us. And when I come out of my own house one day only to shut up because I am part of an evil African elite,  I'll have no choice but to slap that ohn upside the head!!

photo:reuters.com

2 comments:

asher said...

Well put...very articulate! I love the flow n the crossraference!

Thandi Soko said...

Thank you!