When I first travelled to Ethiopia, I remember not knowing what to expect. I was quite young at the time, so I did not give it much thought. I was just excited to be somewhere new. I was not aware of the different perceptions the rest of the world had about Ethiopia or other African countries. As I grew older this began to change, and I became more attentive to these thoughts that others held towards Africa either at school, in the workplace, or through various media platforms. These thoughts surrounding me, undeniably influenced my perception of these countries, especially during my early teenage years.
At school, we are often introduced to the topic of poverty and instantly the example of African countries is used. It is almost the only time Africa is spoken about in the classroom. When this topic is brought up in class, many of us can feel a sense of shame, or are embarrassed and confused. I think the biggest impact it may have though, is that we start to believe that Africa is limited to only crises and these crises come to define us and our people. This is why it is important that the diaspora are exposed to more than one narrative and perspective. It is important for our identity, it is important for retaining our culture and roots, and it is important because we need to know our history. Limiting the education experience by sharing information through one perspective is an injustice to us all. Sadly if this continues, it will result in more of our youth carrying these misconceptions of Africa, which can be so disempowering for our communities.
The unfair portrayal of Africa does not stop in the classroom, it follows us everywhere. For example, we turn on the television and we are exposed to multiple advertisements run by not for profit organisations, that show images of vulnerable and unwell children from Africa. Again, re-emphasising the poverty, crisis and dependant stereotype of our people. I say unfair portrayal because we are not limited to these stereotypes, yet this is the message that is being conveyed to us constantly. We are taught to see Africa as backward and reliant on the West.
For diaspora, this type of thinking leads to so many of us disconnecting ourselves from back home. This disconnect results in our lack of understanding and knowledge in not only the issues that exist back home today, but also the achievements and the rich history that so many African countries have to offer. I think the task for diaspora now is to continue to connect ourselves to Africa. The more we know about where we are from, the more we are able to connect to our identity. Gaining knowledge can be achieved through different ways, whether it is through language, travelling back home and connecting with extended family. Reading is also a great way of expanding our minds, and has personally assisted me during my journey of unlearning and relearning. There are so many options out there, it is just a matter of choosing the option that works best for you.
I appreciate that we have made a home here in Australia, but we still owe it to ourselves and our people to look into our history, and learn the greatness that we are. It is a challenging task, but we are fortunate enough to have access to different avenues that can fuel our knowledge and empower us further.
I have added a list of countries below and asked individuals from each of these places to tell me either their favourite thing about their country or an interesting fact that is not commonly known. I thought this would be cool to share as it is a way of highlighting positive things about these places, that we may not normally be exposed to.
Kenya: “Something I always thought was interesting, is that although almost half of Kenya is considered to be living under the poverty line (according to World Bank stats), almost 90% of people are educated / English speakers (therefore bilingual). This is a testament to how far Kenya has come and how we are self empowering despite what colonisation and wars in the region have done to us.”
Ethiopia: “Growing up in Australia, I thought I understood the meaning of happiness to its truest definition, but visiting back home I saw an entire different meaning. There’s a sense of community and family wherever you go.”
Uganda: “Thinking about Uganda apart from being the pearl of Africa, one word that comes to mind is rolex. If you ever go to Uganda, you have to try their rolex.”
Eritrea: “What I’ve always loved about my city is the architecture. Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, is like none other. The built environment has been preserved since the days of its conception, and is now listed as a World Heritage Site.”
Somalia: “I love that people go to work at the light of dawn and it is common practise that the city will shut down at midday and everyone goes home to have lunch with their families. People will go back to work at dusk and the city is alive in the night time.”
Sudan: “Two Interesting facts would be that Sudan was the largest country in Africa before the independence with South Sudan in 2011 and that it actually has the most pyramids in the world. What I love is the different cultures and languages.”
Zimbabwe: “The one thing I love about Zimbabwe is that you’re never alone. Ubuntu is so strong and everyone is family. You’ll always have someone there for you.”