'How to write about Africa' by Binyavanga Wainaina Granta

Some tips: sunsets and starvation are good. Always use the word 'Africa'
or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words
'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi','Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky',
'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as
'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People'
means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black
Africans. Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of
your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An
AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an
African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress. In your
text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with
rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who
are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who
eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is
big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving
and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent
is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things,
but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions
romantic and evocative and unparticular. Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other
humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an
African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and
all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat
such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy
it-because you care.Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love
between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad
I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is
impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa,
how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa
is the only continent you can love-take advantage of this. If you are a
man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman,
treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into
the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever
angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without
your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.Your African
characters may include naked warriors, loyal
servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic
splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and
prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like
a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good
with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas.
The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the
money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has
rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man
who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits
to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of
development, always using his government job to make it difficult for
pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal
Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned
serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a
cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich
witch-doctor who really runs thecountry.Among your characters you must
always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly
naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have
flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and
empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no
history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She
must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak
of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and
motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your
well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These
characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good.
Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of
babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if
reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat
who now cares for animals (if fiction).Bad Western characters may
include children of Tory cabinet ministers,Afrikaners, employees of the
World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the
Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But
do not be too specific. Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid
having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids,
or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be
colourful, exotic, larger than life-but empty inside, with no dialogue,
no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to
confuse the cause.Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old,
conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or
enhanced genitals. Or any kind of
genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And
especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in
which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real
Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy
about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The
biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or
suffering white people.Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as
well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing
their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also
have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are
caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas.
Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla.
Elephants may attack people's property,destroy their crops, and even
kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in
the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are
in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case
they are pure evil).After celebrity activists and aid workers,
conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend
them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or
'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview
the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking
conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and
wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a
conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage.
When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do
not ask how much money they make off their game. Never
ask how much they pay their employees.Readers will be put off if you
don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a
must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty
spaces and game are critical-Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces.
When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention
that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert
or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to
mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use
caps).You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries,
evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats
hang out. Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something
about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.