Pius Adesanmi, The Pennsylvania State University
"What is Africa to me?" We have not given them answers.
Dr Ogbu Kalu makes a very significant contribution but I don't think the
answer lies in a rehash of some remote form of black internationalism,
limited to academe and choreographed memory-bearing returns to the
nativeland by Obi Nwakanma's conclave of intellectuals. At any rate,
such polemical return narratives have never really stopped: Henry Louis
Gates? Alice Walker? Kamau Braithwaite worked for a long time in Ghana,
Caryl Philips visits the continent. There is a false alarm in claiming
the contrary. The challenge lies in how to make the continent 'mean' and
'signify' beyond the hallowed halls of academe and the 'up there' world
of intellectuals. How do you work towards a renewed consciousness of the
continent in southside Chicago or in the projects of staten island?
Every summer, mass-appeal African American artists (Micheal Jackson in
the 80s when he was still a black man, 50 Cents, Usher, Nelly, etc)troop
to Lagos and Port Harcourt, holding sellout concerts. Nigerian
newspapers are usually awash with stories of such performances. Complete
press blackout here. In some of my black cultural studies undergraduate
classes, African American students are always completely shocked to
discover that their favorite artists do go to Africa to perform annually!
How do you plug into such mass-appeal processes, creating structures
that would encourage these artists to develop a sense of responsibility
in terms of validating and disseminating their experiences of the
continent to their vast black followership when they return to the US?
An Usher weaving a sense of continental reconnection into his lyrics,
talking about his trips to Nigeria in his numerous interviews - I've
never heard him mention a trip to Africa - would achieve a lot more than
cocooned return narratives that are merely going to be processed as new
material for the postcolonial identity machine of academe: more
materials for Bhabharian hybridity, etc. Although the "we" that has
failed to answer Countee Cullen's soul-searching question is not exactly
clear, one may essay a suggestion that Abioseh Nicol did answer the
question in "The Meaning of Africa"
We Look across a vast continent
And blindly call it ours
You are not a country, Africa
You are a concept
Fashioned in our minds, each to each
To hide our separate fears
To dream our separate dreams
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest the look up
To the vast enamelled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
"This is my Africa"