Identity challenges: views from inside and outside Africa

Does Africa have a single identity? Or is it rather a multiplicity of identities rising from many different cultural perspectives? A discussion from the InterAction Creativity event in Nairobi Feb- March 2005.


Africans living on the continent tend to seek out a single identity – an ‘African-ness’ that unifies them. Whether they are brown, white or black, they speak of being ‘African’. There is something that they recognise in each other that reflects being African.

Is there an Africa inside Africa? Are there universal African values?

In contrast, those in the Diaspora, from living outside the continent, are acutely conscious of different views of Africa. Some even ask – is there any real concept of ‘Africa’ within the continent – or is it only the outsider’s view that brings the continent into international perspective as a single entity?

At the Forum, during the discussion sessions and group interactions, the African delegates in the room always introduced themselves as nationals of their respective countries – not as Africans first. Is this perhaps a reflection of the reality that deep inside we are not Africans but merely part of a continent labelled ‘Africa’?

Indeed Africa does not have a single newspaper, television or radio network that addresses its ‘African’ audience exclusively. On the continent the media includes local publications and broadcasts that provide only a minimal profiling of the continent’s issues, along with local news. But no single African-produced, dedicated service exists for the topic ‘Africa’. Off and on the continent the BBC’s Network Africa morning radio segment and CNN’s Africa Report and Inside Africa provide the highest profile coverage. A few magazines dedicated to Africa are also published in London. Ironically, though, these international media treat the subject of ‘Africa’ in almost the same way – as a section apart from their mainstream menu.

Perhaps this is a colonial legacy – for example francophone West Africans think all Africans speak French and Americans are always surprised how well East Africans speak English! Can Africa aspire to have a single language? What language would that be? English from England, French from France or Kiswahili, which is a combination of Bantu and Arabic? Would choosing any of these serve only to marginalise a huge section of the continent or would it enable Africa to function more effectively internally alongside wider recognition externally?

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