It is our responsibility as Africans to tell our own stories and to tell them well and truthfully. People seldom realise the power behind story telling. As an African story telling is in my blood. I grew up listening to my father telling me stories about our tribe and about my great grandmOther who at the time of her death was one hundred and thirteen years old. She was a woman who ruled the family with an iron fist and made sure all her children, fourteen of them were hardworking and developed a back bone to help them fight against the world. My great grandmother was there when the missionaries came into Zimbabwe and she was there when they would walk door to door preaching the Gospel, she was also there when the very same people walked door to door killing and raping her children, brothers and friends.
It is through story telling that I got to know this remarkable woman and it is through story telling that her spirit continues to be celebrated. It is my responsibility as well to pass on her legacy to my children and theirs to pass it on to their children. This is my responsibility as a person and as an African. For so long the story of Africa has been told by many, through books, films, documentaries and Newspapers. The problem was and unfortunately still is that the people who tell these stories about Africa are usually never Africans. I used to wonder why my six year old cousins visiting us from the United Kingdom would beg me to take them to play with the monkeys and the elephants. Instead of calling me Simba, my name, they would call me “Shimba the Lion King” but now I know why.
To them, Zimbabwe was a jungle where Tarzan lived and Simba was the name of the Lion they saw in the film The Lion King. To them Zimbabwe was not a country that had people living their lives also trying to eke out a living just like people in the United Kingdom and Simba was not the name of a Shona boy but it was the name of the majestic lion they loved to see on TV. The problem with my cousins is that the African story they were being told was not by an African but instead it was by a stranger who was telling a story to perpetuate his or her own interests. My uncle and aunt, like so many Africans, had failed to be truthful story tellers.
This is the trap many Africans fall into we let other people tell our own stories. We stand by and watch as people tell parts of our story that suit their agendas. We then cry foul and complain that the outside world paints our beautiful continent with a black paint brush, but the question is what are you doing as an African to tell our story? I think we should learn from those amongst us who have stood up to fight the stereotypes and challenge the preconceptions. Those Africans who must be given credit for they have been brave enough to tell the real African story from the aspect of the African people. Those who have given us a voice. People who do not care about market sales, or book sales or TV views. People whose aim is not to get rich fast but whose aim is to let the world know what Africa truly has to offer.
Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Mariama Ba, Abou Alkassam Elchabbi, Tsitsi Dangarembwa and Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie are gifted people who have decided to tell their stories through works of literature. And these are phenomenal people who have challenged society’s status quo, people who through their relentless collective efforts made the world stop and listen. They told their African stories and made sure they played their part in making sure their heritage is not lost or forgotten.
Zahara, Oliver Mutukudzi, Miriam Makeba, Fela Amikulapo Kuti, Youssou N’Dour these are people who have found the power in music. Through their music they have influenced and inspired masses. Through their lyrics they have told their African stories. Through their jazz and quick step they have brought different people of different cultures together and told their African stories. This is what we should do as Africans, tell our story. Whoever you are, wherever you come from it does not matter as long as you are African tell your story. It does not have to be a number one bestseller book or a hit song but through different platforms. Tell the world about your passions, your hopes, your struggles and your history. Tell your children, your family. If we don’t tell our own stories as a people we will forever be the victims, the ones who got short-changed. We will forever be known for our poverty, illiteracy and lack of depth. I admit Africa is experiencing war, famine and many plagues but is it all there is to Africa? What about your story?
This is what I feel is my responsibility as an African to tell my story and to tell the story of my forefathers. To dictate my own history and my future because I can and I will. The stories of my great gran mother, the stories of my friends, the stories of the beautiful people of Africa, Zimbabwe who are intelligent and innovative. The story of a people who have ambitions and hopes. This is the story I will tell. These are the stories we should tell as Africans.