The moderator stood on the stage explaining depths of his knowledge about what the concluded speaker spoke on. While he spoke, knowing the next speaker would be asked to the stage, my palms became wet and I could feel my feet shaking voluntarily. I whispered to my friend, “I can’t do this; I need to pee: What if I fall?”. My friend just gave me the assuring smile and I heard my name being called for my speech. “Oh, no! Jesus. What if I can’t find my voice when I get to the stage” I said beneath my breath. But it is too late; the spotlight is on me! I walked slowly to the stage with full moon smiles to assure the audiences and myself all is well.
However, I could not say confidently, getting to the stage was faster than I thought. Looking at the awaiting audiences, I stood like a doll with a low battery; just gazing. After 30 secs of all stares and no sound from me; I said Hello. The audiences in the room; people from different works of life, races, continents gave me the “will you get it started already” reply. I looked straight above their heads like public speaking experts will advise and began my well-articulated speech.
“Thanks for your presence and the opportunity to speak at his gracious meeting. I have 30mins and I intend to spend less, yet deliver greatly. I am here to speak on what I titled “The African Narrative”. I love to tell stories; thus my speech will be in the direction of storytelling. As a young writer, I secured a job with a small media outlet in the city of Ibadan in Nigeria. The job description as a staff writer in the organization is to research and write on socio-economic issues in Africa. Most times when an article is to be published in health, the standard of living, we (the staff) struggle to get African pictures on Google. However, it is very easier to get African pictures of war, famine, bad nutrition, and the likes.
In 2018, I came across an African proverb: “until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”. Then I realize, African narratives have been cheated on; we are exposed to the dangers of a single story.
In 2000, The Economist called Africa “The hopeless continent”. Although, this assertion has been changed with a news article by the same media in 2011 on “The Rising Africa”. Yet, the Africa narrative has been short-circuited. Africa has been robbed of its dignity to be; relegated as the poverty-stricken, underdeveloped, conflicts, famine continent.
Growing up a girl from the south-western region of Nigeria, all I have ever heard of the Northern part of the country is terrorism, killings, and the poor state of the states in the region. I had not been opportune to hear that some parts of the Northern region are conflicts-free until I had to serve there.
My one-year mandatory service gave me the insight to see the Northerners as lovely citizens, not the human flesh eater I assumed them to be. The narrative given to them by people outside made me described them all as rebels. In the same vein, no single narrative can adequately reflect what Africa truly is. Africa is not rich or poverty-stricken, educated or illiterate, progressive, or archaic.
What Africa is, depends on which part of it you are referring to. Truly, in Africa you will find some of the world’s poorest countries.
However, on the same continent you will find Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Senegal as the fastest growing economies in the world. In the education system; Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, and Seychelles have a 95% literacy rate (84% is the global average rate). Sao Tome and Principe have 92%, Libya, Namibia, Mauritius have 91%, Cabo Verde has 88%, and Botswana has 88%. In Africa, you will come across local inventions. Permit me to brag a little about my continent; but I wouldn’t do that on a single story note. In Africa you will also discover that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) still occurs and that many rape victims are stigmatized and not granted due justices.
I wouldn’t pause and fail to tell you about African youths. We are mostly paraded as rebels, arm robbers, lazy youths, and terrorists. Guess what, my name is Omolola Lipede from Ogun state in Nigeria and I am not a terrorist nor a lazy youth.
I could hear the audience laughed while some murmured. I continued “Let me tell you about African youths. We have a lot of them at the front line, taking actions to change the face of the education system, health system, governance, policy formulation. Time would not permit me to talk about the numerous great Africa young change-makers and their bodacious impacts on the continent and worldwide. Sadly, the outside world is oblivion to these actions and narratives.
Africa has been silent for so long, there is an abundant treasure trove of stories that have to be shared with the world and I am glad to be part of this. What is needed more than ever is a multiplicity of stories from within to challenge the dominant narrative from the outside world. Maimouna Jallow said: When we as Africans tell our own stories, we rewrite the stories in the history books that our children are still taught in schools. Sadly, no one told me the stories of great Africa leaders that have gone to the beyond. I heard no story of Patrice Lumumba, the empathetic Thomas Sankara was not in my history books neither did I get to read that of Nkrumah of Ghana.
It is high time Africans arose to tell the Africa narratives not mincing words, yet, not from the eye of an outsider. I am glad to be part of this movement! Thank you so much for your time.
As I stepped down the stage, the audience rose and gave a resounding applaud to the speech. Walking down to my seat seems longer as the audience reached out to affirm to me “Thanks for that wonderful speech”. I walked through the clapping audience, getting to my seat, my friend hugged me. Then shoot me fiercely saying “you did it girl; you smashed it”. She continuously shook me and I was wondering when she will stop when I had my mother’s voice from afar. “Wake up, you have chores to do”.
I woke up and discovered it was all a dream. “Oh, I have been dreaming”. But really, I would have said the same words and more if given thirty minutes on the world stage.