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When you speak of Africa

When you speak of Africa

By: Jesuferanmi Igbinigie

It is not pronounced lay-gus, it is lah-ghos. To learn the accurate pronunciation, watch the first twenty or so minutes of Captain America: Civil War—a movie which effortlessly portrays the bravery of Nigerians as they stand to watch a scene of seeming overdressed American superheroes and villains shoot at each other recklessly in pursuit of some small, presumably dangerous chemical rather than run for their lives.

Only a few things are wrong about this movie: Nigerians and Africans — in general — are usually naked backward savages whose women only get dressed in time for United Nation’s intervention photoshoots: holding their pallid, undersized, big-eyeballed, scanty haired child(ren) to heighten the sting of the poverty, that, and the fact that buildings in Africa should never be as tall as depicted in this movie because all of Africa is savanna ridden with the overflowing boundaries of the Sahara and Kalahari rooting deeply into the cities so that they are all nothing but sand, mud-walled houses, thatched roofs with doors made of disinherited mats.

Learn the truth, the absolute truth that Gombe State is not in Northern Nigeria — it is far east, from Fox’s TV show, The Resident; a piece of information often misrepresented by local media in Nigeria made utterly possible by the fact that Nigerians do not have maps.

Learn that despite having most of the largest church auditoriums in the world, most Africans worship Coca-Cola bottles falling from helicopters — from the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. They also practice voodoo or the unconditionally barbaric juju. They may also worship helicopters, white men, ancestors, animals. This justifies Rudyard Kipling’s “half devil, half child” description of non-American impoverished races. Whenever you need to get your facts about Africa, the ones you speak about, get them from movies.

Know that to be an African is to be a scholar of suffering. So, behind every immigrant, there must be an authentically devastating backstory of surviving the Sahara, the belly of a ship, malaria or even wars. At some point in this immigrant’s life, he/she decided that dying on the way to Europe is way safer than living in burning cities ravaged by tribal wars and unnameable memories of loss.

At this point, in your mind or your enlightening article about Africa, quote several golden lines from Warsan Shire’s “Home”. Also, know that to go to Africa is to be a hero. So, any American who leaves the comforts of a stable society and basic social amenities to an African village to be with people who look like the remnants of a God-disowned race, does so for authentically benevolent reasons. This is the truth. All missionaries were heroes. All colonial masters were blameless. All those who instigated the apartheid were a little less than angels.

“All ugly countries are alike; each beauty country is beautiful in its own way”

—Leo Tolstoy.

Whenever you are tempted to use the name of an African country or city in your article — do not. Except the country has an exceptionally peculiar vice that cannot be inductively generalised to a continental level. For instance, never use the word “Nigeria” in your title, except it has— in the same statement— corruption, internet fraud, terrorist; never use Rwanda except the purpose of the article is nothing other than resuscitating the absolutely ludicrous turmoil between the Hutu and Tutsi; use South Africa if the exposé is about xenophobia but never apartheid.

Also, never shoot a video about Sudan or South Sudan except it has one or two functional armoured tanks in the background and displaced women, especially displaced women. If you must show a man, he must put on a red cap and dark shades, speak meagre Wakandian accent and smoke a lot while carrying an Ak-47 (this is very important) because that’s all African men are.

Note that whenever you have to portray African women, they should never be too happy (except they are around a white hero, eulogising him in local songs), only men are allowed to be unnecessarily happy. There are only two categories of men who are permitted to be this happy: the young bare-chested boy with a woven straw hat and unusually white teeth, smiling at the camera or the incredibly old man with offensively discoloured, discombobulated teeth. Note that middle-aged men are usually busy with tribal wars, they should rarely be on your cover except you are writing about lingering wars or UN’s intervention in “Africa and other countries”. 

Whenever you are to make a documentary in which you have to interview an African living in Africa, never pick one that understands English. This is because the grief of poverty and displacement are too prickly to squash into a language as soft as English, but you may translate whatever is said to English with your proper British accent completely masking the original statement and language. This is permissible because there are no televisions in Africa, so no African is ever going to watch your documentary, except the emigrants.

While on interviews with an African in the diaspora, ask more sophisticated questions, such questions as if there are libraries in Africa? Do not bother yourself with puny details like why African writers exist or for whom they write. You may also ask political questions probing deeply into Nigeria or African’s corrupt electoral system and how it often involves an unbelievably large number of perpetrators at each local government or polling unit; talk about how this differs from the electors of America’s electoral college whose few votes often decide who becomes president and in at least four previous elections has chosen presidents in contrast to the popularity vote. Overlook the sketchy details behind the Russian involvement in the 2016 American elections and the tumultuous occurrences surrounding Boris Johnson’s emergence. How a little more than 1% of the British population decided who was going to be ruler. Note that a corrupt political system is not one where few people decide the elections, it is one that cannot provide the statistics.  Just believe that Africa is a horrible place with unequivocally corrupt leaders as opposed to the immaculate American and British leaders and write about it without any trepidation. 

Whenever you write about Africa frequently repeat the word “culture” but in an article about America you should certainly not; because all Americans are uncultured; because culture is how uncivilized societies keep their men and women (mostly women), hostage, while “law” is a thing for civilized societies. You may also repeat “landscape” or “giraffe” or “gorilla” or “endangered species”.

Note that if the title of your article is “The Beauty of Africa”, the cover picture cannot be of a person. It has to be giraffes, elephants, trees, groundnut or any such traditional African cuisine. If you must use a person, it has to be a boy—the afore-mentioned hatted boy holding a stick, leading a group of camels across perfectly undulating desert sand. This has to be at sunset, so that twilight strikes the boy’s face leaving it a silhouette—because your article is about the beautiful things in Africa for which the people do not qualify.

Lastly, it is important to title your collection of articles or the magazine “Discover Africa” because your inestimable knowledge of Africa acquired from the libraries Africa does not have, the movies Africans do not watch, or the schools Africans do not go to, qualifies you to tell the story of Africa; of all its approximately 2000 languages, its 3000 ethnic groups and 1.2 billion people… perfectly.

*Dedicated to Binyavanga Wainaina (January 1971- May 2019)

Jesuferanmi holds a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy. He has been an editor for several anthologies including UITESWRITE and MATRIX. He was one of the winners of Christopher Okigbo Poetry Prize 2018.

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The only thing you need to know about me is I speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ―― well, except when writing.

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[…] to the ediors, the grand prize-winning entry, Igbinigie’s When You Speak of Africa, was a really good entry that strikes at the heart of the […]


[…] to the ediors, the grand prize-winning entry, Igbinigie’s When You Speak of Africa, was a really good entry that strikes at the heart of the […]

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