African and proud: the stories that inspire me

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“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” 

Kwame Nkrumah

For the past few months, I have been reading and (forcing out a dissertation) on the collective African identity which is based on Pan African ideals. I began being curious about the roots of a collective identity and wanted to explore what gives Africans living in Africa and Africans in the diaspora a sense of shared identity. The month of October in the U.K and February in the U.S. typically involve month long celebrations of all things African and I am happy to contribute my thoughts on the history of the collective African identity and to especially highlight African Agency in the contemporary world.  

The origins of modern day Pan Africanism date back to movements in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, the Pan African Federation was first founded in Manchester in 1944. Early diasporic engagements with Pan Africanism were directly fashioned against slavery, colonialism and imperialism and for the unity and upliftment of people of African descent and the motherland. Leaders of this movement were forging a place in society for people of colour to be treated equally and with dignity whilst advocating for the unity of people of African descent who had been violently uprooted from their homes.  Pan Africanism inherently believes that we share not only a common history but a common destiny. The common destiny has always been living free from the shackles of colonial oppression and rule and all systemic forms of oppression both in Africa and in the diaspora. 

Celebrating African in London.Photograph:Jim Griffin/Flickr

The history and destiny of Africa has historically been heavily reliant on Western constructed perceptions of the continent, with an inherently negative connotation. Africa as a continent is mostly written about as being acted on, spoken about and decided for, a lack of agency is almost assumed.  Therefore, during my research, I have been drawn to texts that highlight the agency of Africa as a continent, and the agency of her people in charting Africa’s own future.  I have been inspired by Africans who tell African stories, real African stories, human African stories and define effortlessly what it means to exist as an African. My hope and view for contemporary pan Africanism is for Africans everywhere in the world to be self-determined, to solve their own problems and to take up space unapologetically. I am inspired by Africans in the diaspora who are taking up space, making their voice heard, shaking up the status quo and redefining what it is to be African and proud. Below are some of individuals who inspire me, I hope they inspire you too. If you have not heard of them before: you are welcome. 

I am a firm believer in celebrating and uplifting each other, anchored in the spirit of Ubuntu “I am because you are” Even as we uplift each other and celebrate each other, we do it for the common good. Idealistic much? Perhaps ☺ Yet I remain firmly optimistic in the future of Africa and my hopes rest partly in this philosophy. 

Zweli Gule – Swazi-born, London-based CEO and founder of Ethinicity Cards

Photograph: Ethnicity Cards

Ethinicity cards is a London based company that firmly believes in representation. Creating novelty goods such as birthday cards and accessories that represent black superheroes and black power in all its forms, the company inspires young people and adults as they “see” themselves in products.  In the words of the CEO, Mr Gule “Representation & Imagination builds confidence, it’s the thing that means the most to us here at EthniCity Cards. He continues to say “from an early age my mother has been the greatest example of what a human being looks and acts like. I grew up surrounded by real-life superheroes and heroines, people that used their imagination on how countries (particularly the affairs of our neighbor South Africa and ourselves, Eswatini/Swaziland) were to be run, the joyous ring of freedom, the wealth of autonomy, the invigorated utopia of determining one’s one premise in one’s own existence.” 

For more information, visit: https://ethnicitycards.co.uk/ 

African agency lives in the minds of Africans and is an old age concept. We need to cultivate and celebrate it more! 

Kemiyondo Coutinho, Ugandan, Los Angeles-Based Playwright, Actress and Filmmaker 

Photograph: Facebook

Forbes Africa 30 under 30 recipient, Kemiyondo, has been writing and acting for the African woman since age 17. Her one-woman shows dealing with gender inequity toured internationally and warranted her an invite from The Gates Foundation to perform at their headquarters. 

Frustrated with the lack of female directors in the industry she decided to take on the role to inspire other female filmmakers to do the same. Her short film, Kyenvu won the Oscar Qualifying Award Best Short Film at the Pan African Film Festival in 2018 making it the first Ugandan film to ever qualify for an Oscar. She is the inaugural recipient of Kevin hart’s Laugh Out Loud filmmaking fellowship and recently premiered her film GREEN at the American Black Film festival.

Known for her multiple disciplines in the arts, Kemiyondo was featured on CNN for her work in the arts in the segment African Voices as well as on BBC for her culture shaking film Kyenvu. 

Kemiyondo inspires me through her passion and her “lead by doing” attitude. In her sphere of influence, when she sees a gap she fills it, she DOES something about it. 

Check out her films: Kyenvu and Little America! 

Nozipho Tshabalala, South African 

Photograph: https://noziphombanjwa.com/

Ms. Tshabalala is a Conversation Strategist. She moderates global conversations that are designed to have measurable outcomes and have an impact.  She is in demand for her unique and insightful ability to facilitate difficult conversations with courage, depth and breadth. As an internationally acclaimed conference moderator and Human Capital Advocate for The World Bank and Global Citizen, she has successfully moderated conversations for global and African institutions including, leading listed and unlisted multinational corporations, business schools, and civil society organisations that seek to leverage conversations for change. 

Ms. Tshabalala describes her craft as “using the art and science of communication to help smart people having simple conversations that can make the world a better place.” 

She is a SOAS alumni and recently gave a virtual talk at SOAS. I was deeply moved by her story. She comes from a rural part of South Africa yet she has not only found her voice but has made it her mission to ensure that governments, international organizations and companies consciously engage in consequential discussions. 

William Kamkwamba, Malawian

Photograph: Howard County Library System/Flickr

The film and book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is based on the true story of William. At age 14, William built the first wind turbine in his rural village of Malawi. He used recyclable material from bicycle parts to tree branches and truly everything in between! The film and book tell an incredible story of resilience, determination from a young man without formal education. His entrepreneurial spirit and creative mind  triumph and the turbine provides running water for irrigation purposes and electricity for the first time in a community that had been ravaged by drought. Since 2001, he has built two other wind turbines and a solar powered water pump, continuously developing his country and community. 

Check out the film or the book! 

Sharon Martins is currently pursuing an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, a Pan African Enthusiast and an advocate for inclusive development policies. 

This blog is part of our Black History Month 2020 series, which celebrates black voices and achievements over time, and across the globe. The series features contributions from SOAS alumni, academics, and students.

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