A fascinating insight into Belgian colonial history and Congo today'. Reading this book, or attempting to, reminded me of a confrontation I once had with Rod Liddle, another English journalist who having spent two weeks in Uganda, returned to the UK to write some ridiculously inaccurate and damning account of the country, its people and its problems, all summarised in less than 2000 words.
This simplistic approach to a hugely diverse and complex continent seems to follow the style of colonial accounts of the 'dark continent' and its population who were summed up as either docile or savage, but always primitive . Although the modern narrative is less openly racist, the suggestion that you can sum up a country, however small with one account and especially when you have no real grasp or understanding of its cultural or social dynamics is no different from what European 'explorers' and colonisers were doing when they reported on Africa.
I recently watched a film called Kinshasa Symphony about a symphony orchestra in the DRC's capital and beyond the poverty what I saw were hard working, incredibly resourceful people who had developed a passion for classical music and who were striving every day to make their lives better. It was a simple story yet one that we never seem to hear when we see or read accounts of Africa.
The vey talented, Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a talk two years ago on the danger of the single story, in it she eloquently speaks about the impossibility of engaging properly with a place or person without engaging in all the stories of that place or person: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
In fairness, foreign writers are not the only ones guilty of perpetuating the one-dimensional view of Africa and while I think it's wrong to expect any writer to paint a full picture of a country or a place, I do think is important for African writers to make it clear that they are simply telling one story, one little part of a very large and complicated jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately because of the lack of a positive discourse on Africa, there is a tendency to turn writers, whether they are writers of fiction or not into 'experts' on the continent. These same writers seem to lap up their newly-acquired status, making gross generalisations about countries with countless ethnic groups and languages, while accepting their new role as an 'authority' on x, y or z country. This would never pass for so-called developed countries, considered by their very nature as far too complex to be summarised by one work or one writer, so it saddens me that it still passes for Africa.
I read a book last year which infuriated me to no end called 'Say you're one of them' by a Nigerian-born Jesuit priest; not only was every single one of his stories about children in various parts of Africa devoid of any hope, but what made it worse was that the cover of his book had the following quote from a review: "Akpan reveals Africa's pain, pity, joy and grace, and comes closer to the truth about modern Africa than the entire outpourings of the western mass media.". I appreciate that this is just one person's opinion but the effect has been to somehow sell this book as an accurate account of African children's lives. One of Amazon.com's readers wrote that the book had opened their eyes to how children in Africa live and suffer. The reader is based in the United States of America and having read this book had concluded that this was the reality of all African children.
As Ms Ngozi Adichie states "the consequence of a single story is that it robs people of dignity, it makes recognition of our equal humanity difficult [and] emphasizes how different, rather than how similar we are". Moving to the UK from Sierra Leone as a child, I remember having to contend with established stereotypes from the playground about living in a jungle or swinging from tree to tree and living among animals. That story which my classmates had all seen on television and read in books had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on my reality growing up in an urban centre in a middle class family. To this day, all the Africans I know have never been to, nor seen a jungle, and that includes those who grew up in the village but as African children moving to Europe or America, that was our single story - animals and the jungle.
Anyone who chooses to embrace a single narrative of any place in my opinion, contributes towards the false accounts that are at the root of our ignorance of one another today. Historical accounts are full of lies and half truths because stories were told by individuals who had their own agenda. We now have an opportunity to ensure that many stories are told that reflect not only the cultural diversity of places and people but also that celebrate the beauty of the human race. In all my travels, I can safely say that for every difference I see in people, there are countless similarities because even though our circumstances vary, fundamentally we are all the same.