In the wake of Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day just about a week ago, certain musings I have been harbouring for some time now seem to have finally forced their way through to take shape in this long-overdue blogpost that I hope will not only pay homage to my country Ghana's first president, but also add my voice to the local protests we have seen arise within this same week.
But before I go on, I would like to share a poem I wrote as a Ghanaian student getting to the end of her first semester in a US college, filled with all the usual questions and torments about identity likely to plague the soul of a person in new terrain - a fish out of water, as it were:
Identity....mɜmɜmɜ (come in)
I'm knocking on its door
It's letting me in
Blɜwoo, blɜwoo - slowly
Shↄↄhe, shↄↄhe! - hurry it up!
Identity, you trick me!
Several faces, various voices
Attacking me. Adɜn? Why?
On my left, what? Dadaba (daddy's girl)
At my right, what? Miss America.
Friends, enemies, adults, relatives,
Identity....mɜmɜmɜ (come in)
Come in, come in
I know I'm One
One in Him
but never will I be
till I hear Him say Akwaaba
till I hear Him say Welcome - Home. (December 2nd, 2005)
I share this poem as a premise to my deeper musings because I believe that issues of identity are at the core of our existence and our human experience. Whether it is what we think of ourselves, or what the world thinks of us, we are constantly being shaped, influenced or affected to our core because of this question. Sometimes we hold a certain sense of identity and its accompanying entitlements so dear to our hearts that when our reality offers us experiences that counter that, our whole world is shaken. So therein lies the rub: - is our identity something with enduring permanence that is largely set in stone, or is it something more fluid? Better yet, do we have one identity or several? The answers to these questions have large implications on what we should or should not care about.
Take Taiye Selasi's philosophy on multi-localism for instance. Seeing the question of 'where are you from?' as code for 'where are you really from?' as code for 'why are you here?', embedded with all the typical man-made constructs that seek to place people in and out of spaces of belonging, she tells us to rather ask the question - 'where are you local?' In her 2015 Tedtalk - 'Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm local' - she expounds on the 3 R's of shared experience that might unite two seemingly different people from two sides of the globe - rituals, relationships and restrictions. In short, as a Namibian, you could actually have more in common with someone in Pakistan based on these 3 R's than someone from your 'own' country. Taiye Selasi describes herself as not a citizen of the world, but a citizen of worlds, as well as a local of New York, Rome and Accra. What about you? How do you describe yourself?
I have been grappling with the question for a long time now, probably all my life, and although I have resolved several ground truths for myself, I am far from being able to say I have it all worked out. Can we really ever get to a point where it's all worked out, especially since we are naturally evolving every day as we get older and the world we live in evolves around us? The only time I see that happening is when we have shed off our fleshly existence and we are bound to the Ultimate Creator again, sublimely and completely in spirit, as suggested in the last lines of the poem shared above. Outside of that, there's still so much to discover and unearth, day in and day out. And one of those things I have firmly been able to discover for myself is that part of my identity that I am able to strongly claim because I have been awakened to that aspect of myself. It's part of the reason I gave my business the name that it has - Indigen. Wikipedia explains the word as follows:
Indigen: In general usage the word indigen is treated as a variant of the word indigene, meaning a native.
And what is a native? The Merriam-Webster dictionary has one meaning stating 'one born or reared in a particular place.' The reason why I have been able to ascribe this word to my business and the passion that I have for musical theatre and the performing arts, is because, like the literary person that I am, I love to read between the lines and beneath the surface of the things that are said such that a 'place' to me need not only be physical but can also be psychological. In my thoughts, and dreams, I have lived and breathed the world of musical theatre from my childhood to now so much to the extent that one could literally describe me as having been 'reared' by it. By appropriating this word 'Indigen' for my business The Indigen Group, I like to think that I give people also the freedom and license to live boldly out of the worlds that have shaped their experience till now.
This brings me back to the 3-day protest we experienced on the streets of Accra, starting on Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day on Thursday and ending on the Saturday. In actual fact, the youth and various segments of the population have been protesting for a while now - on Twitter, on the radio and through creative, social media and other platforms in both subtle and not-so subtle ways. Protest simply took on a different life-form and became more concerted in those 3 days. The hope is that that life-form will yield the economic, political and social outcomes that the people who call Ghana home can be satisfied with. For what is protest if it leads not to change? And the right kind of change at that.
All over Africa, the winds of change have been blowing, marked by the most recent occurrences in Niger which has sought to extricate itself from decades of socio-political and economic control from France. Underlying all these events appears to be an urgent call to be able to live out one's existence in harmony with one's conception of who they are (or where they are local) and what they deserve by virtue of that. Whether there will be ultimate success is yet to be seen. The fight, however, to achieve this goal is still a most noble call and a loud applause goes to anyone who dares to do this, in whatever way, shape or form.
So what is the right kind of African? Is there one? Does he look the same from East to West? I would venture NO. I am reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's treatise on 'why we should all be feminists' and I am tempted to replace the word 'feminists' with 'African'. You might well be an American-born person living in Spain but with a big heart for Africa, having volunteered in several countries on the continent and constantly searching for an excuse to go 'back'. YOU are African. You may be a person of Nigerian descent, born and raised in the UK, working in Togo and trying to sincerely troubleshoot, through your work, trade issues for your firm in the West Africa region. You have learned to care about Togo and its environs such that what happens in the region matters to you, not only for your personal sake, but for that of the region. YOU are African. Let no man tell you otherwise.
Kwame Nkrumah, himself, being the astute Pan-Africanist as he was put it ever so elegantly when he said 'I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.' I hope that we all too could rally around this idea and stand up for the places of which we are an indigen.