In the attempt to make Africa more like Europe (and Africans more like Europeans), perfectly convenient local solutions are discarded for grand ideas. So, for instance, someone at some point thought ‘Europe doesn’t have things like boda-bodas [motorcycle taxis], so let’s get rid of them.’ This is exactly the kind of Victorian thinking the British brought to Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, etc. when they colonised us. We unwittingly internalised this thinking and now continue their work for them in the name of “development”, all the while thinking we are being modern, forward-thinking globalized Africans.
Cultural critic Binyavanga Wainaina has posted a series of videos on YouTube talking about this poverty of imagination and asking middle-class Africans to dare to free their imagination. The following is our response to his thesis.
On the 18th of January 2014, Binyavanga Wainaina, the Kenyan writer celebrated his birthday by publishing a moving personal essay (in Chimurenga) announcing that he has known he was gay since the age of five. His Facebook wall and Twitter timeline have since been filled with congratulatory messages and occasionally some condemnation of his decision, him, the person, and the fact that he is gay. But Binyavanga was prepared for the discussion. On the 21st, he began publishing a series of videos on YouTube titled We must Free our imagination.
If there is nothing else to get from Binyavanga’s video series, let it be that the African middle class needs to question its perceptions of development and progress. It needs to free its imagination. One imagines that once this happens, we shall appreciate the need for boda-bodas and okadas in Kampala and Lagos, rather than simply dismiss them because London and New York do not have them. We can imagine images of cities that serve us, rather than settle for mimicry in the name of development.
Binyavanga Wainaina strolling along a street in Nairobi
Binyavanga Wainaina is an author, cultural commentator and satirist who won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 for his short story “Discovering Home” and used his prize money to set up the literary journal Kwani?. He has written for the Mail and Guardian in South Africa and his writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Granta (which published his most popular satirical essay “How to Write About Africa” and his memoir “One Day I Will Write About This Place”) and National Geographic. He was the Director of the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Literature and Languages at Bard College, New York, before returning to settle in Nairobi, Kenya.
About the Author
Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire is a Ugandan writer, academic, and lawyer. Bwesigye is the author of Fables out of Nyanja and Finding Foot as an International Court; The Prospects and Challenges of the East African Court of Justice. His other work has been published by The Kalahari Review, Short Story Day Africa, Uganda Modern Literary Digest, The World To Come and African Roar among others. Bwesigye holds an LLM in Human Rights Law from Central European University and an LLB from Makerere University. He is an Assistant Lecturer of Human Rights at Makerere University, Research convener and moots coordinator at St. Augustine International University and a Co-founder of the Kampala-based Center for African Cultural Excellence.