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Identity is important for recognition and for cooperation or exclusion. It turns out however that whenever a person has countless characteristics such as tribe affiliation, place and time of birth, colour, height, weight, gender, political or religious affiliation; education or wealth status, talent, a habit, a history, a vision and so on, the choice of name or the choice of only one of these characteristics to identify the person is not a matter of science, of universal law or of necessity but invariably, a matter of prejudice or of power exercised by the name-giver from their own peculiar lens or desires. Some names, some identities or some brands have positive reception globally and contribute towards greater global respect, appreciation and profit-making. Other names, identities or brands have repulsive or almost grotesque-like global reputation and treatment. Such negative brands contribute towards exclusion and unhealthy social-economies. The term ‘Africa’ or ‘African’ is a global brand chosen by third parties to describe a variety of peoples born on or originating from a particular continent. Brand-Africa is a political and racial invention. My theses is that to the extent that the brand is helplessly negative and therefore, injurious to those subject to it, those persons caught under the brand-Africa label, need not identify with it. No amount of positive spinning can turn people’s perception of the brand-Africa label around from its inferior quality status to something greater. The simple truth is that every people are and should be free to invent and re-invent themselves. To force entire generations of distinct nations and communities to subscribe to one negative label is not only unfair, it is highly damaging to the people named Africans. The right to name oneself and the right to re-invent oneself with changing times, is a fundamental right of survival for every community and or nation.
BRAND-AFRICA AS UNNATURAL: AS MANUFACTURED PHENOMENON
The term Africa or African is not revelation from the heavens to which all must bow and hold sacred. The term has a history. It was coined in recent memory by a group of foreign persons driven by their own limits and desires to do so. Nevertheless, either from the very beginning or over time politics, prejudice and similar phenomena have combined to equate Africa or African as in inferior and almost ‘sub-human’ brand. The brand-Africa label has universally acquired a backward, museum-like pariah quality. The people who are subject to the brand-Africa label are invariably considered inferior, outcasts or at best beginner-players on the sidelines of the global race towards human-excellence. The universality and stability of the label’s negative reach does not reflect nature or potential but nurture, discrimination and the continuing ‘chainization’ of the label to the countless variety of persons deemed by others to belong as it were, to the brand’s nation.
In reality, those persons commonly referred to as Africans were not consulted as to the appropriateness and fairness of the label at any time. More importantly, persons labelled as Africans have had no option whatsoever to amend, to change or to evolve ‘brand-Africa’. Through countless so-called international laws and treaties defining “Africanhood” and calling, demanding and expecting “Africans” to be “Africans”; through repeated, far-reaching and prejudicial broadcasts of selective references of injurious repute; through misleading but conventional or ‘scholarly’ “facts” minimizing or excluding diversity and constantly re-affirming homogeneity of bad behavior; through the unwillingness of many powerful third parties to acknowledge the humanity of the so-called Africans but who demand, insist and impose the brand on them as a “matter of fact”; through the greedy and wicked footprints of many of the so-called Africans who have ignorantly embraced the label and acted faithfully according to the expectations of third parties, the countless learned, creative, fair and brilliant persons within that polity called Africa who can make a great difference in the lives and directions of their people, have been made prisoners of ‘brand-Africa’. Having been underemployed or unemployed as a result of the inflexible dictates of brand-Africa or having been compelled by the quasi-comical economy of brand-Africa to engage in socio-economic trivia, many of a continent’s geniuses have had no choice but to join the regressive theatre of untouchables within the ruinous walls of Prison-Africa: chanting and chained to intellectual and emotional brew of half-truths, lies and self-destructive pursuits.
BRAND-AFRICA AS A FORCED UNIFORM
As a result of the ‘forced’ branding of “Africans” as one bad company; and as a consequence of the massive ignorance of the majority with the careless adoption of Brand-Africa by many of the learned minority, most of the victims of brand-Africa have come to wear the brand-Africa uniform as if it were a matter of nature. Many people have consciously or otherwise accepted the label as though it were natural part of the people’s fabric or a true reflection of their capacities and destinies. To a lot of people, brand-Africa has acquired an almost biological or physics-type status in the world. To a lot of people the claim that Africans “are like this” or “like that” and will always be outcasts, has come to be unspoken “facts” which go unchallenged as inevitable effects of “natural’ attributes. To those subject to the label and to the whole world, the inferiority of brand-Africa is ‘obvious’. The truth however is that this so-called fact is condition-specific. The so-called nature has not been proven and cannot be proven. The capacity of a person cannot be measured in the absence of the socio-economic conditions in which the people breathe, move and have their being. In a world dominated by ex-slave masters and ex colonialists with massive financial and technological control over the world, this means that the natural capacities of so-called Africans cannot be measured independent on the effects of the dominant global polity. The fact is that almost all of the so-called Africans have been “made” or taught to be Africans in a world ruled heavily by so-called non-Africans under conditions of little or no alternatives to the African brand. Brand-Africa is manufactured. It is a one-dimensional socio-economic dictatorship to which the people of a continent are subject without any choice for change. Brand-Africa is much like a clothing line sewed for all seasons for all occasions for a people described as one size, one, height, one fashion: just one. That, is the label imposed on the diverse peoples on a continent called Africa.
DON’T WEAR THE MASK
Any claim that brand-Africa is a true reflection of the different peoples of a continent, is nonsense and a lie. Brand-Africa is the consequence of a huge mix of facts, of lies, of accidents, of deception, of wickedness, of greed, of ignorance and of many, many more things. The mixes that feed and sustain this label are man-made and situation-specific. The mix can be undone. Brand-Africa can be altered and even abandoned altogether by those subject to it. The first step towards the disappearance of the negative label is to know it and to distance oneself from it. This is obviously, a momentous task but those who will, can. Let every smart person subject to the label refuse to be an ‘African’. When a large number of persons called Africans act contrary to what is expected of the African, that would demand new names, new consciousness, new imagination, new visions, new collaborations, new pursuits, new identities and new reputations. To this end, let every willing person, identify with his or her humanity as expressed through particular works of excellence in creative collaborations with like-minded persons. Be human first and foremost and do not be anything that is harmful, ill-famed and harmful in the global race.
CHOOSE YOUR NAME: CHOOSE YOUR IDENTITY
We must think of the continuing effects of the brand-Africa label as founded on continuity of the live theatre. The continuing actions and interactions of the actors as scripted, creates a reality for them and for the spectators which ceases only when the script changes. As long as we are plugged unto the live screen of the movie, that is our world. To experience new realities, all we have to do is to activate a stop or an off-switch, or to change the script. The reality is on this earth what men have done, can be undone. What men do can be changed. What men are, can be changed. It is surely a crime to subject generations upon generations of distinct persons with different talents and destines, to one label, to one history and to one destiny and to thereby force them unto the narrow and frozen lane of antiquity in the name of ethnicity, so-called diversity or an alleged ‘common-behaviour’. The people forced to subscribe to “brand-Africa” are not monolithic or homogenous but made up of many distinct groups of persons with varied capacities, imagination, dispositions and missions capable of effectively creating and managing countless excellent brands of great repute for global appeal. Such persons must be free to be they could be. They must be free to name themselves and to pursue their dreams. People must be free to escape, to invent, to think, to play, to work, to collaborate and to create outside of brand-Africa which has been fixed; and continuously published as such and such mask, drum, beat, food, fabric, narrative, design, ritual, behavior, legacy, belief, studies, destiny and so on. Brand-Africa has created expectations, standards and fixed roles and “maximums” under which the so-called African intellectual, artist, creative or leader is not allowed to escape. The so-called African who does not act according to the script of inferiority is seen as odd, strange, a misfit, a foreigner, “wanna-be” and even a self-hater. Yet, the label is artificial and injurious. In my view, any attempt to legitimize the label as true-representation of peoples in academia, media or in so-called cultural studies, is a scam, a lie and an irreparable injury on generations of peoples.
BRAND-AFRICA COSTS AFRICANS AT LEAST 3 TRILLION US DOLLARS ANNUALLY
According to the CIA’s World Factbook the gross world product in 2014 in terms purchasing power parity was approximately $107.5 trillion dollars and $78.28 trillion US dollars in nominal terms. Compare this to the purchasing power parity of $6.75 trillion US dollars and roughly $3.32 trillion US dollars in nominal terms for sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of world GDP in nominal terms is about 4%. Compare this to the population of Sub-Saharan Africa of about 1 billion in a world population of about 7.6 billion. This works out to about 13% of world population. In my view, one fundamental cause of the disconnect between this relatively large population size and relatively very little income is the inflexible and generally unprofitable production-corner of brand-Africa. Brand-Africa offers very little in terms of creative and technological elasticities and options. The brand makes it difficult for those subject to the label to diversify their outputs through “non-African” outputs. In relying upon the old and the raw, as the mainstay of their income-generating activities, the Africans under-perform relative to their population potential and capacities. Missing in brand-Africa is the creative-space that gives rise to the collaborations and innovativeness that are necessary for the creation of the “new” and globally sought-after goods and services. All things being equal, sub-Saharan Africa’s share of world gdp in nominal terms should be at least 10% or roughly double its current share. There is no good reason for having a permanent barrier to the doubling or even quadrupling of Africa’s gdp through new creative and competitive outputs outside of brand-Africa. In my view, brand-Africa is the sole or the major contributor to the poor performance of the people subject to the label. Linking the numbers then to brand-Africa, it would be fair to say that the financial loss to “Africans” of brand-Africa is the difference between actual revenues and potential revenues that could have been reasonably generated but for the prisons of brand-Africa. In my view, complete freedom from brand-Africa would allow for socio-economic options and outputs that would generate products and services that could at a minimum double the current amount of gdp from about 3 trillion US dollars annually to at least 6 trillion US dollars. The calculation is based on the proposition that at 13% of world population, the so-called Africans should be able to generate revenues equal to at least 7% or 8% (half their population size) of their world share of global revenues. The de-Africanization of the persons called Africans is a fundamental first step in the right creative direction towards the doubling or tripling of Africa’s share of world productivity and income.
REPUTATIONAL & CREATIVE LOSSES
We have already seen the negative economic impact of brand-Africa. We have done the math. As I have already mentioned, brand-Africa is a global negative. What comes to mind when Africa is mentioned is not greatness, glory or excellence but trivia or worse, garbage. The brand repulses. It demeans. It divides humanity unnecessarily and creates hostilities towards persons subject to the label. As you all know, such negatives are not good for business. Negative reputations don’t generate much in terms of income or of useful collaborations. Those who are shunned can do little or no sustainable business. Secondly, the brand-Africa label is at best, museum-type contributions to the modern world. The creative effects of brand-Africa is the freezing of experience or memories to the past and the demand that such past memories be accepted as the defining memory of the “African” for all times. Brand-Africa does not allow for new or continuing discoveries, experiences and memories of generations of peoples. New, expanded or fresh experiences are not allowed to become a part of the so-called African. Being defined by and confined to the limited contents of “old”, fringe or “natural” outputs, the so-called African is being compelled by his label to ignore the greater potential but instead to accept a little fraction of experience and of possibilities as the total option. Brand-Africa is a straight jacket that prevents fresher experiences, discoveries, narratives and possibilities that are not part of the museum called Africa from becoming a part of the African identity and of African outputs. The freezing of identity and therefore of creativity, through the tying of brand-Africa to limited, unrefined quantifiable displays, is the denial of the elasticity of our memories and of the reality of greater and continuing memories. More importantly, to do so is to deny the greater future possibilities and destinies of the people called Africans.
DISABLING THE CREATIVE MULTITUDES
Limiting the African creatives to a basket of tribal or unrefined displays and placing huge barriers in their way to prevent them from navigation unto the skies of scientific, artistic, innovative and technological possibilities, creates a systemic backwardness that creates intellectual, emotional, moral and even spiritual regression amongst those subject to the label. The narrow categories within which the countless numbers of the “Africans” are expected to compete are not elastic enough to admit of the creative multitudes. There is not enough economic space within brand-Africa to nurture and to sustain the artistic or intellectual infinitude arising from increasing populations and competencies. There is very little variety in African studies or in African art or in so-called African markets. It is the same old classifications, notes and steps. This is why you often see the so-called African artist or intellectual re-inventing the wheel and attending the same workshops and galleries of naught. Ironically, this limited and limiting creative space is then used to justify the label of incompetence against the so-called African. To say this is unfair would be an understatement. Life’s journeys and experiences are long and limitless. What we now call old was once new. Technologies are man-made. Given the right environment, resources and support, a significant number of persons within any large population can learn to create new and better technologies. Therefore, to limit the so-called African to past memories or to fix the “raw” and the “unrefined” as their only market space, is to deny them their true humanity and of the essence of continuing time. The so-called Africans must incorporate the best of the past but they cannot accept to be citizens of the old and of the unprocessed. They must identify with and embrace new and great discoveries into their lives. These must become a part and parcel of their imagination and identities. The so-called Africans cannot be marched as it were, unto the narrow paths of exotica but must be members of great halls waltzing from boulevard to boulevard of excellence. As children of God, they have the right and must seize the opportunities that come from being human on the earth through mastery of the arts, the sciences, the philosophies, the beliefs, the imagination, the discoveries and possibilities that are open to all as the heritage of humanity.
BRAND-AFRICA AS FRINGE: AS POVERTY
The fact is that brand-Africa is so powerful as a negative, that even when African works or products are appreciated, they are seen as “rare”, “exotic”, “strange” or antique versions of human development. Except for that which is exported raw or unprocessed nature, African products or creative works are not allowed to flow into mainstream libraries, classrooms, galleries or showrooms. Tied to antiquity and the fringe, technological innovations are outside of what they call Africa. African works are described as “ethnic” not scientific but at best an exhibition on “diversity” at fringe forums of amusements and gossip. Demand for these strange things is naturally, extremely low. Low demands mean low cash. This explains the poverty of African sciences, arts and other creatives.
Thirdly, those persons subject to the African label are not welcomed or encouraged to imagine, to think and to create outside of the past and outside of the restrictive imaginative or creative corner to which they have been chained. Every time some of them try to get out of the African “box” or out of the intellectual or creative prisons in which they find themselves, they are punished, discouraged or stopped. Visionary Africans are often pushed back through many barriers and forces that repeatedly proclaim that they don’t belong anywhere else and that they should not speak; they should not think and they should not do anything else except that which has traditionally been labelled African. This discourages inventions, new thinking, new ways of doing things and of healthy contributions to the peaceful development of the earth. The brand-Africa prison is very narrow. It limits discoveries and inventions and it perpetuates same old, same old. Yet as populations of Africans increase, the little corner becomes too crowded for the creatives. The result is creative-alienation and resulting frustration and “uselessness” of hundreds of millions of people that result in nothing but injustice, inhumanity and loss of hundreds of billions of dollars in potential revenue.
What to do? There is but one God, one earth, one life and one humanity. Brand Humanity is and should be the lot of all human beings. The human brand is infinitely creative and elastic and it has enough spaces to allow for diversity, creativity, respectability of all. The persons called Africans should not be imprisoned into the tiny damaging imaginative corner under any label. Everyone should be free to think, to feel, to play, to create, to relate, to build and to evolve claiming and using all of the human discoveries and realities as their own; and as part and parcel of their heritage. There should be no such thing as African art or African Music in the same a=way that there is no African science or African moon, African sun or African oxygen. Rather, the reality is Art with, Music, Science as experienced by all. In addition to what is near, the so-called Africans should be encouraged to think and to use works, fabric, tools, designs, narratives and inventions of their co-humans freely, without being labelled as engaging in “borrowing”. Once we accept reality without selfish bias; once we change the narrative of what we are from brand-Africa to brand-human, everything human becomes African. Until we see and allow persons to be human first, brand-Africa would continue to be a devastating creative and financial loss to the worlds. To those born unto the continent called Africa or to those described as people of African descent, my word is, be human first. The entire world is yours. Child of the Most High God, be free to think, to feel, to imagine and to collaborate with others as a human genius. Resist the brand-Africa label. You are not an African or black or brown or whatever. Your make is human. Define yourself by your make and not by your colour, by your ethnicity, place of birth or whatever. Be a human being first and last. Don’t accept to be the president of the prison republic and don’t be happy to be celebrated as this and that black or African king or queen of the ghetto. Be wise. Be free. Be free to create and to prosper as a beautiful child of the earth. Peace.
By Nana Oppong
The writter is the President of the Distinguished Scholars of Africa