The Seismic Shift In African Identity

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by Seth Tandoh

Africans in general have an externally referenced identity – we define ourselves from the outside in – by clan, family status, political association, church membership etc. Our often turbulent history of natural disasters and manmade turmoil have caused us to value ‘sticking together’ often tolerating certain negative and detrimental, behaviours especially of prominent others because one day we may be in need of their help. Often we suffer greatly from people-pleasing and dependency. We do not hold wrongdoers accountable because to rock the boat or to stand out is to risk losing acceptance in a culture that greatly values conformity.

Why do we do this? Our often turbulent history of natural disasters and manmade turmoil have caused us to value ‘sticking together’ -being dependent on others – often tolerating certain negative and detrimental, behaviours especially of prominent others because one day we may be in need of their help. Ironically the very behavior we have developed in order to stick together in times of crisis also plays a great role in producing the crisis in the first place!

Identity Is A Serious Business
Africa has suffered greatly from our emphasis on an outside-in identity. Where our well-being is DEPENDENT on how well others treat us under an outside-in, other-based identity, then when they DON’T treat us well and yet are seen to be treating others well (such as their own kind – their tribe/family/religion etc), deep-rooted anger festers between ‘opposing’ tribes, clans, religious or political groups. When this anger starts to boil up and some unscrupulous leader taps into it for selfish or evil motive, civil war with all its atrocities is not far behind.

The civil wars we witness in Africa that largely come out of one group feeling slighted for generations by other groups of people, are the most atrocious of all wars. The aim is not to simply conquer an enemy as quickly and as humanely as possible but to inflict as much pain and suffering on those who we feel have suppressed us, keeping our victims alive to witness their, and their group’s, suffering.

When we have the chance to payback former power-brokers for generations of our family or clan who wandered the earth robbed of their very identity due to the power-broker’s tribalism, nepotism, favouritism, exploitation, suppression and injustices, the payback must be brutal. This is by far the greatest problem of basing our identity on others and feeling powerless to define our own identity. Because our hatred can accumulate subconsciously we don’t know the evil we can commit until given the power to do so as we brandish our AK 47s over former ‘suppressors’ who are now on their knees before us.

The African Identity Crisis

We are at a cross roads. Capitalism and democracy are moving us towards a more individualistic, internally referenced identity – I am who I am based on my unique skills.How do we take this on-board and still keep our valuable sense of community?

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