How to write about Africa

Binyavanga Wainaina, writing in Granta about how to write about Africa:

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.  ….

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex
characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and
have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children?
Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs.
So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or
a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops,
and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have
public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle
Eastern accents.

You must read this in full.

1 thought on “How to write about Africa”

  1. This is the way many African writers portray their continent in children’s stories. I fee that people and animals and their struggles are portrayed in a thoughtful and inciteful way. Is the article available online?

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