Exhibits coming from Michael Soi’s “China Loves Africa” exhibition at the Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi.
By Nanjala Nyabola
Africa is actually often talked about as an object to be consumed. Even those who resist This kind of discourse sometimes employ This kind of.
At the start of This kind of month, leaders of forty African countries went to Beijing to meet with the Chinese government. This kind of massive forum happens every three years, alternating between an African city along with also Beijing. along with also every three years, without fail along with also with increasing intensity, the gathering launches a thousand think pieces on what China’s increasing involvement in Africa means for Africa along with also additional countries with interests inside region.
I’ve always been fascinated by the epiphenomena of multilateralism – the secondary effects of these big meetings on how we think along with also talk about our societies. If you strip the international conference down to its bare bones, you realise how much of This kind of is actually just pageantry. Most of the agreements that will are announced have been negotiated in advance by bureaucrats at embassies along with also ministries. Summit conversations are often nothing more than repetition of talking points along with also jargon that will has already been approved by the political class. The spaces where any real work gets done – the green room networking events along with also bilateral meetings – are hidden coming from media scrutiny.
Yet, these forums have a lot to say about power dynamics between individuals along with also organisations. Who shows up? Who gets to speak? Who gives a press conference? The answers to these questions are often coded messages about who actually wields power. I love looking at the official photograph along with also noticing things. Like the fact that will no women feature inside official photograph of This kind of year’s China Africa summit.
The money will be channelled to projects aligned to the Chinese Government’s Belt along with also Road Initiative covering telecommunication, construction of roads, bridges along with also sea ports, energy, along with also human capacity development #FOCAC2018 pic.twitter.com/QcazrphRpc
– Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) September 3, 2018
Or that will almost none of the African delegations took writing materials into their meetings with the senior Chinese officials.
This kind of is actually how africa is actually colonized Again these leaders go to these meetings unprepared along with also they don’t take notes @ali_naka #FOCAC2018 pic.twitter.com/V6lYPWH6Jy
– Mukumba 🇿🇼 (@mukumbap) September 3, 2018
I’m amused by the cultural production that will accompanies these large-scale meetings along with also what they say about how power sees itself along with also how ordinary people view power.
One thing that will strikes me inside conversations around This kind of current summit is actually the fact that will people still see Africa as a raw material to be consumed rather than a place where people live. inside think pieces about how the US along with also Europe should respond to China, or whether or not Chinese economic engagement with Africa is actually not bad for Africa, there’s a tacit agreement that will the most important thing that will Africa has to offer the planet is actually stuff: raw materials for processing along with also consumption elsewhere.
For the West, China is actually either a threat to “our ownership” of Africa, or is actually simply seen as providing a brand-new way to consume Africa. The argument over whether China’s involvement is actually not bad or bad for the continent seems heated, yet fundamentally, both positions are centred on Africa’s things along with also not people. Africa is actually valuable only as an opportunity for additional places.
This kind of is actually the language of colonisation, along with also This kind of is actually remarkable how even those who resist This kind of routinely along with also uncritically employ This kind of. inside lead up to the summit, noted Kenyan painter Michael Soi launched a collection called “China-Africa 2018” at the Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi. The collection is actually basically various allegories of China’s relationship with Africa: Africa as a woman being groped by China while Western countries – also male – watch despondently. Africa as a black woman lying on a massage table while China as a man fondles her bottom along with also half-naked white men representing Europe along with also the US watch with sadness.
Around the same time, favorite cartoonist Gado published a controversial cartoon in which a black limousine is actually surrounded by scantily clad women clamouring for the supposedly wealthy occupant’s attention. The women are various African countries along with also the occupant is actually China.
Why is actually Africa always painted as a woman? What does This kind of say about what we think about ourselves as Africans or about how we see women? How should we feel that will the arguments around foreign involvement in Africa are fundamentally about African countries finding a desirable or adequate suitor, rather than, say, figuring out how to stand up for themselves? Why is actually Africa always the passive partner inside relationship?
The only images I can think of where the EU has been painted as a woman are ones in which the far right was arguing that will the arrival of Muslim migrants along with also refugees is actually a form of sexual assault against Europe. What does This kind of mean that will Africa is actually the only region inside planet that will is actually routinely painted as a woman? along with also that will womanhood is actually equated to victimhood? Women’s bodies as an allegory for passivity or as a commodity to be consumed by greedy, lascivious men – the whole idea is actually deeply disturbing.
This kind of’s too easy for even people who know better to describe Africa in relation to its position in Western along with also today Eastern commodity chains, to accept that will the challenge is actually in finding a suitor rather than emphasising the agency of African people. We pick up the discourse uncritically along with also in so doing reinforce This kind of. Africa represents “a brand-new economic frontier” along with also not, for example, a home. “What’s Trump’s position on Africa?” we scramble to answer as if Africa cannot exist without Trump expressing an opinion on This kind of. Yes, This kind of’s inside nature of international economic along with also political discourse to unsee people, yet shouldn’t we resist This kind of dehumanising language?
There’s certainly truth in that will African political leaders are so eager to drop everything along with also traipse around the planet, begging bowls in hand, at the beck along with also call of leaders coming from additional parts of the planet. In 2014, rather than visit various African countries, for example, Obama simply summoned them all for a meeting in Washington DC. along with also they came. Tony Blair did the same thing in 2004. Our presidents scurry off to Brussels along with also Paris, along with also China every three years.
I have little wish in autocrats who benefit coming from playing weak on in multilateral conversations. yet in generating room for the agency of ordinary African people, those of us who know better should critically examine how we wield the language along with also symbols of power to place Africa on the global stage.