Years ago, Mwalimu Nyerere mentioned something interesting about the way Africans are perceived. Being a wise orator, the Father of the Nation was actually speaking about basics of Pan-Africanism without mentioning Marcus Gavey, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela and many other similar greats in a subtle way.
He was teaching politics to those of us who might not have known legendary names of these giants. I personally think, Julius Nyerere’s statement does not make any sense if you have never been out of the continent.
When we are in the continent, we tend to think in boxes. I am Somali. Togolese. Ugandan, etc. The minute we step out we are all simply viewed as Africans. This is what Mwalimu meant.
If a Liberian, Sudanese or Tanzanian steals overseas, the conclusion is: it is just an African thief. Likewise, when we see Wazungu tourists walking around, it does not matter whether they are from Germany, Spain, Australia or Denmark. Just whites. Wazungu.
All countries have foreigners… I arrived in a small town in the middle of England a few weeks ago to work. While waiting for a local bus, I soon realised I was the only non-white in the small queue that meandered like a silent millipede onto the long green, white vehicle. Unlike London or other major European cities where having many people from every corner of the world on public transport, is perfectly normal, here I felt alone. Solitary. Few seconds later, in strolled another African. He joined the quiet line. Eventually we all shuffled into the bus. As I sat down, I noticed many passengers avoiding taking the other vacant seat close by. This is normal in such remote places. The African bloke, however, came and sat beside me.
And he did not just sit; he smiled, shook my hand.
“Hello, my name is…”
We started talking. Mind you, I wasn’t the only one. The driver was greeted as well as other passengers including a mother and her curious child.
“What is your name?” He asked the little boy.
The mother nudged the lad. “Tell him, Eric. Don’t be afraid. He doesn’t bite.”
The bus moved on. The African wondered where I was from and if I knew where I was going. Having lived here for three years, he told me he was Nigerian.
“When I came to this town I used to feel quite uncomfortable. But I soon learnt to bring light to the place.
These people do not speak to each other, it is not their custom. But you know back home, we acknowledge and chat with everyone. I still do that here.” After a while he reached his destination. “You have three more stops, “he explained, shook hands, waved at everyone and shouted a loud “goodbye” to the driver.
“Good fellow,” an old man said, zealously. “Real gentleman. I have seen him around. Always talks to everyone. I don’t even know his name.”
That made me very proud. Seeing an African exhibiting, showcasing and spreading the love that is connected to humanity, the best gem from Africa: politeness, good manners, community spirit…
There is another character. From Guinea. As you know Europe has a large number of West Africans. He plays the Kora. The Kora has a melodic sound that is rare and beautiful; almost similar and sweet to those Wagogo instruments popularised by the late musician Hukwe Zawose who died in 2004. Anyway, I watched this Kora maestro playing a couple of months ago. There were hardly any blacks; the audience was mostly made up of Wazungu. At the bar later, I chatted to 70-year-old lady.
Why did she like the Kora so dearly? “It brings much peace and tranquillity. I have seen this man many times. I follow him everywhere. All my friends love him. He is always mellow and that smile on his face as he plays just oozes deep, wonderful pleasure, peace and sunshine.
I have all his CDs. I couldn’t live without hearing this. It is so much better than the pop music today which is filled with electronics, shouting and swearing.”
Has she ever been to Africa?
“No. I cannot afford travelling overseas. But this man (she could hardly pronounce his name properly) is the joy of the African continent.”
Good, dignified and majestic qualities about the motherland, summed up in the music and behaviour of two random African guys.