When I first launched Ongolo.com on 1 April 2020, I received a valid challenge about my ambition to create a Pan-African community from Cape to Cairo, Dakar to Djibouti. Andrew from Uganda said:
“Impossible! Africa is formed by different cultures, races and religions”.
My response to that was:
“Why is it that Africans are united outside of Africa but divided within Africa? Africa’s strength will not come from the individual countries but from the collective power of its 1.3bn people.”
My response was based on two things: firstly, Africans living abroad gravitate to each other as though Africa were a single country, yet this sense of unity is missing at home. Secondly, travelling through Africa reveals that we have more similarities than differences and I have felt at home in Port Louis, Kampala, Cairo and Lagos.
The debate inspired me to write about the eight things that I believe define what it means to be African:
#1: Sense of community
We are born with a strong sense of community on which you can lean on in good times and bad times. This can consist of extended family and friends within your country, or anyone who calls Africa home when you’re abroad. You are never alone, even when you want to be.
Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you – African proverb
Unity is strength, division is weakness – Swahili proverb
If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together – African proverb
#2: Respect for our elders
We are taught from a young age that our parents and elders are to be respected and obeyed, no matter what (this YouTube skit highlights the difference between an African mother and African-American mother).
This practice is part of our African tradition and religious teachings which encourage us to treat our elders as source of wisdom and custodians of our heritage.
Those who respect the elderly pave their own road toward success – African proverb
Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you – Exodus 20:12, The Bible
And the right of him who is older than you is that you should respect him because of his age, and honour his submission to God since he has precedence (over you) in Islam – Right n. 43: Right of the Older One, The Qur’an
#3: We never forget our roots
Despite all the problems we face today, we are still proud to be called African. And no matter how long you live abroad, you can never shake off where you came from.
I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me – Kwame Nkrumah
You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself – Malcolm X
It’s really beautiful. It feels like God visits everywhere else, but lives in Africa – Will Smith
#4: We love our food
Food is an important aspect of African culture – it brings families together and passes on traditional recipes from previous generations.
Wine, women and food give gladness to the heart – Ancient Egyptian proverb
One shares food not words – Somali Proverb
Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food – Ibo proverb
#5: Rhythm is going to get you
We love to sing and dance! Dancing is a natural way of expressing our emotions be it at home with friends and family, at church when you are feeling spiritual, at a club when you feel all kinds of things, and even at the ATM on pay day (this video still cracks me up). We certainly know how to work our hips.
If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing – Zimbabwean and Sudanese proverb
The man who can’t dance says the band can’t play – Guinean proverb
If you are ugly, learn how to dance – Zambian proverb
#6: Laugh out loud
The laughter of an African comes from deep in the belly and sincerity of that laugh is matched only by that of the bright, white-teethed smile that follows. We laugh loud and we laugh often, often the surprise of non-Africans when we are in public places. Humour is the mechanism by which we cope with life’s many challenges.
Laughter does wonders for the heart – African proverb
If one didn’t laugh, one would have to cry – African proverb
The laughter of a child is the light of a house – African proverb
#7: No wahala | Hakuna matata | Mafi Mushkila
The three expressions in pidgin English, Swahili and Arabic all mean the same thing: no worries or no problem!
We are eternal optimists who hold on to the hope of a positive outcome even in the most dire of circumstances. The expressions also teach us the importance of patience and taking life in its stride. My Dad is a lifelong Liverpool supporter who has started every season with “We are winning the league” for the last 20 years and finally got his wish in 2020.
Worry is like a rocking chair its wings you back-and-forth and text you nowhere – African proverb
Hurry, hurry has no blessings – Swahili proverb
At a bottom of patience, one finds heaven – West African proverb
#8: African time
Africans invented the quantum realm where time literally stands still for some (the latecomer) and moves quickly for the person kept waiting!
If someone ever says they will meet you ‘just now’, chances are they are still in bed and will need to shower, dress up properly, eat and then drive leisurely to conserve fuel, all the while as you wait. And the funny thing is people are unapologetic about not keeping time.
This brilliant article on South African time decodes the true meaning of the five different way to view time: present time, right now, now, now now and just now. LOL
Many thanks to Andrew from Uganda for inspiring me to reflect on and write about why I am Proudly African.
© 2020 Muloongo Muchelemba. All Rights Reserved
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