Slow clap, folks, slow clap. I’m standing up for this one. Africa Is Not A Country: Notes On A Bright Continent is everything it aims to be: a sharp, well-researched critique of white-centric historical narrative and a sharp, well-researched critique of racial “enlightenment” today. For all the progress the world collectively has made in the direction of decolonization, we have not gotten very far. In so many ways, we’ve just gone in circles, retracing the road of colonialism with new vehicles. The route of racism is well-worn, a hard path to diverge from. What’s that phrase…The road to hell is paved with good intentions… that’s the one. That’s what Faloyin highlights in Africa Is Not A Country: the fact that colonization has continued to perpetuate, only in different modes — and still insidiously, under a familiar guise of tolerance and progressivism. Ugh, now that I write that I can see nothing has changed, even the veneer of human compassion.
The “Civilizing Mission” lives. Paternalism thrives in our media-frenzied, self-care touting, feel-good-no-matter-who-pays-for-it society. For the love of biscuits, will it ever just die? No. No, it won’t. That’s Faloyin’s message. It is a dismal one, but Africa Is Not A Country delivers it with witty, authentic, impassioned prose that balances intellect with humor. Faloyin does not hold back; words are weaponized in this work, they aim with accuracy at whiteness and the continuing erasure of Africa in all its dimensions. This use of language is especially poignant; it has been for so long used against the “formerly” colonized world, it is refreshing to see the ammunition firing from the other side.
On that note: The language is highly accessible and the case studies within appeal across generations. I am seriously considering assigning this in my courses on the history of racism. It is is not academic in the strict sense, but the historical content is sound and importantly, it communicates without pedantism, without supercilious lordliness. It’s downright funny in parts (well, as funny as history can be.) The case studies Faloyin examines are recognizable; students will be able to relate to this material with little explanation. For example, Africa Is Not A Country discusses white saviorism in entertainment, film, and on social media. Even if they are unfamiliar with specific events, they are savvy enough with the world of entertainment and social media to understand the historical implications and contemporary consequences.
The structure of the book is also well-suited to the classroom (and for any reader). It maps a chronological logic for the reader. The first chapters are focused on history, giving the reader ample and necessary context to understand what follows. Specifically, it provides necessary context about the Berlin Conference of the 1880s in which the powers of Europe literally carved up the African continent to assuage their imperial satisfaction. Prior to this international conspiracy and violation, the continent was autonomous and its peoples organically organized, if not always harmoniously, then at least according to their own choices and actions. The eradication of African sovereignty, identity, complexity, and visibility occurs rapidly from that point, undergirded by a much older and very established historical foundation of Orientalism and pseudo-scientific racism. The remaining chapters reveal to the reader how such erasure has continued and been actively perpetuated, purposefully and unintentionally. The division of these chronological events into short, assignable chapters serve classroom/course use well.
My courses are built for students of color, students who come from immigrant backgrounds, are first generation college students, and generally have little experience with academia and the culture of the academic elite. Africa Is Not A Country is perfect for the student population I serve.
Africa Is Not A Country is written with the African continent and its peoples in mind, but coming from a former British colony I found deep connection with this historical/contemporary commentary. Faloyin is Nigerian; in parts where he brought forth his own history I smiled at particularly British colonial references and uses of language. I could almost hear my mother’s voice in some of the words… I could not help but laugh out loud sardonically every now and then. The chapter on “We are the world” (yes, that ubiquitous song touting a generic Let’s-all-get-along-we-just-have-to-try message) summoned up memories and a bit of shame; I loved that song, sang it at all my family’s karaoke-pot-luck parties as a child. I remember believing so wholeheartedly that I was that future.
And that’s the horror of white paternalism. Colonialism was so successful; we are all complicit in it, regardless of our heritage, our race, our histories. That too is Faloyin’s message.
That said, ultimately, Africa Is Not A Country is also about keeping up the fight. Despite everything and all the obstacles we all must continue to work towards decolonization. This book serves as a necessary eye-opener for everyone. For some readers it is a reminder, an epiphany for others. This is a book for everyone: People of color, from any “former” or current colony, for those of European descent, for those at the beginning of their decolonization or those in the thick of it (who might need a jolt or encouragement). We are all descendants and inheritors of colonial culture.