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(40): Africa, a Continent in Limbo

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim

Stories of Africa being taken for a country or Nigeria for a city in an unknown country, perhaps ‘Africa’ do not have anymore newsworthiness. More than many ‘intellectuals’, politicians, organizations, individuals, etc from around the world have had, on several instances, such faux pas or some similar talk that points towards that. Notables and well-known, at least within the circle of my readers, of such include Sarah Palin’s interview, Chimamanda’s chilling speech, The Danger of a Single Story and Farooq Kperogi’s piece, ‘Is Nigeria the name of a City?’, among others. It has, nonetheless, gone far beyond that as I have recently discovered.

I attended the 17th International Theatre Festival of India, called Bharat Rang Mahotsav for a few days. The festival is still ongoing at the renowned [Indian] National School of Drama, Delhi. The school is disputably the best in the whole of Asia. The festival will be rounded off on the 18th of this month. There are theatre repertory groups from the U.S, Europe, Middle East and other Asian countries, but there was/is nobody from Africa, though Africa is the second largest continent on earth with over 50 sovereign nations. Absence of a single participant from Africa has more or less weakened the usage of the word: international.
With the veteran actor, Om Puri ji
For a long time prior to this festival, as a student of theatre and film studies, I have since noticed the ‘non-existence’ of Africa in the theatre and the cinema realms and discourses in India. Quote me anywhere, less than a few people know that Africans produce any films and stage any dramas of their own here. Notwithstanding that the university I study boasts calling itself international, there’s absolutely nothing African in their syllabi, nor reference thereof except, probably, in Geography department’s. This is incredible!

Today, the Nigerian film industry called Nollywood surpasses the Hollywood in terms of production and is now the second largest in the world after Bollywood, the Indian glamorous film industry. YET, it is largely in oblivion among the billion plus populace of India. Ditto the theatre of Africa, not only Nigeria’s, with all its richness, epoch and popularity in the UK, US and elsewhere. Professor Wole Soyinka is the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986 and he got it in Literature (Drama!).
With a few classmates
Recently, prominent Kannywood (i.e. Kano-based film industry) personnel, including the ace actor, Ali Nuhu came to India for a short course, sponsored by Nigerian government, on film. First, their Industry was/is facing a dire challenge due to the so-called “Hausa-India films” (i.e. Hausa-dubbed and lips-synched Hindi films). Being they were not taken that serious here, they couldn’t do anything about that. Secondly, and on a lighter tone, they obviously couldn’t get any chance to meet with any Bollywood high-flying actor, director or producer, for we might have seen pictures of them together.

Enough of this whining, some might say. Yes, I can’t change the status quo. Africa is largely, erroneously and ridiculously though, known as no more than a forest that houses monkeys, or humans that resemble them. The North Korean government has lately described President Obama as such. Or, for Ebola. Or, in other instances, Indians know South Africa and Kenya as the two countries play cricket, their favourite game. And more, India’s number one statesman, Mahatma Ghandi ji once lived in the former.

But for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and arguably the richest, is often remembered when any Black man committed, or is accused for committing, a crime. The dreaded insurgent group, Boko Haram has also popularized the name of the country. I discussed this ugly truth in one of my articles.

It is high time Africans started what I may call searching for ‘self-worth’. I am not advocating for egotism, high-handedness or anything of the sort. But knowing yourself, your merit and respect is needed now and always. Millions of Africans, particularly Nigerians, take Indians to the highest esteem. We think of our Bollywood fave actors as paragons of beauty, valour and value. Down here, you are not known, and in a few places you are known, you mean little or nothing. However, not all are like that. As I often say, we are individuals, so also they (Indians) are. But let’s know them for what they are, and know yourself for what you are.

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