Monthly Archives: April 2016

On the Question of Identify….

…Does it really matter whether you are an African-American, African, African Immigrant, or simply You?

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. – Confucius

Most recently, it seems that we have either become obsessed with identify, or maybe it is just becoming more annoying now. Here is a few of my thoughts as recently published on ElleAfrique.com….

About a month ago, I was browsing the net and found an article by a Nigerian (or for the sake of correct identification, a Nigerian-American) on why Africans in America should start identifying with “African-Americans”. Generally, I read these sorts of articles with disinterest; but this time, I read with the hope that there would be an enlightening discussion on the “why” of a subject that has been prevalent in black communities for the past couple of years. By the end of the article I was unmoved and started listening to music and eating my fried chicken drumsticks from the KFC in Nairobi.  A couple of hours later though, the article resurfaced in my mind. Again, I started thinking of the African-American identity dialogue that we have had oh so many times. In fact, I got to a point where I was simply upset because, after going back and forth with this issue of identity, I came to the conclusion that there is no compelling reason to ask African immigrants to identify with African-Americans and vice-verse, unless someone wants to.

We cannot castigate an entire population in one sentence – there are Africans who embrace an African-American identity and vice versa. But for those who don’t – that is their choice. There is nothing in this world that should force one to accept an identity that they don’t want. If two brothers can be from the same parents and one chooses to play football for Ghana and another one for Germany, who is to say which Boateng boy made the right decision? Likewise, Africans in America can choose their identity and roll with it. Barack Obama is Kenyan if he chooses to be and African-American if he chooses to be. He can also be Caucasian – if he chooses to. Where you land your feet does not necessarily translate to your identity.

In 2012, I tried to take a crack at this issue in a previous article. In this article, I identified the similar struggles that both African-American and African immigrants face in the U.S. But looking at this issue on a global perspective, I wonder if we are obsessing over it a bit too much. It still stands that while both African immigrants and African-Americans have different cultural identities and practices, they face similar struggles with economic independence and social mobility in the U.S. These two groups, who face the same types of discrimination based on the color of their skin and their broken relationships, are ineffective forces in both political and economical affairs nationally. Yet, I think it is time that we give ourselves permission to be who we choose to be, and not simply who we’ve been grouped together with based on the similarities aforementioned.

What I see is a lot of guilt being passed around in the name of “unity”. Let’s not be quick to guilt or force identities on people without understanding that maybe they are better off forging their own identity. The truth of the matter is that whether Africans are in America or in their respective countries, their struggles do not end. Whether they are in America or not, they will go back to their home countries and still face unemployment issues, life in the “ghetto”, and, for the unlucky ones, they will still die from a bullet, shot by someone who deemed them undeserving of life. All this to say, Africans in America face their own struggles and have burdens to carry, including having ties to, and responsibilities in, two different continents – expecting them to take on an identify just because of the color of their skin is a step too far. Not to mention that most of this demographic are still aliens in America trying to make the “American Dream” work.

But lets add another dimension to this. The world has become a global village. Truly unique in that our identities have become fluid. More than ever, in this day and age, we need to rethink the way we embrace race, color and identity. Identity, or the lack thereof, define and shape ones thinking. We need to open ourselves to the idea of this fluidity. Look at half of France’s National football team, Les Blues; they are both African and French. They chose their identity, for better or worse. In his recent interview with the Daily Nation, prominent Somali novelist Nurriddin Farah talked about how identities are inclusive. As he points out, “The world is a richer world because of the differences that are there in our lives.”

And here I am: a Burundian, a Kenyan, an American, an African – and I am a better person because of all these identities. I celebrate all of them and have earned the freedom to pick the battles I choose to fight.

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We Are Generation G

April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention month. Genocide, ethnic violence, political tribalism: poison by any other name remains just as fatal.

On this day in 1994, the plane boarding Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and two of his ministers was deliberately shot, killing those on board, and sparking a nationwide genocide. To Rwandans and Burundians, April 6th is a bloody and indelible day in our collective memories; it was the beginning of the end for our people, which ostensibly led us to a path of no return.

April 6th also hits incredibly close to home for me and countless others. Genocide is the reason for my being in the cold of Canada today; it is the reason I have never met my extended family before my first 19 years of life; and being one of two ministers present on the plane that unforgettable day, it is the reason my father is no longer living.

Questions from the families of the victims regarding the matter has yet to be investigated by the Burundian and Rwandan governments; to this day, there has been zero accountability or reparations made on behalf of these states.

However, I am less inclined to discuss who is to blame for the past, being that I am first concerned with who will be held accountable for the future of our nations; there is blood on my hands, albeit I have never held a machete in my life. Nonetheless, it is unmistakably our duty to secure the future of our nations and its civil population. Those with the ability and the courage to speak without fearing persecution have the responsibility to address the issue at hand. Those with diplomatic skills and accessibility of information are not unarmed nor frail. And if you dare not to acknowledge the elusiveness of a prosperous future for these war stricken nations, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

We are Generation G – the generation of people directly or indirectly affected by genocides. Burundians and Rwandans must recognize all genocidal victims – Hutus and Tutsis alike – and express our demands for stabilized nations and the transparency of polities. Especially with recent talks of renewed ethnic violence in Burundi resulting from President Nkurunziza’s unconstitutional and widely contested reelection, a united ethnic front is as important now as it should have been over two decades ago. For this reason, we must agree to be the last of Generation G and work towards the abolition of incessant and politically (i.e. not ethnically) induced violence.

But in spite of its presence within the continent, Africans are not the sole claimants of Genocide Awareness and Prevention month, since genocide is one of many evils that will not discriminate. Europeans, such as the Christians of Armenia and the Jews of Germany, know this all too well. It is therefore a global issue, as opposed to just another African problem. This month is dedicated to the memories of the fallen casualties of genocides, irrespective of racial or cultural identities. This month is a dedication to peace, unity, and the heterogeneity of nations.

If there is one thing to remember in dedication of Genocide Awareness and Prevention month, it is that,

We face neither East nor West: we face forward.

– Kwame Nkrumah

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by | April 5, 2016 · 10:09 AM