Africa.com‘s first documentary “Africa Straight Up” begins with an important premise- echoing and literally showing the viewer footage from Chimamanda Adichie‘s famous TED Talk “The Danger of A Single Story“, the narrative is clear- Africa is not a country (contrary to common opinion in the West), it is rather the world’s second largest continent full of opportunities, diverse cultures, over 3,000 languages, and perhaps most significantly, Africans themselves whom are driving the continent in a new direction.
The documentary features interviews from prominent African businessman, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, South African songstress Lira, and Kenyan technology activist (Also Google Africa Policy Manager), Ory Okolloh. Giving credit where it is due, we have to commend the documentary as it successfully taps into the wide network of prominent Africans throughout the diaspora, whose impact cannot be overshadowed. With a powerful message and involvement from Africans all over the globe, one might follow the suggestion of Africa.com to simply watch the video and re-post it to increase the visibility of these stories. There’s only one problem- “Africa Straight Up” falls into the same trap as the problematic narratives about Africa- it still relies on a single narrative- “Africa is the bomb.com.”
The film is 28 minutes long, which doesn’t give the filmmakers much space to explore complex notions of Africa’s presence throughout the globe and emerging material development- and that’s not necessarily the problem. But here at Okayafrica, we felt the need to ask a question we don’t necessarily have an answer for: Is it enough to say Africa is diverse, but not actually show a diverse Africa? And to instead illuminate a great Africa so as to combat stereotypes of the “Dark Continent” referenced at the beginning of the documentary?
One of the moments of the film we found particularly hard to digest features footage from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s (Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, and former World Bank Director) TED Talk in which she suggests that citizens of different countries throughout the continent, are no longer willing to put up with corrupt leaders (she of course mentions that there are still issues, but that governments and citizens are working hard to combat these issues). This couldn’t help but trigger our memory of the Occupy Nigeria movement, which took place in January this past year. The movement, started as a protest against the fuel subsidy, but grew into a larger promise to end corruption in Nigeria’s government- or so we thought. It lasted seven days, and while some would argue the movement hasn’t completely faded away, it hasn’t established itself as a lasting presence of activism amongst citizens of the country. If Occupy Nigeria is an example of citizens’ uniting against corruption and poor governance, then she’s absolutely right- there is a long, long, long way to go, which actually addresses the institutionalization of corruption throughout the continent.
Warren Adams, South African choreographer and professor at NYU mentions- “yes, there’s corruption in Africa, but as we know there’s corruption in the West too” which reiterates a message that is accurate, but perhaps not the most effective argument for development. Often discourses surrounding development in Africa engage with Eurocentric frameworks, still not fully disentangling Africa from the West. And maybe that’s not possible. We don’t want to make it seem like “Africa Straight Up” isn’t worth watching; it is- particularly for those around the world who aren’t aware of the good things happening across the continent. Maybe we were just hoping for a narrative that was less entangled in notions of respectability, and more engaged with telling stories of Africa, that didn’t differ only in location, but also in scale.
Catch the full documentary below.
Story by OKA Contributor: Maryam Kazeem