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Wed Jan 9, 2013, 02:50 PM

TIA - This is Africa, This is America?

This week in one of my classes I showed the film Blood Diamond (2006) with Djimon Hounsou, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Connelly, and following it we had a discussion I think you guys will find interesting. The film is about conflict diamonds and their effect on the conflicts that riddle Africa. DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a Zimbabwean mercenery, and Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a fisherman, who meet after the latter escapes from slavery after finding a huge pink diamond. Vandy, only wants to rescue his son who's made into a child soldier, and reunite with the rest of his family. Archer wants to get out of Africa.

Throughout the movie Archer keeps repeating the phrase TIA -this is Africa, which is a very interesting expression. Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa, an Archbishop Tutu fellow, has written this about the phrase:

This is Africa” (TIA) is used in the context of what is perceived to be “African” versus “unAfrican”. For this article, unAfrican includes, but is not limited to, systems that work, clean places and timeliness. African, however, is dirty, tardy and disorganised. Even though I surround myself with Afro-optimists, I have never heard TIA used in a positive context. As such, it perpetuates negative stereotypes of Africa. TIA is used by Africans and non-Africans alike but the tones are sometimes different. For non-Africans it is said with a certain nostalgia of home and worse yet an acceptance of Africa as a place to survive to tell the tale of a unique adventure endured. Africans say it with a sense of jest or a degree of resignation of the current state of affairs. For the Africans who travel beyond the continent, there is a certain longing for their country to morph into whatever country they have been to. This makes me envious of those who have not travelled as they do not miss what they have never experienced, that is no longer the case.


After the movie, my students had a list of questions to answer, among which were the questions What do you think the phrase This is Africa means to the Colonel (Archer's mentor) and Daniel Archer and Can you imagine discussing Europe or North America in this way? Their responses to the latter question were very interesting. None of them could imagine discussing Europe that way, but some pointed out that they already talked about the US (not North America, mind you,) that way. Whenever there was a gun massacre or a report about people not getting health care in the US, one student said, they looked at each other and said something amounting to that's America for you.

In the discussion that followed, they reasoned that the resignation that lies behind the phrase This is Africa is the same that they have when thinking about the US. It's not going to change. The people there might want things to change, but like Africans, they're not really in a position to change things. Another student said that she had no doubt that if she wanted to, she could change things in Norway - in fact, that only her personal inclination and no birth factor hindered her from aiming for the prime minister spot. People in Africa and the US don't have nearly the same democratic power as people in Europe, was their reasoning.

In other words, it was a very good a thought-provoking discussion. I was very proud of them.

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Reply TIA - This is Africa, This is America? (Original post)
KitSileya Jan 2013 OP
locks Jan 2013 #1
KitSileya Jan 2013 #2
JCMach1 Jan 2013 #3

Response to KitSileya (Original post)

Wed Jan 9, 2013, 03:47 PM

1. Thanks

Good article. Thanks for raising this discussion with your students.

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Response to locks (Reply #1)

Wed Jan 9, 2013, 03:55 PM

2. Well, I was hoping that they'd become more aware of the background for Africa's troubles.

I hadn't expected them to actually bring the discussion over to the US, as I think that most of us put Europe and North America on a par with each other. It was just such a powerful epiphany to hear that my students look at Americans as just as powerless as Africans when it comes to solving their country's problems. I definitely did not expect that at all.

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Response to KitSileya (Original post)

Wed Jan 9, 2013, 04:22 PM

3. I have better mobile connections here in Nairobi than I do in the states

and I can bank via sms...

Yet, they had to bring in the Chinese to make a road that doesn't grow potholes like weeds...

My fiance's Grandfathers... one was a Kikuyu Chief who took part in the Mau Mau rebellion (i.e. The War of Independence) from Great Britain and the other was an African Bishop in the Church of England (think Colonial Status Quo).

Nairobi itself abuts right against the National Park. Literally there is an exploding city of 5-10M right next to the full menagerie of African Game. Literally, Animal Planet photographers can be hard at work and drive 20min to get back to their hotel after work in a modern city.

Contradictions... that's what Africa is about these days.

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