An old man I met in my hotel in Munich asked me: “Did you came by the sea? „ “No! I came by plane. „I said, smiling at his ignorance. Then I lectured him about my life as a writer, a teacher, an independent researcher and expert for a German organization but also as a farmer. One hour later, he introduced me to two compatriots saying: “You should listen to Adjon. He has a great project for Africa! „Wow! We still have a long way to go. Even when an African spoke his best English or German, he was expected to be a refugee or a man from a poor country Africa seeking to catch a piece of blessing from the exuberant European paradise. Why is it so? Why is Africa so unknown whereas Africans are famous according to old stereotypes mainly shaped by colonial history? I have my own theory about it.
First of all, the image of Africa is managed by proxy by strong western media whose jingoistic trend to judge anything according to the western norms is no secret. Depicting Africa as a violent and poor continent gives them a sense of grandeur and hides the shortcomings of their own society.
Secondly because African leaders have a national sport. A very famous and inflaming sport: claiming for aids. Third, and I noticed it in Germany: Africa has no soft power, and I think, that is the bitterest aspect of the matter. You want to eat in an African restaurant? Then you have to leave your surrounding for a trip through the city. Unacceptable! Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Turkish restaurants are everywhere. Only a handful of African restaurants. Culture is first what we eat. A people is better accepted when it offers Cuban rum, Italian pizza, Chinese spaghetti, Vietnamese wraps, Turkish Doner. Or Nigerian...or Kenyan...? But food is only the unseen tip of the huge African iceberg.
There is no institutional presence of Africa in Germany. There is of course an embassy for any African country in Germany. The embassy of my country, Ivory Coast, is located in a coquette villa in a nice vicinity of Berlin. And I know we could not assume a strong cultural policy alone. But then, I think about Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) which is the 20th economic power in the world with the Nigerian giant which alone deserves that position. It is the area where 60 per cent of the world cocoa is produced. It is the home for dozens of kinds of fast food like the Togolese Dokounou, the Ghanaian gari, the abolo, attiéké and so on. It is also the origin of Fella Kuti, king of Afrobeat, Aliko Dangoté, one of the richest men in the universe, Alpha Blondy, the reggae mega star, Didié Drogba. What a country cannot do alone, many countries can do it which are vowing to be together for creating a better awareness for their riches and building a more actual image of themselves.
The absence of Institutions such as the African Union, Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and Ecowas in the diplomatic and economic environment of Europe is unacceptable. Africa should become more strategic toward Europe and the West. It should not merely wait for western investors to come and exploit its natural resources. If African culture is not exhibited, seen and consumed, the image of Africa will remain negative. Germany is known for its cars and football teams. France is known for its wine and the UK for their queen and English. The influence of a country or continent does not depend on its social reality but its image. And it is possible to build a better image of Africa from the center of the western world, the center of the centuries-old stereotypes and disregard toward the black continent.
The 56th country, the diaspora, should be supported to do so. It's a pity that Africans only call for the coming back of their diaspora in order to invest in homeland. No one can be stronger than his own country. Then, the country should give support to its citizens abroad if it wanted to gain any valuable return from them. Talented African entrepreneurs, educated in the best western countries are many in the west. They should be supported for more initiatives in the catering business, event management, arts, hotels and industries.
In Berlin, there are 13 main train stations. There are strategic spots to display African foods, arts and music. But the move should be even bolder. Millions of tourist travel to Africa to discover its exuberant nature but also traditional art. We should kill two birds with one stone: why shouldn’t we create hotels and cultural centres where people can go and consume African food, African-made coffee or chocolate, African design styles, African furniture, African music and performing arts? Empowering the diaspora will empower Africa in the very short term.
So far, many diaspora or Afro-German organisations are giving the right tune. ADAN e.V. -Afro Deutsches Akademiker Netzwerk Eoto, Initiative Black People, Adefra
Each One Teach One (EOTO) e.V. and others are trying to federate efforts towards a more strong and influent community. The multiple heteroclite diaspora organizations based on country of origins should follow their step and give an example of unity to a continent which is quite incapable of managing its rich diversity.
Adjon Guy Ghislain Danho
Research Fellow at Humbolt University Berlin