Self-perception first


The Afri-love hypothesis puts the self very much at the centre of any possible progress. A friend was recently talking to me about how she wanted to spend her days helping and empowering women but realised that, in order to do that effectively, she would first have to help and empower herself. My first thought was that’s a very brave thing to voice and then, I asked myself, why shouldn’t it be the norm? That level of self-reflection and self-awareness is what this Afri-love idea is all about.

Positive action comes from knowledge of the situation you desire to change and from an understanding of your self so that you may appropriately contextualise yourself, your actions and their consequences, in the bigger picture of things. So whether you’re an African trying to create change in your community, or a non-African who has an affinity for the continent, effective change will come from the sincerity of your interventions and how informed they are. Sincerity comes from empathy and resonance. My friend cannot approach the women she wants to help and be taken seriously if they perceive that she herself has not experienced the result she is preaching. Equally, she will not be taken seriously if the measures she suggests are not versant on and sensitive to the social and cultural norms of the worlds that her beneficiaries inhabit.

So while Afri-love plans to eventually be an advocate of tangible action to create positive change, I believe that there are some key steps before that can be effective. These include: generating the will to take action – what motivates people? What barriers exist?; investigating what action currently exists, successful and not, understanding the reasons for these different outcomes and; throughout all of this, constant self-reflection – why am I doing this? What do I hope to gain?

The most important barrier to action that I can perceive is a mental one. There is so much pessimism out there, often guised as being realistic or wise. The great project to colonise African minds and to delude these minds, and others, has been exceptionally successful. How could you ever make a positive difference if you don’t believe in the value of making one? How do you make things better if you are resolved to just making do with the situation you are in now?

Beyond those rhetorical questions, are the questions that Afri-love actually wants to explore and find answers to. How do you get somebody to look at their life and environment and see the beauty intrinsic there, hidden as it may be by circumstance? How do you encourage somebody to draw upon their unique knowledge, experience and outlook in order to improve their lives, rather than trying to hide these assets?  How do you get somebody to imagine that their life can always be made better and that it is within their power to actualise this? How do you get somebody to take responsibility for change in their own lives? How do you breed the necessary optimism, faith and confidence?

Over the past year, I’ve been reading a lot of self-improvement and success literature and drawing out common tools that have been proven successful by many (I’ve been trying them out myself too!). In a chapter of The Success Principles, titled “Acknowledging your Positive Past,” author Jack Canfield makes a significant point about people actually having more successes than failures but being hard on themselves in terms of what they see as success.

We could go on and on about the shortcomings of African leaders and let the numerous tragedies experienced continent-wide to bolster pessimistic outlooks and destructive arguments. That’s too easy and encouraged far too often and widely so. On the other hand, we could focus on success. African nations are only 3 to 6 decades old, in comparison with Western ones that have been established over centuries. Africa must not succumb to models created from the outside. We Africans must instead focus on defining what works for our unique experience and determine success by our own standards. Africans must be proud and inspired and express the richness of our continent for all to be inspired. The mission here is to change self-perception and then external perception, creating a firm foundation for positive action to take place.

Further reading:
Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument by Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz
Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling by Patrick Chabal
Grasping Africa: A Tale of Tragedy and Achievement by Stephen Chan

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