An in-depth interview about #ifAfricawasaBar

This week I started a hashtag that went viral. I asked African Twitter users to answer the question: If Africa was* a bar, what would your country be drinking/doing? It resulted in a lot of humorous contributions from Africans all over the continent. By this morning, there were over 61,000 tweets under the hashtag, #ifAfricawasabar. A french journalist contacted me to do an interview for Le Monde Afrique, and although the finished product was published in French here, I decided to post the complete interview here. Please enjoy!

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How was the hashtag born ?
“What if X was* a bar” is a very old and popular writing prompt that I decided to apply to Africa as a means to get Africans talking lightheartedly about their countries. I had done something similar last year “#AfricanNationsinHighschool” and had been wondering how I could do this again with a more “grown up” theme. I was so happy when people began to participate in #IfAfricaWasaBar and they really made it into something special.

Can the “Internet panafricanism” be the new link between Africans?
I certainly think so. I have hope that an idea like Pan-Africanism did not die with Lumumba, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Sankara et al. And I refuse to believe that it will be buried after Mbeki and co. retire from leadership. If the internet, which represents Africa’s first real connection to each other – a place where everyday citizens can meet and discuss the future of the continent – is to be Pan-Africanism’s saving grace, then so be it.

Is Panafricanism an idea that can be adopted by young people in Africa?
I believe so. We just have to stop waiting for heroes and saviors. If young people recognize Pan-Africanism as a way in which we can save each other and ourselves, this will be an idea as powerful as it was when the founding fathers of our countries thought it up.

What is Panafricanism in the 21st century, according to you?
Pan-Africanism is simply an idea that promises to be the answer to questions of self-sufficiency and prosperity for Africa. It pushes an individual to commit himself to the notion that there is more that connects us than divides us and in learning from each other and making policies that give us the chance to lean on each other we will truly be able to solve our own problems.

A lot of the tweets are politically oriented. Do you think Twitter can be a vector of protestation against governments in Africa?
Yes, I do. But I hope it doesn’t become the only way. Africa is still not in the position to have totally-online campaigns. In order for something like that to work, it has to be set in a society where the state cares about the aesthetics – or the way civil complaint makes them look. Many African governments are not in that mindset.

Was it the idea of origin when creating the hashtag, that it would be used as a ironical way to criticize some states?
Not really. I thought it would be a bit of fun and something easy for people to take part in and turn into something magical. Africans can be very witty and good-spirited. Perhaps, I took for granted that not all tweets would poke fun of the good stuff. Something like that you take for granted. Much of African political humor can get dark. So criticizing states may just be something we don’t notice because we expect it.

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2 thoughts on “An in-depth interview about #ifAfricawasaBar

  1. A fitting indictment of today’s global economic woes?
    Thomas Sankara:

    “We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our states and economies.

    Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it. Debt is neo-colonialism, in which colonizers transformed themselves into “technical assistants”. We should better say “technical assassins”.

    They present us with financing, with financial backers. As if someone’s back could create development. We have been advised to go to these lenders. We have been proposed with nice financial set-ups. We have been indebted for fifty, sixty years and even more. That means we have been led to compromise our people for fifty years and more.

    Under its current form, that is imperialism controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay. We are told to repay, but it is not a moral issue. It is not about this so-called honour of repaying or not.

    Mister President, we have been listening and applauding Norway’s prime minister when she spoke right here. She is European but she said that the whole debt cannot be repaid. Debt cannot be repaid, first because if we don’t repay, lenders will not die. That is fore sure. But if we repay, we are going to die.

    That is also for sure.

    Those who led us to indebting had gambled as if in a casino. As long as they had gains, there was no debate. But now that they suffer losses, they demand repayment. And we talk about crisis. No, Mr President, they played, they lost, that’s the rule of the game, and life goes on. We cannot repay because we don’t have any means to do so. We cannot pay because we are not responsible for this debt. We cannot repay but the others owe us what the greatest wealth could never repay, that is blood debt. Our blood had flowed.

    We hear about the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe’s economy. But we never hear about the African plan which allowed Europe to face Hitlerian hoardes when their economies and their stability were at stake.

    Who saved Europe? Africa. One rarely mentions it, to such a point that we cannot be the accomplices of that thankless silence. If others cannot sing our praises, at least we must say that our fathers had been courageous and that our troops had saved Europe and set the world free from Nazism.

    Debt is also the result of confrontation.

    When we are told about economic crisis, nobody says that this crisis didn’t come about suddenly. The crisis had always been there but it got worse each time that popular masses become more and more conscious of their rights against exploiters.

    We are in a crisis today because masses refuse wealth to be concentrated into a few individual’s hands.

    We are in crisis because some people are saving huge sums of money on foreign bank accounts that would be enough to develop Africa. We are in a crisis because we are facing this private wealth that we cannot name.

    Popular masses don’t want to live in ghettos and slums. We are in a crisis because everywhere people refuse to repeat the  problems of Soweto and Johannesburg.

    There is a struggle, and its amplification worry those with the financial power. Now we are asked to be accomplices for a balancing. A balance favouring those with the financial power. A balancing against popular masses.

    No! We cannot be accomplices. No! We cannot go with those who suck our people’s blood and live on our people’s sweat. We cannot go with them in their murdering methods.

    Mr President, we hear about clubs – club of Rome, club of Paris, club everywhere. We hear about Group of Five, Group of Seven, Group of Ten, and maybe Group of A Hundred. And what else? It is normal that we too have our own club and our own group. Let’s Addis Adeba becoming from now the center from which will come a new breath. A club of Addis Adeba.

    It is our duty to create an Addis Adeba’s unified front against debt. That is the only way to assert that refusing to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.

    Furthermore, popular masses of Europe are not opposed to popular masses of Africa. Those who want to exploit Africa are those who exploit Europe, too. We have a common enemy. So our club of Addis Adeba will have to explain to each and all that debt shall not be repaid. And by saying that, we are not against morals, dignity and keeping one’s word. We think we don’t have the same morality as others… [to be continued”

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