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!
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.