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  • on 22.01.2014
  • at 03:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Why I’m Not An Afropolitan 0

Last summer, I was invited to take part in a discussion, ‘Fantasy or Reality? Afropolitan Narratives of the 21st Century’, as part of Africa Writes 2013 Festival. I was joined on the panel by Minna “Ms Afropolitan” Salami and the journalist Nana Ocran. Professor Paul Gilroy was the Chair.

At the time I was researching my piece I found little written about Afropolitanism beyond the celebratory (notable exceptions the Bosch Santana critique Exorcizing Afropolitanism and Afropolitanism – Africa without Africans by Okwunodu Ogbechi, both of which are referred to below). However, in the months since I published my critique, the voices of dissent seemed to swell in volume and frequency; from the insightful Is Afropolitanism Africa’s New Single Story? in which Brian Bwesigye reads Helon Habila’s review of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names through the truncated version of Afropolitanism that he argues Habila represents, to Marta Tveit’s The Afropolitan Must Go, which side-lines the issue of commodification that I develop as one of the central challenges to Afropolitanism, to focus instead on a critique of the term and its relationship to identity politics.

Unlike Tveit, when I first heard “Afropolitan” I was excited. I am always looking for language that expresses my position as an Irish/Nigerian woman who is deeply connected to her Nigerianness. I’d rather refrain as describing myself as half anything, and I detest the word mixed-race. I thought perhaps Afropolitan presented an alternative to this terminology and, interestingly, positioned me with others through a shared cultural and aesthetic leaning rather than a perceived racial classification. Further, the term identified that you could be black or African without having to subscribe to the depressingly limited identities widely perceived as being authentic.

The enduring insights of Afropolitanism as interpreted by Achille Mbembe should be its promise of vacating the seduction of pernicious racialised thinking, its recognition of African identities as fluid, and the notion that the African past is characterised by mixing, blending and superimposing. In opposition to custom, Mbembe insists the idea of ‘tradition’ never really existed and reminds us there is a pre-colonial African modernity that has not been taken into account in contemporary creativity.

As Minna Salami writes on her blog Africans should be as free to have multiple subcultures as anyone else, but the problem with Afropolitism to me is that the insights on race, modernity and identity appear to be increasingly sidelined in sacrifice to the consumerism Mbembe also identifies as part of the Afropolitan assemblage. The dominance of fashion and lifestyle in Afropolitanism is worthy of note due to the relationship between these industries, consumption and consumerism.

The rapacious consumerism of the African elites claimed to make up the ranks of the Afropolitans is well documented. Frantz Fanon’s prophetic words once again resonate. In the foreword to the 2004 edition of Wretched of the Earth, Homi Bhabha asks: “what might be saved from Fanon’s ethics and politics of decolonization to help us reflect on contemporary manifestations of globalization.” He reminds us that the economic landscape engineered by the IMF and the World Bank continues to support the compartmentalised societies identified by Fanon. No matter how much wealth exists in pockets, “a dual economy is not a developed economy,” writes Fanon. It is largely in the pockets of the mobile Afropolitan class that much of the wealth is held.

What I want to ask is in what way does Afropolitanism go about challenging the enduring problematics of duality and compartmentalised society, identified by Fanon as one of the major stumbling blocks to African post-colonial independence?

To be honest, when I look at the launch of OK Magazine Nigeria (although I don’t know whether Afropolitans would claim OK magazine — I’m not sure it’s chic enough), or hear about palm wine mojitos and fashion shows at the Afropolitan V&A event, it leaves me feeling somewhat depressed.

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