According to some people, East Africa and Africa have been called a place of slogans. We have slogans for almost everything we wish to do or relate to. Sadly these slogans are often not really backed up by real action. Right now the biggest slogan is ‘Africa is rising’ that came shortly after the now forgotten ‘African solutions for African problems.’
As a writer and storyteller I am more interested in the ‘telling our own stories’ slogan that is often thrown up to counter the western biased stories known for painting Africa as a dark continent with disease, death and poverty. Here is a situation where we clearly identify the problem and then go ahead to prescribe the medicine. Let us tell our stories our way.
The question though is whether we have registered any significant progress in this effort. We are blessed to live in an era of what computer geeks referred to as Web 2.0 or Internet 2.0. This is refers to the move from the static websites to today where we are able to freely participate as content creators in what are often social media platforms.
Technology has allowed us to leap to a point where we are in position to tell out stories on the internet for as long as we have a reliable connection. Anyone with a smartphone with an internet connection can now post content on a blog, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and lots of other free platforms including the traditional ones.
Some recent events got me pondering about whether we are really telling our stories effectively. Take a look at our newspapers in the region where we always read about efforts to ensure gender balance in almost every sector. Female appointees are always newsmakers because of this.
How come we hardly have female columnists penning commentaries? If indeed we acknowledge that women and the youth make up a big section of our society where are their voices in the mainstream newspapers? I look forward to this changing with time.
There is a gentleman who has also proven to me that simple stories are what we seem to be missing to complete the picture. Our mainstream media is still largely full of political stories telling us what the government/politicians will do, have done or didn’t do. We are missing out on the common man’s simple stories that could actually be very powerful.
If you are a regular user of Facebook then you may have come across the now very popular page, “Humans of New York” with over 9.5m likes started in 2010 (for some reason we have all just discovered it) by a one Brandon Stanton who simply photographs people and attaches a brief story about the person’s life.
All that this man was doing was giving us a glimpse into the ordinary lives of people on the streets of New York. However as fate would have it he recently brought the stories closer when he visited Kinshasa, Nairobi and Kampala. By the time of writing this I guess he was walking the streets of the lakeside town of Jinja.
Through Brandon’s lens and post we get a glimpse into people’s lives with very powerful and inspiring stories. Some are just nice stories while others are sad but from people who have picked up the pieces in their lives and moved on. The kind of stories that news editors would either have no space for or would not be interested in because they do not fit the template they (editors) use.
One may have asked whether we needed to wait for another white man with a camera to show up and tell these stories. For this I would say first of all it is such a Herculean task walking up to people, asking to take their photo and writing down their story but there is still no harm in trying.
We also need to see books written by East Africans. I often see older people bragging about their life journey and silently wish they knew that if it is not recorded then they will soon die with it all. When need to move from the slogans and write our stories whether it is in form of books, blogs or mere Facebook posts.
We shall never be able to cure our epidemic of poor reading culture if our oral story telling does not transform into written works. So go ahead and write something like I just did!