How are you spending Africa Day this Saturday folks?

Juliana Kanyomozi: Thank you Uganda.
Juliana Kanyomozi: Thank you Uganda.

Pop quiz:

Question: Africa Day; What is it and when is it (Discuss 20 marks).
Answer: May 25th every year and it was set aside to commemorate the day the OAU met for the first time in 1963.

For those who might not have been looking at their calendars this Saturday happens to be Africa Day and this is why I opted to focus this on blog todayl. It’s not a big day in Kenya but across the continent it is a big deal with in just over a dozen Africa countries celebrating it as a national holiday. It’s the day when Africans all come together and reflect on the things that bring the closer.

What is our African narrative in Nairobi? Just how much Africa do we interact with on a regular basis? My early encounters with Africa was not the best as I grew up with a very negative perception of the word. Anyone who says media doesn’t affect perceptions doesn’t know too much. The African I knew courtesy of the media I consumed then was starving kids (no thanks to Band Aid), coups and dictators (no thanks to Joseph Olita and his portrayal of Uganda strongman Idi Amin), disease (no thanks to Philly Lutaya the Ugandan AIDS activist). It was not a very pretty view that I got of the continent here in Nairobi.

Conversely, I got some very good images from the Kenyan experience courtesy of the national broadcaster. The 1980s when I grew up was awash with Kenyan ingenuity and general awesomeness. Most of the best in my young mind had the name Nyayo affixed to it. Nyayo buses allowed more transport options. Nyayo Pioneer was Kenya’s very own car that moved albeit for only 100 hundred metres. Nyayo tea zones meant tea for all. Nyayo milk at school was free for kids. Nyayo sugar never seemed to make a showing which is weird enough as it would have gone well with the tea and sugar which just goes to show just how random this Nyayoness was.

With the 1990s in full bloom I got my first encounter with a different Kenya and a different Africa. My high opinion of Kenya was shot when the Nyayo facade started crumbling before my very eyes and I was saddened as I learnt that all was not so rosy in my country. The worst came when the shilling was devalued overnight by 30% in 1993 leading out economy to getting shot. The next few years were hell for salary earners as they saw their earnings lose their value. To add insult to injury there was the worst case of hyperinflation that Kenya had ever experienced. 93-99 was not a fun time to be in this town.

It was at this time that a new Africa was introduced to me with brands from South Africa taking the market by storm. The most prominent of these was Castle Brewing who opened a plant in Thika and made an assault on the Kenyan market. The effects of that foray into the market are the stuff of legend as the company was forced to go back to their Southern African base. Plucky little Kenya breweries had been able to chase one of the largest brewers of the planet out of the land by inflaming our love of our Kenya and raising suspicions of this upstart that claimed to be the number one brand in Africa. You may be number 1 in Africa but that’s the Africa of disease, war and general unniceness was how I reasoned. In Kenya the brand is Tusker and that’s I suspect that with the lousy time we were all going through it was at least something we could claim to be in charge of.

One of the lessons of the last two decades of my life is that there are no true absolutes. The amazing Kenya that I had known as I grew up also had its negative sides as the Nyayo House basement showed another side of Nyayo to me. Africa also isn’t all doom and gloom either. We are getting more stuff from the continent than ever before. Naija are giving us their Nollywood that was once the shadiest but are now pretty slick even though a mite shady huko with their occult obsession. South Africa have given us Big brother where we can see Prezzo hopefully get laid on continental telly or leaving in a blaze of glory with jaguar his arch enemy performing at his eviction bash. Zimbabwe gave us Grand Coalitions again. Tunisia gave us the Arab Spring as they call it although we all know it should be called African spring which as Kenyans we appreciate seeing as we took only two decades for our revolution to be enacted. Uganda gave us their Waragi and Juliana Kanyomozi and our livers and eyes am grateful. Tanzania has given us their Bongo music and their Swahili which is set to become Africa’s true language. Even Burundi have given us something with their auditions and judges being so bad they trended on twitter worldwide making meru singers hid in their awful shadow.

Kenya has given its contribution as well. This country alongside Ethiopia has been the most successful African country at the Olympic ever which made the continent proud. Apart from athletes we have given one thing to the continent: human resource. The number of Kenyans working around the continent is quite healthy if the intel I get is to be believed. A huge number of Kenyan professionals are especially based in the East, Central and Southern parts of the continent.

In the last few years every company locally has looked further afield as companies open branches around the region with plans of continental domination. Its not just companies though. Creative folk – designers, photographers, et al – all describe their designs with the word “Africa” prominently in the narrative. Every day we are seeing new collaborations between musicians from different parts of the continent and Kenyan musicians are not far behind.

The most interesting no international change in it all but in the people themselves. More and more I am hearing people giving their children names from across the African continent (Side bar; my flat has kids named Tyrone, Rihanna and Devon so not everyone subscribes to this school of thought).

Every day we are embracing this Africa that we had rejected so firmly in the 1990s as we get know one another more and realise just how much we need each other. Which leads back to my initial question; How are you spending your Africa Day this time round?

(Ans: There shall be Tusker at mine.)

>> Extra reading

:: Thabo Mbeki’s I am an African speech