Unraveling the Mind

To Be Both an Afropolitan and a Pan-Africanist: A Response

I am sharing this blog as a short response to Kányinsọ́lá Ọbáyàn’s piece on What really is an Afropolitan? Movement or Fad. It’s a thoughtfully written and provocative piece and I cold not have run into it at a more perfect time. I have been contemplating sharing something like this for while, but hadn’t found the perfect angle, and thanks to this article, I was able to put some thoughts together. You can find my other thoughts on Afropolitanism  under Africa O!

Congratulations on such a critical and well argued piece Kányinsọ́lá!  It’s not too long ago I was contemplating this as well. I often identify myself as both an Afropolitan and also as a pan-Africanist. The interesting thing is, I don’t approach these two terms the same way as they honestly two very different ideologies. As you rightly so pointed out in your article, and I too would agree that Afropolitanism is not a movement. There is a certain “superficiality” or better yet, “unseriousness” if I can call it that, whereby Afropolitanism is usually associated with elements of pop culture, consumerism, with privilege, status, luxury, and carries with it a sense of exclusivity, elitism as well as some undeniable tones of neoliberalism. It’s really an ideology about how us Africans who live in diaspora choose to relate to an Africa which we have mentally created for ourselves; an Africa of the Afropolitan imaginary. And that’s not say that the Afropolitan image of Africa is not real or doesn’t exist, but that it is one that is not comprehensive. It’s one in which we get to pick and choose what we like, what we think works with our so called westernized minds and experiences, and we choose what to ignore. It’s an Africa which we can market and sell well, one which is acceptable to different persons no matter where they are coming from, and it’s an African subculture of palm wine cocktails and ankara pant suits which I very much enjoy, and one which I too partake it. Even as a participant of it, I will not comply and make the argument that Afropolitanism is a movement comparable to the pan-Africanist moment when it is clearly not. These two ideologies are not in any way comparable and I don’t see why an individual cannot be a part to both.
pan afriac
I find that movements, actual movements, like pan-Africanism are more embedded in the politics of transformation and are more so critical about structures of domination, of power, and actually offer solutions to the challenges facing the continent while simultaneously celebrating and embracing other elements about African such as music, fashion, literature and so on. I choose to use both terms depending on context, on mood, on the argument at hand and don’t necessary look at them as being mutually exclusive. I think Afropolitanism is truly about identity politics and it’s an idea that gives individuals who feel rooted in Africa but live across the world, a sense of belonging. It gives them a community not necessary of like minded individuals, but of individuals who share similar international experiences but who maintain “an idea of Africa” at the center of their experiences. Thus, I choose to identify myself as an Afropolitan because as an individual who lives in “inbetween spaces” but strongly feels rooted to Africa, and has the privilege to choose what “parts of Africa” I love one day and which I don’t the next, it rings true to who I am. It’s an identity I would say acknowledges my multicultural and multinational upbringing, while keeping “an idea of Africa” at it’s heart in ways that other identities do not.
Whereas in my political identity as both a feminist and a working “scholar-activist,” I would quickly argue that I am a pan-Africanist. I would further argue that pan-Africanists would be like minded and like ideology individuals, but not necessarily individuals I would share similar international experiences with, as I would Afropolitans. It’s a political identity that’s connected to my work, to my passion, to what I see as the future of Africa, and to my belief that together as African peoples we can do development based on both out pre-colonial and post-colonial history and can through our varied cultural experiences and exchanges create a more economically and socially sustainable future for our continent.
Here are other interesting articles on this growing concept. This list includes articles that support this growing ideology as well as those that are critical of it:
Bye-Bye Babar by Taiye Selasi
Exorcizing Afropolitanism by Stephanie Santana
Please share your thoughts below.
Share, and Unravel Away Artist.

7 Responses to “To Be Both an Afropolitan and a Pan-Africanist: A Response”

  1. Kesh

    I agree with you that it is not a movement and in my opinion should not be one. As you mentioned, the Afropolitan has been “tagged” as “elite” “high status” etc. Not everyone can relate to that. I am also glad you linked it to Africans in the diaspora because, my argument has always been, would someone actually living on the continent consider themselves Afropolitan?

    • etkhonje

      I don’t see how it is possible that someone who lives on the continent be an Afropolitan? I mean let’s think about this. What about someone privileged who is based on the continent, but spends most of their time traveling to other countries primarily those in the occident? Would they not have the same “experience” as Afropolitans who also live their lives moving in different spaces?

  2. Kesh

    Since they have similar experiences, how can they not be Afropolitans then? Or, is it just a diaspora thing? To me that has been my issue with the word. Everyone is entitled to call themselves whatever. I just don’t like the idea of grouping people and creating a separation within the African Identity(not saying that it’s not already there). By doing so, I believe it creates more animosity amongst the people.

    • etkhonje

      To be honest, I’m not sure myself! What gives me the right or even the power to stop someone from referring to themselves as an Afropolitan when clearly it’s what they identify with the most, irregardless of whether they have been living on the continent or in the diaspora. I do think that there are some critical elements within the Afropolitan ideology that have to be addressed. In that by referring ourselves to Afropolitans or cosmopolitan Africans, are we creating a hierarchy that juxtaposes us to Africans who do not regard themselves Afropolitan? Do we subconsciously think that because we have all this international experiences and can jump from continent to continent we are some what more special?


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