Written by MRG,
I know we hate stereotypes, they are minimizing, insulting, oversimplifying complex matters and just plain ignorant sometime. But as Chimamanda says: “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”. For “fun” I will share a few stereotypes of the “African abroad”,quite a number of people fall into these categories:
1) The guy from Zamunda
People keep complaining how people ask them if they live on trees, ride elephants to school or I don’t know what else when they are in Europe and the Americas. I am starting to think people make that stuff up, because in 8 years I have never been asked any such thing. However, there are some Africans who actually fit crazy stereotypes as if they popped right out of the discovery channel.
I once met a guy on a bus who told me he had 32 siblings, than added: “You are African, you understand”. OMG was I shocked! 32 nyene nyene? Even in the craziest grandfather stories … 32 is not a plausible number in any 21st or even earlier Burundian family. I tried to ask him questions without sounding too ignorant or judgmental … but really I was baffled!
I also heard of some guy who actually participated in some “tribal war” with …wait for it… bows and arrows! Yes bows and arrows, you know the ones in the Shaka Zulu documentary or whatever?! I mean we see pangas, Ak47s, knifes and all that all the time in the news, but bows and arrows? And from that he ended up in university in America! That is an outlier kabisa! It made me think maybe these American chaps get their stereotypes from somewhere.
2) The Afropolitans
These are the bourgeois good living Pan-African Cosmopolitans of the World. The ones who keep complaining of the stereotypes westerners have about Africa. Obviously they would deny the existence of people like the guy from Zamunda list.
Many Afropolitans actually live in large African cities with degrees from London and the US in subjects like “Theatrical Drama” or “Contemporary Art”. They write sci-fi books and perform Afro Jazz in Lagos on Wednesday and New York on Sunday. They love Lupita Nyong’o because she is the one that has made it … She is like them! Well born, well educated (Ivy league graduate), well spoken, and designer dressed Vogue Cover Afropolitan queen.
The big ones are on some sort of Forbes list; and the ones who really made it, participate in the World Economic Forum. Many of the ones I meet, I still want to understand how exactly they make a living because that lifestyle looks good kweri! Most, actually make legitimate money, just not as much as you would think just by looking at them. They have proper “art de vivre” that’s all. These usually come from middle class, or upper middle class urban families, with very intellectual snob parents.
3) The despots
So these are the rulers and their families; the famous corrupt, evil, useless African presidents and their entourage. Obviously this is not true for every African country. Actually in my experience, most are from francophone west Africa (I probably have a biased sample).
These are the “I own this country” people who talk about entire nations as if they were private estates which they control from their “humble abodes” which are anything but humble. They assume that if you are in the same city and same club as them, you are a member of their very high-end species.
They will often start competitions to see who has more cash, expensive stuff, connections to high-level politicians. They attend Bongo’s funeral, have fathers who are Ministers of mines, cousins who are ministers of defense and they are simply waiting for their turn. In the meantime, they buy 15 bottles of champagne in the club on the 1st of the month, sell their car two weeks later, and buy a Louis Vuitton belt with the money. They move around apartments, once living by La Bastille then moving to Créteil when their dad needs the apartment for him and his third wife for a couple weeks. Counting cash or creating wealth is not in their education, but they excel at spending. They think they are better than all of us, but stay friends with us in case they have to borrow a ka 300 euros next time because you drank one flute out of their 15 bottles of Champagne 3 weeks ago. You obviously owe them! Plus we all know you want to be one of them— or so they think.
4) The revolutionary activists
These are the die-hard activists. They often make very valid points, just to make some completely crazy one right after which makes them loose all credibility.
I often wonder what kind of jobs these people have because they are so active with social media and blogs and marches and debates and I don’t know what more. I found out last year that many “opposition” folks are funded by foreign entities when they are granted asylum to spend their day criticizing their home country and whatever government is there. I guess it’s one of those ways the west “helps democracy prevail”.
Anyhow, activists campaign so much I often get confused on what they are fighting for or against. I read words like “the terrorist government of *fill the blank*” Really? Now you just sound like George Bush, because isn’t a terrorist supposed to be using violence against the government or some official institution? So how can a government be a terrorist? At least call it an authoritarian regime or something. I am no International Relations professional, but that just sounds melodramatic.
Some guy on my facebook spends his time calling the “international community” to act on everything and anything and than when “Uhuruto” are threatened he starts bashing ICC and western politics in Africa. I beg, chose one side please, I beg of you! Stop the nonsense! Or my favorite are the ones accusing their governments of tribalism when tribes is all they talk about all day long! You know those people that make everything about Hutu/Tutsi, blame the government of “dividing the nation” when they obviously picked a side. Girl, we all know all you want is the tables to turn! The way I see it, you might even be worse.
The activist LOVES talking about the despot in his/her city. They always seem to have intel on things like how much their car cost, where they go to school, how much they spent in the club, what belt they are wearing, who they are sleeping with, what government personality they had breakfast with and anything else they can add in there, whether true or just heard through the friend of the cousin of their nanny. They also always call people to “stand up” against a whole bunch of stuff, call for marches and riots back home. But dude, you are sitting behind a computer, throwing hashtags, telling people who have families and jobs to go yell on streets that they have a “terrorist government”? If that government is really as terrorizing as you make it sound, you are asking them to go risk their lives and freedom while you can’t even disclose your identity online?! Gira effort nani!
5) The ones who never left
Now these ones are way too common. I know some from many nationalities, but since it will be specific to certain cultures, let me caricature the Burundian who never left. In my experience these are often families, but I might have a word or two about younger people in this category.
So the families will have the Mama make mélangé y’ibiraya nubwishaza, chicken, umuceri, ubugari, isombe zirimwo isamaki, isosi y’inyama, ibiharage everyday for lunch and dinner. Oh and in the morning, in addition to the cereals and whatever kids eat, there is also ubuyi and ibitumbura. She gets the smoked fish from Rumonge, ibitumbura from Quartier Asiatique, and ifu from the Kinama market, pretty much twice a week – I think she should be a professor in supply chain management if you ask me, she knows a thing or two about Just in Time. I tell you this menu is available EVERYDAY in this household! Mind you she makes this alone and works like 9 hours a day; HOW is my question. Yet the Papa will brag about how abagabo mu Burundi ari ibigaba badafasha abagore babo, bishinga kuja mukabare, how things are better here, they help their wives. Umubajije “where can I find the sugar” in the house, monsieur starts searching for 25 minutes in the kitchen… Hmmm I see how “involved” you are in your household.
These people will have Burundian neighbors, that all work in the same industry, many at similar organizations, thus speak Kirundi 90% of their time. Okay, maybe a bit less, but even when they switch to the language of their host countries it sounds Kirundi. Their weekend activities are: kuja kwibarutsa naka, ikiriyo ahandi, gusangira kimwe na -all the men in the hood-, anniversaire y’umwana wumubanyi, and the local Burundian Church on Sunday, where they wear khaki pants and a neon green dress shirts to attend. Oh, and the fancy ones would add a coat two sizes bigger to top it off.
These peeps often like to share their expertise about Africa and Africans, yet the only places they know are umusozi bavukiyeko and Bujumbura. The other Africans they know are the ones bo kuyindi misozi, plus off-course the very exotic and far away breed that is Abanyarwanda, and Siriki and Souké – oops those are characters!
The young ones do not have the great culinary luxuries the families have in many situations, but they too go to the same schools, work in the same organizations, same functions, as most of their countrymen. They always know about this awesome ikirori, that has the exact same Burundians that have been attending those parties for the last four times you have been there in two years. Except they have some new people coming in FOB.
Offering any activity that is not sitting and drinking, or dancing and drinking will get you the label of umuzungu because obviously Burundians don’t do anything else. When they go home, which they might not do too often, they tell you so much about *insert host country* – I wonder when they had the chance to experience it. This will include topics such as subways, stuff about abazungu, and the other immigrants they see on the subway or work with, nyene nothing a person back home can’t find out by watching a movie.
Obviously these are gross caricatures of people. Lots of pun is intended in here, but some might recognize themselves or people they know someway in these categories. After some deep soul searching….I might be an Afropolitan who never left, but still not sure. What other categories can you think of? Let’s take it to the comment box 😉
MRG currently lives and studies in Toronto, Canada. You can find her on Twitter at @msmiraiga