Afro-Optimism and its future in Africa by Austin Muthuma


‘Afro-optimism’ could be the tool to decolonize African mind and lead to Africa`s renaissance, but only if actualized carefully. Ebere Onwudiwe in the book ‘Afro-optimism: Perspective on Africa`s Advances’ refers to Afro-optimism as “the state of absolute conviction that a bright future lies ahead for the African continent.” It’s an ideological notion that the once ‘dark continent’ is on the verge of a grand renaissance, overcoming historical scars; slavery, colonization, dictatorship (poor governance) and corruption. The media particularly social media has been a core driver of this infant but fast rising notion- although quite unnoticed-by giving the largely ‘undocumented continent’ a platform to showcase its values and culture on a global level.

Africa in 21st century is increasingly being defined through African literature and not the white precursor. 2018 has witnessed most publicized Afro-optimistic activities, and probably breathing sense to the fairly new notion. First it was the Black Panther an all black cast movie that broke major historical and current stereotypes of black movies not selling and mainly depicting Africa as a super developed continent devoid of foreign exploitation. Africans, Asians, whites and all other races alike lined up in cinema halls across the world dressed in African attire appreciating the culture in support of Africa.

The second event is the just concluded world cup football tournament where France whose team is mostly composed of players of African origin, won the cup. The magnitude of this conversation bursting to an exchange between France ambassador to US, Gerard Araud and American based South African comedian Trevor Noah. Noah`s affectionate sentiments, “I’m so exited! Africa won the world cup!” in his satirical Daily show seemed to have angered French ambassador to a point of writing a protest letter to the Daily show criticizing Noah’s sentiments. According to Gerard, Noah comments could be equated to those of a supremacist or racists.

This sparked a conversation online about African immigrants in the west particularly France, with Noah accusing the French government of double standards by acknowledging French black players as French but at the same time having harsh stance on African immigrants. Although the two events had a significant impact in bringing to light the ideology of Afro-optimism, the French case raises some important issues regarding the thin line between afro-optimism and afro-pessimism.

Coined by Frank Wilderson, a South African intellectual during the apartheid regime, Afro-pessimism was a phrase denoting Africa`s scars of slavery and colonialism and their negative structural impacts to the continent in post-colonial era. His intentions were to use the scars to unite Africans and overcoming post-colonial challenges. However this was short lived as western media hijacked the notion using it to portray Africa as a failure on economic growth and governance. The latter maintaining its meaning up to date.

This has been carried on in how Africans perceive or actualize Afro-optimism, making it hard to distinguish between optimism and pessimism. From the two events, despite occurring in the western world, Africans seem to be highly appreciative when a fellow African has made an achievement else where than in Africa which sometimes boarders more on pessimism rather than optimism. French black player`s success united Africa by proving that Africans contribute significantly to foreign successes. The distinction between optimism and pessimism lies in perception. If the player`s success inspires Africans to recognize their potential and extrapolate it from the west to Africa then it’s optimism. On the other hand if it creates a notion of success through developed west facilitation, then its pessimism as it encourages emigrant exodus to the west.

The same Afro-pessimism problem affects the African youth today and is considered one of the key drivers of migration. According to a report by Afrobarometer in its mid-report released June this year, it approximates 16% of youth in Africa having thought of emigrating to the west. This worrying figure confirms the level of afro-pessimism on African youth toward their continent and its future. However one cannot deny the fact that there are harsh push factors: political intolerance and unemployment, which propel emigrants to take the life threatening journey. But a keen analysis on the youth justifications reveals that, many believe the west provides the greener pasture irrespective of one being skilled or unskilled, which is not always the case.

Is there a formula for inscribing afro-optimism in our minds? Yes, Africans must start by telling The African story, by Africans, for Africans and in Africa. We need to start appreciating African heroes and heroines in Africa so as to inspire change and reduce occidental African heroes. Afro-optimism could be Africa`s soft power especially on a socio-cultural terms by decolonizing our minds from perceiving the western culture as the supreme culture over others. Failure to incept Afro-optimism from our own perspective will render the young concept as just another rhetoric like the once raved pan-Africanism. It might be time for Africa`s renaissance but in order to win over the ‘white man`s consensus’ the process needs to be carefully thought and actualized and Afro-optimism provides the starting point. If it’s all in the mind, then it must start from the mind.

By Austin Muthuma

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