Africa on the Square or Africa in despair?

So, myself and Ogechi went along to the Africa on the Square event, on the 10th October as part of Black History month. We had been anticipating this event for weeks. Weeks on, we’re still wondering why we got excited in the first place…  Having pondered on our time spent there, we realised that this was never going to be an event designed for Africans to embrace their culture and histories. There wasn’t even anything there to do with our history. It was more like a tourist attraction for Europeans to ‘discover’ Africans and African culture, like they’ve never encountered Africans before. By culture we mean African cuisine, cultural dance and music. Fair enough a lot of people had a good time, people from all different walks of life enjoyed themselves, and it became more apparent that it was more culturally diverse and inclusive than explicitly African.

What we expected to see – a market selling authentic African jewellery, African clothing, hand-made African dolls, etc. is what we got. We saw stall after stall boasting beautiful patterns and designs from West and East African countries. We really were spoilt for choice.  It was so great to see an array of African products being sold by Africans, or so we thought… At some of the stalls, there were Caucasians selling African products. Sorry to sound blunt but what place do Caucasians have selling our products? Haven’t they taken enough of our gold, diamonds, cocoa beans, cocoa butter, oil etc.? Can they not let us make money from our OWN products, when we as black people are living in a white supremacist society that works to limit what financial gains we try to make?

After browsing amongst the endless rows of stalls, we were asked to be interviewed (on camera), by organisers of the event. They asked us a series of questions to find out about what we thought.

“Why do you think this event is important?”

We both agreed that the importance of the event was in presenting the continent of Africa in a positive and welcoming light – something the media will never show you. Instead you are presented with the same negative images of poor starving Africans caught up in war, famine and poverty. The viewer is subconsciously made to think Africa is a country when it is a continent of 54 nations.  You’d be surprised at how many people think of Africa in this narrow minded way.

“Do you think this event showcases the whole of Africa?”

Despite the positivity we highlighted in our previous answer, Ogechi made a very true and interesting point. This was Africa on the Square, yet it was very west African orientated. West African culture dominated the event by far, with kente cloth left right and centre and immensely long queues outside the Nigerian and Ghanaian  jollof kitchen tents….. East African culture was present to some extent, but we didn’t see Southern, Central or North Africa being presented.

Networking is an essential part of building wealth, and seeing young black people put this into practice at this event, was really encouraging to see. Myself and Ogechi even bumped into one of our key Instagram follower’s (if that is even a word), Maarifacircle!

An event showcasing African culture wouldn’t be right without some jollof. The food lines as mentioned before, were just a crazy sea of people. Ogechi dragged me to the Nigerian jollof queue, despite knowing that I am a Ghanaian, and we all know who’s jollof is better… Anyway, while waiting forever, in a non-moving queue, another organiser asked us to answer a survey. One of the questions she asked us struck us both as a key reason for why this event was a tourist attraction for non-Africans.

“Do you think this poster, used to advertise and promote the event, reflects the nature of the event very well?” See for yourself…(see blog picture)

There is nothing on this poster which represents African culture. Even we could design a better poster than that. There isn’t even an image of the continent, no African flags, no images of African cloth, no images of African instruments. What is this rubbish? Make us wonder – if this eventwas about ‘celebrating the best of African culture’, as the London Government website claimed, then why did the advertising campaign make little effort to display this? We’ll tell you why. Because the organisers were not Africans. Yes, there were Africans selling African products but they were not the organisers. This event was tailored for Caucasians to come along and watch Africans celebrate a culture they know nothing about. Too many white people kept trying to take pictures of us, as we were dressed for the occasion but some didn’t even ask for permission. They just took pictures like they were in a zoo and we were the exotic animals. If you’re curious, at least ask or have a conversation, don’t just observe us like you’ve never seen black people before.

What this event failed to do was to capture a feeling of pan-Africanism. Despite the live music and fashion displays, it fell short of revealing to the public,  all of Africa, and it’s diverse cultures and it’s historic glory. This event was created as part of Black History month but where was the history of Africa and its people? That is why we ask, was this Africa on the Square or Africa in despair?

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