Author: Pius Adesami/Year of publication: 2011/Where to buy: Exclusive Books, Kalahari, Loot, Take a lot/Approximate Price: R135/Pages: 246/Publishers: Penguin/Awards: Winner of the Penguin prize of African Writing
Quote: "Many have encountered questions that make you engage in the politics of identity such as, "Where are you from?" or "How do you pronounce your name?" You are not a country Africa articulates and politicizes everyday living while embracing the different identities of Africa and Africans...."
The 21st century is characterised by the disintegration of the geographical boundaries that initially constrained people and culture. Investors are trading on the New York Stock Exchange in the comfort of their homes in Eastern Cape, South Africa. There are Africans who are more passionate about the English Premier League than the English themselves. Twitter has enabled a Syrian activist to connect with a Zimbabwean strategist. So, what does it mean to be African these days? What does Africa mean to you? Pius Adesami's latest creative non-fiction flirts with such questions.
You are not a country Africa is Adesami's autobiography of ideas. It is a collection of essays which highlights the complexities of Africa and of being African. Born in Nigeria and currently working in Canada as a professor of English, Adesami writes of his physical, emotional and intellectual movements in Africa and in Euro-America as an African. His book helps one understand African culture and everyday history as well as the manifestations of modern African identities.
As African expatriates in South Africa, many have encountered infamous questions such as, "Where are you from?", "How do you pronounce your name?", "That's an interesting accent?" or "What tribe do you belong to?" These questions force us to engage with the politics of identity. For that split of a second we reflect on who we are as defined either by our accent, that small dictatorial booklet called the passport, or the tiny thing referred to as the "identity" card. You are not a country Africa articulates and politicizes everyday living while embracing the different identities of Africa and Africans.
Adesami's title borrows from a line in Abioseh Nicol's poem, The Meaning of Africa. The line describes Africa as unique to its billions of inhabitants and complicates the African narrative. Remember while reading the book that the authors choice of words describe his perceptions, hence the very fitting title. Every African whether in Africa or in diaspora has unique experiences and meanings of Africa and this, according to the poet and author, is what defines Africa and what makes one African.
Reiterating Chimamanda Adichie's thoughts on the danger of a single African story, the author unravels what Africa means to him and by extension to all those who populate this continent of extremes. He tells of Africa the beautiful, Africa the powerful, Africa the intellectual, Africa the corrupt, Africa the complicated, Africa the poor and Africa the xenophobic.
There are references to his country Nigeria but he makes an effort to relate it to other countries in the continent and beyond. The book corroborates the various meanings of Africa that are shared regionally (in Africa) and internationally. The author's experiences evoke in the reader episodes of self-reflection, laughter, and mmmhhhh, aaahhhh, I-know-that-feeling moments.
The reader feels as if they were in their local bar listening to the experiences of an old honest friend, philosophising the most mundane activities and having passionate constructive debates.
From a feminist perspective one can't help but notice his reference to African culture, history and the traditional literary canon, all of which are highly patriarchal. There are a few pages dotted with feminist talks, but one gets the feeling that it is an unsuccessful attempt to silence gender critics. On the other hand, it has always been complicated when a male author takes it upon himself to tell herstory.
Overall, it is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in a fresh perspective of the good old debate of distorted and sorted images and representations of Africa (ns). It gives useful pointers to the conversation of culture and the verbiage will undoubtedly tickle those who hunger for new words.
Wanjiru Waichigo is an MA (Literature) graduate from the University of Witwatersrand. She currently works with CIET in Southern Africa as a researcher and programme manager.