It began with one question:
如果非洲是个酒吧 你的国家在喝什么 干什么？
If Africa was a bar, what would your country be drinking or doing?
I kicked it off with a guess about South Africa,
which wasn’t exactly according to the rules
because South Africa’s not my country.
But alluding to the country’s continual attempts
to build a postracial society
after being ravaged for decades by apartheid,
我发了个推文 如果非洲是个酒吧 南非会喝到各种各样的酒
I tweeted, #ifafricawasabar South Africa would be drinking all kinds of alcohol
and begging them to get along in its stomach.
And then I waited.
And then I had that funny feeling where I wondered if I crossed the line.
然后 我又发了几条 有关自己国家的推文
So, I sent out a few other tweets about my own country
and a few other African countries I’m familiar with.
And then I waited again,
but this time
I read through almost every tweet I had ever tweeted
to convince myself,
no, to remind myself that I’m really funny
and that if nobody gets it, that’s fine.
I didn’t have to do that for very long.
Very soon, people were participating.
In fact, by the end of that week in July,
the hashtag #ifafricawasabar
would have garnered around 60,000 tweets,
lit up the continent
and made its way to publications all over the world.
People were using the hashtag to do many different things.
To poke fun at their stereotypes:
[#IfAfricaWasABar Nigeria would be outside explaining
that he will pay the entrance fee,
all he needs is the bouncer’s account details.]
To criticize government spending:
[#ifafricawasabar South Africa would be ordering bottles it can’t pronounce
running a tab it won’t be able to pay]
To make light of geopolitical tensions:
[#IfAfricaWasABar South Sudan would be the new guy
with serious anger management issues.]
To remind us that even in Africa
there are some countries we don’t know exist:
[#IfAfricaWasABar Lesotho would be that person
who nobody really knows but is always in the pictures.]
And also to make fun of the countries that don’t think that they’re in Africa:
[#如果非洲是个酒吧 埃及 利比亚 突尼斯
[#IfAfricaWasABar Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco
be like “What the hell are we doing here?!!”]
And to note the countries that had made a big turnaround:
[#ifAfricawasabar Rwanda would be that girl
that comes with no money and no transport but leaves drunk, happy and rich]
But most importantly,
people were using the hashtag to connect.
People were connecting over their Africanness.
So for one week in July,
Twitter became a real African bar.
And I was really thrilled,
mainly because I realized that Pan-Africanism could work,
that we had before us, between us, at our fingertips
a platform that just needed a small spark
to light in us a hunger for each other.
My name is Siyanda Mohutsiwa,
I’m 22 years old
and I am Pan-Africanist by birth.
Now, I say I’m Pan-Africanist by birth
because my parents are from two different African countries.
My father’s from a country called Botswana in southern Africa.
It’s only slightly bigger than Germany.
This year we celebrate our 50th year of stable democracy.
And it has some very progressive social policies.
My mother’s country is the Kingdom of Swaziland.
It’s a very, very small country, also in southern Africa.
It is Africa’s last complete monarchy.
So it’s been ruled by a king and a royal family
in line with their tradition,
for a very long time.
On paper, these countries seem very different.
And when I was a kid, I could see the difference.
It rained a lot in one country, it didn’t rain quite as much in the other.
But outside of that, I didn’t really realize
why it mattered that my parents were from two different places.
But it would go on to have a very peculiar effect on me.
You see, I was born in one country
and raised in the other.
When we moved to Botswana,
I was a toddler who spoke fluent SiSwati
and nothing else.
So I was being introduced to my new home,
my new cultural identity,
as a complete outsider,
incapable of comprehending anything that was being said to me
by the family and country whose traditions I was meant to move forward.
But very soon, I would shed SiSwati.
And when I would go back to Swaziland,
I would be constantly confronted by how very non-Swazi I was becoming.
Add to that my entry into Africa’s private school system,
whose entire purpose is to beat the Africanness out of you,
and I would have a very peculiar adolescence.
But I think that my interest in ideas of identity was born here,
in the strange intersection of belonging to two places at once
but not really belonging to either one very well
又好像更属于二者之间 空旷 虚无的空间
and belonging to this vast space in between and around simultaneously.
I became obsessed with the idea of a shared African identity.
Since then, I have continued to read about politics
还有地理 身份认知 努力搞明白这些都意味着什么
and geography and identity and what all those things mean.
I’ve also held on to a deep curiosity about African philosophies.
When I began to read,
I gravitated towards the works of black intellectuals
like Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon,
who tackled complex ideas
like decolonization and black consciousness.
And when I thought, at 14, that I had digested these grand ideas,
I moved on to the speeches of iconic African statesmen
like Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara
and Congo’s Patrice Lumumba.
I read every piece of African fiction that I could get my hands on.
So when Twitter came,
I hopped on with the enthusiasm of a teenage girl
whose friends are super, super bored of hearing about all this random stuff.
The year was 2011
and all over southern Africa and the whole continent,
affordable data packages for smartphones and Internet surfing
became much easier to get.
So my generation, we were sending messages to each other on this platform
that just needed 140 characters and a little bit of creativity.
On long commutes to work,
in lectures that some of us should have been paying attention to,
on our lunch breaks,
we would communicate as much as we could
讨论作为年轻人 非洲人 所要面对的日常现实
about the everyday realities of being young and African.
But of course, this luxury was not available to everybody.
So this meant that if you were a teenage girl in Botswana
and you wanted to have fun on the Internet,
one, you had to tweet in English.
Two, you had to follow more than just the three other people you knew online.
你要关注南非人 津巴布韦人 加纳人 尼日利亚人
You had to follow South Africans, Zimbabweans, Ghanaians, Nigerians.
And suddenly, your whole world opened up.
And my whole world did open up.
I followed vibrant Africans who were travelling around the continent,
taking pictures of themselves
然后分享到推特上 标记了话题 #我的非洲
and posting them under the hashtag #myafrica.
Because at that time,
if you were to search Africa on Twitter or on Google
or any kind of social media,
you would think that the entire continent was just pictures of animals
and white guys drinking cocktails in hotel resorts.
But Africans were using this platform
to take some kind of ownership of the tourism sectors.
It was Africans taking selfies on the beaches of Nigeria.
It was Africans in cocktail bars in Nairobi.
And these were the same Africans that I began to meet
in my own travels around the continent.
我们会讨论非洲文学 政治 经济政策
We would discuss African literature, politics, economic policy.
But almost invariably, every single time,
we would end up discussing Twitter.
And that’s when I realized what this was.
We were standing in the middle of something amazing,
because for the first time ever
young Africans could discuss the future of our continent in real time,
而且没有国界 经济状况限制 也没有小心警惕的政府盯着
without the restriction of borders, finances and watchful governments.
Because the little known truth is
many Africans know a lot less about other African countries
than some Westerners might know about Africa as a whole.
This is by accident,
but sometimes, it’s by design.
For example, in apartheid South Africa,
black South Africans were constantly being bombarded
with this message that any country ruled by black people
was destined for failure.
And this was done to convince them
that they were much better off under crushing white rule
than they were living in a black and free nation.
Add to that Africa’s colonial, archaic education system,
which has been unthinkingly carried over from the 1920s —
and at the age of 15, I could name all the various causes
of the wars that had happened in Europe in the past 200 years,
but I couldn’t name the president of my neighboring country.
And to me, this doesn’t make any sense
because whether we like it or not,
the fates of African people are deeply intertwined.
When disaster hits, when turmoil hits,
we share the consequences.
When Burundians flee political turmoil,
they go to us,
to other African countries.
Africa has six of the world’s largest refugee centers.
What was once a Burundian problem
becomes an African problem.
So to me, there are no Sudanese problems
or South African problems or Kenyan problems,
only African problems
because eventually, we share the turmoil.
So if we share the problems,
why aren’t we doing a better job of sharing the successes?
How can we do that?
Well, in the long term,
we can shoot towards increasing inter-African trade,
removing borders and putting pressure on leaders
to fulfill regional agreements they’ve already signed.
But I think that the biggest way for Africa to share its successes
is to foster something I like to call social Pan-Africanism.
Now, political Pan-Africanism already exists,
so I’m not inventing anything totally new here.
But political Pan-Africanism
is usually the African unity of the political elite.
And who does that benefit?
Well, African leaders, almost exclusively.
No, what I’m talking about
is the Pan-Africanism of the ordinary African.
Young Africans like me,
we are bursting with creative energy,
with innovative ideas.
But with bad governance and shaky institutions,
all of this potential could go to waste.
On a continent where more than a handful of leaders
have been in power longer
than the majority of the populations has been alive,
we are in desperate need of something new,
something that works.
And I think that thing is social Pan-Africanism.
My dream is that young Africans
stop allowing borders and circumstance to suffocate our innovation.
My dream is that when a young African comes up with something brilliant,
they don’t say, “Well, this wouldn’t work in my country,”
and then give up.
My dream is that young Africans begin to realize
that the entire continent is our canvas, is our home.
Using the Internet, we can begin to think collaboratively,
we can begin to innovate together.
在非洲 我们常说 “你想走快些 就得自己走
In Africa, we say, “If you want to go fast, you go alone,
but if you want to go far, you go together.”
And I believe that social Pan-Africanism is how we can go far together.
And this is already happening.
Access to these online networks has given young Africans
something we’ve always had to violently take: a voice.
We now have a platform.
Before now, if you wanted to hear from the youth in Africa,
you waited for the 65-year-old minister of youth —
to wake up in the morning,
take his heartburn medication
and then tell you the plans he has for your generation
in 20 years time.
Before now, if you wanted to be heard by your possibly tyrannical government,
you were pushed to protest, suffer the consequences
and have your fingers crossed
that some Western paper somewhere might make someone care.
But now we have opportunities to back each other up
in ways we never could before.
We support South African students
who are marching against ridiculously high tertiary fees.
We support Zimbabwean women who are marching to parliament.
We support Angolan journalists who are being illegally detained.
For the first time ever,
African pain and African aspiration
has the ability to be witnessed
by those who can empathize with it the most:
I believe that with a social Pan-Africanist thinking
and using the Internet as a tool,
we can begin to rescue each other,
and ultimately, to rescue ourselves.