Africa has a story but who wants to hear it?

Telling the story of Africa

Africa has a story. Its scars run deep from the wounds caused by colonization and other factors. The people do not have the means to tell their own story while the Western powers do. The silenced ones have their stories told by outsiders who claim to want to help them, if their stories are told at all. The question that remains is, who has the right to tell stories of the silenced ones? Is it Chinua Achebe or by Joseph Conrad? Are both of their stories valid or does Achebe's stand on powerful grounds because these are his people after all? There is no right answer to that perplex question, but one thing is clear, a story told by western perspective about a culture can't be dismissed as inaccurate because if a culture can’t tell its own story, then it’s up to us to do it.

The people of Africa should be telling their own tale, If nothing was holding them back. It should never be up to a stranger to tell someone's biography. When we go into another culture, we already have a bias. We are nothing more than strangers, drifters, and outsiders. We have opinions already formed that betray us from remaining objective. Whether we want to admit it or not, when we go into that culture we are applying our values on others and disregarding what’s important to them. In the picture below on the left, the Wordle contains words that remind us that when we enter another culture that we are the outsiders. The picture on the right shows the bias that we have to change another society especially, “the dark continent”. The video reinforces our desire to use Africa to our advantage while promising nothing for the natives.
Whose burden is it to bear? Apparently it's ours, since this continent needs to be saved from darkness.

Aren't we strangers imposing our views on someone else?

Through examples, we can see the argument against westerns telling other people’s story. One of those reasons is that these people have no respect for the natives. The missionaries in Things Fall Apart showed us that most of these helpers are so concerned on “fixing the problem“ that they don‘t listen. "'Does the white man understand our custom about our land?’ ‘How can he be when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart,’"( Achebe 108). At the very end of the novel, the District Commissioner asked Obierika why they couldn't couldn’t bury Okonkwo. Even after spending time with them, he hadn’t taken the initiative to learn their ways.
They beat their drums to worship their false gods.
Going along the same lines, it was a western writer, Conrad in the book, Heart of Darkness who took an entire humanity of a people and put it on the line. Achebe’s article on Conrad’s book stated, “Heart of darkness projects the image of Africa as 'the other world,' the antithesis of European and therefore of civilization, a place haunted where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality.” It was Conrad who spoke through Marlow, saying, "'True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery-- a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness,'"(passage 2). If his characters were this biased, how were they expected to represent the people fairly? If this book reflected the mentality of the people to “civilize the savages,” why should they be telling the story of Africa?
Achebe criticized this book, saying that Conrad was a racist. In one interview, he said, “I expect a great artist, a man who has explored, a man who is interested in Africa, not to make life more difficult for us. Why do this? Why make our lives more difficult? In this sense Conrad is a disappointment." Achebe spoke of Conrad portraying his people as things possibly having the same humanity as them. Whether this meant that Conrad was a racist or a man reflecting the mentality of the people, it’s up to the reader to decide. But for Achebe, Conrad was another person who reflected the mentality that westerners can’t tell stories of other cultures.

This continent was full of darkness until we came over.

Why should the west be telling Achebe people’s story or anyone‘s story? They are biased writers who want to gain everythin but offer nothing to the natives. In one interview though, Achebe gave a reason why the west can tell these stories. “I believe in the complexity of the human story, and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, ‘this is it.’ Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing … this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told: from many different perspectives.” There are many authors who have misrepresented other groups negatively. They have used their moral values to influence another culture. But, it is their story after all. It is Conrad’s story about Marlow. It’s not Achebe's. Achebe may disagree with Conrad but he can’t discredit Conrad for telling his story whether he is a racist or not.
Again, why should the west be telling these stories? Is there a reason for them to do so? In another interview, Achebe tackled this hard question. “We should welcome the rendering of our stories by others, because a visitor can sometimes see what the owner of the house has ignored. But they must visit with respect and not be concerned with the colour of skin, or the shape of nose, or the condition of the technology in the house,” said Achebe. For Achebe and the rest of Africa, they welcome the westerners with their questions. All they ask is to be respected, to be written about like human beings, and to not to be given more trouble because after all, Africa doesn’t need more issue.
“I believe in the complexity of the human story, and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, ‘this is it.’ Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing … this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told: from many different perspectives."
Chinua Achebe

Is there an alternative to this problem? Is there a way for Africa to be the news producers/ news writer of their own events? The silenced may be given a voice through others but only when they are given a voice, can they work to get rid of the stereotypes placed before them. While they are not there completely, Africa is taking a step towards making that dream a reality. Instead of waiting for BBC News on Africa, people can now log onto to receive updates on current events. As the website said, “Our reporters tell the African story in text, photo or video.” There are stories on the political, social and other events like that. Using the talent pool of Africa, Africa is taking the initiative to begin telling their own tale. This video below is just one example of the variety of things Africa News features.

It's no longer up to News producers of the west to speak for Africa. While the troubles caused by literatures that portrayed these people as “savages” may never heal, things are moving in the right direction. This may come from the fact that, a western perspective story forced tthe people to reexamine their lives, to make the decision that it was time for the world to hear what they had to say.

Works Cited

Achebe. Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’" Massachusetts Review.18.1977. Rpt. In Heart of Darkness, An Authoritative Text, background and Sources Criticism. 1961. 3rd Ed. Robert Kimbrough, London: W. W Norton and Co., 1988, pp. 251-261.
Achebe, Chinua. “The Art of Fiction CXXXVIV.” By Jerome Brooks. The Paris Review. Issue #133 (Winter 1994-5) <>.
Achebe, Chinua. “Out of Africa.” By Caryl Phillips. The Guardian. 2003 <>.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Glencoe-McGraw-Hill.1959.Print.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Blackwood’s Magazine.1902. Print.
“The Dark Continent.” Youtube. Web. 8 December 2010 <>.
“Discovering Nigeria's stylish headgears.” Youtube.Web. 8 December 2010 <>.
Filip Spagnoli. “Human Rights Cartoon (58): Cultural Relativism.” <>.
G.I. Jones. “ Obugula Mmau, daughter masks.” <>.
G. I. Jones. “Ogonya Play.” <>.
“The White man's burden.” Detroit: The Journal.1898.