Africa Dies Each Time She Fails to Own Her Stories

by Karino Emmanuel

Not long ago, I was talking to a fellow writer from Nigeria, an astute lady with beautiful brains; that is if her works of art are anything to go by. Since I was the one who initiated the conversation, I had to start somewhere and with something that connects us as Africans. Although I admitted to her that there is something about being African that I haven’t quite made out that connects us from North to South, East to West, regardless of whether we have met or not, I came to know better in the course of our conversation: the arts.

We started off with books and she asked why I like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. With little or no thought, I told her, in its protagonist Okonkwo and the other characters around him and the situations that befall them, Chinua Achebe paints the real picture of Africa back in the day. And it is written in a simple language. And the thought of it being the archetypal modern African novel is inspiring especially for an emerging writer like me. When it was time to talk about film, we lacked these straight answers. We turned taciturn and chose to channel our thoughts elsewhere because there is not so much to pride ourselves in film. She seemed to sum up her thoughts about film in the title of a book – Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres by Jonathan Haynes – that she asked if I had read while I, before digressing, quickly mentioned that my thoughts on the same were being expounded in something that I was writing, a piece that would become this essay.

The arts – art, music, theatre, film, and literature – are like children responsible for putting their mother, Africa, somewhere on the global map. Except for film, the other arts have considerably made the motherland continent proud, especially literature and music. In no particular order, among others in Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Mariama Ba, Nuruddin Farah, Aminatta Forna, Alaine Mabanckou, and Dinaw Mengestu, we have African literature rife with diversity and well-crafted stories: in Fela Kuti, Lucky Dube, Salif Keita, Brenda Fassie, Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masekela, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Franco Luambo and Oliver Mtukudzi, to name but a few, we have had works of music that speak the language of a global audience while at the same time oozing African authenticity. And even though the works of this generation’s artists are worlds apart from most of the artists’ I have mentioned above, the voices and sounds I read and listen to now is an homage that bridges the generation gap hence telling the African story in a fresh way but one which still resonates with the global audience. These two groups of artists have done something that we haven’t borrowed whenever we write a typical African film. Film, like a troublesome rebel teenager, has refused to tap into the success of its brothers, making the same success they have achieved look like something that is not in the realms of possibility.

I am afraid that whenever we talk about the African film industry, we have to bring in the West. It is inevitable, because Hollywood, the world’s most successful film industry, is the ultimate standard. It is one which anyone who wants to partake in the eating of this cake that is the film industry, wants to break into.

For an industry whose stakeholders hold such profound devotion and respect for the arts, take these two thespians, for example, Anthony Hopkins and Bradley Cooper, ineptitude is our undoing, a chance for this industry to keep knocking on our doors and, sadly, most of the time we open these doors. Known for his Academy Award for Best Actor winning portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, the screen version of the protagonist in a series of bestselling novels by Thomas Harris, that once signed on a project, Anthony Hopkins goes over his lines in excess of two hundred times until they roll off his tongue, and; Bradley Cooper spent close to four years learning to sing and play the guitar and piano, and an additional eighteen months to train his vocals for him to sufficiently embody the character of Jackson Maine in A Star Is Born, a film he produced, co-wrote, starred in, and helmed in his directorial debut. This film was released to critical acclaim and went on to receive multiple nominations at the 91st and 76th Academy and Golden Globe Awards respectively. Giving credit where it is due, Hollywood is at its best when it tells the American story, but everything falls flat when it tries to masquerade as the spokesperson for the African story.

I have heard good things about films like Hotel Rwanda, The First Grader, Sometimes in April, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela, Blood Diamond, Half of a Yellow Sun, Sarafina among many others, some of which, to some degree, I have enjoyed watching. The common thing about these films is that they are our stories. The events depicted in them happened right under our noses but somehow, someone from outside had to come and tell them for us. Sprinkling black actors like Idris Elba, Djimon Haunsou, Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Naomi Harris and Whoopi Goldberg here and there with an excuse of a joint production between Hollywood and our studios, something which ends up compromising our creative control, doesn’t make them our stories anymore.

Is any person of colour considered African? Not in my opinion. To me, Charlize Theron with her whiteness, born in Gauteng Province, South Africa, is more African than Naomi Harris with her melanin-rich skin born in London, United Kingdom. Of course, Charlize Theron has a better idea of what being African really means. Although it makes no sense, Charlize Theron is just a white African and Naomi Harris a black Briton. Regardless of their skin colour, what matters is the place where someone is born and spends their formative years. There is something to write home about being African – we all go through a kind of struggle from the moment we are born, and we traverse through the streets of life trying to triumph over it. It is this triumph over our struggles that animate us into telling our stories and therefore, to bring our stories to the silver screen and have actors who aren’t native Africans and ones who know nothing about these struggles personate our heroes, is the biggest injustice of our time.

For example, what is so hard to get to the point of casting Naomi Harris in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, one of the most important biopics in the history of Africa, when as general knowledge, the character profile of Winnie Madikizela clearly states, South ‘African’. On Half of a Yellow Sun, a film adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the same name, Nollywood Reinvented critics: “The movie builds on amazing sets, actors, supporting actors and music, but the characters lack depth”. Like in many Hollywood films about Africa, the lack of depth is a problem that could easily get solved by letting the owner of this story tell it. You can have the looks – black – but being African is something you can’t drive into yourself with a hammer. You must live it.

It has been the same old story: We will finance this project. We will involve you. But what is the point of playing second fiddle in telling our stories? How can we tell our stories when we are shoved in the background, away from the ostentatiously beautiful frames? Passion and truth precede the need for any amount of money to produce any kind of art. To achieve aestheticism, especially in our genre films, sometimes what is needed is an attention to detail, a claustrophobic premise, a clever contained script, a minuscule budget, and a minimal crew and cast. Some independent filmmakers across the world have achieved this and we, too, can. The perfect examples of these kinds of films whose high production values belie the finitude of the things aforementioned are Buried and Primer.

Although inspired by some of the darkest moments in our history as a people and continent like the South African apartheid, the Rwandan genocide, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and atrocious governance in most African countries which over time has healed even though the scars still etched deep on the walls of our hearts are constant reminders, in a sea of sloppy productions, we have been able to make films with production values that are grounded in meticulousness if not pedantry, films that have garnered continental acclaim and won awards. At least with some of these films – ’76, October 1, 93 Days, Amin: The Rise and Fall – we owned and told our stories to our future generations, we took control of our destiny, for what good is living in a future without having any knowledge of the past?

I have always echoed acclaimed writer-filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s thoughts on sincerity and ambition in filmmaking, that: “Films are subjective – what you like, what you don’t like, but the thing for me that is absolutely unifying is the idea that every time I go to the cinema and pay my money to sit down and watch a film go up onscreen, I want to feel that the people who made that film think it’s the best movie in the world, that they poured everything into it and they really love it. Whether or not I agree with what they’ve done, I want that effort there – I want that sincerity. And when you don’t feel it, that’s the only time I feel like I’m wasting my time at the movies”.

This lack of sincerity in Hollywood films about Africa leaves Africa as a shadow of her real self, a depiction that Soek in her essay, Hollywood’s Strange Addiction to Bad African Accents, terms as: “Hollywood imagination, divorced from reality”.

We don’t tell our stories to seek validation from the West. But whatever the thing that is in our music and literature in its crude African state that the West can’t help but love, we definitely should hit that same spot with our films. Do you know what that thing is? Truth. Honesty. Sincerity. But how can they love something that in its making, we have always let them keep messing up with, allowing them to create their own kind of truth? Isn’t Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart, the first original film from Nigeria to be acquired by Netflix, evidence enough of what sticking to our truth can be a boundless factor of places our stories can traverse?

Source: From the Rebel Issue (October 2019)


KARINO C. EMMANUEL who for some reason he doesn’t know, chose to write his poetry under the name KC Manuel, is an emerging Kenyan writer and poet, and student at Kibabii University whose works have appeared on The Kalahari Review, Kreative Diadem, Praxis Magazine Online, and Ghana Writes Journal. His piece, ‘The Rough Ride Home’, was shortlisted for the Igby Prize for Nonfiction. He’s currently working on his first novel. He believes that there’s timeless magic between the tip of a pen and the face of a paper, and that’s why early drafts of all his works are written longhand.

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

CRIMSON by Uche Osita

October 2008


Do you remember the way I used to hold your hand? Do you recall how I kissed you the day you told me that your father had finally left your mother? How tender our lips; rubbing off the loss that you knew could only be stayed for so long. Do you remember how we used to hug and hold on for eternity, not wanting, not needing anything else in the world? Do you remember the faint scent of chocolate that filled the room each time you visited? Adaeze, the rhythm of fate’s music has played far too loud and now I am scared. I fear that I am holding on too much, to these things, these feelings, and these memories. Maybe I am unfortunate. Or maybe Mama’s admonitions finally made manifest.

Do you remember the time when you said you would never leave me, was it all a lie?

It is true all I see now is darkness, it is also true I may never be able to live out all the dreams I talked about when there was light but Adaeze, the only darkness I truly see is the one that I know your absence has caused.


Adaeze, I love you.

I believed in God when I was little. When all Mama could talk about day and night was how wonderful God was, how grateful we were to have a father that stayed home and how kind God had been. Papa stayed home alright, but only because he was jobless. He also had a ferocious temper that hit Mama hard, all the time.

When I finally got a scholarship to study at the University, I felt a deep relief that I could not express in words. I promised Mama I would never let her down. She saw in me, hope, a reaffirmation that her belief in God was not unfounded. She, however, warned me against girls, no girls she insisted, not until you are done. I had agreed. It was so easy agreeing to something I had yet to give serious thought.

I kept her promise until the day I met you. When I first saw you I knew I would never keep her promise. You were so happy and carefree and I was burdened with my background and expected responsibilities. But you accepted me for me. You did not mind that I had quaffed kai kai with the boys in the slum. The fact that my father was jobless, that I had eleven siblings and a breadwinner mother whose only source of livelihood was selling matchboxes, cheap biscuits and sweets.


Adaeze, did you know that I have been waiting for 2 years to reach you? You blocked me from calling and you have not been in town all these while. I have been learning to deal with this new condition our love has bought me. Quite frankly it is not half as bad as I imagined. I do not speak as much since I can’t always tell whether I am being spoken to, but I also think a lot. I now take slow measured steps, and I am vaguely aware of time from the heat intensity of the sun and Mama hasn’t completely forgiven me since then.

I started learning to write with an old typewriter papa used to work with in his early days as a typist. It was a very trying experience, having to feel and guess and feel again. I have persevered mostly because I wanted to one day write you this letter. I am sure that you are reading and partly because I suspect that this curse may well not be the end. Adaeze, I am going to become a writer. Ever since I learnt how to type, I have been practicing, day, noon and night. I have written and rewritten ever since and I have strong thoughts to take some of my products for appraisal. Even though for me, there would always remain a vague memory of light -past, this new hope brews a thick fire in my heart and I am determined to guard its flames.

How have you been? I sincerely hope that life has served you a better dish than it did me. But perhaps you suspect my motives. But I assure you, 2 years is a very long time. And writing you is my way of moving on, of trying to forget. I woke up this morning feeling mildly grateful, Mama just got better, she has been down with a fever since last week and the doctor just called. I have in consequence come around to thinking about how much I have undervalued the little things that I have had; life, peace, family. Though, I wish I could have more, still I suppose I should be grateful for the little I have.

The world has changed a lot and me with it. And I have chosen not to allow our past to dictate whatever happens next.


How can I blame you? All you did was love me. And sometimes when I remember the times before; the times when there was light; I grope around in the darkness searching for hope, for you…


Still, when I sleep at night my dreams are crimson. There is an indistinguishable shadow that I suspect to be you, it reaches out and I come forward. Then I am forced back by another shadow, this one I know to be Musa. It reaches for me, I raise a hand and try to stop it, but it is quicker. It reaches for my eyes and then there is darkness.


Uche Osita is a creative writer. His works have been published in Kalahari Review, African writers, Mu-Afrika journal of African literature, The crater library, Nwokike literary journal, and

Do you want a sneak peek into our latest issue?

Let’s send a copy to your mail right away!

BROKEN TEARS by Akinsanya Damilola

BROKEN TEARS by Akinsanya Damilola


by Akinsanya Damilola

“Broda please, please find me something, my belle dey crack, broda please, please abeg you.”
He said this line in the same precise version over and again as though he spent an entire day memorizing that part. I looked straight into his green eyes searching for a shred of lie in them but all I felt pity for the poor boy. The kind of pity I had for the boy who had lost his right arm to the whim of a drunken policeman wielding a gun. The kind of pity I nursed toward my first crush when she lost her father violently during the Boko Haram winter strike. The kind of pity I could not describe when my next-door neighbour was diagnosed of the Ebola Virus. The fair-skinned boy could not be more than ten. I could tell by looking at his unlined face that bore a sea of endless uncertainties. He was a Fulani boy on the busy Iwo Road with crinkly hair the colour of a coconut husk.
Owo yin da? The driver shouted, etching out his impatience with meaningful glances. His calloused manner must have disgusted a woman in the back row and a rowdy barrage of words ensued. It was at that point I realized the bus was full.


“Ki ni e wan ro?” He added. Maybe the bus conductor knew I had been thinking of Oyinda before the Fulani boy came. Maybe he knew I had been picturing Oyinda’s beautiful figure in my mind. Maybe he knew Oyinda and I had, earlier that day, being in the same lecture room and I had not learned anything from the whole sixty-eight-minute class. “Is that your sister? The man sitting beside me asked when he saw me staring at Oyinda’s picture on my phone- the one with her mum. Yes, I replied sharply to avoid further questioning. Unfortunately, the man was not one to give easily.
“She is very beautiful,” he added.
“Thank you, sir!” I said as I looked away- the universal signal of disinterest. The man still didn’t get the hint.


“She looks just like my daughter, with her wide smile on a naughty face. I lost her last month to meningitis,” he added sadly. I became febrile as a cold current ran down my spine. I tried to blot out the reality of his words but the statement had blindsided me. Meningitis! That was the same disease that the state health workers had come to my hostel to administer vaccines for. At first, I had snubbed the whole exercise writing it off as unhygienic because of the limited number of needles and syringes available. And there was a man who had lost his daughter to what could have been my killer.
“I’m so sorry sir,” as words managed to make their way out of my mouth. “She must have been an angel to you.” The man did not utter a word. He was looking in the opposite direction, fixing his deep-set eyes on the verdant hedges along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. His eyes were filled with tears that trickled down like raindrops from a roof in September. The atmosphere between us was thick with sorrow.
“God will rest her soul in His bosom,” I said breaking the silence. The man looked at me, the wealth of sadness in his eyes piercing me like a knife as he said to me, “I hope she will be safe there.”



Akinsanya Damilola(Akindavies), a final year student of the Faculty of Law at the premier University of Ibadan. He discovered his writing aptitude after an encounter with Richard Wright’s Black Boy a couple of years ago and has ever since written a considerable number of poems works and short stories. He is the recipient of the Lagos State (Alimosho Local Government) Essay Contest 2009 and was among the ten finalists of the Unesco Goi Peace Essay, 2015, among others. Away from writing, he has a fondness for trees and wildlife conservation.

Pin It on Pinterest