I recently had a mid-mid-life crisis; I threw caution to the air, left my job and did a bit of traveling (what’s a mid-mid-life crisis if not an excuse to re-live a more budget-friendly eat-pray-love?). My travels took me to Europe, and sitting on a park bench in Stockholm, I found myself a little heartbroken for Africa. See, in the park, I saw what I’d been seeing on the streets of Sweden all along— husbands caring for newborns unsupervised, a society that has recognized and celebrated the values women bring to the table, households that made decisions together and employers that actually care about gender equality. When is it our turn, y’know?
I secretly asked myself the same questions I ask sometimes; why is mainstream feminism, or some remote form of gender equality, seem so far off for Africa? Why does it feel like for each step we take forward, we take seven backward? Why does my day to day life in Addis Ababa more often than not feel like a never-ending test of how accommodating I can be towards a mass majority that does not respect my basic rights?
I hear commentaries and complaints and deep sighs laced with these questions particularly from the young African diaspora, a group to which I also belong. I spent a good chunk of my formative years in the US witnessing radical feminism and unyielding pressure on the political and social system to be more inclusive/respectful/accepting of women— and seeing said systems change. In my mind, the result of this experience had been and will always be to strive for the same version of freedom in my own country— the blessing of “knowing better”. What I failed to diagnose, however, was how this well-meaning sentiment had soured into a sort of frustrated paternalism, condescension and impatience.
I believe our experience as African diaspora in looking to the West for inspiration, guidance or a possible ETA on gender equality in Africa has inevitably turned to comparison. Even though my mantra when relocating to Addis was to remember ‘Ethiopia is not the US. Ethiopia is her own’, I had neglected to apply that to the changes I wanted to see in my country. That is the tricky part of aspiration; you simply take out authenticity and you’re left with imitation (which is only skin-deep). We need to remind ourselves of that from time to time, Africa is her own. Africa is not the lazy kid in class who’s not keeping up with the rest of its mates. Change is internal, it is not a race— or so I’ve learned after my crisis.
It takes an immense amount of courage and patience to seek change, especially one like gender equality. Especially so in Africa where the canvas of change is still new and un-broken in. So much so that you need to be ready to accept that the changes you are working so hard towards, you may not even see the fruit of in your own lifetime. Maybe neither will your daughter.
Our hope as feminists should not be for an Africa that looks Western, our hope and aspiration needs to be firmly for an Africa that is true to itself when solving its problems. We have to be bold enough to be patient. Africa is a capable continent crafting solutions for itself that fit its own context, and that is worth waiting for.