“I wanna be rich, I wanna be famous, I wanna have lots of money, soar above the clouds, I wanna be free like Nelson Mandela, stand tall like a pyramid, so so courageous, No place I’d rather be oh na na oh na na. There’s no place I’d rather be oh na na. Live and die in Afrika,” Live and Die in Afrika, — Sauti Sol
If this continent has a pulse, it is probably nestled somewhere in West Africa. I thought about this as I lugged a heavy Djembe drum from Senegal and tried to convince the airline to let me take it on board as hand luggage. They were having none of it and I got a feeling they were used to such requests. However, there was no way I was leaving that drum behind, regardless of how heavy it was.
In the end, I had to pay the excess fee to come with it. Made of camel skin, heavy hardwood and decorated in string, something in me wants to dance when I beat that drum. A crazy, wanton dance that I imagine my foremothers must have done during harvest time. It has a sound unique to itself, a sound that reverberates and pumps in your ears and veins.
However, as special as the drum is, as pepe hot as the food is, as halting as the music is, it’s the people that always get to you. They have a way of accosting you with their African-ness. It’s in the heavy accents, the traditional attire, the clicks of their tongues when they are irked and the loudness of their laughter.
“We talk like we are fighting,” my guide says unapologetically as he takes me downtown Dakar in search of African fabric and souvenirs. As I haggle over price, the traders shake their heads, “You will kill me-oo,” they insist if I offer a price below what they are comfortable with. I use my skin as a bargaining chip. “Give me African price,” I plead. They nod, “You are my sister, I will make African price for you.” That seals the deal.
After a morning of shopping, I spend the rest of the afternoon on a city tour. Most memorable is the towering monument of African Renaissance that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean in Dakar. It is a statue of a muscled African man, his right hand cradles the waist of a beautiful black woman and he hoists an African child on his left shoulder. The child points forward. Standing there, I think to myself, “This is probably what the statue of Liberty represents to some.” Freedom. Opportunity. New beginnings. Hope. The future.
Is all this really possible for Africa and her people given the economic, social and political challenges we face every day? Our children sleep hungry, die of curable disease and live in abject poverty. Some are trafficked for prostitution, used as child soldiers, or caught in the crossfire during civil wars and unrests. Many die on the high seas as their parents struggle to make the dangerous ocean crossings to the west in search of a better life.
Governments plunder their citizens and country’s resources for personal gain, politicians are strategic in their schemes to hold on to power at any cost be it financial or human life. Our youth are fast losing their values. Is an African renaissance still possible?
When I arrived back in Nairobi on a wet Friday morning, djembe drum in hand, the taxi driver brought me up to speed on what was happening in the country. Then it hit me. Africa is something of a hardship zone. Yet that’s just half the story.
My mother used to tell me that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. She was right. Africa is the original school of hard knocks. It toughens us. Most of what we need to succeed, grit and all, this continent already gave us. And while the dream of African renaissance may remain just that for my generation, my Djembe drum reminds me that everything I need to make it here, or anywhere else for that matter, is within.