Wainaina on afropolitanism

In 2005, the Nigerian/Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi penned an article, Bye-Bye Barbar, that introduced the world to a term that described a new generation of young, urban, multilingual and globally projected Africans: ‘Afropolitans.’

Since the term was coined its use has been controversial. Be that as it may, today Afropolitanism has been used in discussions about the African presence in urban areas in and outside the continent. Pop culture, fashion and music festivals occurring in Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Dakar, Nairobi and Lagos are branded as such, and mix cosmopolitism and African identity as a whole. But does Afropolitanism exist outside these minority elites?

Last week, I published an interview with Kenyan intellectual Binyavanga Wainaina. The interview was done for the Spanish Magazine Wiriko – devoted to African arts and cultures – and originally published in EL PAÍS – Planeta Futuro. In it, Wainaina talks about the recent history of Africa, the debacles and rebirth of the African middle class, and the economic boom the continent is currently experiencing.

In the interview Binyavanga refers to another referent of African thought, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, who wrote a chapter on the book Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, considering the African identity as liquid and calling for a new cultural, historical and aesthetic sensibility of ‘Africanness.’ In it, Mbembe describes his view of Afropolitanism as “a way of being in the world, refusing on principle any form of victim identity — which does not mean that it is not aware of the injustice and violence inflicted on the continent and its people by the law of the world. It is also a political and cultural stance in relation to nation, to race and to the issue of difference in general”.

Binyavanga assures us that his place is not in New York or London, but in Africa and in particular, in Nairobi, where he lives. He decided to return to the mainland to “be here while this hurricane of change happens. For the good, the bad, the ugly.”

Through the act of coming home and his recent coming out with the publication of the Lost Chapter of his novel ‘One Day I will Write About This Place’, titled ‘I am a homosexual, mum’, he has become a real citizen. Involved. Committed with the social and politic environment that surrounds him. Willing to dive into it.

Currently, Wainaina is immersed in his next novel, which will be about what he calls “the African Hurricane”: the political, economic and social situation on the continent, embedded within the larger “hurricane” that is the state of the world. You can follow him on twitter, which he is really into.


Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.



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