As usual, something happens on the internet and someone tweets about it and I say to myself, ‘that would make a great blog post topic’.
I believe this is related to something Beyonce did or will be doing soon with Disney, but I’m not really a fan or a follower and I do not know anything significant about her work, so I will not comment on that. I’m here to have fun with different (but maybe similar?) arguments.
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘Wakanda’, allow me to direct you to Marvel’s Black Panther film from 2018. A majority of the film is set in the fictional East African kingdom of Wakanda. Wakanda is exactly what the “Africa isn’t what you think it is” crew try to portray when they tell you that Africa isn’t what you think it is. It’s an African country that is still in touch with its roots because unlike others, it was never colonized. Wakanda still has poweful monarchies with political power and best of all, they figured out a way to use their most precious resource, the metal Vibranium, for their benefit. Wakanda’s technological capability is top in the Marvel universe. It is indeed a pan-Africanist’s fantasy, but that’s all that it is: a fantasy.
Black Panther came out, many of us (people of African descent) hyped it up, it got an Oscar nomination (which it did not deserve, in MY opinion) and a few of its elements, like the “Wakanda Forever” salute made its way into mainstream media through hashtags, dances and memes. But something about the film lingered and I think it has stayed with us for too long.
I remember going to Kigali, Rwanda in August 2018 and hearing someone call Rwanda ‘Rwakanda’. The nickname ‘Rwakanda’ was given to Rwanda because it’s said to be a hopeful African country. The cities are clean, things work (allegedly, I don’t know much to have a say on this) and several other progresses that have been made in the country, which are truly remarkable considering its recent history. The adoption of the nickname ‘Rwakanda’, even though not meant to be taken seriously, represents the wakandafication of real places in Africa by Africans (and others) in order to prove to the world that we are worthy of respect. It mirrors the common “we had kings and queens, we had great architecture…before European colonialism” narrative. This narrative tends to overromanticize pre-colonial Africa and glorify things which none of us actually know about very well. For instance, African societies didn’t just have monarchies, we still have them. They too are royal families with titles, but mostly without political power like many other royal families in European countries. The reason why we don’t hear about the African ones is the same reason why we want to prove that they once existed.
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote what I’m trying to say better:
I do not see that it is necessary for any people to prove to another that they build cathedrals or pyramids before they can be entitled to peace and safety. Flowing from that, I do not believe that black people should invent a great fictitious past in order to justify their human existence and dignity today.Chinua Achebe. Also included in Africa Is a Country‘s post Beyoncé and the Heart of Darkness
It’s almost as if we only want to be associated with Africa, or bring Africa to non-African spaces, if it is presented in a colonialism-never-happened-kinda-way. Wakandafication ignores the bad stuff, and reality. A good example is how conversations of ‘Rwakanda’ rarely acknowledge the authoritarian rule in Rwanda. And for the democracy-doesn’t-work-in-Africa party, the ability to speak does not make you smart. It does, and it should.
Wakandafication of Africa is the selection of desirable fictitious and real cultural elements, and their presentation in mainstream media as African and not as parts of different cultures in the continent. Wakandafication perpetuates the misconception of Africa as a country with a homogenuous culture and capitalizes on the pan-African idea that Africa is or should be one.
Africa was never cool until Black Panther. Sometimes I think it still isn’t cool because most of what Africa is presented to be in mainstream media is just select unrelated elements of different African cultures that seem to give the idea that Africa is where it’s at, even though that is not true. (You may refer to a previous article I wrote on a similar topic). African countries, as they are, are not seen as desirable. Africa as a whole is, but only when given to the consumer in a way that makes them feel good about themselves; after wakandafication.
Spirits, made-up rituals, lions, the savannah plains, rare minerals, etc. These are some of the things that make the cut during wakandafication. If we looked in a bit deeper we would know that spirits are not considered good in many parts of Africa because of their connection to witchcraft, which was never embraced in pre-colonial times, contrary to what some Twitter threads might try to tell you. In my tribe, for example, witches were explicitly bad because of their ability to cause harm to others, and that’s not on European colonialism. Some rituals like the one presented in Black Panther are just made-up and they are meant to be consumed as works of art and not to be brought into the real world as “our roots”. There were rituals before, but most of us don’t even know what they were, some of us don’t care to be honest, and it’s not anyone’s job to create new ones. Lions are being killed by poachers, read the news. The savannah plains are just the savannah plains and animals live there. Most are conservation spaces. Do they look good? Yes, but it’s very important to know the racist colonial history of these places. Rare minerals have become causes of human rights abuses, fraud and other crimes. I’m just trying to show what’s real.
So, dear reader, things are not how we want them to be. I would love it if there was an African country as advanced as Wakanda. I respect the art that created Wakanda, but I will no longer participate in wakandafication and I hope you won’t either.