Mother Africa

I wrote this a long time ago, and recently rediscovered it. I’ll resist the urge to edit, as well as the urge to add commentary, and just reproduce it as I found it, written on yellow notebook paper from long ago.


I want to tell you about my mother. Her name is Africa. Perhaps I don’t look like her; indeed I have many brothers who do not resemble me. And there are many who claim to be her children who never met her. Many who claim to be her lovers who never slept with her. Many who write her love songs, but have never heard her sing.

She used to sing to me, as I fell towards sleep. Sometimes in the deep voice of the bullfrog, while the owl sang tenor. Sometimes the throb of the KR train on the tracks down the hill. And I remember that night, high on mount Kenya, when she sang to me – a beautiful sound. A sound that millions will live and die, having never once heard. The sound of total, uninterrupted, silence.

To the world, her name is Africa, and her face is black. To her children, she has many names, and many faces.

Her name is Congo, with the richest soil on earth, but where the people starve, because tilling the soil is not a noble profession. She is also called Sahara, where nothing grows, but the sheikhs can live like kings because of oil.

Her name is Cairo, an ancient city which has prospered for thousands of years, and produced great thinkers, rulers, and artists. Her name is Soweto, created in prejudice, governed by opression, but producing men who changed their world.

She is called Dar es Salam – the city of peace – and Bulowayo – the place of killing.

Some remember her as Shimoni, where her children became property, some as Liberia, where those same people became rulers again.

Her children are as diverse as her names: Haille Selasse. Shaka Zulu. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Idi Amin. Steven Biko. David Livingston. Tut Ankh Amon. Myself. And perhaps you … perhaps not.

She cannot be trusted, or predicted. She is always a mystery, even to those who know her. But though we have been apart for many years, I am still her child, and I will always love her.