HOW TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICA / Binyavanga Wainaina / GRANTA 92 / 2005

This essay by Binyavanga Wainaina never fails to crack me up. I have a few excerpts below, but to get the full hilarious jist,  I would highly recommend reading the complete essay ‘How to write about Africa’

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshiped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina, is available to buy here

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