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#184 Satirical posts about how not to write about Africa (and other places and things)

November 26, 2012

Submitted by Rowan Emslie who blogs at UpLook and tweets via @RowanEmslie

Satire is the highest form of mockery which, as we all know, is the sincerest form of flattery. People might not realise that you’re doing them a favour with your aggressive attack on their work and opinions. Don’t let that put you off.

Don’t let yourself finish five hundred words without making a snarky reference to foreign correspondents. Find ways to refer to Europe like Europeans refer to Africa. Reference how many languages there might be are in continental Africa (choose a very specific number between two and three thousand). Impress on your readers that journalists in ‘Africa’ are doomed to fail unless they cooperate with local press. Breeze over how many problems this is likely to entail.

Mock the use of meaningless, fashionable buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’. Deride the use of meaningful, fashionable buzzwords like ‘middle class’, ‘technology’ or ‘investment’. Laugh endlessly at anyone’s foolish use of geographical place names in the continent of Africa – everybody knows that if you’re talking about the ‘Nile’ or ‘Africa’ you’re basically an ignorant racist.

Write in short sentences. It’s punchy and to the point. Reading your essay is like a boxing match. Except there’s only one combatant. The staccato is arresting but needs to be mixed up. The occasional longer sentence will grab the reader and their lazy stereotypes before you pummel those stereotypes with some hardcore perspective. Go back to short sentences. It makes all your opinions look more like facts.

Always attack sweeping generalisations. This is by far the most important rule for writing about writing about Africa, regardless of the specific context you are tackling. The next most important rule is to make as many sweeping generalisations as possible. All readers respond well to both hyperbole and hypocritical rhetoric.

Repeat conventional style and structure. This is a format that people know and love, why on earth would you want to change that? That Wainaina essay in Granta was amazing and so popular, just copy that. Sure, the style was original and unusual but that isn’t why it was so widely read. It was because it told people to do things. You could tell them to not be as idiotic as they were. If you keep writing these, someday everyone will be almost as smart as you. Almost.

Choose some easy targets like Bob Geldof and Bono. Who doesn’t hate those guys? Accuse them of ruining aid, development, trade, charity, music. Whatever. They’re made out of glue: basically anything you throw at them will stick. Before people think you’re being too obvious or zeitgeisty switch up your attack to someone like Tony Blair or Paul Kagame. This shows you have an awareness of both popular and political culture discourse. This will reinforce the reader’s suspicion that you are better than them in every way. Readers like to feel useless and stupid.

Now you’ve gotten started there are so many other actors to call out. Aid workers, peacekeepers, doctors without borders, engineers, human rights workers – especially human rights workers, the pie-in-the-sky lunatics – none of them deserve any of the approbation they get. Highlight the bad, ignore the good. Draw strict parallels between worst practices and the entire industry you’re attacking. There are no shades of grey when it comes to your fury. There isn’t even black and white, there is only catastrophe.

Swing your lens towards analysts. Accuse every other commentator of myopic viewpoints. Point out obvious limitations of the ‘Western’ view of Africa without defining what that means. Scream ‘why isn’t anyone else saying this!?’ at the heavens. Ignore anyone else saying anything.

End your essay with your lip-curled with contempt. You wish you could take everyone’s misconceptions away forever but you know it’ll never be. Continue fighting the good fight, regardless of reward. Hope to hell you don’t get asked to come up with any solutions to the issues you’ve highlighted.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    November 26, 2012 7:34 am

    zomg the awesomeness!!

  2. November 28, 2012 1:33 am

    Brilliant! Thanks

  3. Alan permalink
    January 26, 2013 4:00 am

    I’m South African and I’m so gatvol (great word – look it up) of the cliche-ridden journalism and fiction that passes for much of our literature and art.. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone from one of the other 50-odd African countries which are largely blurred into one.

    Oh, wait, I just realised I’m writing about writing about Africa. I think I’ll just go and be quiet now…


  1. How To Write About Writing About Africa | UpLook

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