Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam (better known as Akon), Senegalese-American five-time Grammy nominee, recording artist, singer, songwriter, political activist, and entrepreneur, recently spoke about economic and racial inequality in America and the importance of Pan-Africa.
In an interview with reporter Folly Bah Thibault of the Al Jazeera broadcasting network, Akon posed an argument that as African Americans living in the U.S. we should return to Africa. He boldly states, “I’m in the position where I have experienced Africa, and I’ve experienced the United States.” Akon can proudly say this since he was born in St. Louis, Missouri and then later moved to Senegal. He lived there until he was 7 years old before moving back to the United States.
Akon strongly believes that Pan Africanism will help both African Americans and Africans prosper. Pan Africanism calls for people of African descent to unite both as a continent and as a people. It explores nationalism, independence, political and economic cooperation and historical and cultural awareness.
“The system in America was never built for black people,” rapper Akon told reporter Thibault in a 2015 interview. He went on to say, “I don’t believe it was ever built for black people because the system has never been changed; those documents (the Constitution) have never been altered. These things were made back in the umpteen hundreds, and these are the same exact literature that’s down today. Black people were never in a position where they were looked at as equal, so if it’s the same documents that they are applying today, it wasn’t meant for them.”
A similar mindset like this began with Pan Africanism thought leader Marcus Garvey. This way of thinking was termed the “Back to Africa” mindset. Garvey believed that people from all over the world of African descent should come together and form their own government in their native land. Garvey thought there was no way a person of African descent could enjoy economic, social or political freedom and advancement as long as a white government was in control.
Later in his interview with reporter Thibault, Akon said, “I always felt like Africa was for Africans. When I see African Americans in America dealing with all these issues (police brutality, hate crimes, discrimination, etc.), my first question is: ‘Why don’t they just go back home’ back to Africa where they’ll be treated fairly? Where they’ll actually be praised for who they are, because of the fact that they are American. They’ll get way better treatment; they can invest their money in Africa.”
However, some African Americans know nothing about Africa, and the popular view of Africa is widely negative because the media constantly portrays Africa as the land of poverty and disease.
We are constantly bombarded with images of starving children, AIDS and disease outbreaks like Ebola, in American media. In fact, CNN produced a story about two young Kenyan boys whose family is forced to work delivering goats to a slaughterhouse for less than a penny per goat. “Between May and September 2010, the ten most-read U.S. newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioned gross domestic product growth,” according to Columbia Journalism Review. The Media constantly portrays the continent of Africa as unclean and impoverished.
According to Columbia Journalism, international aid groups like United Nations agencies present Africa as gloomy and impoverished to attract funding. In 2014, the Ebola virus was one of the biggest, on-going news stories of the year. There was a constant fear of catching the virus and also of African immigrants because of the media portraying Africa as an underdeveloped continent with terrible health care and because Ebola is a highly contagious disease when not properly treated. On Fox News, Andrea Tantaros parroted the idea that African countries “do not believe in traditional medical care” and that residents might “seek treatment from a witch doctor that practices santería.” Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) suggested we should fear migrants because they might carry “deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, etc…”
But that’s not Africa’s story. Africa’s 54 diverse countries are rich with economic opportunity. “The Economist” reported that in the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were African nations. The media makes Africa seem like a mysterious and terrible place, when it is actually rich in natural resources and full of historic beauty.