Best Commentary


Kaptain Afrika: A Call to Serve

By Ngozi O. Onuoha
City College of New York

It was not too long ago when a group of African Student Union members and I gathered around a composition notebook to share ideas for a show. Classes were done, night had fallen, but excitement kept our mouths moving and our adrenaline pumping.

What were we discussing? Africa. More specifically, we shared ideas for our first fashion show. Our goal was to provide a platform for young African designers and, in the process, change the City College student body’s perception of the continent. This desire carried us over the challenges that followed, into the day of the event and past the show’s success.

A few days after the show, our headlining designer, Jeffrey Kimathi, sent out a video via Facebook. In the video, Kimathi shared a concept for a campaign inspired by a shirt in his Jamhuri Wear collection. The shirt displayed a large “A” for Africa and the photo shoot concept revolved around an African superhero named simply “Kaptain Afrika.”

“It’s about giving the power to the kids,” said Kimathi. “’cause you know people like Amilcar Cabral, Dedan Kimathi, Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Mandela, we need more of those heroes.”

Nearly two years later, I watched the video in the comfort of my living room but amidst news reports of turbulent post-election riots, ethnic cleansing, revolutions and fiery protests. I shuffled through webpage tabs with stories of young people fighting for their futures as they lose friends and family members to the violence of freedom and the issues that provoked them to fight. I heard the call for an African hero that possessed the strength of the continent’s history – quite possibly, Mandela’s intellect, Nkrumah’s diligence and Kimathi’s courage – and I recognized the need for change.

Now, more than ever, Africa needs to be saved. It seems we are approaching a moment that will define the future of the continent. The images of Africa fed to us by mainstream media are showing young people in action – a reaction to the older generation’s decisions. I often talk to my friends about “this generation” and the power we possess as citizens of a modern global society. I am not naïve enough to believe we will be the generation to change the image of Africa.

In the “Kaptain Afrika” campaign video, there was an African photographer capturing an African model bring to life the idea of an African designer. The key here is teamwork. Africa will progress, but it will take more than one person’s, faith, dreams and efforts. Face2Face Africa is just an example of what we can do when we work together for the good of our motherland.

This is not a plea for bags of rice to be sent to the Red Cross or for money to be donated to Save the Children. It is a call for African action. The truth is, Africa does not need a superhero because it has heroes that are super. Every African is given the power from birth. It is our blood. The stories of our history give us strength and our musicians provide the theme songs as we wear kinte and Ankara capes that flap in a cool, calm wind.

While that may be a cartoonish depiction of an African superhero, our weakness is serious and simple. What is our kryptonite?  Greed. It is what has kept politicians from changing the conditions of continent’s people, keeping water from house sinks, light from bedroom lamps and healthcare services from mothers preparing to give birth.

More than ever, Africa needs its children’s help. If the actions of young people in Libya, Côte D’Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Gabon have not moved you to change, then perhaps this will. This is my call to save.

 

NOTE: The “Kaptain Afrika” video is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY787RauD7Q