Don’t be so nervous

By Mthobeli Ngcongo

The state of affairs both socially and economically following the administrative end of racialized forms of segregation in Africa remains a point of great contention. While some uncritically celebrate the changes that have resulted in the ‘post-colonial’ era, not everyone is sold on this proposition. Tsitsi Dangarembga is one of many voices who have called for a re-examination of the socio-political milieu in post liberated Africa. She adopts the concept neo colonial rather than ‘post-colonial’ to describe the current set of circumstances we find ourselves in. By neo colonial she seeks to capture the sense that colonialism has not in reality ended but continues on in a different form. The effects of colonialism according to Dangarembga, continue to linger on in very nuanced and tangible ways. She calls these effects nervous conditions.

The imploding nation state shares a dialectical relationship with the erosion of authentic personhood. The dawn of the new democratic African countries was more dystopian than thought, in that the new form of governance was as equally self-serving as the old order. In the absence of voices to challenge this failure, what resulted was disintegration of any meaningful change. Dangarembga points to ignorance, trauma and a sense of powerlessness as culprits of this failing. The ignorance she highlights is that caused by the control in the flow of information by the government to the people regarding matters of national importance. This then allows the governments to construct whatever narrative about itself in the public sphere.

Trauma caused mainly by colonial and present violence manifests itself in forms of mental illness as well as emotional maladjustment. This in turn affects social relations among people as those who are traumatized act out in destructive ways toward themselves and others. The final issue of powerlessness results in citizens living vicariously in powerful ways through an omnipotent elected leader. By giving support to a leader who can exert power, even through tyrannical means, those who have a sense of powerlessness can themselves feel a sense of power through the actions of their chosen leader.

Dangarembga does offer some hope to paint over the grey brushstrokes of nervous conditions. The products of the creative economy are presented as ways in which citizens can recapture the narrative of personhood in sense and in another sense as constructive outlets for nervous conditions. Although previously not seen as an important outlet, the success of movies such a Black Panther has shown the potential of creative products to shape discourse. By investing into the creative economy, the neo-colonial order can be disrupted. This is because ideas can be disseminated into groups about the kind of image that Africa wants to portray about itself. We can not only tell our own story but find catharsis as we do so.

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