“Africa has been waiting to be discovered with the eyes of a lover.” Ben Okri declares his love to Africa.
Heart-shaped Africa is the feeling centre of the world. Continents are metaphors as much as they are places. And a people are spiritual states of humanity as distinguishable in what they represent as lilies and roses and daffodils.
Have we forgotten what Africa is? Africa is our dreamland, is our spiritual homeland. There is a realm inside every human being that is Africa. We all have an Africa within us. And so when the Africa outside is sick with troubles, the Africa inside us makes us ill with neuroses. The sheer quantity of neuroses, of anorexia, of inexplicable psychic illness in the world is possibly indirectly due to the illness, the troubles in Africa. We have to heal the Africa in us if we are going to be whole again. We have to heal the Africa outside us if the human race is going to be at peace again in a new dynamic way. There is a relationship between the troubles in a people and the troubles in the world, in the atmosphere. The troubles of Africa contribute immensely to the sheer weight and size of world suffering. And this world suffering affects everyone on this planet, affects children and their health, affects our sleep, our anxiety, our unknown suffering; for it is possible to suffer without knowing it.
And so we have to heal our Africa within. We have to re-discover the true Africa, the Africa of laughter, of joy, of originality, of improvisation, the Africa of legend, of story-telling, of playfulness, the Africa of brilliant colours, the Africa of generosity, of hospitality and kindness to strangers, the Africa of immense compassion, the Africa of wisdom, of proverbs, of divination, of paradox, the Africa of ingenuity, and surprise, the Africa of a four-dimensional attitude to time, the Africa of magic, of faith, of patience, of endurance, of a profound knowledge of nature’s ways and the secret cycles of destiny.
We have to re-discover Africa. The first discovery of Africa by Europe was the wrong one. It was not a discovery. It was an act of misperception. They saw, and bequeathed to future ages, an Africa based on what they thought of as important. They did not see Africa. And this wrong seeing of Africa is part of the problems of today. Africa was seen from a point of view of greed, of what could be got from it. And what you see is what you make. What you see in a people is what you eventually create in them. It is now time for a new seeing. It is now time to clear the darkness from the eyes of the Western world.
The world should now begin to see the light in Africa, to see its sunlight, to see its brightness, its brilliance, its beauty. If we see it, it will be revealed. We only see what we see. Only what we see, what we see anew, is revealed to us. Africa has been waiting, for centuries, to be discovered with eyes of love, the eyes of a lover. There is no true seeing without love. We have to learn to love the Africa in us if humanity is going to begin to know true happiness on this earth.
We love the America in us. We love the Europe in us. The Asia in us we are beginning to respect. Only the Africa in us is unloved, unseen, unappreciated. The first step towards the regeneration of humanity is making whole again all these great continents within us. We are the sum total of humanity. Every individual is all of humanity. It is Africa’s turn to smile. That will be the loveliest gift of the 21st century: to make Africa smile again.
Then humanity can begin to think of the universe, even the most remote stars, as its true home.
Ben Okri is a Nigerian writer living in London. His book The Famished Road won the prestigious Booker Prize. Okri is among Africa’s most renowned writers. He wrote this article exclusively for Ode magazine.