Hey! So so stoked to have you here.
I'm Mariam Baldeh. I'm from The Gambia, a quaint little country in West Africa aptly nicknamed "The Smiling Coast of Africa," and Senegal, motherland of the dish to rule all dishes (yes, Jollof Rice or as we call it, Benachin or Thieb. Have a seat, Nigeria and Ghana. Don't mistake our Senegalese humility for weakness; WE WILL CRUSH YOU IN A JOLLOF-OFF!)
I was raised by the kindest father and an inspiring mother who's worked for UNICEF for over 25 years, so naturally I grew up country-hopping around Africa every two years. I was about six when we left The Gambia for Eritrea, then Rwanda, then Zimbabwe. There were summer holidays to visit family and family friends in South Africa, Namibia (including a one-day drive to Botswana), Sudan, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. After Zim, I was shipped off to boarding school in Kenya, before eventually moving to Canada to pursue my undergrad and master's degree in journalism.
I've since moved back to Kenya and although various factors influenced this decision, one of the biggest pulls was my almost nauseating love for this continent, which I hope to capture in this blog. To be honest, this blog was born out of frustration. Frustration at the imbalance of reporting about the continent. Frustration at hearing Africans self-denigrate and deny their own brilliance. Frustration at the ubiquitous projection of an Africa that doesn't always feel familiar or reflect what I see. Frustration at the deliberate erasure and rewriting of a history that is and always has been ours to claim; peel back the white-washed layers far enough and you'll see the truth laid out before your eyes, literally hiding in plain sight.
Plenty of studies have shown that so much of the damaging ways in which Africa has been reported on for centuries remains the same. Coverage of the continent still has us swimming in the 3 C's - crisis, conflict, and corruption - and the 3 D's - disease, drought, and dependency. Yes, these are all unfortunate realities on the continent. Yes, these issues require attention. Yet when you think of the American continent, for instance, somehow the words "American dream," "land of opportunity," and "multiculturalism" float to the surface despite the mass shootings, mass incarceration, white supremacist terrorists, historic and present day oppression, horrific treatment of Indigenous people, police brutality, bombings, severe hurricanes and floods, serial killers, epidemic of drug addictions and overdoses, mental health crises and high suicide rates, violence against women, and extreme wealth gaps that have the impoverished living in macabre conditions. You also don't automatically assume a drought in Belgium means starvation in Hungary, or that a coup in Cuba means corrupt government in Chile, or that an extremist attack in Russia means mayhem in Malaysia.
The way our continent is reported on, you could ALMOST be forgiven for thinking that Africa is a country with three cities: Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. And if it's not these three countries saturating coverage, it's the usual "combative siblings," the often conflated Congos, Sudans, and Somalias; the countries that feed white fantasies about unruly tribalistic Africans. How often do we hear about the other "shit-hole countries" Gabon? Togo? Guinea? Guinea-Bissau? Chad? Botswana? Burundi? Madagascar?
We are constantly being sold the lie of African underachievement and incompetence and we eat it up and regurgitate it like parrots. Her Excellency Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie articulated this brilliantly in her now infamous TED Talk (if you're just emerging from a decade-long hibernation, you can watch it here. You're welcome). By now, it's almost cliché to have to say this but many stories do matter. Adichie explains that single stories about people and places create stereotypes, which may not be untrue but are incomplete. They turn one story into the only story and we know a half-truth is a half-lie. She adds that "stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity."
We need better, more accurate and proportional stories about the African continent. We currently just do not have this and even if we did, it wouldn't be nearly enough to do justice to the depth of this continent. We deserve representation that we can be proud of, and as the stakeholders, we are the ones best equipped to frame the photos we want to see.
My mission for this blog is to attempt to repair Africa's broken dignity and to do my part as a writer in the richer telling of our continent's story; not only for how we're perceived in the global imagination, but most importantly for how we respect and revere ourselves and those who look like us, in this generation and future ones. Knowing the TRUTH about who we are is liberating, empowering, and it ignites something profound in us.
As far as I'm concerned, Africa is the most magical land on earth. My hope is that in this blog, we'll learn together, feel less alone in our thoughts and experiences, feel a deeper sense of pride in our African identity and rich heritage, and feel inspired to use whatever gift God/ the universe has bestowed upon us to contribute to the world in each of our own unique ways. I'll share my fiction writing, my opinions, analysis, news articles and more relating to the continent.
Ultimately, as Aunty J. Nozipo Maraire writes, our stories are safest in our own hands and we don't need anyone's permission to create the kind of spaces we want to see more of. This is my space. I hope it can be yours too.