I like to begin with definitions.
An African gatekeeper is an important intermediary between the kind white world of saviours and Africa enthusiasts on the one hand and Africans on the other. You might think, why do you need an intermediary? That is a good question. Let’s just say Africa is a big, complicated place - a minefield for otherwise well-meaning foreigners who want to help but may end up being accused of racism or ignorance. The answer to this question will become clearer as I explain the reasons why Africa needs gatekeepers.
1. White people shouldn't have to deal with all of Africa.
Like I said, Africa is complicated. It can get confusing for the well meaning white person who wants to assist poor Africans, whether they are orphans or struggling writers. You need a knowledgeable African who can help select deserving Africans for foreign assistance, from grants to fellowships. It is like when you go to a new country and head to the fruit market. There will be fruits you have never seen and want to try. Because you have never had the fruit before, you need a local to help you pick the good, ripe ones.
2. Africans need order, someone to set agenda.
I can say this because I am African: sometimes we need people to put us in line. Look at Nigeria, the largest African country. The most popular candidate in the presidential elections due on March 28, is General Muhammadu Buhari, who, as dictator in 1984, declared a war against indiscipline and forced people to stand in orderly queues. When he left, we all went back to fighting at bus stops. So, yes, we need smart Africans who can set the agenda for us all and tell us what new thing we should be doing, fighting or talking about. An African gatekeeper writes nice articles about what Africans should be doing with their lives.
3. Someone needs to determine the validity of African ideas and identities
It is important that we have Africans who can curate African ideas and shoot down unintelligent anti-African ideas. Because sometimes we have these rogue Africans around the world who come up with weird ideas about Africa and about who they think they are. Like when someone African who has a foreign passport decides to call themselves Afropolitan. The duty of the African gatekeeper is to tell the misguided African why it is not up to them to determine their own identity. African gatekeepers know these things.
4. Someone needs to protect Africa from ignorant white people who try to get cheap glory.
Sometimes foreigners think they can just come into Africa and help people. The job of the African gatekeeper is to make sure ignorant white people are mobbed and humiliated until they come to their senses. Like that white boy, Jason Russell, from California who tried to catch the Ugandan rebel leader, Kony without knowing anything about the local context. God bless African gatekeepers. In the end he had a public breakdown and was even hospitalised for psychiatric evaluation.
5. Someone needs to protect Africa from ignorant black people who try to make Africa look bad.
Sometimes you find some Africans writing about the things which make white people think we all need charity. Like poverty, wars and shit like that. Traitors. People who spend time writing novels and stories about African suffering, as if they missed the memo about the continent rising. An African gatekeeper denounces such people, because it is important to have one unified image of what Africa is, what it really is like: the bright lights, azonto music, lively bright-eyed people, intellectuals arguing in beer gardens, great safe sex, flourishing businesses, fantastic internet connection, Skype calls…all that shit. That glorious Africa.
Now, you might as a white person who loves Africa and doesn't want to get in trouble with these African gatekeepers who set the agenda ask, how do I engage with the minefield that is Africa? I have tips for you good white people:
1. Good white people do not argue with African gatekeepers.
Especially on Twitter, when an African gatekeeper tweets something you do not agree with, do not go down that foolish path where you challenge or argue with them. You can’t win. A good white person retweets an African gatekeeper.
2. Good white people do not intervene when two African gatekeepers argue.
When two African gatekeepers argue about something integral to African identity or race or hair or even whether croaker is better than catfish, a good white person stays away. Very far away. Because it is a trap. If this happens on Twitter, favourite the tweets of both gatekeepers to show you are loyal to them both (and ultimately to Africa) without taking sides.
3. Good white people can handle criticism.
When an African gatekeeper gets upset or criticises white people, especially after being treated badly at an airport or embassy, never, ever try to defend white people. A good white person shows solidarity with an African gatekeeper and apologises for the actions of other white people. Empathise. Retweet the criticism. It shows you are not racist.
4. Good white people take photos with African children.
It is important to pose with black children and use those photos on social media. Nothing says you love Africa, like a photo of you with a black child wearing an oversized T-shirt. But be careful. African gatekeepers get suspicious when you have too many of those type of photos. One on your profile is enough.
5. Good white people support African products.
You know those cheap African fabrics and African arts, crafts and jewellery? Most of them are made in China, sabotaging the local industries. Always make sure your African fabric and Afrocrap is made in Africa. Mention to your African gatekeeper friend that you know the difference between the shit made in China and the ones made in Africa. Say how Chinese counterfeiters destroy African businesses. They will respect you. And who knows, one day, they may even come to love you.
Now wouldn’t that be grand?
Now wouldn’t that be grand?