African Literature, Stereotypes and “The danger of a single story”

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a motivating and insightful speech on TEDtalks, not so long ago. We warmly invite you to listen to her, as she talks about “The danger of a single story” – in many ways relating to The Single Story about Africa – with strong examples from different historical angles that would also be able to talk for themselves as they are narrated. However, as Chimamanda puts them into her own perspective they become a call for us all to open up.

In her final statement she calles upon us with the following:

When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is NEVER a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

Together with her publisher and others, Chimamanda runs the NGO Farafina Trust to fulfill their dream of building libraries and refurbish libraries that already exist as well as providing books to state schools. They are also offering workshops and courses in reading and writing for the people to share their many stories. Farafina Trust is presently structured around 5 programs: 1) The literary Skills Enhancement Programme; 2) The Public Schools Library/Book Programme; 3)The Editors’ Exchange Programme; 4) The Online Literary platform; and 5) Publication and Circulation of Farafina Magazine. Find out more on their website at

[The following is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about Chimamanda]

Chimamanda’s Perspective On Africa

The context of Chimamanda’s lectures is centered on the uni-dimensional western view and image of Africa. Programs about Africa such as CNN’s Inside Africa and those produced and broadcasted on BBC portray Africa as perverse to the rest of the world. It appears that Western media knew and value Africa’s gold, ivory and other precious mineral resources such as oil, platinum etc, but the continent’s people remains a perverse and hollow of anything worthy of substance just wars, ethnic cleansing and starvation on a large scale. That is a view that generally make up the western mind guided by the old age European view of Africa that “Africans have strange customs” and are believed “to be monsters, with souls as black as their skin”.

That “Africans cook and eat each other, give birth in litters, like dogs, and sometimes do not even look like the rest of the human race”. The key message is that social order is a steep ladder of racial virtue, with white people on the topmost rung and black people down at the bottom. Hence British scholar Henry Drummond after his visit to East Africa remarked substantially: “It is a wonderful feeling to look at this weird world of human beings – half animal, half children, wholly savage. It is an education to look at them”.

The key underground subliminal theme of CNN (Inside Africa program in particular) and BBC is that: Africans are just savages, inferior beings, and had always been that way and will continue to be this way.There is nothing about being African only trouble.

Chimamanda disagrees with these long established ideas and argues that Africa and its people have had a long and lively history, and have made an impressive contribution to mankind’s general mastery of the world. They have created cultures and civilizations, evolved systems of government and systems of thought, and pursued the inner life of the spirit with a consuming passion.

One thought on “African Literature, Stereotypes and “The danger of a single story”

  1. Pingback: African Literature, Stereotypes and “The danger of a single story”, (via africanperspectivesblog) | Friends of the National Library of South Africa

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