Why young Africans didn’t care about the royal wedding. Why they should.
This was a historic moment, but we are not taught about history, especially our own.
As the royal wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry unfolded last month, I was fascinated by the attention it got across Africa. Elites in cities across the continent held champagne and tea parties complete with fancy hats and fascinators. Creatives photoshopped traditional African outfits onto the royal family. Media outlets televised the whole thing. Newspapers’ front pages were covered with photos from the event the next day.
But I realised that not everyone was that interested. On the day of the wedding, I was at a mentoring event with 1,000 young people in Lagos. When I asked them how they felt about missing out on the excitement, their responses were uniform: What relevance does the wedding have for us?
On the one hand, this response was fair enough. Watching the wedding ceremony of two people, one of whom happens to be sixth in line to the British throne, thousands of kilometres is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I was struck by the way in which the historical significance of this moment was lost on Nigeria’s youth too.
For centuries, the British Empire oversaw the brutal transportation of 3.5 million slaves from Africa to the Americas, reshaping the entire globe. For decades, it was Nigeria’s colonial master, rupturing and recasting our entire society. And now, this nation’s royal family was accepting a woman with African roots as one of their own – a fact symbolically emphasised by the role that people of African descent played in the ceremony. But many young Nigerians were unaware or uninterested.
It has now been 58 years since Nigerians fought for and obtained independence from the United Kingdom. However, the legacy of our colonial past continues to resonate in our political, social and economic realities today. It will take much reckoning to fully understand and unpack the myriad complex forms this has taken. Yet until earlier this year, history was not even taught in our public schools. The majority of our youth are unfamiliar with the iniquities of slavery and colonialism, and of the triumph of independence.
The tragedy of this ignorance also has a troubling parallel. Young Nigerians – and in fact, Africans more broadly – do not know about other parts of our history either. We are not taught about Timbuktu, Great Zimbabwe, and the kingdoms of Benin or Ife. We do not learn about the Ghana, Songhai and Mali Empires or about the Sokoto Caliphate. Many of us may never hear the name of Mansa Musa, one of the richest men of all time.
There are very few national or regional museums in Africa to celebrate our history and culture. Meanwhile, many of our treasured relics are locked in the British Museum or among the collections of former colonial families.
This means that the continent’s many contributions to global civilisation are ignored in Africa itself – let alone the rest of the world – allowing the concept of the “dark continent” to perpetuate even among ourselves.
Fortunately, there are some initiatives aimed at changing this and giving young African a strong sense of identity and self-worth. South African History Online (SAHO), a non-profit based in Cape Town, provides resources for teachers and learners for grades 4 through 12. In Mali, UNESCO is working with the government to restore mausoleums and 300,000 manuscripts from Timbuktu destroyed over time. In south-eastern Nigeria, the Centre for Memories, which I helped establish, organises activities and events series for young people to celebrate their history and culture.
The Centre’s first exhibition celebrated the Igbo people and their amazing contributions to politics, law, medicine, sports, the arts, literature, film, business and religion. I saw young visitors often overwhelmed as they learnt for the first time about their ancestors – kings and queens in their own right, who achieved great feats and left behind incredible legacies.
This experience showed that young African have an immense appetite for history and culture. They want and need to know about their pasts, both those chapters to be mourned and those to be celebrated. Filling this gap will require considerable efforts from non-profits as well as the formal education system, which should embrace a full history curriculum from the primary through to secondary school.
Many of us in Africa were unmoved by the prospect of watching the wedding celebrations of a distant family. That’s completely reasonable. What’s less so is that many of us, particularly our young, are simply unaware of how closely our history and present is intertwined with theirs. By embracing our past, we are emboldened to work to build a bright and shared future, in which we all have a place and critical role to play.
My understanding may be construed and seen to be bias but this wedding was not at all a home coming celebratory factor for a number of youths in our African homesteads because;
a) How do we celebrate a wedding in which the royal family spends 6 million pounds to feed a hand ful of people when Africa is walloping in abject poverty.
b) We youths are never mesmerized by an exchange of vows , we have other better things to do especially on that thoughtful righteous Saturday when we have to hustle for money to feed our families.
c) Just as the whites for see us Africans as a an unprivileged race.What importance would watching a wedding where a handful of African Americans and British Africans attend.
Finally and not the least its a good move that Prince Henry has played in almagating us Africans with other Africans of questionable decent like Megan.
Interesting article. Initially I thought the piece was on the wedding. You raise an interesting point about the poor historical resources in the Continent and lack of museums.
I took it for granted that I would visit museum stuffed with African artefacts when I made visit to continent in 1981. Sadly I could see far more artefacts in Britain’s museums.
The historic Diaspora seems more interested in African history, sometimes to the detriment of learning about anything else. I am very interested in your initiatives and work with young people.
This is one very confused article.
@Benedict Wachira, I thought so too and what makes that even more strange is that the author is a great communicator on most days. But to the topic itself, I found the excitement about the Harry and Meghan wedding something of an irritating distraction. No offence to those two very genuine and beautiful people. But the whole media thing (even online) was a layer or two too thick.
The United Kingdom is going through a lot at this time and I bet certain quarters of the home community simply couldn’t be bothered about the wedding. They were just too busy getting stuff done.
However, the author’s point about the lack of awareness of the role of colonial Britain in the not very impressive outcome of some of her former subjects is very relevant. The question is, what to gain from digging into murky history at this point? Maybe at least the young educated population of the commonwealth nations become less critical and disparaging about their home countries as they realise that some of the backwardness and stunted growth they loathe was actually caused by the actions of a nation they like to hold up as a standard of first world development. Maybe also understanding some of the methodologies of racial division, suppression and disenfranchisement used by the former colonial master to suppress its colonies, might give them insights into reverse methodologies that might just unleash the long delayed potential of these yet to emerge nations, including Nigeria.
I beleeve that the royal wedddings is a wayst of tyme.
I appreciate your writing and I must salute you for the work you are doing to ensure our history is taught. And I absolutely agree with you that our history needs to be taught.
However, I disagree that we should care about the royal wedding beyond the entertainment that it provides.
You say: “And now, this nation’s royal family was accepting a woman with African roots as one of their own – a fact symbolically emphasised by the role that people of African descent played in the ceremony. But many young Nigerians were unaware or uninterested.”
Within the context of slavery, the statement in quotes above portrays black people as an abused child desperately longing for his parent’s acceptance. Yes, we were taken advantage of and abused. No, we do not need anyone’s validation and acceptance as human equals. It should not be a big deal to us that the British royal family ‘accepted’ a black woman into their family. There is nothing to ‘accept’. For emphasis, I will state again that WE ARE HUMAN EQUALS.
Meghan’s marital fortune is her private fortune, not a cause for celebration for black people all over the world.
And it my opinion the royal wedding has nothing to do with the teaching of history in Nigeria and Africa.
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