Saturday, September 19, 2015

Letting North Africa be African

The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and sometimes Mauritania and Libya) doesn't seem to belong anywhere. Instead of celebrating its invigorating mix of peoples and languages, and the heterogeneity of its cultures, it gets penalized for not being Arab enough, or Middle Eastern enough or in the case of the situation discussed in the article we excerpt below, it's not African enough, an accusation tinged with racial and religious biases. Here is a piece from the Guardian by Iman Amrani on the topic. Enjoy!

Why don’t we think of north Africa as part of Africa?

by Iman Amrani
September 9, 2015

When a Guardian article stated that Chigozie Obioma was the “sole African writer” to be longlisted for the 2015 Booker prize, the journalist in question had clearly forgotten there was life north of the Sahara. Thankfully, the Moroccan-born writer Laila Lalami, who was also longlisted, was quick to remind him, tweeting: “I am African. It’s an identity I’m often denied but that I will always insist upon”.

I know Lalami’s frustration well. Every time I have to declare my ethnicity I am reminded that “black African” is seemingly the only category that exists. Being both Algerian and British, I am constantly explaining why I identify as European and African – as though I’m “choosing” to be African, rather than it simply being a fact.

In politics and academia, north African countries are commonly grouped with the Middle East under the umbrella of MENA. In conferences I have been to on “African” issues, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have often had tokenistic representation, if any at all.

But the identity equation isn’t as simple as Arabic speakers equal Arab people. There are still communities across the Maghreb that speak Berber or Amazigh and a dialect called darija that heavily features French and Spanish phrases. Besides, being Arab isn’t an alternative to being African, or even black. Mauritanians and Sudanese can identify as all three at once.