Africa / Ghana

Identity Paradox

Having been back home in Ghana, doing community service work and touring Ghana with a group of foreign students from Yale, I realize that I have been plagued by a certain paradox lately, and at this very moment I think I can give articulating my sentiments precisely a shot. Here go my personal musings …

I claim to love Africa but I don’t know it enough. I claim to love being African, but I haven’t experienced it enough. I claim Africa as my home, when in reality, I haven’t even been to or explored as many African countries as other countries I have explored in different continents. Hell, I don’t even know the ins and outs of my own nation. I haven’t even explored all 10 regions of Ghana in depth/detail or know the ins and outs of Accra/Tema. It’s a painful reality.

And I say this with all sincerity, and not to sell myself short or undermine my credibility as Ghanaian. In fact, over the course of the foreign students’ stay here, I realized how deeply I knew my country’s history and culture, much to the surprise of other Ghanaians I was with (including tour guides, lecturers, etc.) …and again, I say this in all humility. However, I get this nudging feeling it is not enough…perhaps this might very well be the human paradox of not being ever fully satisfied…

I know all Paris’s 20 arrondissements like the palm of my hand from just a month’s stay there, and took all the métro lines to get around alone. I remember clearly what the interior of Napoleon’s tomb looks like. but can’t remember the last time I entered the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. I will tell you which lines to take to get around with the London subway – perhaps with a few of errors. I have actively visited and stayed (short/long stays) in nineteen (19) US States. By the end of this year, I would have explored my fair share of North America, South America, Europe, borders of Asia and the Middle East. And what about Africa? I have no idea what the countries that neighbor Ghana look like. I have been to only 2 African countries in my entire life (hopefully, according to plan, it will be 3 by the end of this

I must rectify this if I ever have the opportunity to, because living with this paradox, makes everything I stand for in my “Africaness” seem whimsical/unreal.

“Am I being too hard on myself?”, I ask. “Am I being impatient, unrealistic, wishful?”

I mean, am I basing my identity on “how well travelled” one ought to be? Has every American been to all 50 states? Is that necessarily what makes them American?

Of a truth, going to all of these places stands a chance of being more idealistic than practical. Being well-versed in all African affairs seems like “taking it too hard on yourself”, rather than embracing “the fact that you can never know it all”.

But I guess I am scribbling my reflections here to question how one ever comes to terms with being called “an expert” in any given field, “an expert” on any given region of the world, “an expert on any given issue”? From my vantage point, a lot of things seem untenable, but I have been made to believe that you let the imagination ran wild, and by that I mean … just letting it lead the way , just letting the capacities of out imaginations perhaps show us what we are truly capable of, just letting it reveal to us who and what we are truly made of.

There are many questions to be asked, many answers to be sought. Perhaps it isn’t a requirement for every living human being on Earth, but definitely worth the thought.

Perhaps these are misplaced passions, but who knows what they will yield? We may never know now, but I am convinced that this fiery flame of passion has the potential to yield results that will one day surprise me. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Identity Paradox

  1. Metty – you sound like the child of Ghanaian parents who grew up in Europe and the US, correct? Is it really so important to identify ourselves as being from one country, and one country only? Out of a sense of patriotrism? Need for Belonging? Having lived on three continents and travelled in over 30 countries, I identify myself as an international citizen. My own daughter could have three different passports based on her parents’ heritage and having been born in the US.
    I particularly admire people who can cross cultures and become cultural mediators (and it appears that you were able to do that with the group you were travelling with). That’s what the world needs more of, in my opinion, rather than more people who patriotically identify with one country, which unfortunately often looks like advancing one’s own country and putting down others.
    That’s my two cents worth. Keep up the good work.

    • No actually, I have lived all my life in Ghana. Grew up in Accra and went to boarding school in Tema. I am only now attending college in the United States. I’m aware of philosophies out there that promote the idea of deriving more of a transnational identity, or in my case, being “Afropolitan” (a term culled by Taiye Selasie) to demonstrate an African that has been raised by the world. However, I refuse to identify this concept of being “Afropolitan” because for me, being “African” is enough, and truly embodies all the trasnationalism people ascribe to being Afropolitan. So what about people who live and grow up in one place but can very well cross cultures too? Or have engaged with people from different walks of life, even if they never physically moved across imaginary boundaries? I lived and grew up in Ghana but was very much raised by the world, because I was always engaging with the world on different levels (be it through travel, schooling with different people or just plain globalization). Whereas it might not be necessary to identify with just one place, for me, being Ghanaian or African doesn’t close out my identity as a global citizen but makes me belong more to the global space in a categorized manner. One thing I realize is that we often seem to think that people who haven’t had all the exposure we have had to different countries are incapable of also being cultural mediators. We seem to forget that the world is actually becoming flatter than we make it out to be. I guess the paradox I talk about really has nothing to do with “belonging” as much as it has to do with “identifying”, which I find unique and is truly coming from a sincere place. I hope I have made some sense. 🙂

  2. It’s funny, I never think of myself as being African rather than, Ghanaian. Or maybe I should say I am African because I am Ghanaian. Being pan-African is a laudable goal. God-willing I’ll have been to a lot more of the continent in ten years than I have now but really all we ever are is African via the country/countries we’re from. I cringe when people refer to Africa (whether they assign the country moniker or not). What does African mean? In practical terms it’s like claiming to be North American or Asian. I guess what I’m saying is you’re as African as one can be (conscious and aware of the shared legacy of colonialism and slavery, contributing to the shared potential of hope for the future) and you are Ghanaian whether outlier or average. Our story includes your story and only you can tell yourself otherwise and it doesn’t sound like you have any intention of being discounted.

    • Brilliant perspective and I actually agree 100%. It is very difficult to bandy anyone up in the term “African”. And your analogy to being “North American” is wonderful! In a sense, the term “African” is almost akin to thinking of all African countries as carrying one identity which is not really the case. Even the history of colonialism is not a shared one (if so, go ask the Ethiopians and let them tell you what British rule is. lol.) Thanks for the response!

  3. Pingback: “I claim to love being African … but I haven’t experienced it enough” – Metty Markwei in Kente Weaver |

  4. Metty: You seem here to implicitly define “identity” as some weighted average of all the places where you’ve lived. Or lived long enough (or intensely enough) so that you know the subway system. Well, surely you know Accra better than you know Paris or London. But is that the most useful definition of “identity”? We self-identify with groups as well as with places. I doubt that you think of yourself as French or (God help us) British. And certainly not both simultaneously. lol My own preferred defininition would be something like: the weighted sum of all the things I’ve done of which I feel proud.
    I’m sitting on a ship below Table Mountain. My first day in Africa. I’ve spent years and years of my life in China. So as I start exploring this new continent (NOT country!!) I can’t help but be struck by the contrasts in the ways people in the two regions self-identify. How is it that 1.3 billion Chinese all effortlessly think of themselves as Chinese? Whereas in Africa: well, the Sahara seems to me to rip through any attempt to fashion a single African identity. Comments?

    • You’re very right Bruce. The diversity of Africa in and of itself, presents us with a challenge of identifying as “African”. But if I do take your definition of the “weighted sum of all my experiences”, especially since my high school was a boarding school with an even mix of people from every region in Africa (about 17 different countries), then indeed, I realize now, that I am more African than I should question! Thanks for prompting this realization! 🙂


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