May is a month of celebration on the continent of Africa. “Why?”, you may ask. Well on the 25th of May 1963 the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union, was formed. The aim behind the founding of this organization was to enforce and encourage the unity of the continent and for the political and economic emancipation of its people as well as co-operation among them.
So every May, especially in Johannesburg where I live, there will be public talks and discussions on the relevance of this dream and whether it’s a project that will ever be realized in our life time.
Personally though, Africa month reminds me of my country of origin, Rwanda. This is especially because Rwandans are in the midst of Cyunamo, our time of commemorating the horrific genocide where over 800,000 Tutsis were killed for 100 days from 7 April 1994.
Rwanda has moved on from this horror and is touted as the miracle story of the continent. Rwanda demonstrates that what was considered a nightmare can turn into a miraculous reality. As we ‘kwibuka’ (remember) 25 years on, I wonder about the complexity of identity and how we use it to drive so many aspects of our lives, sometimes for good but many times to subjugate others who we feel are different.
On the 7th of April 1994, I was 8 years old and completely oblivious to this reality because my family and I were living in Manzini, Swaziland (now Eswatini). I was ignorant to the fact that had my family been in Rwanda, we would have possibly lost our lives. My heart aches at the horror that my people went through as I discovered more with age and how 25 years later, we grapple with the reality of the aftermath whilst simultaneously moving forward with success.
As an individual however, I vacillate between feeling a deep sadness of my roots, pride at the resilience of my country men and women, but also wondering about where my identity lies. Who does a girl who was born in the DRC to Rwandan parents and grew up in Swaziland but has lived in South Africa for over a decade identify herself as? What does she anchor her identity in?
It gets even more interesting, as with time the spaces or borders you inhabit don’t necessarily embrace the full you because there are things about you that are ‘different’. It’s not necessarily malicious but it can build up if you’re a person whose moved around a lot. I think we moved countries four times before I was 10.
Just to be clear, this isn’t a complaint. I consider myself incredibly blessed for the experiences I’ve had. It’s given me a unique perspective of the world around me and a great sense of pride in my continent. However, there’s been a challenge in that, whatever earthly identity I may try claim, there’s always a group that pushes back and questions its authenticity.
This is perhaps why as I live longer, anchoring myself in my identity in Christ has helped me understand that nothing about life is coincidental and that every aspect of my ‘origins’ were meant to be. When God says that; “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer1:5), it solidifies my confidence that at some point it will all make sense.
I think the challenge with man-made identity, you know things like borders, nationality and ethnic groups, is that it can at times dim the light of your life as it can at times constrain the view of your horizon. Where I was born, to whom I was born and where I grew up are all part of who I am but I wonder if those being my anchoring identity contributes to the questions of where one fits in or if they ever will or should they ever?
I wonder if the need for conformity matches what God intends for our lives. While the world may rail against all this diversity and seek to pin us all to one identity, I have a feeling that God wants us to use it all as a tool of service.
I suppose this is the complexity of being African. You’re more than coming from a continent but the continent in all its diversity and wonder perfectly explains that nuance if we take the time to pull back the curtain. The beauty however about walking with God is that personal discovery is a daily occurrence as you serve and open your heart and ears to His calling. At some point it will all be clear.
As always, my writing has been more about asking questions rather than answering them. I hope as you’ve read this, it’s made you question where or in what you anchor your identity in.
Larissa Subira is the Content Manager at bAw and an all-round boss babe when it comes to current affairs, program curation and politics.
Thank you Lari for that beautiful and vulnerable piece around our identity. I can relate as someone who has lived in different parts of the continent.
What has been your experience as an African sis? Where would you say your identity stems from? How do you remain anchored when there are different ideas, thoughts and people “telling” you who you are? We’d love to hear from you so drop us a comment below.
Also, we’re inviting you for some face-time this coming Sunday on our YouTube channel at 16h00 (CAT)!! We’re going to be talking about some of the topics we write about on this blog as a team and we’d love for you to chime in. Click here and subscribe so you don’t miss us when we go live!
Until Sunday, take care sis.