Ken Saro Wiwa, Nigerian Environmental Journalist, was killed while protesting against Shell Oil and the harm their refineries causing the people living alongside them. That was 1995 and his death incensed me.
"We have to do something," I said to my Zairian friend Lydia Samboa.
Samboa was the daughter of a former ambassador to Zaire. She was a brilliant woman with a natural small-girl hair cut and was adept at getting hip upwardly mobile young Africans together. Her events always featured new musical groups from Africa or fashion shows with top African runway mannequins modeling haute couture gowns and frocks from the most coveted designers.
"We need to mobilize and fight before they re-colonize Africa."
I was living in New York City at the time and believed the sampling of Africans I saw at Samboa's gatherings was enough to cork the effervescent froth of globalization threatening to spill over the continent. In response to my plea to stand and fight the power, Samboa said something to me I'll never forget. She said that they have always come for Africa and they always will but they can never destroy Mama Africa, -Mama Africa will always be.
That was not what I was expecting to hear from this well connected African woman.
Later - years later, I realized Samboa shared something special with me about Africa and its place in our world. The vibrant, rich, soulful place we know as Africa is an integral part of the whole earth. The globe cannot exist without it. For centuries, Africa has been a magnet for people. Its influence can be felt around the entire globe. Samboa revealed to me an indestructible identity that can't be maligned or taken advantage of and is always felt. It was an identity this American born Ghanaian had to grow to understand.
I was reminded of this lesson when I talked with Jo Ellen Fair, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has been researching the emergence of Valentine's Day, internet dating sites, and newspaper advice columns in Ghana. Fair said that "there is a notion that Western culture and Western forms are just thrown upon Africa and that Africans just can't beat this stuff away." She doesn't believe Africans are that feeble. "Africans are constantly making choices about what they want and don't want to consume in terms of culture, cultural holidays, television programs, and music," said Fair.
Ghanaians had known about Valentine's Day and celebrated it on a low level. But in the early 1990s some radio stations in Accra began promoting the holiday and subsequently turned Valentine's Day into a huge observance. According to Fair, fundamentalist Christian organizations and various conservative groups did not like the growing popularity of Valentine's Day. "They believe it promotes promiscuity, discussions of sex, allows women to go out dressed improperly, wearing make up," said Fair.
Other sectors felt that the emergence of Valentine's Day afforded opportunities to talk about sexuality, HIV, and HIV prevention. "Young people are saying we love it because it is our opportunity to talk about what we expect from men and women in relationships," said Fair. Fair sees the emergence of Valentine's Day availing Ghanaians the opportunity to discuss topics that tend to be taboo subjects in Ghana society. "Modern notions of romance, relationships and marriage get discussed in contrast to traditional notions of romance, relationships and marriage," said Fair.
The same can be seen with other new media outlets like internet dating and newspaper advice columns. For instance, there are gay sections in Ghana's internet dating sites. That is significant because in much of Africa homosexuality is not acknowledged. Like America or anywhere else around the globe, Ghana internet dating sites are also fraught with scams. Some individuals misrepresent themselves and try to extort money from gullible patrons.
Nigerian scientist, Phillip Emeagwali, who many call the father of the internet, defines globalization as "the ability of many people, ideas, and technology to move from country to country." Emeagwali's definition is a nice onebecause in its simplicity he affirms the fact that globalization is not something new. In fact in Biblical times traders and travelers from the Persian Empire - which today would include Iraq and Iran - traveled to and from Africa. Interestingly, Fair says that people who lived through British colonialism feel this kind of globalization; the emergence of Valentine's Day, internet dating sites and newspaper advice columns, is the same thing.
"Young people who didn't grow up in those times are looking at globalization as a way of plugging into a larger community and they are much more fluid with their identity," said Fair. Africa is one of the most vibrant places on earth. "Africa has always taken change, always accepted change, but has always made it African," she continued. "Certainly colonialism was forced on to Africans but Africans, even in that system, found ways of subverting it, changing it, dealing with it, and the same is true of globalization."
Globalization has always been and will always be around. It would not be feared if we took time, as my friend Samboa instructed me, to realize and embrace our indestructible identity. And doing this will enable us to be conscious consumers who will welcome only those things that bless us.