Binyavanga Wainaina

By Toby Luckhurst

  • A BBC documentary will reveal former Libya dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s hidden rooms in which he sexually abused children as young as 14.
  • The New York Times explores South Korea’s taste for Spam.
  • Argentina’s economy minister Axel Kicillof is increasingly the public face and policy guru of the government’s efforts to tackle rising inflation and stagnant growth.
  • The exaggerated threat of terrorism and years of political violence have fomented a conformist backlash in Egypt on the third anniversary of the protests that toppled military dictator Hosni Mubarak.
  • Katrina Manson interviews Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, the most prominent African to reveal his homosexuality.
  • Rand Paul is tainted by the extreme views of a minority in the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, as well as by his father’s successes and failures.

 

By Toby Luckhurst

  • Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina describes coming to terms with his homosexuality after the death of his mother.
  • Attitudes towards single motherhood in China are finally shifting.
  • Former Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a citizens arrest from barman Twiggy Garcia for “a crime against peace” while dining in a Shoreditch restaurant.
  • Evidence of “systematic killing” perpetrated by the Syrian government leads to calls for war crimes charges against the regime.
  • Fethullah Gulen tells the Wall Street Journal that “democratic progress is now being reversed” in Turkey at the hands of prime minister Erdogan.
  • Charles Lane in the Washington Post calls for an end to the “corrupt quadrennial exercise” that is the Olympics.
  • There is little optimism about the Syrian peace talks after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s volte-face on Iranian participation in negotiations.

 

In 2005, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s seminal, satirical essay, How to Write About Africa, urged outsiders to conjure descriptions that are “romantic and evocative and unparticular”, talk of safari animals, the African light, big skies and always “treat Africa as if it were one country”.

On those criteria, new China president Xi Jinping’s cliché-heavy first speech on African turf as head of state has measured up all too well. Addressing Tanzanian dignitaries in a Chinese-built conference hall on his first trip to Africa as head of state, Xi spoke of his welcome being “as warm and as unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa” and characterised the economy as “forging ahead like a galloping African lion”.

He also spoke of the warm reception received by a Chinese television series in Tanzania and told a story about a young Chinese couple who honeymooned in the Serengeti and wrote a blogpost on their return that was a bit of a hit in China, which said: “We have completely fallen in love with Africa and our hearts will always be in this land.”

In a blow to Xi’s stated aim of treating Africans as “equals”, Wainaina said the tone of the imagery offered “cheap sentiment” that “smacks of paternalism”.

“China’s charm offensive seems to want to assume there are no serious cultural and intellectual exchanges and conversations to be had,” said Wainaina after reading excerpts of the speech. “I do not get a sense of what Africans are thinking and planning… what African thinkers mean to a growing China. If a Chinese leader cannot begin to articulate what Africa is to them with more substance, Africans should be worried.”

Such sentiments should also worry China, which seems to be failing in its efforts to sidestep allegations of neo-colonial attitudes that mar Africa’s relations the west and to deliver the “bosom” friendship Xi said he espouses.