Sunday, 16 March 2008

Pangea – One Big Happy Global Community

I am enthused by the idea of building bridges between distinct entities, be they people, places or disciplines. Film maker and creative visionary Jehane Noujaim (of Control Room fame) presented her wish at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference back in 2006 – her vivid and captivating vision of a day the world would unite through the power of film. Jehane Noujaim took the audience into her mind as she unveiled her perfectly pitched concept of people telling their stories at an allocated, synchronised time, to an audience that would span the globe. And won the TED Prize. It was not a far-fetched idea but captivating, inspirational and pragmatic - expanding people’s minds by allowing them to experience the world of “the other” from their own locality; travelling in mind as opposed to in body, uniting the world in a unique event where people will share the experience of watching and undergoing a transformation elicited by powerful stories through powerful imagery. The event to be held on 10th May 2008 is befittingly called Pangea Day, the name inspired by Wegener’s convincing theory of planet earths existence as a supercontinent prior to detachment into the continents we know today.

When I allow myself to dive into and indulge in the concept of global unity, I am aware that there is clearly an aspect of me that is running away with fantasy. More so as we are living in an age where we talk in polarised terms and convene around coffee tables, speculating on the imminent and inevitable crumbling of the global power, as a dragon (simultaneously?) rises, spanning her wings across the globe to be the next world dominator. However, if I may stay in fantasyland for a moment yet, as I do quite like it here, thinking of planet earth’s continents as a single, conglomerated land mass as it arguably was about 250 million years ago, illuminated for me how this physicality can radically alter how we as individuals perceive and relate to the world. How our inhabitance of a giant land mass could cognitively breed unity amongst us, the inhabitants - the human race – one people on earth, regardless of our physical appearance, culture or heritage purely based on our perceived closer proximity to each other. Regretably, I am falling back from the clouds as I start to recount in my mind the number of inter-continental conflicts that are still fresh in my mind, having occurred during my own life-time….

Back to reality now, it also got me thinking about my Africanness, my Kenyanness and whatever-else-I-may-identify-with-ness. Despite Africa’s vastness and incredibly exhilirating and mind-blowing diversity, what is it that makes me feel connected to my fellow Africans at large? Turning a misconception that I see represented in the media on its head, I am now pondering on if there is a possibility that at a subconscious level, I have absorbed the oh-so-infuriating message that Africa is not a giant? What about the convenient reference to sub-Saharan Africa that excludes the Sahel (for example in terms of statistics) that we have now internalised that has only widened an already palpable divide. This subject matter in itself deserves a separate post.

I suspect that there is an ounce of truth in the notion that Africa’s existence as a land mass breeds unity to those who inhabit her undulating, diverse terrain. No argument wins by presenting a mono-variable and therefore there are sure to be other factors at play here, such as the marginalisation of a people that is inexorably embedded in our history and continues to be propagated in the current global climate with issues such as unjust global trading policies. However, thinking of the land mass that is the continent of Africa, there is a level of intimacy that we share by virtue of our proximity to each other that is embodied in the ease of access that we have to one another, albeit presuming ease of ability to traverse the artificial borders that were carved out in Europe without our knowledge. What I am saying is that our proximity to each other by default makes us feel we belong to each other. A macro community, in other words. This bears great similarity to the concept in economics that a single currency makes people feel united as it simplifies travelling and inter-country relations, therefore uniting neighbouring nations. Basically, it is all in the mind. Although I am not the expert, I daresay that this is already the case in Europe and Central Africa. Looking around me, in the UK, a small island in Northwestern Europe, it is fascinating to see how the UK plays a delicate dance with her identity; with one foot in continental Europe and the other firmly rooted in her autonomy and Britishness. After all, unlike Ireland, the rest of the UK clings onto the sterling, nose turned upwards snubbing the Euro.

Back to Africa – ironically, it is easier and cheaper to fly across the Mediterranean to Europe as opposed to travelling within Africa. Explicably due to the economic theory of demand and supply (although there are promising signs that this is changing, big up KQ). Despite this, our connection to each other remains steadfast. Thinking back to the possibilities of interwoven variables that connect us, all playing a part to nurture our sense of unity, it becomes apparent to me that perhaps another leaf to the argument is that, it may be partly because our identity is physically worn and therefore openly viewed by others (which can be postulated for other regions of the world of course). A person with whom I have no affiliation can look at me from a distance and have full knowledge of my ancestral home, without any verbal exchange. The eyes speak to the onlooker. This reminds me of the brief but appreciated act of exchanging eye contact or a subtle knod, that goes unnoticed to those momentarily sharing the same space when my path has fleetingly crossed with another person of African origin either by birth or ancestry, in a town that had a white majority. Indeed, the solidarity of minorities.

I like the word solidarity. Perhaps yet another unifying factor is our yearning to stand together, in our own defence after witnessing the seemingly tireless mis-representation of our continent as a dark, disease-ridden and war-torn hell hole. In which case, the very misrepresentation that attempts to deny us of our expansive identity also plays a part in uniting us? African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), an organisation that I have a lot of time for, formulated a policy document on what the Diaspora can do to challenge media misrepresentation of Africa.

The question of a united world remains, sitting heavily on my shoulders. Perhaps it is a long way ahead yet, however, we can only but start with baby steps by opening our hearts and listening to each other. Join me on Pangea Day around the world. Surely I can still dream, can’t I?

Update: If you can’t be bothered to read the entire schpill, just read this –

My brain has been ticking along since I put up this post resulting in a eureka moment, a connection of neuronal networks, in the realisation that what I spent a number of paragraphs mulling over as inspired by the concept of the earth as pangea may be summarised thus: there are a myriad of interwoven agents at play to form a complex multidimensional picture that will inarguably influence our definition of the term “community”. These include geographical boundaries (aha! the connection to pangea), shared interests (for example activism), age groups, gender, socio-economic and political factors. This list could potentially carry on to infinity as we identify the plethora of micro and macro communities that exist based on our differences or associations. I guess you now either (a) get the drift of my ramblings or (b) have spotted I never read a social science. Or both. Don’t you just love it when things suddenly arrange themselves into nice, little, tidy packages to calm an overwhelmed mind?


Anonymous said...

Nokia is celebrating Pangea Day as well.

mshairi said...

Anything that brings us together (whether as Kenyans, Africans or just human beings) is good with me!

kamau said...

interesting post. i always joke that all we need is an alien "visitation" to kick start the kind of global solidarity we share as africans along the veins of "those africans don't look so different compared to those aliens from zorg!" but seriously i think it will be achieved step by step as each generation chips away at the fears that highlight difference over obvious similarities.

Sci-culturist said...

@ annonymous- thanks. realised they are a big sponsor.

@ mshairi - couldn't agree more!

@ kamau - i'm intrigued. would like to hear more about the visitation theory! and yes, i reckon you've hit the nail on the head- alot of the world's problems boil down to the simple, 4-letter word: fear.