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TODAY is the a year since that hugely popular hashtag, #IfAfricaWasABar, trended on Twitter. The hashtag had Africans from all over the continent sharing their hilarious impressions of the quirks of respective countries.
On a deeper level, it ended up being a “safe space” where Africans could indirectly make some commentary about what it means to be African, on a continent long-accustomed to being on the defensive, always battling stereotypes or misconceptions.
Siyanda Mohutsiwa, whose initial tweet on July 27, 2015 started it all has gone on to speak about her vision of social pan-Africanism at several international conferences, including the flagship TED conference in Vancouver, Canada in March, 2016.
Mohutsiwa, now 23, says the concept of pan-Africanism is not new, but it had long been an elite project, with the majority of ordinary people having no stake in it. Now, social media offers a way to forge a new sense of solidarity, unmediated by state imaginations.
“As long as you state it with lightheartedness and a sense of humour, you can get away with a lot of what you say,” said Mohutsiwa in an interview with Dutch multimedia publication One World.
Since then, there have been several “social pan-Africanist” hashtags, some taking the cheerful tone of #IfAfricaWasABar, and others coming from a more “serious” place. We highlight five of them:
Tanzania’s president John Magufuli was elected in October, and immediately embarked on an anti-waste, anti-corruption and anti-laziness drive in the country’s public sector. It was a refreshing change for a continent long accustomed to greed and excess in the political class, and it wasn’t long before other Africans joined in with their own interpretations of Magufuli’s zealous frugality.
The student-led movement started in Durban a response to the perceived rising prices of higher education in South Africa, rapidly spreading to many other universities across South Africa, and voices from civil society also joined in. What is intriguing is the hashtag found resonance far beyond South Africa. Data from Portland Communications shows that Egypt and Ghana had thousands of mentions of #FeesMustFall in their geolocated tweets as well.
From haughty seniors to sadistic teachers, Nigerians went all out on this trend and highlighted the hilarious – and painful – experiences of being a student in secondary school. It was very familiar to many other Africans who could relate with the boarding school blues. It also shed a quiet spotlight on the gratuitous tyranny and violence of the school system.
It’s been described as a “very sensitive” matter between these two countries; Ghana and Nigeria continue to bicker over whose jollof rice is the real thing, each side disparaging the particular cooking quirks of the other, and making hilarious memes in the process. It seems that the dish itself originated in Senegal, and is named after the Wolof/Jollof people. But Ghana and Nigeria continue to fight on whose interpretation of the dish is “better’.
Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni made a random stop on a road in rural Uganda in July 2016, ostensibly to take a phone call. It was not clear why he needed to stop his entire motorcade to take the call, whom he was speaking to, or why he needed to be photographed doing it. In any case, it sent regional Twitter buzzing, with tweeps all over East Africa recreating that Museveni pose.