There is a direct relationship between storytelling and power. A central aspect of every struggle for justice and equality is the taking back of one’s own stories and claiming one’s right to tell one’s stories in one’s own words.
The western world – and my world – was a very different place in 1986 when I went to Africa for the first time. Air travel was less ubiquitous, media and communication more concentrated. “Africa” was less of a real place and more of a concept – a metaphor – for many North Americans, including me.
A few stories from Africa (often thought of as one place, rather than a huge collection of places, cultures and languages) were elevated by the few who had actually been there; those stories were mostly ones of poverty, death, and corruption (and some cool, large mammals).
Thirty-five years later, the world is smaller and communication has been decentralized and democratized in ways that would have been inconceivable. Part of what that means is that it is now possible for people in places like Africa to tell their own stories, rather than having to live with the stories others tell about them.
Enter the WikiAfrica Education initiative, a bold and creative attempt to decentralize Wikipedia and increase knowledge of Africa in the process. Wikipedia’s English website receives seven billion page views every month, and there’s more written in Wikipedia about the country of France than the whole continent of Africa.
Now, a whole generation of Africa-based Wikipedia editors is writing and editing stories about the continent in their own words – and even in their own languages.
When a region four times the size of North America with well over a billion souls finally has is empowered to tell its own stories, and to speak for itself rather than being spoken for, I call that a win.
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