Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed – Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.
This is the first stanza of “The White Man’s Burden”, written by Rudyard Kipling, author of the more famous “The Jungle Book”. It is a harrowing peep into the Western mindset concerning Africa during the 19th century: a continent inhabited by the half-devil and half-child. As much as the west totes its abandonment of this perception, what is our true relationship with the continent?
Though many would say that Kipling’s poem, above all, an excuse for the rape its land by white people, his portrayal of Africa should not be ignored; among other things, he speaks of Africa as a place of poverty, as a continent without law, as a people who need our help, and who can’t survive without us. The question remains: is this fundamentally different from the west’s current view of Africa? There are some who don’t even know that Africa is continent, rather than a country, let alone that it is the most country-crowded continent in the world. Maybe we have misunderstood Africa, as had Kipling. Its diversity, it seems, be it cultural, ethnic, geographic, and the like, remains obscure to us.
The only solution is to view Africa with through its eyes, rather than our own; to recognize its multifacetedness, to be brave enough to abandon our own prejudices, and welcome all that it is.
This is the mission of Mohamed Keita, a photographer from the Coté d’Ivoire who I had the pleasure of meeting this past November. Keita went to photograph life in a suburb of Bamako, the Malian capital. These pictures represent, in my opinion, the real essence of Mali. The photos humanize the people of Bamako, though not without an element of tragedy. They show children who have been abandoned by the world at large, a world in which some still see them as devils, no matter how subconsciously. Keita is a great artist because he has the ability to capture the heart of Africa, the heart that we should try to better understand.
After years of difficulty, Keita was finally able to set up a fascinating project: an intentional community based in Mali where people can meet and live together in democracy and liberty. “Kene” in Malindi means “place where people can stay together.” It may have the same ancient etymological root of the greek term “koine”, and can therefore be translated as a “community of different people in which everyone learns from the others”. How utterly analogous to our own world; Keita’s art asks us to understand that our world is a kene in which people live together – and tells us we must overcome every border, both literal and figurative, that divides us. “The project was born because I needed to share what I experienced. Everything I have faced before arriving here and what I have learned, has given me the desire to share my experience and my passions with others, especially with young people and children,” explains Keita.
I think that the model of the “kene” must be standardized and become the universal model of cooperation, a model in which nobody tries to demonstrate his superiority or use his strong-arm through force because supremacy simply does not exist. “Ubuntu”, or “Kene”, can be the model with which we build the European Federation; a better understanding of Africa can guide our path and help us reject our entrenched prejudices and ideological isolation – this will be the West’s salvation.
We tried to encourage “civility” in Africa, as Kipling explains, but we brought with us only war and poverty. I am reminded of the novel Heart of Darkness, in which Mr. Kurtz’s falling into the dark in Heart of Darkness led him to find the light. Let us follow people like Keita, and fall into the “dark” in effort to better the world.
“In my opinion, in the place where I was, it was necessary to do something for young people. To try to give everyone the opportunity to do something concrete. We can be rich, poor, Asian, African or European, but what matters is having the will and the courage to face situations …what matters is having the will and the courage to face situations” says Keita. In our opinion, dear readers, this is the most meaningful sentence, the one that best explains our attitude not only towards Africa, but also towards life. Keita’s experience makes us aware of the importance of integration, dedication, collaboration, and hope – all of those values with which we must unify our world.
Learn more about Mohamed Keita at https://www.lensculture.com/mohamed-keita
Mario Edoardo Simmaco