Since time immemorial, many individuals have tried to make sense of what African identity is, and whether what is has, in any way, influenced by the English language. While some have considered English as a language of convenience, some consider it to have an inequitable and detrimental factor on the African identity. This essay is going to fr discuss and look into different perspectives of what African identity is. Then it will go on further to elaborate on how English and its influences has negatively dictated a turn in African identity in terms of colonialism, political independence, cultural beliefs, ethnicity and literature. It will finally close up by looking at what goodness this language has been able to bring into strengthening or shaping African identity for the better.
Different people, especially those in literature have tried to make out what being African/African identity could be mutually described as. Describing African identity is personally not a one-stringed, and common definition that can collectively include all there is to being African, but a broad concept that one could define as the variety of linguistic, racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and/or traditional diversity that exists within our continent. Kalua (2009:26) also thinks that:
…one needs not to look at Africa in terms of race or blackness essentialized but rather, (…) the idea of Africa (whether the shape of the map or its largely black race) as being situated on the intersection of different races.
Wright (2002:1) thinks that it is “both a daunting and potentially frustrating task” trying to define African identity. This indicates just how hard it is to singly define this broad concept. To describe its complexity, Eze (2014:235) thinks that; “African identities, like in most other parts of the world are now shaped by elective affinities due to cultural and racial intermixing”. Some also believe that while colonized, a large section of Africa lost its uniqueness/ singleness and what could be defined as its identity as it “profoundly hybridized by endless encounters with other cultures” (Wade; 1999:12). Quoted in a Daily News article, a model, Miller (1999:14) thinks that what is distinct about being African or about being African as compared to belonging to any other identity or place is the “sense of family, community and friends” possessed by African people as opposed to people of other regions and/or continents. But, it would best to describe being African as a matter of choice, one that can be adopted by whoever that feels it fit and admirable to belong to. South African Afrikaner Antjie Kroger wrote a poem within her novel literally pleading to be re-identified despite the inhumanity that had been committed by her fellow Afrikaners during Apartheid. In contrast, Selasi (2005) quoted on Eze (2014:234), who is originally of Ghanaian and Nigerian descent rejects the idea of being identified as African as she was born in Britain but identifies herself as “Afropolitan”. This thus shows that as much as elements such as history and/ or descent, language, race, language and values may have some contribution, personal choices determine who is and is not African.
One of the main views about the English language is that, it has had a great impact in indirectly continuing to colonize ‘postcolonial’ states/ countries. The fact that Kamwangamalu (2013:26) considers thinks that the adoption of indigenous languages would form part of decolonization does mean that the use of European languages such as English puts us in colonized position. In Ngugu(20 :112) Okara (1968) also expressed that to find acceptance into the literature field, he had to taransfer what he had originally thought iun his language inbto the more ‘accepotble’ English language.