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Africa's quiet revolutions: Change need not be big in order for it to be significant, or encouraging

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There is a story told in my family about a feisty great-aunt who changed the course of history by the simple act of speaking. This great-aunt was the host of a radio show when Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia and my generation, the "born free" generation, didn't exist.

My mother told me her story last year when I travelled back to Zimbabwe from Winnipeg, where I now live. She told me the story when we were visiting the grave of my grandmother, who had died the previous year. My siblings and I had been unable to attend the funeral and had instead mourned the loss of our grandmother from afar.

Returning to Zimbabwe was a chance to say a proper goodbye and honour rituals that, when practised in isolation in the various lands we now call home and away from one's community can seem hollow and fragmented, as though they hold little meaning.

As we stood to leave my grandmother's grave, my mother pointed to a section of the cemetery completely devoid of tombstones. Instead, the graves in this area were marked by small metal placards, anchored to stakes driven into the ground. The dates and names on the placards were written with paint, some of it worn away with age.

"You see that area of the cemetery? That's from the colonial days," my mother said. "There was a time when Africans weren't allowed to put tombstones on the graves of their loved ones. They were only allowed to have those metal placards."

This may seem trivial; an issue of little importance. But for many Zimbabweans, the process of mourning the dead also involves creating and marking final resting places that ensure their place in history is not forgotten. For a people who had already lost a great deal of their history and culture, being denied this was yet another blow.

My mother went on to tell me this feisty great-aunt had used her radio show to advocate for Africans to be allowed to honour their dead by officially marking their resting places.

She continued to talk about it until change came. It was one step among many that led to important changes across the nation. It was a quiet revolution; a process in which a seemingly small act led to a significant change.

This story reminds me of all the quiet revolutions taking place in Africa today.

To an outside observer, they might seem like small things, issues of little concern that really won't change much. But the truth is it is these quiet revolutions that are changing the face of Africa.

Through everyday acts, Africans are picking up the continent from the ashes, shaking off the dust of decades of war, starvation, dictatorships and upheaval. Step by step, Africans are imagining and creating a different reality.

These quiet revolutions are in motion all over the continent. In Kenya, ingenious entrepreneurs created bicycle-operated cellphone battery chargers for people in areas where electricity is inaccessible. In South Africa, brave individuals marching in Soweto's pride parade inspired discussions on the importance of a human rights lens in policy development. In the Democratic Republic of Congo women are calling attention to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. They are mobilizing their communities and demanding the end of gender-based violence.

In Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless is defying the odds to become Africa's fastest-growing telecommunications company. Despite the tumultuous political and economic situation in the country, Econet has expanded into South Africa, Lesotho, Burundi and the United Kingdom.

Across the continent a new generation of African writers, including Nigeria's fearless Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are using storytelling to transform representations of Africa and Africans.

These are just a few of the revolutions on the continent. Yes, multiple wars are still being fought on the continent. Millions are starving, and HIV & AIDS and malaria lead to the premature deaths of thousands every day. Corruption and poor governance plague our leaders. These are all issues of concern, but there are also many reasons to be encouraged.

Revolutions aren't always loud. Sometimes they start with a whisper. These quiet revolutions in Africa may just be the key to lasting change.

 

Sané Dube is originally from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She moved to Winnipeg in 2003. She has a degree in International Development and currently works at an HIV & AIDS clinic.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 A11

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 8:48 AM CST: added image

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