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"African" as an adjective

(Afrikaan in Afrikaans and in Dutch)

It literally means "of Africa", in the sense of belonging to and arising from Africa. However the term is somewhat fraught, and it can really only be used with assurance in very general terms, for applying the adjective to any specific cultural, economic, political, scientific or social activity is virtually impossible given the size and demographic and cultural diversity of the continent. Indeed, a natural question often asked (e.g. by Kole Omotoso and many others), is: "What Africa are you talking about?"

The fact is that there are really a multitude of "Africas", each with its own particular cultural, social, political, economic, ethical and other characteristics - and ipso facto, its own traditions, conventions and functions. Pinpointing a single, continental "identity" is virtually impossible.

(See also points made under Africa and African theatre)

"African" and "Africanness" as nouns

Normally "an African" is used to refer to "a person from Africa". However, this has recently become a most difficult and much debated term, particularly in South Africa and some of the other former colonies, and is even being challenged by the African Genome Project (Wilmot James, in Johns, 2007).

The key debate concerns the defining characteristics required of an African person, or of the quality of Africanness, a problem well summarized by some questions posed by Jideofor Adibe: "Are White South Africans really Africans? Are Moroccans, Egyptians and other Arab Africans as much Africans as say, Nigerians or Ghanaians? Is Barrack Obama an African? Do all categorised as African or as having an African pedigree perceive themselves as such? Are all who perceive themselves as Africans accepted as such? Are there levels of "African-ness", and are some more African than others? Who allots this African-ness, and why? How does African identity interface with other levels of identity and citizenship in Africa? In short, how is the African identity constructed in the face of the mosaic of identities that people of African ancestry living within and beyond the continent bear?." (Adibe, 2009)[1]

For more on these matters, see for example debates in:

Jideofor Adibe (ed..) Who is an African? Identity, Citizenship and the Making of the Africa-Nation. London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers, 2009. (See the Adonis & Abbey website[2])

On Afrikaan see for example


Hutchison and Omotoso. 1995.

Lynnette Johns "Who is an African?" in IOL News, August 20 2007 at 09:21am

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