Afropolitan is a term constructed from the name Africa and the ancient Greek word πολίτης ('politis'), meaning 'citizen' (itself from polis, 'city').[1] It is an attempt at redefining African phenomena by placing emphasis on ordinary citizens' experiences in Africa. Afropolitanism is similar to the older Panafricanism ideology. However, it defines being an "African" in explicitly continent-wide and multiracial terms, and rejects all pretensions to victimhood.[2]

The novelist Taiye Selasi and the political theorist Achille Mbembe are immediately associated with the coinage of the term and its fundamental theorization.[3]


Bye-bye Barbar, the Rise of the Afropolitan, as published in the LIP Magazine #5

The term was popularized in 2005 by a widely disseminated essay, 'Bye-Bye, Babar: The Rise of The Afropolitan' by the author Taiye Selasi.[4] Originally published in March 2005 in the Africa Issue of the LIP Magazine,[5] the essay defines an Afropolitan identity, sensibility and experience. The critiques of the Afropolitan, as portrayed by Selasi in Bye-Bye, Babar, condemn its elitism and class biased approach. Susanne Gehrmann states that Selasi's Afropolitan "is addicted to urban hip life" and "international careers".[6] However, the essay is important in discussing where emigrants of Africa fit into the spectrum of African. Knudsen and Rahbek suggest that Bye-Bye, Babar "is an integral part [in the] ongoing conversation about the relationship between identity and individuality" in the way that it "speaks to the individual" who may feel alone in the sense that they do not have "labels or identities" to understand their positioning in the world.[7] In 2006 the essay was republished by the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town[8] and in 2007 by The Nation in Nairobi,[9] whereupon it became popular.

Mbembe’s short piece “Afropolitanism” followed two years after "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What is an Afropolitan?)". It was a contribution to an essay collection entitled Africa Remix – Contemporary Art of a Continent [10] that accompanied a touring exhibition of the same name. Mbembe presents his idea of Afropolitanism as a thoroughly African way of being. This Afropolitanism includes a critical examination of Africa and the world.[3] Human mobility is central to Selasi's and Mbembe's conceptions of Afropolitanism.[11] Unlike Selasi, whose contemporary notion of Afropolitanism only considers the last couple of decades and voluntary movement, Mbembe finds forced movement – of which the transatlantic slave trade is an extreme example – as capable of leading to an Afropolitan way of being as well.[10] Mbembe asserts that people on the African continent have always mixed elements of different cultures, beliefs and ways of being. Movement (to, from and across the continent) and encounters naturally lead to Afropolitanism’s essential characteristic: a “broad-mindedness”, which enables creative and critical thinking with relevance for local and global contexts.[10]

After the circulation of Selasi and Mbembe’s essays on Afropolitanism, the term has gained visibility mainly through the literary works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, NoViolet Bulawayo and a few other celebrity authors. Several communities, artists, and publications now use the label, most notably The Afropolitan Network,[12] The Afropolitan Experience,[13] The Afropolitan Legacy Theatre,[14] The Afropolitan Collection,[15] Afropolitan Berlin[16] and South Africa's The Afropolitan Magazine.[17] In June 2011 The Victoria and Albert Museum hosted "Friday Late: Afropolitans"[18] in London. In September 2011 the Houston Museum of African American Culture convened the symposium "Africans in America: The New Beat of Afropolitans", featuring author Teju Cole, musician Derrick Ashong and artist Wangechi Mutu alongside Selasi.[19]

Ashong released an online album with the group Soulfège in 2011, titled "AFropolitan."[20] Blitz the Ambassador proposed in 2013 to release the CD "Afropolitan Dreams".[21] Ade Bantu is the co-creator of the monthly concert series Afropolitan Vibes which holds at Freedom Park Lagos, Nigeria.[22]

The Afropolitan discourse is dominated by a few highly visible spokespersons. In relation to the works of the better-known artists, Afropolitanism has been discussed predominantly with reference to Africa, the US and the back and forth between them, which conveys a diminishing picture of the actual variety and complexity of Afropolitan expressions in different contexts.[11] But more variety can be found: Birgit Neumann's essay on Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor's novel Dust addresses the almost entirely overlooked circulation of Africans inside of Africa.[23] The novel Biskaya by Black German author SchwarzRund offers a queer persepective and takes Afropolitanism to the German context.[24] M. G. Vassanji's novel And Home was Kariakoo invites discussion about the representation of Asians in the Afropolitan discussion.[23]

Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe (born in 1957 in Cameroon) is a Research Professor of History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg, South Africa and a visiting Professor in the Department of Romance Studies at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University. He has also held appointments at Columbia University, Berkeley, Yale University, and the University of California. In the spring of 2016, he will be a visiting professor at Harvard University. </ref> cite:

Achille Mbembe developed a mechanism to explore the term “Afropolitanism” through investigating the “post-colonial” era after decolonization. Through Mbembe’s investigation he attempts to reinterpret the common understanding of global and local powers in contemporary Africa for the purpose of subverting some common assumptions about postcolonial theory. To do so, he suggests that Africa, as a colonized nation, should be identified through the experiences of violence during colonization and its implication in Africa's idenitity. His aim through such claim is to change the way Africans perceive the dead-end post-colonial theories that result in a circular understanding of the phase, instead he calls for the development of a more dynamic way of thinking that will lead to a more complex understanding of post-colonial Africa. [25]

Achille Mbembe and Frantz Fanon

In a lecture delivered by Achille Mbembe with Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, Mbembe reflects on the works of Frantz Fanon on the post colonial future of African countries saying that the Psychiatric's comments on the relationship between the political and the visceral are in fact non-existent when examining the complexities of post-colonialism. Mbembe's talk attempts to reconnect and reconcile the two major bodies of his work and show when the clinical and the political are co-constitutive and when they are not. The lecture also teases out the implications of this dialectic in terms of how we might understand our current predicament. [26]

See also


  1. ^ "-polis, comb. form." OED Online, Oxford University Press, January 2018, Accessed 23 January 2018. "cosmopolitan, adj. and n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, January 2018, Accessed 23 January 2018.
  2. ^ Paul Smethurst; Julia Kuehn, eds. (2015). New Directions in Travel Writing Studies. Springer. p. 343. ISBN 978-1137457257. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b Rath, Anna von. "Afropolitanism as ethico-political stance: Achille Mbembe". poco.lit. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  4. ^ "Young, urban and culturally savvy, meet the Afropolitans". CNN. 17 February 2012.
  5. ^ "Bye-Bye Barbar". the LIP Magazine. 3 March 2005.
  6. ^ Gehrmann, Susanne (2016). "Cosmopolitanism with African roots. Afropolitanism's ambivalent mobilities". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 28: 61–72. doi:10.1080/13696815.2015.1112770. S2CID 146791639.
  7. ^ Knudsen, Eva Rask, and Ulla Rahbek. In Search of the Afropolitan: Encounters, Conversations and Contemporary Diasporic African Literature. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016. Print.
  8. ^ "Clarke's Books". Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  9. ^ Tuakli-Wosornu, Taiye (4 September 2007). "Africa Insight – the New Africans Called Afropolitans". The Nation (Nairobi), reposted in
  10. ^ a b c Mbembe, Achille (2007). Afropolitanism. Johannesburg: Jacanda Media. pp. 26–29.
  11. ^ a b von Rath, Anna (2022). Afropolitan Encounters Literature and Activism in London and Berlin. Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd. International Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-1-80079-007-0.
  12. ^ "The Afropolitan Network". Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  13. ^ "The Afropolitan Experience". The Afropolitan Experience. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  14. ^ "Afropolitan Legacy Theatre". Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  15. ^ "By Eniola David". The Afropolitan Collection. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  16. ^ "Start Seite". Afropolitan Berlin (in German). Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  17. ^ "The Afropolitan Magazine". Contact Media & Communications.
  18. ^ "Friday Late, June: Afropolitans – Victoria and Albert Museum". Archived from the original on 6 November 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  19. ^ ""Africans in America – The New Beat of Afropolitans", HMAAC: "This symposium marks the rise of a new cultural influence, brought to America and the world by a wave of fascinating young and creative cosmopolitan African immigrants, so called 'Afropolitans'."". Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "Blitz the Ambassador’s Afropolitan Dreams Block Party"
  22. ^ Mark, Monica (29 July 2014). "Afrobeat uprising: the musicians fighting against a tide of sugary pop". The Guardian. London.
  23. ^ a b Hodapp, James (2020). Afropolitan Literature as World Literature. Bloomsbury. p. 9.
  24. ^ Rath, Anna von. "Queer Afropolitanism in Germany: SchwarzRund". poco.lit. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  25. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)