Changing the Narrative of Displacement in Africa: Counter-Narratives, Agency, and Dignity



How to Cite

Dinani, H. (2021). Changing the Narrative of Displacement in Africa: Counter-Narratives, Agency, and Dignity. Radical Teacher, 120, 69–77.


This essay draws on the author’s experiences of teaching Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write about Africa” and select chapters from Ben Rawlence’s City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp in various undergraduate courses at University of Toronto Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. It makes the case for how these works enable instructors to disrupt the normative narrative of displacement based on the victim-perpetrator binary in mainstream media and humanitarian discourses and center the multidimensionality of displaced peoples across different eras and geographical locations. The essay discusses how each work offers students with strong counter-narratives to the dominant depoliticized and depersonalized accounts of dislocation in Africa by considering historical and contemporary context and foregrounding (displaced) Africans as humans that have agency and dignity. Additionally, the essay demonstrates how each work galvanizes students to identify and deconstruct their implicit biases, particularly when it comes to how they may have (unknowingly) contributed to the continuing portrayal of displaced Africans in victimizing ways. Through student discussion and coursework, the essay demonstrates how each work can empower students, who have themselves or have family members who previously experienced dislocation, to share their experiences and use them to build their own counter-narratives, in the process constructing an enriched archive of displacement that goes beyond the frameworks offered in course materials and that can be used to understand processes of displacement beyond the particular contexts discussed in the classroom.

Keywords: African experiences, Agency, Displacement, Refugees, Dadaab,