Reclaiming African Narratives: Omnia Shawkat
“I was always Sudanese; it’s the only passport I ever had,” says Omnia Shawkat, Founder of Andariya. “But the Sudanese-ness only really came to me when I was visiting Sudan as an adult.”
Omnia is the Founder of Andariya, a digital cultural platform amplifying stories from Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda. Andariya includes stories on a diverse array of topics, including arts, culture, media, literature and film. Content is community-driven, authentic and informative!
We spoke to Omnia for one of our Rootencial Conversations episodes – you can listen here. Below are some of the main messages we took with us from the conversation:
1. Stories matter for how we see ourselves:
The mainstream media continues to view Africa through tired stereotypes of famine, war, and disaster, says Omnia. This affects not only how ‘outsiders’ view the Continent, but also blinds Africans themselves to ongoing efforts within their communities to build something more positive. Digital platforms like Andariya create exciting opportunities to reclaim more positive African narrative and stories. It is a ‘democratic’ platform – anyone is allowed to post whatever content they like, in the form and medium they select, provided it is positive, entertaining, and education. These positive stories and narratives matter for Africa and Africans, she explains; they can make us feel good and uplift our spirit, connecting us as a Continent
2. We need to embrace our differences, while connecting with our similarities:
Andariya has its roots in Sudan, has expanded to South Sudan and Uganda, and has pan-African ambitions. Omnia adopted this approach because she says it can often feel like Africa is not that connected; that there is fear of ‘difference.’ From North Africa to the East, South and West; with connections to the Middle East, Europe and far beyond. But, she underscores, we can embrace our differences and connect with our similarities. We can have a shared context where we as Africans engage each other in ways that are meaningful to us.
3. Moving ‘home’ can be daunting – but also fantastic:
Omnia spent decades living overseas, mainly in Egypt but also in the Gulf, Europe and North America. It was while living in the US that she felt a strong urge to move back to her native Sudan; a place that felt like it ‘needed’ her, unlike many of the other countries she’d lived in which hardly struggled to attract talent. She made a vow to return – and it was a life-changing decision. Moving back was daunting and there were certainly challenges – sometimes she can feel like she doesn’t ‘fit’ in the local culture – but living in Sudan has allowed Omnia to connect to her roots, to the story and to the historical mass that she comes from.
4. We need to connect African and African diaspora communities:
Omnia lives in Sudan. Salma, the Co-Founder of Andariya, lives in Qatar. Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda all have massive diaspora populations, scattered all over the world. A digital platform can create a shared space to reflect diverse experiences, Omnia says, including by sparking conversations and interactions offline. Andariya is about creating a space for everyone to share their stories, both for overseas and local contexts.