A self-published memoir about a British actress’s gap-year in Zambia has come under fire this week. Citizens of Zambia along with other Africans and aid workers are using social media to highlight factual errors and what they’re calling a “condescending” tone about life and culture in the country.
The Twitter storm broke out after excerpts of the book, In Congo’s Shadow, written by Louise Linton, were published on July 1 in the British newspaper The Telegraph. The hashtag being used is #LintonLies.
In the book, which came out in April, Linton waxes poetic about her trip to the continent nearly two decades ago:
“My innocent dreams of teaching the villagers English or educating them about the world now seemed ridiculously naive. With a cheery smile, I’d waved goodbye to Dad and jumped on a plane to Africa without researching anything about its tumultuous political history or realizing that my destination — Lake Tanganyika — was just miles from war-torn Congo.”
“I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.”
Lydia Ngoma, a Zambian poet and writer who has read In Congo’s Shadow, wrote on her blog that the book made her feel “confused [and] angry” and made her “laugh out loud all at once.”
In an interview with NPR, Ngoma shared some of the reasons why she found the book so upsetting.
First, many of the facts were outright wrong. “Child soldiers in Zambia? Rebels violently crossing over into Zambian borders? Those are such shocking allegations that any Zambian will tell you did not happen,” she says.
Linton didn’t know her geography. “She mixes Zambia, Congo and Rwanda so many times leading to the generalization of Africa as ‘one big country’ — something we have been trying to fight for a while now,” Ngoma says.
Other media outlets have weighed in. An article by Nosmot Gbadamosi for CNN points out that the Hutu-Tutsi conflict Linton referenced in her book took place in Rwanda, not Congo, as she wrote.
Ngoma also found the book’s tone condescending: “She paints herself as a ‘savior’ in her memoir while the rest of the characters are either racists, or ignorant creatures.”
Frustrated, Ngoma posted this appeal to the African social media audience:
Within a few hours, Ngoma’s appeal brought results. Readers who took offense at some of Linton’s descriptions began using the hashtag to share their grievances.
Muchemwa Sichone, a Zambian writer and entrepreneur, posted this tweet after cringing at the animal references in Linton’s book.
“Most animals live in game reserve areas that are managed by the Zambia Wildlife Authority,” says Sichone.
Ngoma, who was surprised by the digital outpouring given her modest social media activities, said she’s satisfied with the reaction.
Linton’s self-published book, which is available online, now has more than 100 scathing reviews, mostly from African reviewers.
Zambians like Sichone say social media has given the younger generation of Africans a way to “rewrite the African story.”
“[Africans] are still grossly misrepresented on platforms like television, in books, in articles, in movies where we cannot directly or immediately respond,” he says. “The advent of social media has changed all that because now we have an independent platform on which most of us can respond freely and almost immediately.”
As for the woman who triggered the Twitter storm with her memoir, she is currently silent. After a few initial apologetic tweets, her Twitter account is no longer active and she has not responded to media inquiries.
Tobias Denskus is a senior lecturer in communication for development at Malmo University, Sweden, and the blogger behind Aidnography.