Nigeria is a complex place, among the most difficult African countries for a westerner to visit and enjoy, much less understand its foreign or social policies. Yet Nigeria often best embodies the contest between The West and Africa. Today in Nigeria, barbie dolls are losing.
Think about it. What toys do little Russians buy? What do those cute little primary school girls in Shanghai do after school? After all those primly dressed little Indian kids get home from their expensive Delhi boarding schools, what do they play with?
Other than smartphones and xBoxes, what do nonwestern kids play with?
I know images are developing in your minds of poverty struck barefoot Africans rolling the frame of a canabalized bicylcle wheel down a dirty path. (It happens in Appalachia, too.) It happens less and less in Africa, where the majority of the population – including kids, by the way – are growing up in cities that often don’t have dead grass.
Do you remember your toys? I bet if you tried hard enough you’d be able to create a narrative of your life, today, that begins with your toys as a child.
The Queens of Africa dolls intentionally challenged the barbie doll market in Africa, and they’re winning.
They’re beginning to sell well in Brazil as well, and they would probably sell well in America if the barbie cartel weren’t blocking them. What are we afraid of?
“The ‘Queens of Africa’ [dolls] … represent progressive qualities such as endurance, peace and love, while developing literary potential in children as well as enhancing their career development for the future,” doll creator, Taofeek Okoya, told Elle Magazine.
Moulin Rouge film producer, Baz Luhrmann nailed it: “It’s not about turning into a blonde Barbie doll or becoming what you dream of being; it’s about self-revelation, becoming who you are.”
Exactly as with barbie, Queens of Africa come in upteen different styles with upteen different outfits and upteen different accessories.
Hip culture digital magainze, TakePart, said: “As Barbie sales continue to plummet, another doll is aiming to slide in and take her place,” but then unfortunately added, “– in Nigeria, that is.”
Therein lies the battle between The West and Africa. TakePart is a creation of Jeff Skoll, the first president of eBay. Skoll who is Canadian sees the world from a much more global perspective than most Americans, even though he’s now firmly entrenched in the L.A. scene.
But he can’t fanthom a future in which Africa betters The West.
Even though with dolls for kids it already has. Averaging a quarter of the cost of a barbie, and with no other discernible functional differences, Queens of Africa would devour barbie in the American market.
After all, for years black kids in America played only with white barbie dolls.
“Okoya is starting to ship more of his dolls overseas, which means it could only be a matter of time before toy shelves in America are filled with African Queens and Naija Princesses,” according to the Atlanta magazine, BlackStar.
I have some reservations, by the way. The dolls are modeled after Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups … not helpful for anti-racism. Okoya is something of a playboy, the son of a Nigerian billionaire and few Nigerian billionaires are nice people… not helpful for moral capitalism.
But I probably could find similar reservations about Mattel.
So if you got one Barbie Rambo in a ring with one Queen of Africa Sheba, who’d be on the turf first?