The African continent has for long been painted in a very bad light. You know, acute poverty, starvation, bad roads, people that wear leaves with no shoes, poor water systems, and an oh so flawed belief that somehow “Africans” live in a rural dump. While there is, of course, a truth that some of these issues do take place within certain areas within the African continent, the biggest problem rests on the back of the generalization of Africa.
Much of this is as a result of the terribly skewed usage of the term “Africa” – mostly by the western world. “I would be traveling to Africa next summer”, “Mark Zuckerberg visited Africa”. “Are you from Africa?” These and the plethora of other poor and maybe illiterate sentences of the sort, are not only annoying, but cause a serious danger of misrepresentation. Thanks to advancement and modernization, this issue has greatly reduced, but it still happens.
So, since I am tired of the countless movies that show visits to ‘Africa’ and the international media houses that do not take time out to figure out which country within the African continent they need to talk about; here is a little clarification for all. AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY! AFRICA IS A CONTINENT. It is a big continent with 54 very distinct countries. The same way Europe is made up of France, Greece, Ukraine, and so on; Africa is made up of Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Angola, Ghana, Lesotho, Cameroon, and 45 other distinct countries.
The Implications of this sort of pigeonholing are just too many. First, you would not be giving credit to specific happenings in these countries as you would paint the entire continent with a single issue that happened in a single state, within a single country. So when you say, there is a religious war going on in Africa, you are completely discrediting over 50 other countries who are having peaceful co-existence. When in movies, you say you are visiting the wildlife in Africa, you are creating a major confusion because we really do not know which country you went to.
Unfortunately, since the western media is bent on portraying majorly the negative aspects of Africa, the bigger problem comes to play. The already laid stereotypes that plague us would not stop if we continue to be generalized. Just as there is poverty in many interior parts of Europe, poverty also exists in parts of Africa. The percentages are certainly higher, but saying ‘Africans are in poverty’ is a very wrong statement. Not just because, obviously there are too many billionaires living in Mansions in various countries across Africa, but also because it uses over 1.216 billion people as the sample size for a population of 218 million people in Africa that may be poor.
Basically, it is bad enough that certain countries have to deal with certain stereotypes; however using the stereotype of one village as the bedrock for the stereotype for Africa is a recipe for disaster. If for any reason you do not think people actually do this, here are a few examples for you. Remember that time Rick Ross tweeted “Just landed in the beautiful country of Africa”? How about the time Bill Clinton also tweeted “Just touched down in Africa”? In Roger Ebert’s review of the movie “The search for Happiness” Sheila O’Malley writes:
“Africa is a continent, not a country, and yet “Hector and the Search for Happiness” treats the entire gigantic land-mass, made up of multiple and diverse countries, as one place: Africa. The airplanes in Africa are filled with breastfeeding women wearing colorful robes, men smoking cigars, and chickens wandering the aisles. The plane nearly crashes and everyone laughs uproariously. Hector is inspired by their careless joie de vivre! He meets a woman on the plane who tells him the secret to happiness is in her recipe for sweet potato stew and she invites him over for dinner.
The entire village in the unnamed African country turns out to greet Hector joyously, whooping it up supportively as he drinks wine and dances with them. These people have nothing better to do with their lives than try to teach some dumb white guy that it’s fun to have a dinner party and hang out with your friends. The African sequence is a particular low-point. Africa is shown as dangerous, gunfire in the streets, and the entire “country” is boiled down into a place containing elephants, antelopes, saintly white aid workers, women with baskets on their heads, happy villagers and scary rifle-carrying soldiers”
I mean! I am in “Africa” and I have never seen an Elephant before. More so, let us be honest, speaking of Africa as it is a place, shows a certain degree of dumbness to say the least. Africa is not a synonym for Nigeria or Tanzania. So when you compare Africa to America, there is not a lot of sense in it. So if you belong to any African country, next time you happen to be in a foreign space, and somebody says, “You’re from Africa, right?” or “Do you speak African?” take time out to explain that there are around 1500-2000 official languages spoken within the African continent. The sooner this stops, the sooner African countries can start making a good name for themselves.