As I thought about this topic, I reflected back to my time as a first year politics student at university. In one of my history modules, we learnt that in 1884, during the famous Berlin conference (also known as the scramble for Africa), Africa was divided up into different States by European powers. And since then (I am pretty sure), Africa has ceased to be one country (or kingdom), but a continent. So why then do some people seem to think that Africa is one big country? Where do these perceptions come from? And why hasn’t anyone taken the painstaking effort to correct this? Where do these perceptions come from and how can we change them?
A few years ago, I attended a seminar where one of the speakers narrated an experience he had in America. The speaker in question was South African and he had gone to the USA for a work-related project. During his visit, he met an American man who was quite excited to meet him, given that he (the South African) lives in Africa. The American man then proceeded to say that he has a friend in Nigeria who lives in Lagos, and if the South African man knew him? To this, the South African man answered “no I don’t”… The crowd burst out into laughter, everyone was in stitches. Hilariously funny as this may sound, underneath it, lay an important message about the role of the media, lack of awareness and mis-education, in fostering the view that Africa is a country not a continent. And this has stayed with me ever since.
The Media probably plays the biggest role in perpetuating the idea, that Africa is a country and not a continent. In the media you often hear things like “an African boy” or “an African woman”, without specific reference to the exact African country the boy or woman comes from. I have always found it interesting (to say the least) that the media differentiates between the various European states, but no such regard is afforded to Africa. You will hear “the Paris suburb of…” or the “Swedish skiing town of…”, but not so with Africa. I wonder how many people know that the African child adopted by Madonna is not just African but Malawian at that. Better still, I wonder how many people know where Malawi is situated on the map of Africa. Not too many I presume.
Lack of awareness is probably another leading factor. I feel a lot of people just sit in their bubbles and do not make an effort to find out a little about the world around them. When you meet an African make the effort to find which part of Africa they come from. Read a book on Africa, take a trip to Africa, take a course on African studies (you get my drift?). The onus still lies with you to take the necessary steps to inform yourself about Africa, as a continent, not a country.
Mis-education is another contributing factor. I feel that a lot more could be done to educate children on Africa by including African history at high school level in western countries. I am not talking about Shaka Zulu, (which seems to be the go to era for African history). I mean African history like the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the 1970s liberation struggle in Angola and the 1960 Biafra war in Nigeria.
A few last words
A few years ago, I had a boss who was obsessed with current affairs. He would quiz me about past American presidents and would ask me if I knew them in chronological order, all 44 of them! I could only trace them far back as Richard Nixon in chronological order (without mixing up the order). I remember thinking to myself, who in the world knows that kind of information, (only walking encyclopaedias I thought). But looking back, he was right. It is important for everyone to learn a little about the world around them.
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