Saturday, May 21, 2011

Africa is a country

Now here's a sensitive and controversial subject, also the name of a blog I enjoy reading, you might have noticed from my google reader shared feed.


Here's the issue:

A lot of people (most markedly, in my experience, outspoken white development workers) get upset if you say "Africa" carelessly, as if you were referring to a country ("have you been to Africa?" / "I'm going to Africa") rather than a continent. It's such a geographically and culturally diverse place, and actually has 53 countries (note that there would be MANY many more if Africans had drawn the lines on cultural and ethnic boundaries, rather than colonists on geographic ones).

Note2: saying "Asia" is just as bad --probably worse-- by the same logic, but people are much less bothered by that (I think it's because people 'think "Africa" is poor but "Asia" is not', which is also completely false)

I understand some where the frustration of outspoken white development workers (OWDW) comes from {probably ignorant whitefolk -- I use this carelessly. Here in Ghana, if you ain't black, you white. A fairer-skinned African-American is considered white(!!)}.

(As for OWDWs, perhaps I fit the bill, although I don't consider myself a development worker, don't like the word "development", do not believe in development aid and agencies and most NGOs, and usually outspeak about non-"development" things)

But, consider this:


There are some powerful trends and similarities across the whole (sub-saharan part, anyway) continent, and on top of that, in my experience black Africans are intensely patriotic about their mother land / continent, and their black skin, and the brother/sister hood they feel it gives them. Black Africans: Ghanaians, Tanzanians, Kenyans in my experience will say "Africa" and "Africans" carelessly, without blinking twice. Perhaps there is an "Africa". Imagine a OWDW trying to lecture them that there isn't.


Anyway, I usually (and uncharacteristically wimpily) choose an uncommitted and neutral approach to this and always use country names. By following that rule, I can forget about the whole big hoo-hah and focus on more immediately pressing things, like my job.

I wrote about this to a good friend of mine, and here's what she said in reply (which I found fascinating and enlightening, and which made me smile to read):

"...I also learned that almost all Africans (Neil Turok...SA...Cameroonian...Nigerian) *always* talk about Africa. Thinking about regions not in terms of artificially established (colonial) borders is very empowering for the people in my opinion -- the whole radical socialist movement in Latin America always talks about "our fatherland America". Splintering is almost always a means to suppression..."


So I'll leave you with just that. There's no conclusion to this one.

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