12 October 2010

Don't 'Africa' Africa.

The shape of Africa is iconic - unlike the shape of her individual countries.

"I'd like to visit Africa one day," an acquaintance once said to me.
"Nice, where in Africa?" I asked.

Maybe that was true - maybe he really wanted to see anything in Africa - a pyramid or a white shark - but it didn't come across like he just hadn't had the time to choose from the multitude of options; rather that it made no difference, and the otherwise insignificant and harmless incident triggred a reaction in me and ever since I've been extremely irritated by these generalistaions. It perhaps is because the ignorance here, to some extent, normalises the colonial and apartheid discourse in the same way as Richrad Dawkins argues the moderate religious talk normalising the extremism.

Regardless of the fact that one of my favourite blogs is “Africa is a Country”, Africa, of course, isn’t a country, but a continent – a vast area with numerous languages, cultures and so on. Obviously. Well, obviously for the one’s to whom it is obvious – not for everyone. And it’s fine because there is always enough ignorance to go around, and we all are rather ignorant when it comes to many things anyway. But perhaps the ignorance that comes to Africa is a bit more designed than, say, people who know little or nothing – or completely misunderstand the off-side rule in football.

I saw this map today where many countries were fitted into the area of Africa. Its purpose, I suppose, was to demonstrate how big Africa really is as an area and fair play, even in the world map on my son’s wall the Greenland is of the same size so the way maps are generally made, makes this a useful exercise. But the mistake remains. Africa is big, but not a country unlike all that it is here compared to with one exception (small map in the side has planted the continent of Europe inside Africa). I am not saying that there is ill intention behind this map – it doesn’t instigate the misconception – it probably is its result. Even the term misconception might be misguiding. Perhaps it is more like  a deliberate overlooking supported by historical and political narratives as understood and of course created by the global north. 

It made me think of the book I have been wanting to read for long, but haven’t yet. It’s called “Don’t Africa Me,” and it might have just been brought up a few notches on my reading list. I am no expert (a minor disclaimer here), but even the African unity – as I understand it by Biko and Nkrumah – isn’t about being uniform, but united. Whether I have understood this broad concept correctly or not, isn't the point anyway, since I am not writing, and I never would, with any mandate from any group, but only as an individual to encourage other indivduals to consider and be circumspect. Maybe I am overtly sensitive, but I witness these things on  a daily basis. Perhaps it is all about the history or is it rather for us non-Africans to feel good about the current geo-politics - maybe it is sincerely our best attempt to understand - but even the most well meaning simplification isn’t helpful – only patronising.

1 comment:

C. Paschal Eze said...

Hi Mikko,

I am the author of the book, "Don't Africa Me" and I am glad you want to read it. I can send you a copy.

I have written over 6 books since 2008 when "Don't Africa Me", my 6th book, was published.

Here is my website: http://www.rebrandingstrategist.com.

Thank you.

C. Paschal Eze
Coralville Iowa USA