Understand the Real Africa
For the longest time, probably a month, I have been working on a blog post about the things I wish I knew before I became an international student. I have some non-shocking news, it is not done. Instead, I bring you lessons on Africa and how to understand the CONTINENT if you are not from there.
I am part of the African and Caribbean student union in my school - you know a girl gotta put something on her resume! Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we were trying to recruit some new members and we noticed that people of the non-melanated variety and even some of the melanated variety did not want to sign up. Which led to me saying, "we're all from Africa" and "Africa and the Caribbean have white people." Some people looked uncomfortable when I said it and it got straight up weird with one girl.
This made me think of the number of times people have asked me about Africa like I've visited the entire continent, or the assumption that Africa is a monolith with people that look the same, talk the same and act the same. I'm talking to you Hollywood, we seriously need to talk about this faux African accent.
To be honest, I'm pretty tired of all this. I'm pretty tired of having to explain Africa when the rest of the world should be explaining itself to me, because from where I sit there would be no world without Africa. #youarewelcome.
Africa is the myth. The land. The legend. The continent or the country. Impoverished or extremely wealthy. We might never know.
Africa is a source of confusion and consternation for those who have heard of it and for those who live in it.
There are certain ideas and stereotypes that not only the world holds but some that Africans hold about other African countries. Sometimes the stereotypes and ideas are benign things like Ethiopia has the finest ladies, Tanzanians are the nicest and Nigerians are the loudest on the continent. Check out the #ifAfricawasabar for a funny look into the way Africans view each other. Sometimes the ideas we hold are not as benign, ideas like who is actually an African? What actually constitutes of Africa? If Africa is a colonial construct why the heck should I care about all these other people? You know, everyday things like that.
In my not so vast experience as a foreigner, I've noticed a couple of things when I mention that I am from Kenya. I usually get two types of looks; either the "wow! that's cool" and then the "I wonder where that is" look or the "never heard of that place" look. A few brave people have attempted to tell me where it is. Most usually ask or don't give a damn.
Which got me wondering, what do people think when I say, Africa?
I assume that if you are a foreigner not necessarily sure about the African continent, you are either talking about Nigeria (the place with the scammers) or South Africa (the place with its location as its name.) If you are a foreigner and you have watched National Geographic or those documentaries on starving children, child soldiers or pirates. You are most probably thinking of Central, East, West and/or Southern Africa... even if you do not realize it.
If you are African you are thinking of that section between North and South Africa, also known as Sub-Saharan Africa. Not to sound like an African elitist but Sub-Saharan Africa is what most would consider the real Africa.
That's the part of Africa that people always mention twice.
That's where the bad stuff happens. Lions eating cheetahs, Tarzan living with gorillas, the Lion King. That all took place in that sliver of the continent.
Most people won't want to admit it but when they think of countries in the North they don't think of them as Africans. They are the countries that have a predominant Arab influence or the ones that like to think of themselves as Middle Eastern. Some people in the Northern countries would not admit that they were from Africa. North Africa would best be described as Africa lite, merely African in name but not as wild as the rest of Africa... until the Arab Spring.
When it comes to the South, it's usually just South Africa but possibly Namibia and Botswana. Zimbabwe could easily be on the list but our friend, Bob, has made that impossible, These are countries that are never really in the news for barbaric things (except South Africa those few times,) they have a significant white population and are part of the reason Africa is seen as a rising continent. This is diet Africa.
The real Africa. The one you always see on the news is that slice of heaven between South Africa and the Northern countries.
The difference between Africa lite, diet Africa, and the REAL Africa is perception.
Africa lite is made up of countries that are treated more like developed nations to an extent. They are known for their efforts in the advancement of human beings as a whole.
Diet Africa is made up of countries that recently gained independence. By recently I mean the '80s and '90s. Not as old as some of the countries in the North or Ethiopia. They have better infrastructure, better roads, they have diamonds, so you know they ballin out. They also have white people as citizens. Not expats or people who moved there recently but people who can say that their great great great grandparents were born in that country. Diet Africa is made up of civilized people, still in touch with their roots but modern enough to know that they "need" the ways of the Western world to survive.
The real Africa is where you find your Liberia's, your Somalia's, your DRC's, basically the baddest of the bad. The corruptest of the corrupt. The most developing of developing nations. The real Africa is the one you see on CNN all the time. It's just problem after problem. It really is a miracle they survive. There are very few white citizens and those that do live in those countries are more often than not, aid workers.
The real Africa is where they have high levels of HIV, malaria, famine, and drought. All the plagues from the Bible are basically still happening in the real Africa.
The real Africa has resources but due to mismanagement of funds is unable to reach its full potential.
The real Africa has a leadership problem, usually known as a lack of an understanding of democracy.
The real Africa is inhabited by savages. They don't wear shoes, they live in huts, they are one with the animals and strongly believe in witchcraft.
Now as someone who lives in the real Africa. The one that is always pointed out in classes and news stories as the monolith Sub-Saharan Africa. I will tell you that everything I have just described is BS.
There is no such thing as the "real Africa" or "Africa-Africa" All those things that are labeled as real Africa, can be found everywhere on the continent. The biggest supporters of democracy only in name are found in the North, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt on occasion.
The country with the highest HIV rate is in diet Africa, South Africa and Swaziland face this epidemic on a level that some of the countries in "real Africa" will never experience.
The problems we face in Sub-Saharan Africa are problems that many countries in the world face today or have faced at one point in their existence.
The real Africa is more than the statistics, pictures, stories, and narratives we hear. The real Africa is more than a story of triumph. The real Africa is everyday life just like in any other Western country in the world.
I hope this is the last time I have to write or say that Africa is a continent not a country with billions of people, different languages, cultures, and experiences. Africa is not a static monolith. If you ask me about Africa I will ask if you mean all 54 countries or just the one I'm from.