Africa vs. Africans


Africa’s image abroad… Would it help if word “Africa” were used less and focus put instead on individual countries?

Humanitarianism, according to Wikipedia, can be described as «an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings». Such kindness or benevolence often lead to Paternalism and therefore to the reinforcement of the prevalent oppressive structures within the global economic and social order.

The word “Africa” is, in my opinion, branded in a deeply humanitarian sense. However, it is well accepted today that only africans themselves can change their objective reality and build new, more developed, contexts. Such paternalism is extended to the representation of the Other, the African, who, we believe, needs to be saved from its own reality.

Not only Africa is branded under such paternalistic light as there are also certain sectors of the developed societes who are, still today, very active on selling negative prejudices about the continent, labeling african nations and societies as conflict-prone, discriminatory or even pre-civilized. These sectors insist not to see africans as individuals or human beings but more like animals, deprived of agency and, more broadly, of their own will, or soul.

The use of a greater degree of detail when refering to african countries can refresh the image of the continent and reinforce the curiosity of the people for its internal dynamics. Africa is a diverse continent, as defended by historians such as Elikia M’Bokolo, and therefore it must not be treated, from an academic perspective, as an indivisible whole, in prejudice of complexity.

The extensively use of the word “Africa” also contributes to create distance from its people, who live in much more specific contexts than a subjective and uniform Africa, hiding their concrete lifes from the eyes of the world.

A possible solution to this question is to consider the african reality as a fragmented object, featuring a wide range of links and interdependences among its different subsystems or components, by following a subject oriented, bottom-up approach.

It is crucial to identify latent issues at smaller levels of analysis, emanating from the real people who experience the objective reality – the Subjects, and to place them afterwards in more generalized contexts.

Last year, during the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival, Somali born hip-hop artist K’naan took the stage to speak about the reality of his country. During such presentation, the artist made reference to a documentary film he was producing based on his last visit to the country. In the crowd, one listener from Angola raised word to ask the singer about government oppression. According to him, in Africa it was very difficult to escape government’s authority and dictatorship in order to attain freedom of expression. K’naan got somehow confused and answered that in Somalia the problem was not the excess of authority but more the lack of it.

Obviously the people from Angola are very concerned about the oppression they live in: it is a latent issue for them. However, after 5 minuts of dialog, it was clear to everyone in the room that despite the common problems of oppression, in a broad sense, and underdevelopment, very little can be generalized from one african country to another. Even africans are, sometimes, not awared of such complexities, and the media play a big role on such global desinformation.

Once we are able to objectively identify such latent issues, they can be used as a platform for global dialog and only by then can prejudice disappear and the image of the continent renewed.

It is important then to stop abusing the word “Africa”, as if it was a homogeneous reality, and to put the emphasis on the lifes of the people, the primary agents of development.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s