54 countries. 9 territories. 6 major language groups. Thousands of dialects. Different governance as well as a host of ethnicities, religions and ways of living. Yet in light of all this data still people refer to Africa as some kind of homogenous lump.
Africa. Is. Not. A. Country.
This malaise not only inflicts outsiders to the continent but many expats who will group all Africa countries and its interests as some one entity. Talking about the work that needs to be done in Africa. The empowerment of Africans. The need for infrastructure in Africa. Hardly ever country specific and often lending itself to the colonial language and framing used when the continent was divided into European fiefdoms.
Some things change. Every thing stays the same.
I sat in utter disbelief looking at my screen a little while back when the rapper Rick Ross dropped this line
https://twitter.com/rickyrozay/status/349237034231144448 but whilst social media may have highlighted this stupidity, to me it’s actually the same kind of sentiment that fuelled the likes of the Kony2012 campaigns or those horrendous Band Aid concerts/records/campaigns which further strived to group Africa as one.
Seeing Africa not as a continent of separate and diverse countries each with their own needs as we do Europe, Asia, South or North America lends itself to all sorts of problems. From the white saviour complex of NGOS, Celebrities and countless other charitable endeavours, to post colonial imperialism disguised as Chinese and Japanese economic development.
I include myself in this list of others who have jumped up and down over the success stories of leading economies and governments on the continent, much the same as the media likes to highlight success stories of “hard working class people who have succeed against the odds” in popular Western European and North American media.
Politically many descendants from the continent have continued this meme in their aim and zeal to restore some pride around what it means to be African. Let’s be honest black African. From Marcus Garvey to Cheikh Anta Diop. Even many of my personal political heroes in Africa were susceptible to group think of continental solutions through the vehicle of Pan Africanism. From Nkrumah through to Mandela and even (say what you will) the likes of Gadaffi wanted this united front, to push back against the West. In reality there are so many underlying differences between such countries that a common enemy (lest it be in war) actually never figures on the radar of the shit that really matters in one’s own country.
I wonder what would happen if we tackled Eritrea, Cape Verde, Algeria, Botswana, Kenya as separate entities instead of this global collectivism that is Africa? That is not to say that as a continent it cannot be an economic powerhouse. When it suits North America and Europe have no problem leveraging this.
Nigeria, South Africa and Congo alone have enough resources in terms of minerals and man power to take on the likes of UK, France, Spain and the USA. Why else would the likes of Barclays and other international backs get jittery about the powerful overseas remittances making their way back to home countries of expats? I guess it probably needs that kind of collective bargaining power of a few sovereign states to change the conversation. Change the tone so that countries can be seen in their own right.
My fear is that so much has been invested in seeing Africa as a basket case in need of help from everyone outside. The one sided imagery of African countries that emerges each year through things like Comic Relief and their associated charities through to the patronising tone of industrialists like Bill Gates help to reinforce this imagery of Africa as “a country in need”. Such powerful and continuos media hinders any forward thinking on this. If I hear another student tell me that they want to take a gap year helping children in Africa!!!
I don’t know if such a conversation around the countries that make up Africa will change. I do know that if it is to change it will take a massive global collective effort. I live in hope and just do the bit I can around such conversations. Hope, however, is not a strategy.