Friday, April 10, 2009

Africa is not a 'country', but a continent

My friend Oblayoo blogged recently about Annoying people who think Africa is a country. You have met some people like that haven't you? When I met a California bus driver who asked me a very ignorant question about Africa and Africans one summer, what did I do, I laughed. It was unbelievable. It's also unbelievable when you have an Archbishop of Ethiopia character in an American movie (shooter) and his name is Mutombo. I want to wag my finger at the producer of that movie at this moment. But this is the world we live in, and even America is not immune to ignorance about Africa. More often than not, Africa is branded as one country, one people with the same languages, problems, strengths, leaders, and food. Africans are not entirely happy with this, and they'll let you know. Just like I am about to tell you.

Myth: Africa is a country with safaris, wild animals, with a president called Nelson Mandela and a language called Swahili. When you watch the Lion King, only Nelson Madiba Mandela is absent. It'll be lovely if Mandela was Africa's president but no, am sure every Tom, Dick and Harry knows there is some dude called Robert Mugabe. The big question is, does Robert Mugabe make all Africans look bad? Africans who are not from Zimbabwe will be quick to tell you where he is from and how they have better presidents. Some will tell you HIV-AIDS is not a pandemic in their country. Others will tell you their country is not a hub for cocaine money. Others will tell you the idea of 419 or sakawa is unknown in their nation. Different places have different problems, cultures, etc, but the most important thing you need to know is Africa is not a country and 'we' don't have a single president.

This confusion breeds internal racism, where Africans tend to stick to their own. Not their own, as in African, but their own as in Gabonese, Angolan, Malian, Malawian, Sudanese, etc. Anyway, Africa is not a country, it is a continent with many diverse countries. And since we are neighbours, we can't dodge these scenarios but we'll be quick to remind y'all that we ain't the same people, either.

Did I confuse you? Because I am confused and don't know how to progress with this blog entry. So let me leave it short. Africa is not a country, it is a continent. To borrow from a poem I wrote once, what we need is the differentiation of the continent and the integration of our nations. We must remain proud of our nations and keep the sovereignty like the states in the USA. However, we must do business together and work together not even because we face the same problems (or not) but because we are neighbours, we have a lot in common culturally and attitudinally, and we can synergize our strengths to our collective benefit.

We must also force the outside world to see us in a good light by talking about ourselves in a good light. We must be loud and proud and noisy. We can't allow Mutombos to refer to Malian herdsmen while people with East African accents play major roles in movies about West Africa. We have talent everywhere and we must represent ourselves well.
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