“Africa is not a country, it’s a continent!”
This is a comment that has been echoed over and over again across the world, however, we continue to refer to Africa as one whole country. Despite this sounding like a primary school Geography lesson, this is one class that millions across the world missed — and it’s contributing to very negative ideas and images that are continually circulated about the continent as whole.
Over the years, perceptions and views of the African continent have varied, but one thing that has remained near-constant is the negative image of Africa that has largely been informed by colonial ideas. Decades after the last of the European empires collapsed, world leaders still view the continent as underdeveloped and inhospitable, with Donald Trump recently referring to many African countries as ‘sh*t hole[s]’.
“Many aspects Africa is just as – if not more – developed as the West.”
Comments like these not only reflect the deeply racist views that many white people, and even non-black people of colour, still hold, but they also ignore the wealth of beauty, culture, and success that can be found within the African continent. Many (white, Western) people believe that in order for Africa to develop it has to become like the West, but this could not be farther from the truth. While parts of Africa are undoubtedly crippled by poverty and suffering because of political turmoil (both of which can arguably be traced back the the exploitation of European empires), in many aspects Africa is just as — if not more — developed as the West.
Take sustainable energy, for example. The renewable energy sector in Kenya grew from virtually zero in 2009, to over $1 billion in 2010, and they are Africa’s first geothermal power producer and a world leader in solar energy. And, given the increased economic growth in West African countries like Nigeria, it is likely that there are further advancements in energy and beyond that are not always widely publicised.
When it comes to travel and tourism, many people flock to places like Johannesburg in South Africa and Casablanca in Morocco, but there are other cities like Dakar in Senegal, which is known for its natural attractions, and the safari parks in Kenya which attract thousands of Western tourists. If Africa is a complete “sh*t hole”, why do so many Westerners spend thousands of pounds on expensive holidays in these beautiful countries?
“Botswana is one of the most stable democratic countries, and is also considered one of the safest places in Africa with its excellent human rights record.”
Of course, the main argument Westerners make against African countries is that they’re all politically and socially unstable and corrupt. But whilst there are undoubtedly a number of turbulent countries in Africa, there are also a number of politically stable countries too — just as in the rest of the world. Botswana, for example, is one of the most stable democratic countries, and is also considered one of the safest places in Africa with its excellent human rights record. Libya’s female president, Ellen Johnson, is a nobel prize winner; and the Malian city of Timbuktu is home to one of the oldest universities in the world.
And it’s not just Africa’s political systems that are advancing. Many African countries have a growing middle class that the Oxfam adverts won’t tell you about; especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where one in three people are middle class. In fact, when it comes to growing economies, six out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are from Africa, dispelling the myth that all African countries and peoples are stuck in never-ending poverty.
“The West needs to get better at educating itself about the continent.”
Culturally, Africa is just as rich as Europe and Asia. In Kenya, people are four times more likely to own a mobile phone than a toilet, highlighting the significant technological advancements within the country; and Nigeria’s Nollywood makes more movies than America’s Hollywood.
In short, there is a whole world of interesting culture, politics, economics, and art within Africa, and the West needs to get better at educating itself about the continent: about its history and its present, about its traditions and its progress. The education system in Britain needs to be more open and honest about England and the UK’s damaging role in African history, and leaders like Trump need to remember that Africa is not a country, it’s a continent. A continent that’s just as diverse and full of beauty as Europe or North America.