Whither Africa?

“So what are you going to do when you go to Nigeria?” asked a friend of mine over here yesterday.

“I’m going to Nigeria?” I asked, a look of astonishment flashing out of my face.

“Aren’t you leaving in three weeks?” he asked back, a little alarmed that he might have walked into a faux pas related to appearing to be eager for my departure or something.

Blank silence ensued for a few seconds as I waited for it to hit him.


Then a few more seconds went by, and the sensation of alarm turned his face red, then redder, and just before it was ready to burst in panic, I rescued him with, “Well, I’m going back home in about three weeks, but where does Nigeria come in?”

Realisation reached out and smashed him in the face, turning it an entertaining shade of purple as he flusteredly (not a real word, but coming soon to a web dictionary near you compiled from blog entries such as this) went, “Uganda! I meant Uganda. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry about that…”

No big deal, one would think, it’s just an ordinary faux pas. But NO! It’s NOT so much an ordinary faux pas as a footpath that many world citizens meander through because they are intellectual pedestrians; strolling down this small clearing around which the bush is overgrown with poverty and disease that sometimes obscures their view of the bright flowers of hope and vegetables of effort growing there!

The two main symptoms of sufferrers of this syndrome are: a) their tendency to refer to certain country-specific issues as “African” and b) their blindness towards Africa in general.

They consider Africa, the continent, to be one large mass of homogeneous activity that results mostly in disease, poverty, sufferring and a need for help.

“Last week I was in Africa,” another fellow declared to me in halting English two months ago.

“I’ve lived there for more than thirty years,” was what I wanted to reply with, but the polite upbringing teamed up with the feeling that this conversation was heading to somewhere entertaining (for me, not him), and kept me from doing so.

So instead I asked, “Where did you go?”

“The Canary Islands,” he replied, continuing with, “It is very sunny in Africa.”

“Yeah,” I wanted to reply again, “But only during the day. And only in the places where it is very sunny.”

But I let him go on.

“I liked it there,” he said. And I continually forgave him for speaking in these short, single sentences, because if I were required to make conversation in German I would perform far poorer.

“Good for you,” I actually replied, “Maybe I would like it too, but I have never been there.”

“What?!” was his astonished response, and at this point you must be wondering why I appear to hold conversations with only morons, but refer to United States Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin and her situation (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/05/palin-didnt-know-africa-i_n_141653.html).

Many of our friends and colleagues in the developed world see as as one group of people with generally the same culture (involving drums, dark-deathly religious rituals, wild animals, disease and so on and so forth), language (a series of clicks and many words that sound like drums – i.e. Bonga Donga Wonga), interests and problems. Whereas most can distinguish between Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, they simply cannot understand how a Nigerian can be different from a Ugandan – worse, how a Kenyan and a Ugandan can be different.

Granted, not many Africans can easily tell the difference between the occasional Korean and a Chinese chap, and they all seem to say, “Ching Chong Chow” when speaking.

But that’s different. We identify them easily enough as I just did above – Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians even Sri Lankans, dammit.

But we get identified generally as Africans. My ongoing campaign now is to create an understanding of the differences that exist between the different nationalities. Divisionism vs. the drive to create an African Union? Not at all: Africa is a contintent. With between 47 and 53 countries (depending on whether or not one counts some of the outlying islands). Each country has between one and one hundred different tribes (Nigeria might have more!) each with its own cultural beliefs and traditions in the same sense that Turks and Kurds are as different as the Welsh and the Scots.

That doesn’t stop the European Union being the European Union, does it?

That’s lesson number one.

To look at us as generally ‘Africans’ is simply laziness. We need it to end, otherwise none of the ‘problems’ associated with us will ever get solved simply because they are not being understood.

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