Africa is not a country!

July 21, 2020 / Comments (0)

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I am certain that if you are an African you have had to at least once make this statement to someone. I remember the first time I had to declare this fact. I was 11 or 12 years old and I was in one of my first Geography lessons in secondary school when one of my classmates boldly made a statement about how Africa was a country. I remember responding to the nonsense I had heard and loudly interrupted saying, Africa is not a country, it is a continent. There are 7 continents in the world. They are South America, North America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Antarctica, Australia. I had learnt all the continents and their names in a song when I was younger and to me it seemed like a fact that someone of our age at the time should have known. This encounter was 12 years ago already and I have had to make the same statement of FACT multiple times.

Since it appears that we must keep reiterating this fact, here are some other facts about the continent

1. Africa is not a county but a continent with 54 countries that are diverse culturally and geographically.

That is why when people say I am going to Africa I like Bill Clinton in 2013 I get a little frustrated. This homogenisation of the continent is ridiculous and the ignorance it portrays is inherent of laziness to educate oneself in my opinion.[1] 

Africa Not Country by Mark Melnicove and Margy Burns Knight is a handy book that goes into the daily life of children in the many countries of modern Africa while countering stereotypes, celebrating the diversity of this vibrant continent as experienced by children at home, at school, at work, and at play.

2. The African continent is really really big. How big?

About as big as the combined landmasses of China, the United States, India, Japan and much of Europe.[2] This is a fact that may surprise you and this surprise comes from the inherent problems in cartographic representations of the planet and the continents. I recommend this CNN article which summarises nicely the inherent problems in portrayal of the size of continents on many world maps.

 3. Africa is probably the most multilingual continent.

South Africa for example has 11 official languages, including Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English. Nigeria and Cameroon are home to even more with more than 500 spoken in Nigeria 200+ in Cameroon. In Nigeria, English is the official tongue, although Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are more common as first languages. French, English and German have all been official languages in Cameroon, but if you visit the country, you might be just as likely to hear Fulfulde, Ewondo or Frananglais.[3]

I cannot tell you how many times I have had to say Nigerian is not a language or no I don’t speak African because that’s not a language but Afrikaans and I don’t speak that either because I am not from the south of Africa.  This is the equivalent of me asking an American “do you speak American” or a Brazilian “do you speak Brazilian”?

It’s okay not to know the languages spoken in every country but there are better ways to ask someone this question and I will show you. Next time you meet someone and want to ask them if they speak their native language you can ask:

What is/are the native language of (insert country)?

Do you speak the native language of (insert country)?

 4. Finally, the continent is not just one big safari!

I cannot reiterate this enough. When I was in school in the UK, I cannot tell you how many times I had to answer the questions like “did you live in a mud hut in Nigeria?”, “were there lions and zebras in your village when you were going to school”? When I think about it now it aggravates me. The image portrayed of the continent in the media, in the news, in entertainment is of a desolate wasteland where nothing thrives. This is wrong! This is a ridiculous narrative that needs to be quashed. Is poverty an issue on the continent? Yes. But this is not the continent’s defining characteristic.

About 37 percent of Africans live in urban areas — but in the next 30 years, Africa is expected to be the world’s fastest urbanizing region. [2]

Additionally, you can find 3 of the top 20 megacities that is cities with a population over 10 million in Africa.

  • Al-Qahirah (Cairo) – 20.9 million
  • Lagos – 14.36 million
  • Kinshasa – 14.34 million

The continent is home to a number of ecosystems. That means there is more to the continent than savannas or the Sahara. While these ecosystems do make up three-fourths of the continent, there are also mountain ranges, rainforests, wetlands, shrublands, coasts with coral reefs and barrier islands, and a set of great lakes, which include Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.

I say all this to say, it is our duty to be educated and to stop the perpetuation of these outdated problematic notions of the continent. Call out your friends who consciously or unconsciously homogenize the continent. That includes us Africans also who sometimes partake in homogenisation. Educate them and yourselves. Remind them that the continent is beautiful and diverse and more than the Coming to America and whatever else Hollywood has decided to show.

Shining a light on Africa – read full article here

[1]Bill Clinton, Twitter, Accessed 15 July 2020,https://twitter.com/BillClinton/status/362568727335682048

[2]Jason Woods, “Africa Is Not a Country and Other Things You Need to Know About the Continent,” https://www.heifer.org/blog/africa-is-not-a-country-and-other-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-continent.html

Author

  • Hey there! My name Genevieve, I am the 2020-2021 ASC President. I’m British-Nigerian History student at the University of Groningen. You can probably find me in the Harmoniegebouw or the Noorderplantsoen

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