Issues

Africa is not…

I have recently been exposed to a lot of people who are completely ignorant about Africa.

Let’s get this right: Africa is NOT a big land mass of people who all speak and look the same!

To a certain extent, I understand that it’s really not their fault. They didn’t learn about Africa in history in high school and all they really ever hear about ‘the dark continent’ is that there are plagues of every kind, famines of titanic proportion and wars that leave thousands limbless.

Now, these things do happen every day and they do indeed provide important context for understanding Africa. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all of our story. Far from it! Africa is a continent of layered meanings, multiple histories and equally diverse people. From the Muslim north to the predominantly French-speaking west to the multicultural east right down to the savvy south, Africa boasts over 50 countries rich with language and living.

So I am starting to take offense at people who insist on classifying the way I behave or cook or relate to things as ‘African’. What does that really mean? Can someone please define African-ness for me so that I can understand what they are talking about?!

In case you might be one of those people who thinks that Africa is a lump of land somewhere in the south of the world where everyone speaks one language and lounges about about half-naked, spear in hand, cleaning our canine teeth of our afternoon meal of raw wild meat, THINK AGAIN. Here’s a list of facts that might help you.

Africa is not:

1)      A COUNTRY!

So some people love to harp on about this one. Every sentence they say starts with, “In Africa…” or every question they ask goes, “Is that an African way of doing XYZ?”  If you were to ask me what the Zimbabwean way of doing things was, I would still come up blank for a concrete answer because even Zimbabwe, small country that it is, is full of a range of diversity that cannot be summed up by national classification.

Still don’t believe me?: Here is the map of Africa…

2)      A COUNTRY AND DOES NOT SPEAK ONE LANGUAGE

So I have been asked if I can communicate with Nigerians in ‘African.’ Goodness me, I once even met a girl who asked me if I spoke ‘African’. Boy was I tempted to ask her German little self if she spoke ‘European’. Come on people! Use a little bit more of those brain cells and investigate our continent. If you did, you might realise that different parts of Africa were colonised by different western nations, hence a range of languages spoken. And even beyond that, we have tribes from all over. Could we really all speak one unified little secret African code?

3)      ALL POOR AND BLEAK AND HOPELESS

According to a recent study, one in three Africans now falls within the middle class social bracket. The study found that by 2010, Africa’s middle class had risen to about 34% of the continent’s total population, or about 313 million people – up from around 196 million (27%) in 2000. The statistics are heavily skewed in favour of North Africa and the definition of ‘middle class’ is open to a lot of criticism. But still, the fact that Africa has people who break the commonly held stereotype of mass poverty and suffering is refreshing. I was asked by a well-meaning girl, last week, if I came from the part of Africa where children have bloated bellies and don’t get enough food.

What part of Africa is that, I wonder.

Africa has poor people and extremely rich ones too. And yes, we also have a middle ground.  So once again, please let’s do our homework first before asking some of these questions.

Not all poor: A Black South African standing next to his Audi (photo courtesy of business.in.com)

4)      IS NOT AN ETERNAL BEGGING BOWL

Okay, I admit it. Africa relies a lot on donor funding just to get by. But do you know what the second greatest source of funding in Africa is beyond foreign direct investment? Remittances!

Yes, according to the World Bank, remittances to Africa reached almost USD 40 billion last year. Donor funding is number 3 in terms of cash inflows to

Charlize Theron: She may sound American, but she’s originally from South Africa.

Africa. So contrary to popular belief, Africa’s main sources of money are trade and business, and the enterprise of Africans abroad who send money back home to their families and investments.

Ha, I bet you didn’t see that one coming!

5)      ALL BLACK

Now please, let’s stop terrorising all non-black folk who identify themselves as African. Yes, Africa has white people, mixed-race folk and those of Asian and Arabic descent too! I have white friends who get the weirdest stares when they tell non-Africans that they are from the continent. For your information, South Africa has about 4.5 million white people so do not be surprised!

Once again, I urge people who find this impossible to believe to consult their text books or encyclopaedias or whatever they may use to learn more about Africa’s people. We really are diverse!

Ghana: A man weaving a kente cloth

Botswana: Tswana dancers doing their thing

Phew!

I feel happier now that I have gotten that off my chest! I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to realise just how little people know about this place, and how much they are missing. There are a lot of things that Africa is not. But there are also a lot of things that Africa is – beautiful, bruised, fast, slow, friendly, warring, warm, cold with death, alive with possibility.

Regardless of where we come from or what language we speak, we the diverse people of Africa have proven time and again our resilience and determination to survive. So get out to Africa and watch the seasoned craftsmen of Ghana weave a kente cloth, or wake up to the peaceful hum of morning prayer over Addis Ababa, or watch the Tswanas kick the afternoon dust as they dance their eloquent traditional dances.

Africa tells its own stories every single day – just be willing enough to listen.

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31 thoughts on “Africa is not…

  1. We as “Africans” are guilty of that as well. I just hated the idea of west African dressing being described as “African Attire”. That thing is as foreign to me as any attire from the China or America. But somehow it earned the name African attire

    • I totally agree. Even when it is said “for ABC function, come in cultural wear or African attire” (In Zim by the way) Everyone rocks up in a Dashiki, and West African dresses.

  2. My dear sister, I do agree with you that most of european people are quite ignorant about real circumstances about Africa, as a continent. I do agree, too, that zimbabwean white people are from Africa, as well as the Matabele or Shona or Tonga people. But they differ so much amongst them, and , from people from Senegal, who are mainly muslims, for instance.Nevertheless, my friends from Senegal do not know much about their brothers and sisters from South Africa or Kenia. However, what i have sensed as a common feeling amongst my sub-saharian african friends ( not north african arabian ones, though) , at least, is that they are ” african” . I will attach a song call ” we are africans”, which i love, showing that sense of belonging to the same continent, which has suffered a fierce colonization from different european cultures and countries ( portuguese, french, english, dutch, spanish). But, saying this, i have to end my comment, my dear, telling you that i understand your anger at the ignorancece or lack of interest of people.

  3. So true. Thanks for this piece, I share your frustrations on this issue. I do believe though, that Africans sometimes perpetuate myths of the dark continent. That being said, I still feel, many in other continents have not taken time to learn about the continent. I get irritated when Zimbabwe is spoken of as though its a province of South Africa. A lot of education needs to be done out there.

    Great piece you’ve written too!

  4. So I got this statement about my hair once. “Hey your hair…..i know Bob Marley” oh and there is “Oh you re from Zimbabwe…where is that? in Jamaica” ..you know what… the list is endless. All i can really say is, reading is fundamental and an open mind is imperative.

  5. Hmmmm…Ms. “I speak because I have a voice”
    Now,you’ve not only spoken because you have a voice…You’ve spoken the gospel truth.In case some one didn’t know about Africa in miniature(read;Cameroon),we have over 200 ethic groups with different languages,people,diverse dishes and cultures.I love Africa!….I am a proud African!…forever I will be Afrikan:))

  6. A well researched piece Fungi, bravo!
    The next time I get a “silly” comment or question, I’ll pass on a copy of this article…printing a couple to keep in my bag :D

  7. Well-said and well-written. One of the things that really raised my hackles was when an African-American man heard me speaking in New York and approached me to ask why I had such “great” English when I am from Africa?!
    The man seemed shocked that I could string a sentence together…. aah, very annoying these demeaning presumptions.
    Thanks for the research you put in to writing this. Great piece!

    • Fungai you have no idea how you have made my day and actually how you saved me from doing a lot of explanation that people always feel like you are making up. This will be my answer to all the ignorant and arrogant questions I will be faced with in the future. That’s wonderful girl, keep it up. And oh! yes….. I am a Swazi before I am an African.

  8. Haha…imagine the shock on some people’s faces when you tell them that you are self-sponsored…and then you are from Africa. I stopped blaming them when even I tried to type “Nigerian Children” in Google. The pictures that flashed back at me left me sad. Its either this people are ignorant because the do not seek information, or they get the wrong information.

    And the ones that expect us to speak the same language…me from Nigeria, you from Zimbabwe, and Ange from Rwanda. Ah, we are five Nigerians in my class and we don’t even speak the same language! Eish!

    Thanks, really nice piece.

  9. Do you ride elephants to school? I got asked once. Lol. Guess whatever little info on africa they get they get from News channels and wat always sells as news is wars and other tragedies. Someone should sell e idea of everyday documentaries much lyk reality tv to these news stations. Maybe they can name e documentary series, Shadowing the average african:-) and they can do one in each country..

  10. I feel you my sister. Once I was into penpalling and hated some of the questions about walking with lions and elephants and living in grass huts. I don’t know but for people with access to information, better access might I say, most non-Africans especially Americans are clueless about Africa. I think its an attitude thing – if one was really interested in knowing about the continent, its only a click away, literally!!!

    While we are on the subject, don’t you just hate the way Nigerian movies are referred to as African movies! I don’t know how you classify this coz we Africans are guilty of this crime.

  11. Not only did I enjoy this Fungi, I revelled in it. I know what you mean when you talk about non-blacks being hounded when they say that they are African. It happens to me daily…….The number of ignorant people among us is truly astonishing, especially with this being the information age. Thanks for the insightful article Fungi. From one proud African to another XXX.

  12. I’ve had some Americans on a tour ask me who was the King and Queen of Africa and can they get to Africa by car…I was stunned. Then I laughed so much I had to get off the bus to calm down.

  13. Ah Fungai, you have said it all. And whats sad is that some of us perpertuate the negatives about Africa by the way we potray ourselves as destitute to get college scholarships or donor funds for projects. Always exaggerating. yes we have poor and starving people – and so doees America and the rest of the world. But we come from beautiful countries, with beautiful people, educated people, “world class” people, if I may dare. We need to keep painting the other side of Africa to the world and not perpertuate the misconceptions. Well done in doing so – now the torch has been passed on and I for one will carry it and shed more light on my beautiful continent and the various regions, countries and peoples that it embodies.

  14. Great piece, Fungai. On the point of what we often call “African attire,” I have come to believe that we – Zimbabweans – have domesticated it, perhaps not entirely but enough for us to feel at home inside the cloth. I especially love African shirts that have a Zimbabwean touch to them, you know, images of San paintings and all. Positive stereotypes, eh?

  15. Great piece Fungie.Ive come across a lot of American folk that are like.”Oh ure from Zimbabwe wow.I knw i knw,thats in South Africa right”.Or they start asking about Nelson Mandela like like him n i live on the same street..Then therz “Ure so slim,tall and pretty are u Masai?*No,I’m frm Zimbabwe*Oh,Mugabes country? Shame.-
    Then thez a song by JayZ. titled Girls girls n part of the lyrics go-
    “I got this african chic with Eddie Murphy on her skull ,she like Jigga Mahn why u treat me like animal.When i met yo ass ,u was dead broke n naked,now u want half”
    Thanks for bringing the light Fungie.

  16. Dear Fungai,

    This is such a lovely post – full of anger towards the stereotype and love to the place where you belong. One of my teachers had stayed in Namibia for a year and she sure told us about the diversity of culture there, how much she loved being there, and how beautiful the country is. This is surely a great frustration that people talk without knowing a bit of it. However, the effort you make here sharing about what Africa really is is plausible.

    Keep up your good work, sister!
    Best wishes :)

  17. Great article as usual! yup – I always get weird looks when I say I’m from Zim (and am very obviously white) I;ve even been asked how I learnt english! – I met a guy from Zim who’d travelled to the states and he said he eventually just decided to amuse himself by playing up to it, being amazed by self-opening doors and dancing around saying I won I won when cash came out the atm, telling people about his treacherous ride to school on an elephant through a croc infested river lol – hilarious, though sad how people were more ready to believe that than the truth! Always love ready your blogs :)

  18. Pingback: Africa is not…

  19. I must say that line is tired – I remember coming to the UK and people asking me how come I wasn’t skinny and whether our family photos were of us sitting around a hut, with loin cloths and bare breasts. I mean it was amusing at first but it gets annoying after a while. Our lovely flatmate who categorises everything we do as African is one of the most ignorant people I have ever met – it is quite sad actually that people who have had the opportunity to get a degree and travel the world can still openly talk junk about Africa. I don’t go around asking white people if they all eat raw meat — (rare steak my bootay); because I have taken it upon myself to read about it and educate myself so that when I step outside the door I don’t look like a fool when people talk. But it is surprising that as Africans we are often not brave enough to retaliate, and say excuse me but let me give you a little bit of a history lesson you dumb ass! I cannot say that it is not their fault because they did not learn it at school, at the end of the day there is so much a school teacher can pump into your brain, there is so much information on the internet and in libraries that is waiting to be read – I did not learn about The Kings & Queens of England in school – but I took it upon myself to read about them – at least to know how many wives Henry VIII had. Ignorance is the reason why so many people do not advance in life, because you will always find that the person who takes it upon themselves to find out, will get far. When you are so caught up in your bubble – you miss out on so many opportunities, and well every bubble eventually pops, and then what?

    All I can say is that as much as we may be upset that people carry such stereotypes about Africa, let’s also be brave enough to talk back to those people who continue to put us down. I still think we need to sit our Sibly sister down and educate her – how about that for her leaving gift?

    Great article … loved it! Africa is full of beauty – you can’t find it anywhere else in this world …..

  20. Thank you sooooo much for posting this! It really gets very annoying when people, because of misinformation, look down and talk down at you!

  21. Hello there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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