My people, I am very confused. Is Africa a country? Here is what respected New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman wrote in one of his columns: “Walking through the Olympic Village the other day, here’s what struck me most: the Russian team all looks Russian; the African team all looks African; the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them.” In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal on early marriages written by David Lapp, he too wrote: “Instead of trekking to Africa or exploring Rome alone, why not marry the person of your dreams and take him or her along?”
Though I enjoyed reading the articles by the two gentlemen,
the juxtaposition of Africa (the continent) with China (the country), made me cringe. Contrary to the hypocritical uproar in the Western media that arose in 2008 when Sarah Palin was reported on Fox News to have thought that Africa is a country, not a continent, it seems Sarah Palin is not alone. The Western media too seems to address Africa as a country, whether implicitly or explicitly. Why is this so?
I honestly do not think it is entirely an ignorance issue as no one in their right minds can confidently argue that multi Pulitzer Prize winning author, Thomas Friedman does not know that Africa is a continent: Sarah Palin (if the reports are substantiated), maybe, but Thomas Friedman, certainly not. It appears to be a respect issue. I mean, why look up the name of that country in Africa represented in the Olympics or the name of the African countries with Safaris or even, the nationality of the African pirate when you can just write “Africa?” However, woe betide you if you refer to Russian runners as the European runners or even have the impetus to insinuate that they all look alike.
Look alike? Do you know how many countries there are in Europe? Do you know how different the culture in Eastern Europe is from that of Western Europe? Why would anyone make such a sweeping statement? Curiously, in the African case, such a statement would pass or in any case not even get noticed for its stark ridiculousness.
But this is wrong. First off, it is disrespectful. I know a significant portion of the African continent is poor, but we have nation states with boundaries, identities and unique histories. I know the Western media knows this, but the widespread practice of not acknowledging African countries by name indicates that they do not think individual African countries are important. It is almost as though mentioning for instance, Sierra Leone in the same breath as say, the United States of America is not worth writing or saying, because really, “who cares?” In fact, it is almost as if there is a fear that people may not understand what or where a country like Uganda is if it is written or said. However, if you write or say, “Africa” everyone immediately understands. “Oh. Africa. I know where that is!” But why should that be our problem? Anyone who reads or hears Uganda and does not know what or where it is can do a quick Google search on it, or simply ask.
It would be pretentious of me though to ascribe the practice of referring to Africa as a country only to the Western media. Recently, I overheard my uncle telling one of his American colleagues that he had just returned from his trip to Africa. I kept wondering to myself why he would say something so ridiculous but then realised that perhaps his friend might not know what or where Nigeria is. In fact, once or twice, I have found myself tempted to make such a concession since everyone, including my Nigerian uncle seems to be doing it. So far, I have not.
For now, I have a dream that one day, countries in Africa will be respectfully referenced by their names and not as “Africa…” Oh, how I long for that day!