The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Africa Is A Continent

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fairly uneasy with the generalization, “Africa,” especially in cultural contexts. Africa is now made up of over 50 countries; it’s the second largest continent; and there are hundreds of languages spoken throughout. There are thousands of unique ethnic groups that practice distinct traditions and have varied customs. Some areas have rich rainforest, while others are primarily arid. There are definitely people in Africa who are actually very unfamiliar with countries outside of their own, and may not even have full familiarity (as is the case in the U.S.A.) of the various reaches of the very country in which they currently live. So, then, what makes Africa, “Africa”?

What makes this vast, geographically-diverse, politically-varied land-mass so easily be referred to by so many and in so many different contexts, simply as “Africa?” In the year 2009, what does the label actually suggest?

Many times, it seems, the label “Africa” does not include North Africa, nor does the label “African” include the thousands of Caucasians that have lived here for generations. The labels clearly seem far too often reserved for the exotic, poor, war-torn, less-developed, wilds occupied by the darkest skinned people on earth. I’ve heard people refer to Namibia and South Africa as “less African” than places like Zimbabwe and Ghana. I’ve heard it on the plane and on the ground, from volunteers and from permanent residents in the countries. What’s being communicated in such statements? Are people really ready or wanting to see “Africa” grow, change, and develop in different ways? How do we and When did we get into the practice of validating Africa and Africans. It’s pretty frustrating, intriguing, real, and actually kinda sad.

Now prior to the “Scramble for Africa” by European countries such as England, France, Germany, and Portugal in the late 1880s, there were indeed fewer and definitely less rigid boundaries within the continent. The past flexibility in territorial divides caused many groups and cultures bearing resemblance to one another to be found in various parts of the lands. The migratory patterns; however, were distinct and diversity has always been present.
What do you think makes Africa, “Africa”?

Here's a Quick Story
Recently, I was awakened around 3am by the sounds of loud explosions and unfamiliar noises. The next day, I learned from many people, including the local judge, that it was the sound of police weapons fired to warn and then wound (ultimately killing) criminals who attempted to break-in to a local butchery. I posted the incident of being awakened on my Facebook homepage, causing numerous loved ones to respond with warnings about the dangers I was facing. General warnings about safety were fine, but how could they know about the specific dangers in Khorixas, Namibia? Only a few of the individuals in my life prior to November 2008 had ever been to Namibia (I did work at Peace Corps) and most had never even heard of the place. And this town’s activities definitely don’t make global news. I don’t think it mattered, though; it IS “Africa” and we all know what goes on there……

Truth is, gunshots have not been heard in Khorixas, Namibia perhaps in decades, according to local residents. I have heard more gunshots in my hometown of South Central Los Angeles (wherever that truly is….the boundaries just grow every time someone is shot) than anywhere else I’ve lived in the world. In reality, in Khorixas, Namibia, the most noise I hear is the nightly chorus of barking dogs, music and live athletics broadcasts from the shebeens (bars) and occasional blaring bakkies (pick-up trucks), and religious music on Sundays and funerals. It’s a pretty safe and quiet place. I will, however, be as cautious and alert as I am on the streets of New York City.

I realize that my time in Namibia is about helping others understand the diversity of our world, of Africa, of Southern Africa, and of Namibia, just as much as it is helping me understand the same. It is also time to identify and share the similarities that we all too often overlook or sometimes purposely ignore, as is the case of racial oppression, inter-group (gang) warfare, and institutionalized inequalities.

I do believe that because of the shared cultures, customs, and challenges in the continent, there is a need for many African countries to work and be represented as a collaborative whole. The African Union(AU) has a purpose, as do the regional associations of African countries. There will, however, always be a need for distinctions of some sort. So…..you still won’t hear me generalizing about “Africa” (or much else) very often.

1 comment:

  1. Egypt and Morocco are "special" so they can't be part of Africa. Beyond the fact that so many people haven't looked at a world map in years, even if they know exactly where they are they still say that. To them Africa is dangerous and BLACK and therefore nothing good can be associated with it. That is the mind set.

    The other misconception is that Africa is one big country. Again people are not looking at maps. I correct people all the time when I hear that. I'm happy to say I've been to 6 countries on the continent and most people don't even realize there are that many. Shameful.