In a recent conversation with a fellow South African, I came to the realisation that there were a lot of things that we felt we needed to set straight about the way people viewed where we come from.
The main complaint was “we have to be extremely patriotic in order to even be a part of the conversation“. It seems like every day someone comes up with a bizarre question about Africa (since it’s all one country right?). It’s quite interesting how most people are quick to point out the differences between states or provinces within their own countries but in the same breath, put Africa, a continent, as one big mass of land with indistinguishable differences.
The initial conversation motivated further questioning of fellow Africans about their observations. Through hearing about their personal experiences, it became obvious that there is clear misinformation about Africa, which we’re all aware of, but this peaked my curiosity to find out just how misinformed the world is and maybe find out why.
Having met all kinds of interesting and might I add, intelligent people from all around the world, I was interested to see how much or how little they knew about our great continent. This sparked the interview idea. Granted, the following interviews are of individuals from select countries and don’t represent the world as a whole but there is a common thread that hopefully, we can draw an informed conclusion on.
I asked four different people from four different countries, different backgrounds and different age groups a few questions to figure out just how much they know about Africa.
The countries represented in this interview are: Australia, Canada, Philippines and United States of America
Q: Briefly tell me anything you know about the African continent
USA: The continent is big (lol). Some people will believe it was the birthplace of civilisation. I read somewhere that they found some of the oldest human remains in Africa, namely Egypt.
Philippines: As far as I know Africa is not a country, in fact, Africa is the second largest continent and the home of the world’s largest living land animal, like the African elephant.
Canada: It’s big and has a large population. The majority of the African population is poor and needs assistance from the world. There are a lot of Animals in Africa and you can see most of them if you go on Safari.
Australia: Honestly, I don’t know much except for the fact that there is a lot of wildlife and Nelson Mandela is from there.
Q: Do you know how many countries make up the African continent? If not, take a guess
USA: I have absolutely no idea Guess: 40
Philippines: Yes, I think Africa has 54 countries
Canada: Nope. Guess: 5
Australia: Not quite sure. Guess: 21
Q: What were you taught in schools about Africa, if anything?
USA: We were told that Africa is a poor country. We were taught that Africans needed our help to live their lives. We were taught that Africans were primitive, uneducated and not very intelligent. We were told that we were better than them.
Philippines: In schools, we learned that Africa has 8 major safari countries and there are some countries in Africa that need some help, especially the children. I remembered back in high school we used to organise a fundraising for the people of Malawi.
Canada: We were taught that it’s a third world country. That it’s poor and needs donations and help from the rest of the world. We were always shown the image of “the starving African child”.
Australia: We learnt that there was a lot of wildlife and that you could go to see animals on Safari.
Q: How does that differ from what you know today?
USA: I know that Africans are a proud people, very hardworking and educated. I know today that the African continent is full of riches and jewels and there is so much history there. As an adult, I’ve had the opportunity to go to Africa (not quite sure where in Africa) and met many African people, the men that I’ve met are the most hardworking men I’ve ever met in my life. They are dedicated to raising their families and preserving their history. Some of the women that I’ve met are some of the most beautiful women in the world which I wouldn’t have expected because the images I grew up seeing of Africans were of very skinny, non-attractive, poor, on the verge of starvation and in need. I found what I’d learnt to be a slap in the face when I got older and did my own research and found out more about Africans.
Philippines: There’s places in Africa that still need more attention or still dealing with poverty and if I have a chance to do volunteer work I will go for it for sure because I want to make a difference in African peoples lives especially the children.
Canada: Not much of a difference. I’ve met a few Africans like yourself who tell me about a different Africa but I still see the same rhetoric in the media. Most Africans I’ve met have been educated overseas so I feel like they don’t necessarily represent the average African. I still think it’s a third world country and not much development has taken place. I hear the economy is also pretty bad over there.
Australia: Still don’t know that much. I’ve heard that there are really good places for surfing and I know a few people who have been there and say it’s beautiful.
Q: How many countries have you travelled to around the world?
USA: A lot! I was in the United States Navy so I’ve been to Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Australia, Africa (uhm..ok), Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Canada and a few other places I can’t remember right now.
Philippines: I’ve been to 5 countries and I travelled a lot in Asia (Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea) and United States of America (New York City, Chicago, Florida and California).
Canada: Two (USA and Jamaica)
Australia: One. New Zealand
Q: How many African countries have you travelled to?
USA: One but I don’t remember which one. In my defence, I was only there for 12 hours
Philippines: Never been in any African country, however, I’m hoping that someday I will be able to visit Morocco, South Africa, Egypt Kenya, Malawi and Ethiopia.
Canada: Is Jamaica in Africa? I’ve been there.
Q: In your opinion why do you think that there is so much misinformation about the African continent?
USA: I think that white America fears the intelligence and drive of not just Africans but black people in general. I think the narrative they show us is their way of stagnating it. They make it taboo to embrace your culture and want to keep us uninformed.
Philippines: In my opinion, the reason there’s so much misinformation about the African continent is because people aren’t paying attention to what Africa is. Once they hear the word Africa the first thing in a lot of peoples minds is Africa is country and I guess that if we really pay attention to it and educate the people about the continents then it will be easier for everyone to understand what the difference is between the country and the continent.
Canada: The education system doesn’t allow for much education outside of North America so the little that people are taught in schools and what we see in the media is all that we have to go with. It doesn’t help either that there is already a stereotype once you meet an African so sometimes no matter how much they try to educate you about the continent and the differences in their countries, you still fall victim to not hearing what they say.
Australia: There are a lot of different points of view that we get to hear about Africa even from Africans so it’s difficult to decipher and figure out what is true and what isn’t. Some Africans will tell you about how developed their countries are and how they don’t differ much from Australia but others will tell you that they came from a small village where they didn’t have much development and how happy they are to be in a first world country. Due to the fact that we see a lot of the later in the media, it’s easy for us to believe that over the great stories we get to hear about Africa.
After getting through some cringe-worthy answers (not all of them) and having to hear Africa being referred to as a country far too many times, a lot of things became slightly clearer. Besides the large media corporations that we have absolutely no control over, we as Africans are to blame for how the world views us. There aren’t enough people out there showing Africa in a positive light so we can’t expect the world to see what we don’t show them. We need more platforms like Check Out Africa that educate, inform and keep people updated on the development and growth of our continent. This won’t happen overnight but hopefully, with time, we can get the world to see us as exactly what we are -nothing short of amazing!