There are two interrelated and false ways in which the image of Africa is presented to the world. In this post I explain what they are and how they connect.
Afro-blivion: Look closely at most global narratives, media coverage, fiction, films, non-fictional writing etc. When the topic is of global relevance and significance, Africa is often left out or forgotten. For example when we look for something superlative, or say something is the best in the world, (unless we are talking poverty, corruption, disease, strife or conflict) there is usually no data or record from Africa. For some of these lists, it is clear that Africa has not even been taken into consideration. The best science and maths students in the world – no Africans, best drummers no Africans (!!); only one African dish shows up in two best foods lists (the only thing we eat is sand, you know); no African ever told a joke (how can we when we are constantly at war?). On a ranking of national anthems, the only African country to place above 40 is South Africa. When you consider that the Zambia and South African national anthem are very, very similar, that is just weird. Apparently Africans can’t sing either. This list of lists could go on, but I think we have established one thing – I hate global lists (See previous post on ranking of universities). They cause Afro-blivion – forgetting that Africa exists as a valid separate continent of people.
Afro-tropia: On the occasions the existence of Africa is remembered, ‘Africa’ becomes a synecdoche (a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa), or the subject of such distortion of narrative that belief is not only suspended but literally obliterated, or ‘Africa’ is used as a false adjective steeped in negativity. (See previous blog on Hearts of Darknesses). Someone will go to a remote village in Equatorial Guinea and write an entire thesis on how ‘Africa’ is coping with malaria. See for example the following:
Girl guide leader fundraising to go to Africa (She is going to Zambia!)
Africa’s example: How democracy begets democracy (A story about the 2017 Gambian election)
Africans wary of US travel after series of border denials (Ostensibly a story about Nigerians travelling, but a short paragraph of alludes to other countries)
Afro-tropia: stereotyping Africa, misrepresenting Africa, creating a false image of Africa and then portraying that as all that she is and all that she can be.
Afro-tropia and Afro-blivion are closely linked. If you believe that Africa is only dust, hunger and war, you will not go looking for the best in her. And if you do not know of Africa’s best you are more likely to believe that Africa’s worst is all she is and all she can be.