06 February 2014

is africa a country or a continent?

So, how many countries are there in Africa?

Seriously, if you haven't Googled (yes, it's a verb now) the answer yet, try to take a guess. We'll call it African Geography 101. Any ideas?

54. Fifty four big (and little) ones. I don't know about you, but I was amazed when I learned that. 

Why? Why should we be surprised that so many countries fit on this massive continent? 

Basically, because we've been taught, in so many ways, that Africa is just one country. Sure, it's land mass is equal to China, India, the United States, and most of Europe put together, but it's just one place. 

pretty cool, huh?

For many years, we have viewed the continent of Africa as much smaller than it actually is, because we've made it smaller on our maps! This dates all the way back to good ol' colonial times, when we (a.k.a. Europe) were sad that our land mass wasn't too awesome, so we stretched the map vertically to make us look like the cool kids on the block. When we were actually just a bully. 

yowzas! new and improved!

But even today, the discrepancy continues. Much of the world's major news agencies continually report on stories happening "in Africa." Say what? "In Africa?" Um, can we get a little more detail? Statistics demonstrate that journalists of all shapes and sizes are perfectly fine referring to events happening in Africa, when in actuality, this does an incredible injustice to every African. Why? 

Because we end up thinking it's all the same. 

So, when Michael and I tell people we're moving to Tanzania, the reactions are worried and frightened. 
  • Isn't it dangerous there? (A.K.A. Don't I always read about wars going on in Africa?)
  • Will you be healthy? (A.K.A. Doesn't the news always show pictures of sick and dying Africans?)
  • Will we be able to e-mail? (A.K.A. Because most of what I hear about Africa is not too modern.)
we like both!

Do you see the problem? And Michael and I get caught in it too, without even realizing it! Even since we've been here, we've joked about Africa and technology. But that is just straight-up, fo' realz inaccurate. None of what Michael and I encounter is an African problem. Each one of the 54 countries on this continent has its own set of challenges, set-backs, and successes. Some have great internet connections! Others, not so much.
But truly, these countries are nowhere near the same. And we need to stop treating them as such. 

Even in the East African bubble, which usually includes Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, differences are through the roof. Our Tanzanian teachers here at school allege that Kenyans are completely different in culture, language, and lifestyle. And that's less than a three-hour drive away from here! 
Just think of the differences in the United States alone! Any of us who have had the opportunity to travel in the U.S. of A. would say the lifestyle, economics, culture, and even (yes!) language differs from the Northeast to the Mid-west to the deep South. And that's just one country. 
So, whaddya say? Are you with me? Africa is more than one place. If we continue to refer to it as just one country, with the same set of problems and issues, we only create more sweeping generalizations and stereotypes. This will do nothing to improve the quality of life in Africa's 54 countries but instead, will serve only to misinform people about what really goes on here for every kind of African, from Moroccans to Tanzanians to South Africans and all of the countries in between.

So spread the word. Africa is more than one country. You heard it from me.

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