I would like to start out by saying that I have been found guilty of it in the past, and that this isn’t directed to anyone in particular, but is directed to almost every person I meet and talk to, and often in most of the things I read…so take that for what it is worth!
I have noticed, since going to “Africa” that this is the most common way to refer to the 62 different countries and territories of the African continent. Why do people refer to every African country as “Africa?” Why if someone is going to Mozambique are they going to “Africa?” Why do people say “I want to go to Africa” instead of “I would love to go to Kenya?” I am not actually sure if there is an answer. It could be inherently racist, or ignorance, or just plain laziness.
Africa is a vast place. It covers (according to Wikipedia) 6% of the Earth’s total surface, and 20.4% of it’s total land area. To put things into perspective, the areas of India, China, the United States, Argentina, and Western Europe would all fit inside, with room to spare (http://bigthink.com/ideas/21084). Big right? Being a large collective area, many countries on the African continent obviously share a similar collection of traits. Some may share a history of imperialism and injustice, or others may share diseases that know no border, but have devastated them all the same.
Anyway, the point here is that, grouping together African countries, based on their similarities, into one large “Africa,” takes away from all the differences that make them distinct and wonderful countries on their own. There are 62 different territories and countries, countless languages (over 1000), from Arabic to Igbo, and some of the most interesting and oldest cultural traditions, religions, and beliefs. Not to mention each has a unique history, present, and future. Their governments are different, their landscapes are different, and although many African countries share similar issues, each has its own set of individual problems.
Now, as we see a shift away from large-scale government aid to a more individual and humanistic approach to development, I think it is extremely important to value each culture and person for the differences that make them beautiful. After spending time in Tanzania, I wouldn’t dare call it anything else. How could I? I didn’t get to see Egypt, or Ghana, or Mauritania. I saw Tanzania. I met Tanzanians. I ate Tanzanian food and laughed (or not laughed) at Tanzanian jokes. I heard Swahili and Hehe, I saw churches and mosques, and witnessed an exciting Tanzanian presidential election. Now, imagine this happening in the 61 other distinct countries and territories of Africa.
To relate it to my own life, I know most Canadians (sorry to my American friends) dislike or even hate being grouped together in the “America” category. I mean, we are Canadians right? In order to foster a global world where cultures are respected and recognized, I think that it is worth the time and effort to familiarize yourself with different African states, cultures, and histories. Or for that matter, add the countries of South America, the countries of Asia, and even the countries of Europe to that list. Instead of treating “Africa” as a faraway tourist destination where you can volunteer and plant trees, treat it as a real place with real people, that aren’t forgotten when you leave. Those animals you are paying big bucks to see today might not be there tomorrow. Those kids you played with at the orphanage might not be there tomorrow either. Give them the attention they deserve. All it is..a simple mindset change.
Maybe I was inspired by the world’s newest country becoming it’s own after years of civil war and a fight for autonomy. I am sure if you were to ask someone from South Sudan where they come from, they wouldn’t say “Africa.”