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The Term "Africa" at a Crossroads of Misconceptions and Reality?

To some, the term Africa is at the crossroads of becoming a "single country" among university and college students in the US and other western countries as oppose to a continent with 52 distinct countries with culturally different peoples, languages, governments, geography, and economies.

To some Africa is considered Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, surprisingly enough Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently ebola...what a bumber! This is partly due to the fact that what makes the headlines for that day, week or even month constitutes the definition of Africa among western university students. Yet to others the word "Africa" can be associated with their travel plans even though they might be traveling to a single country that is part of a huge, diverse, geographically different area.

We usually hear statements on diverse social, political, economic, development, tourism, and other issues such as "in Africa" this is like that, or "when I was in Africa" or something like "ebola in West Africa is sporadic." I experienced that or you sometime hear "people in Africa" speak lot of difference languages. These are just few cases. I think you get the bigger picture here.

Now, what is responsible for this naivism among western students about referencing Africa as a single country even though their discussions or experiences may be associated with just a fraction of the entire continent? Is it that their secondary educational systems do not focus too much on learning geography to be able to distinguish that Africa is a continent of 52 countries? Or could it be that most of these western students are using the term "Africa" to mean a single country out of the love to see the continent as the United States? Well, the fact is and will always be that those thinkers who felt that Africa could be well governed under the banner of the "United States of Africa" are all dead, primarily their deaths were facilitated by detractors from the west who felt that Africa, if united would put their national security interests at stake? Sounds familiar. Yes, it does because we all know that most of the world's natural resources are not manufactured into usable goods on the continent, but are exported abroad, processed and resold  back to them are significantly huge prices (the development nightmare). So, if Ivory Coast (one of the world's largest producer cocoa), Ghana (Gold), Congo DRC (diamond & minerals), Liberia (used to be rubber, but now timber), Guinea (bauxite), etc. Or are they just using the word out of just total ignorance? Well, the answer to these questions remain unclear.

Fortunately for us, we still have a small proportion of western university students that use the word "Africa" in its appropriate context specifically stating their experiences in individual countries on the continent. I was fortunate enough to have share courses at the department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) here at Clark University with few of these domestic students. An example of the misappropriate use of the word "Africa" to be considered as a single country or even a fraction of the continent (either West, South, East, Central or North Africa) was highlighted at the 2011 Undergraduate Clark University Gala held few years ago.

I must first applaud the excellent performances of the team that represented a "fraction of Africa" portrayed in the music and dance. In the issue of "The Scarlet: The Student Newspaper of Clark University" that followed after the event it was stated that their performances represented "Africa." In this case, the issue referenced the performance to be a totality of African cultures, music and dance, which I can state is misleading and did not appropriately represented the continent. This is because the music that were played and the dances that were performed are from South Africa (the country not Southern Africa), and mostly Ivory Coast and Ghana. Now, so how could this very little fraction of Clark's students performance at the 2011 Gala capture in just three countries represented in their music and dance the totality of African music and dance? You could say, well, you are just making a deal of this thing. Well, it is a deal because this mentality resonates into behaviors that are acted upon and if these misconceptions aren't address at the undergraduate and graduate levels, they would translate into policy construction in the future by those of today.

It will make the world a better place if we explicitly state our experiences about issues in Africa in context with specific countries and region on the "mother continent" and stop generalizing issues.


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