Free «Mistaking Africa» Essay Paper

Mistaking Africa

For the Western civilization, Africa is often associated with safaris, wild nature, or tribes. Despite the availability of the information on the problems of the African continent, such as huge prevalence of AIDs and other diseases, poverty, hunger, and breaking of civil wars, people pay little attention towards it. Thus, this essay aims at discussing certain perceptions of Africa that have already rooted in the consciousness of the American and European population.

The perception of Africa as a poor continent that has many problems, such as conflicts and illnesses was mainly formed under the influence of the popular media. However, this impact has created deeply rooted mental images of Africa. In addition, the majority of the citizens of the United States of America or European countries has never visited this continent. Thus, any information shown in the media or literature is taken for granted. At the same time, perceptions of Africa deprive people the possibility to get to know the diverse cultures of African civilization.

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Curtis Keim in his book Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind gives an overview of the evolution of the main stereotypes about Africa. However, the book does not provide the facts about the continent. It rather thinks of African culture as an enormously diverse phenomenon (Keim 6). In addition, Keim provides an analysis of the most popular misconceptions about Africa. They include the myth of the Dark Continent, prevalence of tribalism and cannibalism, associations with safaris as well as increasing of famine and poverty.

Firstly, there is a stereotype that Africa is one big country. It is supposed that the borders between the countries are just the lines on the map. As a result, Nigeria, Kenya, or Sierra Leone does not have any differences in history and culture. The US citizens have become convinced that the African nations do not have a history worth learning. In addition, the culture is expected to be the same all over the continent. Africans are often described as people who wear colorful clothes, dance, play drums, and live in the jungle. The myth was formed because of the generalizations about Africa. However, the continent consists of 54 states that have own history and culture (Keim 64). In addition, Africans speak more than 2000 languages, and there are 3000 ethnic groups (Rwomire 54).

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Secondly, most Africans are refugees, starving, or suffering from diseases, including AIDs or malaria. The Western media have created an image of the African population mainly as refugees or victims of poverty and constant civil wars. Africans are often described as the homeless people who live on the brink of starvation and require external support. There are accidents of famine over the continent. In addition, because of the wars and skirmishes that take place on the continent, there is an increasing number of refugees. At the same time, this is not a continent-wide phenomenon.

Indeed, the prevalence of illnesses on the African continent is higher than on the others. However, it is not determined by the fact that the continent has a higher amount of gems. Among the main reasons for the spread of the diseases in Africa, there is a lack of vaccination and health care. Thus, the problem can be eliminated with the increasing of the preventive measures, development of health education, and providing of vaccinations. At the same time, AIDs remains a significant problem in Africa. HIV rates vary greatly within the continent. The biggest amount of infected people is in Southern Africa while the lowest is in the Northern countries. Eradication of the disease remains difficult because of the cultural attitude towards it.

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Thirdly, there is a misconception that the African continent experiences a lack of civilization. In particular, Africa is often addressed to as the Dark Continent (Keim 35). The title dates back to the colonial epoch of the 18-19th centuries. At the same time, the stereotype that Africa is dangerous and savage has appeared during the ancient times. For example, Herodotus described the continent as a different place that threatens the Western civilization. In addition, Europeans created an image of Africa as the Dark Continent in order to underline Western superiority. Slave trade, racism issues, constant conflicts, and colonialism helped to crystallize this stereotype (Keim 37). With the European invasion of the African continent, the native population was considered to be “savages”. It was determined by the range of factors, such as the difference in religion and culture. Indeed, the Africans had customs that seemed strange and even cruel for the Europeans. However, all these factors do not contribute to the lack of the civilization. Civilization is represented by Western and non-Western varieties. Despite this, Western media continue to report about the cases of civil war, corruption, and dictators as well as poverty and diseases. As a result, the Western population considers Africa to be wild and savage continent, where tribalism still prevails. At the same time, the factors used to support the misconception that Africa is the Dark Continent prove that Africa faces a number of problems, such as lack of economic and political development.

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Fourthly, Africa is a continent of safari and wildlife. Nature of Africa remains one of the biggest draws of the continent. Every year, millions of tourists come to visit African savannas and to go on safaris. At the same time, the tourists come directly to the places they would like to visit. As a result, they often do not see the rest of the areas all over the African countries. For instance, modern cities, small traditional villages, and historical shrines remain unnoticed. Thus, the misperception that Africa is a place of exotic animals ignores the variety of cultures.

In addition, the continent is supposed to be dangerous. One of the stereotypes about Africa states that unrest and civil wars that constantly take place on the continent, contribute the increasing of the crime rates. For example, it is supposed that murders and rapes, as well as carjacking, are the widespread phenomena in Africa. However, while reporting on crime statistics, the Western media omit information about Africa’s friendliness and safety. Indeed, there are potentially dangerous regions, such as countries that experience uprisings, Somalia and Sierra Leone. At the same time, most of the continent is safe.

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Finally, there is a misperception of the relations between Africa and the Western world. In particular, in recent years the savior movement of humanitarian assistance got its development. For example, African women are often described as victims while African children are portrayed as child soldiers or victims of poverty and famine. As a result, the Western countries, including the United States of America, need to provide assistance to the African citizens and rehabilitation for victims of conflicts and poverty. Thus, there is a stereotype that the most vulnerable categories of African populations, such as children and women, need to be rehabilitated by the citizens of the European countries.

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However, African continent does face a number of problems. Poverty rates remain the highest in African countries. For instance, more than 240 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Approximately 47 percent of people live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, which is the main reason for poverty (Rwomire 91). The occurrence of civil wars and military conflicts is considered the highest in the African countries. The colonial relations imposed by the Western world mainly determine the prevalence of the conflicts. The rates of illiteracy among African children and youth are also high. Approximately 40 percent of the population of Africa is illiterate (Rwomire 92). It is determined by the fact that the majority of African families cannot send their children to school because of several reasons, such as lack of educational facilities. In addition, the African governments are not solving the problem of literacy. Thus, these are real threats to the African population. The attention of the world community has to be paid to these issues, rather than to misconceptions about Africa. It will also help to change an attitude of the West towards Africa. Indeed, rural Africans are rarely connected to the modern world. Urban Africa is shown in the media only to demonstrate the problems of poverty, famine, or AIDs. Finally, the contribution of the West to the creation of African continent problems is rarely highlighted in the media. The misperceptions about Africa represent a danger for the continent itself and the rest of the world. Thus, stereotypes about Africa have to be changed. In addition, the Western world has to be more engaged with the African problems.

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In conclusion, African countries represent a great variety of contrasts. At the same time, the attention of the Western media is focused on the poverty, corruption, uncontrolled population growth, and spreading of the diseases. In addition, Africa is supposed to be the place of the biggest fears of the Western World. Because of the misunderstanding of Africa, many serious problems, such as the violence in Mali or the prevalence of civil wars, remain unnoticed by the world community. Thus, stereotypes about Africa have to be changed because the African continent is a place of diverse culture, political dynamics and a land of beauty.

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