Thursday, March 11, 2010

"In Africa"

As an editor of religious publications, I frequently come across the phrase "in Africa": "HIV/AIDS in Africa"; "malaria in Africa"; "dehydration and a scarcity of clean water in Africa"; "poverty in Africa"; "hunger in Africa"; "hyperinflation in Africa"; and so forth.

OK. I can't write "in Africa" nine times and not stop to do this. (I don't blog as much as I used to, but when I do, I like to put in the extra effort.)

With that out of my system, here are my points:

  • Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent. It covers one-fifth of the world's land mass. It is home to 53 sovereign nations (including island nations and not including Western Sahara). And it is a very geographically and culturally diverse continent. Yet we speak of it as though it is a single country. (I suppose that we sometimes do the same thing with Europe, but Europe is much smaller, more homogeneous, and more politically unified than is Africa.) By using "Africa" as an umbrella term for so many different nations, we fail to take seriously the unique political and cultural dynamics of each individual country.

  • Problems such as HIV/AIDS and water scarcity have devastated several African nations. But these problems are not endemic to all countries in Africa. While even a single case of AIDS is one too many, Senegal and Tunisia and Madagascar do not have an AIDS problem the way that Swaziland and Botswana and South Africa have an AIDS problem. And countries such as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Mauritius have been spared the poverty, hyperinflation, and corruption that have ravaged countries such as Zimbabwe and Somalia and Niger. Moreover, the problems most often associated with Africa are by no means limited to Africa. HIV/AIDS also is prevalent in India and in several Caribbean nations; water scarcity also is a serious problem in many Asian nations. Instead of talking about "__________ in Africa" we should consider problems facing individual countries, whether these countries are in Africa or another continent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree Josh. when I tell people I went on a mission trip to Ethiopia, at least half say,"I thought you were going to Africa. Many Americans are uneducated about the African nations. By the way, Ethiopia is famous for its coffee.

10:07 AM  

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