A is for Africa

Here’s one of my pet peeves: people referring to Africa as a country. It’s a CONTINENT with over 50 countries. It’s the second largest continent in size with 20.6% of the earth’s land mass compared with 21.4% for Asia and 15.8% for Europe, 14.7% for North America, 12% for South America and 9.7% for Antarctica. It’s also second, albeit a distant second, in population with slightly under a billion people (14.5%), compared with Asia’s over four billion (60.4%), with 10.9% for Europe, 7.9% for North America and 5.8% for South America. (The remainder is Australia and Oceania, which includes New Zealand.)

Yet I do understand the disconnect. It is a place that had largely been dominated by forces outside its borders for about a century. The map from circa 1914 (above) shows only two independent countries on the whole continent, Ethiopia in the east and Liberia on the western horn. In the 1930s, Ethiopia had been “annexed” by Italy, until after World War II.

I well remember this map of Africa in my classroom. The time period we talked (very little) about Africa was probably c. 1965, but the map must have been c. 1960 or even earlier, because it looked a whole lot like the top map, except that Egypt was independent, and the areas once controlled by the Germans were in British or Belgian hands. Here’s a list of the year when each country became independent. But those independent countries carved up sometimes arbitrarily have led to a great deal of internal clashes and even civil wars.

Still, there are situations that are endemic to Africa or at least to sub-Saharan Africa. Everything from the need for potable water to the necessity of economic development. For instance, the growth in Internet connectivity has been tremendous on the continent, but still lags far behind the rest of the world. And, of course, HIV/AIDS continues to be a massive problem.

Arthur at AmeriNZ has noted another issue, one that has barely made a dent in the news, at least in the United States. 38 out of 53 African countries are engaging in a rampant homophobia that, in Uganda, for instance, looks like “kill the gays” legislation. (And because I think someone might bring it up, I’ll note that the vast majority of HIV transmissions in Africa occur during unprotected heterosexual sex.)

Still, there is much beauty in the cultures of Africa. The presentation of the honorific kente cloth, for instance, is a custom that my church participates in.

Africa is large, diverse place, and it may be dangerous to make too many generalizations.