Home » General » Time Africa Shook Off the ‘Dark Continent’ Tag

TOMORROW, May 25, is Africa Day. As has become traditional over the years, Africa — Zimbabwe included — commemorates on that date, the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).

Essentially, it is supposed to be a proud celebration not only of African Unity, but also of African identity.

No doubt, there are many things African that are worth celebrating, and for which all Africans must on any day, and especially on Africa Day, be proud. But there are constant reminders to the inauspicious labels and attributes that are sometimes ascribed to Africans. Today might be a good time for reflection on the good and the ugly. On the ugly side — one of the most notorious of the insults historically directed at Africa is “the dark continent” tag. Anyone who read at least junior level history at high school will be familiar with this particular slur.

There are numerous other unfavourable descriptions, images, and characterisations about Africa and Africans to be found in the mass media, on new media platforms, history books, and in everyday speech. Going back to history colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, for instance, perceived Africa in terms of underdevelopment and under-civilisation. Rhodes is reported to have once woken up his friend Starr Jameson in the middle of the night, saying: “Have you ever thought how lucky we are to belong to the British race, the finest flower of civilisation?” His Cape to Cairo dream was hinged on what he deemed to be the “burden” of his race, to civilise “the dark continent”.

Wars of liberation were gallantly waged by African veterans with support from the masses across the continent, to dismantle the repressive systems of government that had been carefully constructed by the colonialist for the subjugation of the African and for the aggrandisement of the imperialist. Africa Day also celebrates that victory of Africans over imperialism, which victory led to political independence for the 53 countries that make up the African union.

Detracting slightly — remember, the exact number of countries in Africa has been disputed between different authorities. There are 47 countries on the African continent, including the disputed territory of Western Sahara. However, the islands off the coast are also usually listed as African, bringing the total to 53. The said island nations are Cape Verde, Satildeo Tomeacute and Priacutencipe, Madagascar, the Comoros, the Seychelles, and Mauritius.

But, getting back to the subject matter — Africa Day is a day for all Africans, whatever their geo-political location, and regardless of their language, tribe or race. The importance of the independence gained over the decades and the magnitude of the democracy gained from struggles for independence — are indisputable. The socio-political and economic state of the continent today (whatever the reasons for the strife) is however a subject that causes a great deal of pain for the majority of Africans who live on, and off the continent.

This year’s Africa Day comes at a particularly sad epoch in history. The awful horrors of the xenophobic madness in South Africa in April 2015 are unforgettable. In fact, those barbaric attacks on immigrants are now widely understood to be the manifestation of Afro-phobic attitudes because only black non-South Africans were targeted. The international media was also saturated earlier on this year, with stories about how uncivilised Africans in other parts of the continent continued to perpetuate the “dark continent” phenomenon one that ought to have been discarded when the flags of the colonial state were finally lowered at the end of imperial regimes.

“Muslims who were among migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy in a boat this week threw 12 fellow passengers overboard — killing them — because the 12 were Christians, Italian police said Thursday. Italian authorities have arrested 15 people on suspicion of murdering the Christians at sea, police in Palermo, Sicily, said,” was the report from CNN on April 19, 2015.

Imagine the crudeness and barbarism of those migrants on the high seas. Boko Haram continues to wreck havoc in Nigeria (#bringbackourgirls) and surrounding nations. 148 lives perished at the hands of al-Shabaab at Garissa University, Kenya (#147NotJustaNumber) in April 2015 and that terrorist group continues on its bloody path as African leaders clearly fail to find an effective African solution to this particular African problem.

Of course, terrorism is not exclusive to the African continent, but Africa must surely have good answers to terrorism when that trend visits the continent. In the aftermath of attacks on French satirical magazine journalists — Charlie Hebdo, and terrorist murders in Paris in January 2015, more than three million people participated in unity marches across France after 17 people had perished during three days of deadly attacks in the French capital. More than 40 world leaders, mainly from Europe, joined the start of the Paris march, linking arms in an act of solidarity.

But in Africa, that type of leadership and intra-continental solidarity has been lacking whenever atrocities are committed on much greater numbers of Africans. Abhorrence to colonialism, apartheid, imperialism and to the history of those bygone systems continues g in Africa today.

Significant as the fall of the Rhodes statue at Cape Town University on April 9 2015 was more significant and supremely important, would be the rise now, of a civilised African populace that not only hates the history and symbols of white-on-black repression. It is crucial on this Africa Day, for a regenerated African that actually loves fellow Africans, and that desists from Afrophobic behaviour, to be born. An African who does not have it in himherself to throw a fellow African or fellow human being into the cold sea. Africa deserves today, a selfless, altruistic African leader who does not amass only and specially for himself and for his progeny, tonnes of rands, kwachas, francs, nairas, dollars, pounds and other denominations of cash, while fellow African citizens wallow in abject poverty.

The sooner that brighter and less painful Africa becomes a reality, the better. For now, a good number of African leaders may celebrate Africa Day more enthusiastically than fellow citizens, because it is so far so good for them the leaders (#1980sofarsogood). They can afford to send their children to European and American schools and universities or other expensive educational institutions overseas. When they or their families fall sick, they fly long distances for medical care because the educational and medical institutions in the countries they lead and rule are ill-equipped (“due to sanctions” and for many other “reasons.”)

Nevertheless, the rest of ordinary citizens must also celebrate Africa Day tomorrow, at least because they are Africans, a race inhabiting the continent that is widely known to be “the cradle of humankind.” The unadulterated history of civilisation is saturated with massive portions of African contribution. Some of the great heroes and heroines of African society and of the universe, like the iconic Mbuya Nehanda, Queen Nzinga, the brave and determined Beatrice Mtetwa, the great Nelson Mandela, the wise and humble Julius Nyerere, the highly influential Frantz Fanon, the talented Roger Milla, St Augustine of Hippo, his holiness Pope St Victor I (ca186-198) — and many others all make up part of the splendid list of Africans who made and still make Africa, an enlightened continent. May God bless Africa and all Africans!

l Chris Mhike is a lawyer practising in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard