Why is Africa termed as needy and poor?


By Maryan Hajir

Africa has been known as the needy “dark continent” characterized by primeval irrationality, tribal anarchy, civil war, political instability, flagrant corruption, incompetent leadership and managerial ineptitude, hunger, famine and starvation as well as rampant diseases (Michira, 2002).

This dominant representation of Africa in the Western media usually ignores the actualities and specificities of social and economic processes that occur in the continent (Jarosz, 1992).

This representation also ignores the many political and economic success stories that have been taking place in the continent, especially in the last three decades. Although how Western media represents Africa has received a lot of academic and media coverage over the years, what is remarkable is that the issue stills persists even today.

Western media has chosen to maintain its centuries-old, colonial representation of Africa as helpless, war torn, poverty-stricken and corruption-infested continent despite recent political economic growth and development in Africa.

It seems as if Western culture is celebrating Africa. However, the underlying message is that it is celebrating African inferiority. The lingering effect of the terms primitive and exotic is that their use encourages looking at Africans as inferior, although those who use these terms may not intend that interpretation.

An important related note is that the evolutionary idea of a primitive society is often embodied in the use of the word to describe individuals. Because certain individuals live or lived in ways which are now described as primitive they are part of primitive society.

But as Michael Pickering notes, primitive society has never existed. The distinction of being primitive is applied either to past societies, which would not have characterized themselves in this fashion because for their time they were at the height of innovation, or to people and groups living in the present, but without access to the most advanced technologies. Thus, the primitive is a projection onto others from one ‘s own perceptions. Similar problems of the language of description are encountered with the terms tribe and tribal.

The problem in this context is that there are several meanings attached to these terms. In Western society, the term tribe carries with it a strong sense of the primitive, the exotic, the inferior, and the unintelligible. In African society, the tribe is understood as a valid unit of societal organization. Therefore, someone from Africa who has a tribal affiliation does not usually consider talk of his or her tribe (or tribes) as insulting

The primary impression regarding poverty in Africa is that everyone is poor. This arises from the fact that the media rarely presents an alternate point of view. The only viable alternative is the notion that a few corrupt generals, business people, and leaders may be wealthy. However, the reality is that Africa has a diverse spread of wealth.

Thus, the poverty myth category is significant in that it highlights an economic reality. The economic problems facing the world today are shared by almost all countries. The differences are much fewer than most tend to believe. Most of these differences are the degree to which something is a problem. For example, the problem of poverty is more significant in Africa, while the disparity in the distribution of wealth is more significant for the Western nations. Yet all of these countries share these same basic economic issues.

Nanjala Nabola a political analyst and a writer who is currently at Havard Law school wrote an opinionated article in Aljazeera and said,

“There is an easy way to resolves this of course: ask Africans what they think and have them tell their own stories, instead of co-opting them to undermine or reinforce existing narratives among the Western audience. But given the aforementioned racial hierarchy of knowledge in the Western public sphere, I doubt this will happen and we should all prepare ourselves for another bout of misunderstanding.”


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