the Senegalese experience|experiment

22 May, 2010

misconceptions: senegal vs. "africa"

This issue has been brewing in my mind for several months now. People tend to group all the countries in Africa into one lump-- the idea of Africa!: the land of lions, AIDS, and starving children surrounded by flies [see this humorous article for how to write about Africa]. While these things do exist in various parts of Africa, they cannot be made into sweeping generalizations about the entire continent. After all, Africa is pretty huge, and no am0unt of land that big is ever uniform.

My biggest problem with lumping Senegal into one big reference to "Africa" is that there is so much more to the individual country than our stereotypes realize. They have crazy, wonderful dances, their djembe rhythms are unique, and they eat foods with interesting titles. Senegal has its own president, officials, rules, and Constitution. Whether we acknowledge the individuality of Senegal or not, the fact is that it exists as an independent entity. For that matter, within Senegal there are numerous different ethnicities, all of whom have their own cultures, languages, and codes. The attempt to group all of these complicated entities into one beast known as Africa seems counter-productive. Unfortunately, the NGOs and government agencies who plead for us to "give now, and save the children" are not looking at the entire picture; not even close.

Sadly, Senegalese people are contributing to the lumping of Senegal into the idea of Africa, as well. Many times, I heard discussions of "the future of Africa," "Africa and globalization," and other hot topics, when really these people meant to discuss Senegal. People talk about the unification of Africa into one country (which would look something like the European Union, perhaps), though whether that's in the near future is another topic for another time. Still, at this time, Senegal has its own history and culture, and should focus on itself. Many educated Senegalese people-- my Gender professor, for example-- continuously refer to problems of Africa. I really don't see how that can help, when the needs and problems of different countries vary, depending on all kinds of factors.

I offer no solution to this problem, only the hope that more people will realize in the future that Africa really can't be melted into one stereotypical entity. It's only by discussing and discovering individual countries that we'll learn more about the continent.

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