Going to Africa

It bothers me when people talk about going to Africa when they’re really going to one specific country in the continent. I also get growly when people list off the “countries” they’d like to visit one day, and include Africa in the same list as Norway or New Zealand. If someone tells me they know someone who’s been to (or is going to) Africa, I always ask “Which country?”

People generally don’t say they’re going to Asia or Europe (for example) unless they’re actually planning to visit several countries in the continent; even then they’ll generally specify which countries they’ll be visiting. I have to admit that Asian and European countries may be better-known than African countries.

Some may not know that Africa is a continent

I’m no geography buff, and I don’t know all “54 fully recognized sovereign states (“countries”), 9 territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition” (thank you, Wikipedia!) in Africa, but if someone has booked a flight to an African country then they know the name of the country they’re visiting (and that it is a country!), right?

Okay, so maybe they know but the person they’re talking to doesn’t. The best way to reduce the ignorance is by being a source of enlightenment! Saying “Africa” when one actually means Kenya, or Zambia, or Senegal, or South Africa lumps together diverse nations, just as India, China, and Vietnam are different, despite all being Asian countries. This lumping together could lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes, especially if the report on the “African” trip is about one African country, and the listener now assigns the observations to all African countries, rather than the one the person is actually talking about, because the person didn’t specify!

The media does it too!

The worst is when news reports refer to Africa when the report is actually about one country in the continent, or a part of the continent. Just as I was about to set this post to publish, I came across some interesting graphs that show how often the The Guardian (newspaper) referred to “Africa” (versus specifically to an African country), compared to references to “Asia” (versus Asian countries). Check it out!

I don’t have a problem with anyone who doesn’t know much about geography; my gripe is directed toward those who know, but don’t share the knowledge with the uninformed (but curious) and the misinformed.

Stereotyping countries

In the past, some people, when hearing that I’m going to Nigeria, think I’ll be living in a hut in a remote village or be exposed to wild animals. They’re usually surprised when I tell them that a goat is the “wildest” animal I’ve seen in Nigeria, or that parts of Lagos could be compared to any large city in the world. Those of us who know these things should use opportunities we’re presented with to inform those who don’t know. It’s not about being a know-it-all who’s ready to correct people in a smug, superior way; it’s more about educating and casually putting the right information out there about the countries in our continent.


People from other continents may feel like I do, and maybe I’m just more sensitive to the Africa thing because I happen to be from an African country. You know, Nigeria, one of the 54 countries in the continent of Africa. ;)

Have you ever observed this and does it bother you?

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16 thoughts on “Going to Africa

  1. Thank you!!!!!!!
    I get so miffed when people say Africa but don’t mean Africa. It shows a level of ignorance that seems to me is embraced and wallowed in as opposed to being ashamed of. ”He spoke African” is another one, even worse. As though Zulu is the mother-tongue of all African countries!

    • Oh! When I read “He spoke African” I cringed! That’s just awful.

      We need to do better at educating (respectfully) those who get it wrong!

      Thank you for commenting, Toks!

  2. Oh please don’t let me get started on the naive stereotypes of people about ‘Africa’.. So many stories lol.. Te usual question when I lived in the UK was “Oh, your English is so good” – err like duhh.. English is our lingua franca..
    My Nigerien friend (Very educated, went there for her Masters) worked in a place where they used to ‘marvel’ at her spoken ENglish and she used to catch trips saying that she couldn’t speak a word of English till she arrived and it’s cause she watches a lot of MTV and listen to foreign songs that her English improved! And they would listen animatedly thinking how clever of her! LOL
    Ignorance is truly a problem!
    I think we should start correcting people when they lump together one of the largest continents as one! I mean isn’t it ridiculous for someone to see you and say oh you’re Nigerian, do you speak the same native language as Sam? (Sam is from Kenya by the way…)

    • Oooh…good point regarding ability to speak language. Most assume I speak English well because I was born and raised here, and they’re always surprised when I tell them that English is the official language of Nigeria.

      “I think we should start correcting people when they lump together one of the largest continents as one!”

      Hear hear! I’m with you, bigtime!

  3. Oh my word!! It is Soooooooo annoying even more so because im pretty sure the media and a lot of the people who say it know in the back of their minds that it’s wrong but just can’t be bothered to change the ‘speak’…such blatant disregard. You want to tell be bill or oprah don’t know Africa is a continent?? Idiots, the lot of them!

    • LOL…your comment made me laugh! Let’s hope it’s just a slip of the tongue on their parts—a lot of people commented on Bill Clinton’s tweet, so I’m sure he knows now (if he didn’t before!).

  4. I think I’ve come to accept it (shocking! How dare I? I know!). Everyone seems so engrossed in saving the Africa and eradicating some kind of disease and I’m here worrying about how our benefactors/philanthropists see us as? [sarcasm]

    So here’s my take: no one can tell the African story better than Africans, and I’m finding out that we’re beginning to work under the same umbrella to do so. Our comedy is filled with “African parents be like…” “African fathers be like…” “African babes be like…” We know our stories and we all identify with the themes in our humor.

    Maybe we need to start telling a different story to highlight the differences which make us unique? And don’t get me started about the hut thing in Nigeria…I don’t respond anymore, and I have no qualms about showing my displeasure right there and then! #angryblackwoman Lol :D

    • Not African, but the “African parents are like…..” jokes can apply to any immigrant group. That’s why so many people, especially in Canada and the US, can relate to movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Bend it like Beckham or find people like Russell Peters, funny (okay, Russell’s jokes are getting a little annoying – it’s pretty much ALL ethnic-related and once you hear one, you’ve heard them all).

    • Well said, my smart friend! We can be annoyed with the ignorant but we have a role to play in changing the story, and we can do it in a respectful way.

  5. You don’t even know the scale of this! Most British youths actually think Africa IS a country!!
    I do think it’s getting better though, thanks to us ‘Africans’ being a lot more confident in our own skin and less ashamed of our heritage.
    As for people thinking Africa is full of baboons and Tigers, that’s also totally down to us. If we educate people respectfully, like you rightly said, it’ll go a long way.
    To be fair, the media usually portrays Africa as if it’s all a great big jungle so you can hardly blame them.
    A colleague once asked me something about how Elephants live. I was like, I don’t know; I’ve only ever seen one in a zoo. To say she was shocked is an understatement!

    • Thank you for your comment and apologies for the delay in responding, Fade. I can so relate to all parts of your comment, and you’re absolutely right that if we’re confident rather than ashamed of our origins, it will go a long way towards educating others.

  6. Whenever I hear anyone say I’m going to Africa, I smile and ask which country in Africa? ( In my mind I have finished abusing them for calling Africa a country) it’s actually very annoying. Some Nigerians are guilty of this typed generalization as well I am constantly called a Calabar girl even after I have told people I am from Akwa Ibom. So even we Africans are guilty as well. I have nothing against Calabar, I just wish people took the time to learn that those two states are diff… Same with the caucasians learning that there are many countries in Africa.

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