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?”
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) July 31, 2013
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.
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?