“The Dark Continent”

Africa has been the formative element of my life. Conspicuously this post about the west’s behavior towards “bilad_as _Sudan”… (Land of the black people as the Arab merchants called it) will inevitably bear the mark of subjective influences. Not the least of which is my conviction that throughout human history Africa has been misunderstood and misused by the rest of the world. Simply put (I am usually accused of simplistic views) humanity doesn’t recognize its debts and obligations to a continent they’ve looted for years.

In the psyche of a typical westerner, Africa is “The Dark Continent”. An innocent phrase? Perhaps, but it is also a potent connotation of a persistent western inclination to set Africa and its inhabitants from the rest of humanity. As if they are some sort of alien species. “The Dark Continent” terminology is not just a description of the depths of Africa’s tropical forest; the color of the African skin or the lack of knowledge about the continent. It is implicitly used to label Africa as a place where a cruel form of darkness exist… the cruelty of man towards his fellow man. Contextually Africa is the place where people do terrible things, not because these behaviors are characteristic of all human beings, but Africa is believe to be uniquely barbaric and less “civilized” than the rest of the world.

The fact that people behaved (and continue to) barbarically in Africa is undeniable. However events in other parts of the world have shown that this is not an exclusively African tendency. This brings me to the western idea/understanding of civilization…which is usually confused with exponential growth, use and understanding of technology. But is technological prowess what civilization is or is civilization an exposure or adherence to a culture? Is it a predetermined sequence of human progress as most westerners believed, with white Anglo-Saxons leading the way, the rest of the world following and Africans toiling centuries behind? I will venture to answer NO. Civilization to me is an enlightened self interest that all societies develop to regulate their interactions within a given locality and with other people for the benefit of all parties involved.

But enlightened self interest is a delicate thing; easily eroded. In the event of such an erosion, the human capacity for unspeakable barbarity ala Rwanda, Nazi camps or Stalin’s Siberia rise to the surface. Africa’s horrors like those of Nazi Germany are a chilling example of what people can do to one another when short term exploitation has taken over the work for the common good; when accountability is swept aside to develop hamlets like Kanilai (Gambian president’s home village) at the expense of a nation swirling in poverty.

But is any of these uniquely African? I will have to answer no one more time. Even though subjective passion is what I ascribed to in the beginning of this post, objective readers will agree with me that it has been anything but. Developments, barbaric in nature that happen in Africa occurs elsewhere in the world. I am not an apologist for these African tragedies. I am just an African agonizing over the negative implications of that in famous phrase “the Dark Continent”.


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