July 11, 2009 - I was more than excited at President Barack Obama's an historic visit to Ghana, the first black African country to gain independence from colonialist Britain, but highly disappointed that he chose to disrespect the continent of his father's birth when he said, "Ghana's history is rich, the ties between our two countries are strong, and I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States of America." It is not the part about Ghana being rich in history, but that part in which he said, "and I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States of America." Unfortunately, and obviously, the President has been led astray in terms of his geography and history. If I were not mistaken, I believe that President Obama visited Egypt on June 4, 2009, and my geography lesson teaches me that Egypt is a part and parcel of Africa. No doubt, the President wanted to make Ghanaians proud of their country being the first "sub-Saharan African" country he was visiting, without thinking of the wider implications of the term "Sub-Saharan Africa". I would rather attribute this to his politically-correct speech writers, rather than to his ignorance of the larger African renaissance.

But yesterday on my radio program, "StraightTalk with Chika Onyeani on the AllAfricaRadio/SunuAfrik", we achieved a milestone: I argued that we must stop referring to Africa as "Sub-Saharan Africa," and that in the absence of an United States of Africa, and if we must continue to abide by the colonialist jargon, then we must start referring to the former area known as "Sub-Saharan Africa," as 'MAINLAND AFRICA." The "Sub-Saharan Africa" is therefore a term of the past, never, never to be employed again. I can't banned, because we cannot force people to stop using a term if they don't wish to do so.

"Sub-Saharan Africa" is a pejorative term. It is an euphemism for contemptuousness employed by the continent's detractors to delineate between the five Arab countries that make up north Africa from the other 42 countries and the islands that make up the rest of Africa. According to what the term "Sub-Saharan Africa" entails right now, it means north Africa is consisted of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Who decided on the line of demarcation between "north" and "south" Africa? I wouldn't argue that the term "Sub-Saharan Africa" is racist, but it is on the borderline of being a racist term.

On the other hand, and according to the multi-award winning filmmaker, cultural writer, photographer and music producer, Owen 'Alik Shahadah, "Sub-Saharan Africa is a Racist Construct." "The notion of some invisible border, which divides the North of Africa from the South, is rooted in racism, which in part assumes that sand is an obstacle for African language and culture. This band of sand hence confines Africans to the bottom of a European imposed location, which exists neither linguistically (Afro-Asiatic languages), ethnically (Tureg), politically (African Union, Arab league), Economically (CEN-SAD) or physically (Sudan and Chad). The over emphasis on sand as a defining feature in African history is grossly misleading as cultures, trade, and languages do not stop when they meet geographic deserts. Thus Sub-Africa is another divisive vestige of colonial domination which balkanized Africa."

Shahadah has made the argument I wanted to make, which is that "The Sahara is a broad desert belt, which encompasses countries like Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Mauritania, and hence are neither “sub” nor “North Africa.” In addition, many African communities historically have traveled freely across this European barrier set for Africans. Moreover millions of indigenous Africans are ethnic natives in Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt, so even ethnically North Africa is not a non-African territory and testimony to this is the rock art found in this region showing native Africans hunting there 10,000 years ago."

This disparaging and contemptuous term started being used in the early nineties with the AIDS/HIV pandemic in Africa, with its accompanying decimation of millions of people, as well as scourge of poverty across the continent. It was a way of telling us, "you people are lepers, you don't belong to the human race." It hearkens back to the time when Africans were regarded as animals, you remember the term, "sub-human," property of the masters, chattels to be sold and maltreated as indentured servants.

The question I posed before, is "Who decided on the line of demarcation between "north" and "south" Africa?" How could north Africa consist of only five so-called Arabic nations? When did we sit down and say only these five countries would consist of north Africa? Just because America is below Canada in North America, doesn't make the United States a sub-America.

Let's for argument's sake agree that there is a north and south Africa. Where should the line be drawn as the line of demarcation? For all intents and purposes, we can argue that there is a clear demarcation between North and South America - the Panama Canal. But in Africa, where is that line of demarcation. The Americas are divided in two, but Africa is one whole land mass. If we were to divide Africa into north and south, shouldn't we employ the geographical equation to determine that, like using the Equator is the landmark. Which means countries north of the Equator should automatically consist of Northern Africa, while those below would then consist of Southern Africa? This equation will place countries like Gabon, Congo, Rwand, Uganda, Kenya, not only in the Northern Africa but as well as in the Southern Africa.

There is a sadness to the fact that we have meekly, as usual, accepted what our former colonial masters have dubbed us. But there is no harm, it is never too late to correct a mistake. We continue to expose our ignorance to how we continue to be beholden to adjectival terms detrimental to our African renaissance.

We on our part, we have decided to take immediate action. We are addressing letters to the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Chairman of the African Union, as well as the Chairperson of the African Union Authority. We are writing letters to the Associated Press, Reuters, Panapress, and the major networks and other outside media asking them to stop using the term "Sub-Saharan Africa." There are some who would prefer to call this a protest, no it is not. It would be a protest if it was something beyond our control. It would be a protest if it something we could not accomplish. In fact, the fingers on our keyboard, we could easily change the term, from "Sub-Saharan Africa," to either wholly Africa or MAINLAND AFRICA.

We don't have to go to the barricades, we didn't have to fire a shot. It is not a question of our intellectuals, elite, academicians, but to every African who wishes to say or write something about our beloved continent, to stop using the term "Sub-Saharan Africa." In our wars with the rest of the world, Africa has always lost. But this is a war that we easily won. We didn't have to fire a shot, expend millions of our meager budgets to buy World War II weapons to kill ourselves. We won this debate without expending much energy. What a relief!!


  1. Anonymous // September 6, 2009 at 12:35 PM  

    the thing is all of this is 100% truth but we still keep hanging on to terms imposed on us. Dont know why. Because we feel better being defined by others and not questioning those wrong assumptions done so long ago

  2. Anonymous // February 12, 2010 at 12:34 PM  

    So funny how these kinds of topic, these meaningful debates and discussion on such critical issues r so rare and hidden away from mass information. I think the question is who is setting Africa's academic agendas.

  3. Anonymous // July 21, 2010 at 2:45 AM  

    I often pondered the purpose for that grossly inaccurate term. I never heard one say Sub-Amazonian South America. It is a divisive term.

  4. Samy // December 19, 2010 at 2:34 AM  

    The only people who dislike the term are black Africans or sub Saharan Africans. This is because they want to piggy back off the legacy North Africa has, which actually has a history like ancient Egypt, ancient Carthage, Moorish Empire, etc. And today we are much more economically advanced.

    But that's not all, the North Africans are a much different RACE than the sub saharan Africans, us N. Africans are like Middle Easterners or Europeans, not like Black Negro Africans who have done nothing and have no history. The Europeans saw this and that's why they named it. Because they saw us North Africans as similar to them in comparison to the Sub Saharans.

    It's just an inferiority complex sub saharan Africans have to dislike this term, nothing more.

  5. Anonymous // August 21, 2011 at 1:50 PM  

    Many Sub Saharan Africans or blacks like Chika Onyeani are confused and don't even understand the racial and cultural complexity of the continent. I am African my skin is one of darkest however I do not like the term black. The reason is that all people called blacks do not have a dark skin and all people having a light skin are not called whites. The second issue is how those colors have been used in supremacist ways. There is nothing Chika can do about the fact that the Sahara desert divides Africa into two main regions with Arabs, Berbers and Egyptians dominant in the North and African tribes with dark skin dominant in the south of that great African desert. To deny or overlook that fact is to bury your head in the sand.
    Another striking fact when talking about African unity is the naivety and childish thinking of many fellow Africans South of Sahara. Algerians are in no hurry to unite with Somalians even if they share a same religion. Egyptians have no interest in unifying with Congolese. Many Africans south of Sahara are so lunatic that they don't see that blacks may share a same history of colonization with north Africans but we do not share a same history of slavery and of being disliked by many people because of our skin and poverty. Those shortsighted Africans see our strength in uniting with north Africa without analyzing how those people live with blacks especially in Sudan and Mauritania. Like European and North American leaders that opened the gates for immigrations of all kind of peoples for cheap labor African leaders want to lump together racially, religiously and linguistically heterogeneous people only to see their union fall apart a few years later. Why giant black nations like Nigeria, Ethiopia or Congo Kinshasa need north Africa to be strong? Why can't Arab make their union like they have the Arab league and black Africans form their own African league? Whithout light skinned people with us there is nothing we can do on ourselves?
    If you hate Sub Saharan Africa denomination as having been imposed on us what do you say then of the names of many Africans, African nations, lakes like Victoria... Most Africans have Europeans and Arab names and you are bending out of shape because of the term Sub Saharan Africa worrying that it takes away Egyptians and other North Africans? The term doesn't change the fact that there has been black pharaohs (Shabaka, Piye, Taharqa and Natekaman), Nubian and Ethiopian all black civilizations. Most North African don't even consider themselves as Africans. They see themselves as Arabs and don't see why you want to tailgate them. Africans can unite but Africa can't unite if you understand what I mean which I doubt for many Sub Saharan Africans. Bob Marley sang Africa Unite and added how it would be beautiful to see the unification of all Africans. He wanted to be buried in Ethiopia not in Egypt. North Africans are to Sub Saharan Africans what East Asians are to West Asians. It is not for tomorrow that you are going to see all those people united.

  6. Anonymous // December 25, 2012 at 5:18 AM  

    Note: These suggestions are from some one outside and ignorant about your particular situation.

    I'm surprised no one mentioned what I'm about to mention.

    Are your maps and globes “right side up”?

    Maps and globes are tools and you might be able to improved, increasing their utility to you and yours. I have seen maps published for southern hemisphere countries with their country in the middle or the southern hemisphere oposite of the floor in the zenith direction. With maps generated by computer this very easy to flip a map over.

    If I lived in the southern hemisphere, I would be disassembling globes and reassembling them with the south on top. I would be tempted to do it every time I came across one. I would do it for others too if no one there minded. This activity might give a lot of pleasure. I would spin it on its axis the other way than in the north, clockwise. It would be more useful. You can see your land while standing near it. It would be just better, more realistic. Our earth is a sphere. There is no real upper or lower or sub. The key word here is sphere. This can be a lot of fun.

    Of course Africa spans all four hemispheres; the Southern, Eastern, Western, and the Northern hemispheres.

  7. Anonymous // December 25, 2012 at 5:23 AM  

    The last comment for flipping maps and globes came from some one North America. You know your preferences better than I.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin