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!!
Posted by africansuntimes.com | 8:46 PM | 7 comments »