The Broken Africa stereotype is one of the main ways Americans picture Africa: a violent hellhole, savage and cruel, a place of war, genocide, famine, slums, disease, failed states, refugee camps, etc. Aids, malaria and Ebola. Idi Amin, Mugabe and now Kony. Rwanda and Darfur. Somali pirates. Corrupt government officials. Child soldiers. Black men raping virgins to spread Aids. The heroes of this piece? White saviours, like Bono and Miss Jolie.
Africa was, is and always shall be backward. Anything good in Africa comes from outside. Africans can never do anything right – and never will. James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA who should know a thing or two about genes, said he was:
inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.
I used to think this picture was a side effect of the Western press, which makes a living off of bad news, and Western NGOs, which make a living off of helping the helpless – making Africa the Country into a land of bad news and helpless people. Not so: the stereotype goes way back, to the 1700s, to the days of the slave trade.
War, famine, disease and evil men are found throughout the world and throughout history, not just in Africa. So why does the image of a Broken Africa stick?
The Rule of How Mud Sticks:
- When blacks do something bad or whites do something good, it is largely due to inborn qualities – like “black” crime and “white” inventions.
- When blacks do something good or whites do something bad, it is an exception or largely due to circumstances – like black inventions and white crime.
This creates an imbalanced, racist picture of Africa:
- Mugabe? Proof that blacks are unfit for rule. Hitler? A madman.
- The Rwandan genocide kills 800,00 Tutsis? Proof of how violent Africans are. The German genocide kills 6 million Jews? That was an exception. The Germans killed 100,00 Hereros in Namibia? Another exception.
- Middle-class Nairobi or Luanda? Exceptions. The slums of Nairobi and Luanda? Proof of how screwed up Africa is.
- African civilizations? They tell us nothing. Primitive tribes in out-of-the-way places? The True Africa.
Like most stereotypes it is two parts self-serving lie and one part projection:
- Projection: It was the West that broke Africa. It was the West that was savage. It was the West that could not run things properly. Before whites showed up Timbuktu had more people than London and its schools were better known at the time than Oxford and Cambridge. After whites appeared over 17 million died in the slave trade and the slave wars.
- Self-serving lie: The stereotype did not arise till the 1700s to excuse the slave trade – and later grew in strength during the white rule of colonialism. That Africa is poorer than Europe and North America has nothing to do with whites robbing it of human labour and mineral wealth. No, Africa is broken by nature.
The first picture was taken by photojournalist Kate Holt, who works for the British media and NGOs. If you click on the picture it leads to her blog where you can find out more about the picture and about her.
The first two pictures are from Dadaab, a vast refugee camp in Kenya where hundreds of thousands have fled famine and war in Somalia.
The third picture is from a coffee house in an upmarket Nairobi mall – also in Kenya. It is by Noor Khamis for Reuters and appeared in the South African press.
- stereotypes about Africa
- Kony 2012
- White saviours and darkies
- “Africa is a country”
- Chinua Achebe: Africa’s Tarnished Name
- the single story
- Why do whites hate, demonize, fear and look down on blacks?
- A bit of realism for those interested in Africa
- The Business of Saving Africa
- An Open Letter to King Leopold II
- “The average African IQ is 70″
- Diop: The African Origin of Civilization: Myth Or Reality
- Fanon: The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized