Sub-Saharan Africa (1955), or sSA for short, means Africa south of the Sahara. In practice it means all of Africa except for the countries in the very north – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Western Sahara. It is a way to say “Black Africa” and talk about black Africans without sounding racist.
The term is beloved by the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, The Economist, CNN, American think tanks, anthropologists and others. It goes back to the 1950s but did not drive out “Black Africa” and “tropical Africa” and come into its own till the 1980s.
From what I have read sub-Saharan Africa is:
- A place of Aids – above all else.
- A place of dying mothers, economic outlooks and weak governments.
- A place of poverty – with most of the world’s reserves of gold, platinum, chromium and cobalt.
- A place of hunger – that grows flowers for India, wheat for South Korea, bad-tasting tea for Lipton and biofuels for machines in China.
- A place in constant need of foreign aid, American strategies, population control, sad comparisons with other parts of the world and endless statistics.
- A place where outsiders think they know best.
Here is a United Nations picture of sub-Saharan Africa:
Like the word itself, it places a white person at the centre.
The term “sub-Saharan Africa” is Eurocentric and racist:
- “Sub” means below the Sahara. But “below” from whose point of view? Like “Middle East” and “Far East” the word is Eurocentric.
- “Sub” brings to mind “lesser than” – subhuman, subpar, substandard, etc. Maybe it is just my imagination, but given how heavily the word is used with the Broken Africa stereotype, probably not. Words catch on for a reason.
- Mauritania: If it was truly about the Sahara and not race, Mauritania would never be counted as sub-Saharan: Its capital, like most of the country, is hardly south of the Sahara. A geographic Freudian slip.
- It divides Africa according to white ideas of race – making North Africans white enough to count their achievements among the glories of white history but not white enough to, you know, respect the sovereignty of their nations.
- It sees all black Africans as being somehow alike, even though:
- They speak a thousand different languages belonging to six different language families.
- They follow different religions – Islam, Christianity and countless smaller ones.
- They have more genetic diversity than an African offshoot known as “the rest of the world”.
- The soft bigotry of the Saharan Barrier Thesis – the idea that, until white people came to save the day in the 1400s, the Sahara had cut off black people from the rest of the world, thus accounting for their sad-but-true “inferiority”. People believe this even though before the 1400s:
- Islam was found on both sides of the Sahara.
- Christianity was found on both sides.
- Female genital mutilation was found on both sides.
- Arabic and Afroasiatic languages were found on both sides.
- Type O blood was found equally on both sides.
- Trade and the Nile flowed right through the Sahara.