Idea of Africa
The Racialization Of Africa
The conflation of Africa with "sub-Saharan Africa," "Africa south of the Sahara" or "Black Africa" so common in discourses about Africa, within and without the continent, ultimately offers us a racialized view of Africa, Africa as the "black" continent. It rests on the metaphysics of difference, a quest for the civilizational and cultural ontology of blackness. For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and his descendants, as Olufemi Taiwo calls purveyors of contemporary Eurocentrism, Africa is the ultimate "undeveloped, unhistorical" other of Europe. Hegel's "Africa proper" is, in his words, the "land of childhood," from which North Africa and especially Egypt is excised and attached to Europe, and where history, philosophy, and culture are "enveloped in the dark mantle of night" because its inhabitants, "the Negro exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state" (Hegel, pp. 91, 93).
Hegel's ghost still stalks African studies and definitions of Africa. According to some this fragmentation of Africa in African studies has been unproductive intellectually, leaving aside its ideological motivations and effects. To quote John Hunwick:
The compartmentalization of Africa into zones that are treated as 'Middle East' and 'Africa' is a legacy of Orientalism and colonialism. North Africa, including Egypt, is usually seen as forming part of the Middle East, though Middle East experts are not generally keen to venture farther west than the confines of Egypt. Northwestern Africa—the Maghreb—is generally regarded as peripheral to Middle Eastern Studies and extraneous to African studies. Even the Sahara has been generally viewed as something of a no-go area (especially among anglophone scholars), while the Sudan and Mauritania (which are impossible to label as either 'sub-Saharan' or 'Middle Eastern') remain in limbo. Northwestern Africa (from Morocco to Libya), despite the area's close and enduring relationship with West Africa, has been excluded from the concerns of most Africanists. (p. xiii)
This truncated characterization and racialization of Africa is of course not confined to Western scholars. Many African scholars also subscribe to it, as is so evident from their publications on Africa that often omit North Africa. Unlike Hegel and the Eurocentrists, however, African scholars seek to invest, not divest, sub-Saharan Africa with history and intellectual agency. The epistemological fixation with black Africa is so insidious that few remark on it, and when they do they tend to invoke cultural unity for sub-Saharan Africa in which "culture" largely serves as a proxy for race given the fact of cultural diversities within sub-Saharan Africa itself and the cultural affinities between some societies in this region, say the Sahel, with those of North Africa. Take language and religion, two critical attributes of culture: historically the Hausa of West Africa had more in common with their Berber and Arab neighbors to the North than with the Zulu of South Africa. The former traded with each other for centuries, shared religion (Islam) and a script (Arabic), and their languages are part of the Afro-Asiatic family. But this familiar material, moral, and mental universe does not count in the ontology of Africanness confined to the sub-Saharan region.
The separation of North Africa is sometimes based on the question of consciousness and self-representation. It is said people in North Africa perceive themselves to be part of the Arab world and therefore should not be considered a part of Africa. This ignores the simple fact that the vast majority of Arabs actually live in Africa, so that at a minimum Africa has to be considered an Afro-Arab continent. There is no doubt that North Africans have multiple identities and extracontinental affiliations, but so do people in so-called sub-Saharan Africa—ethnic, national, religious, gender, sexual, racial, and so on—in which the identity "African" may not be the primary one. Indeed, the African diaspora was African long before the communities they left behind on the continent developed a consciousness of being African.
Behind these conflicting definitions of Africa, about which regions to include and exclude, lie complex ideological and historical processes that need to be taken into account, for example, the relative decline from the sixteenth century of the trans-Saharan economy following the rise of the Atlantic economy. Another powerful development setting North and West Africa apart, it has been suggested, was the development of an autonomous Sufi Saharan/Sahelian Islam, independent from the North African impulse. Even more crucial, for our purposes, is the need to distinguish between historical knowledge on the one hand, and ideas or imaginings of Africa as intellectual and ideological projects on the other and to ask: who is defining Africa and for what purpose, whose ideas and imaginings predominate, and why? In this regard, it is important to underline the role of institutions from academic institutions to international organizations in this endeavor, to examine both scholarly and popular ideas of Africa and their discursive, spatial, and temporal articulations.
Adebayo Olukoshi and Francis Nyamnjoh remind us that to most ordinary people in Africa, to be African goes beyond making ontological, let alone epistemological, claims. It is a complex and constantly changing and challenging existential and ethical reality.
For the masses of Africans, Africa is above all a lived reality, one that is constantly shaped and reshaped by their toil and sweat as subjected and devalued humanity, even as they struggle to live in dignity and to transform their societies progressively. For these people, the fact of their Africanity is neither in question nor a question. And the least they would expect from concerned scholars is to refrain from adding onto their burdens in the name of a type of scholarship which, in being ahistorical, also trivializes their collective experiences and memories (pp. 1–2).
- Idea of Africa - Representational Discourses Of Africa
- Idea of Africa - Origins Of The Name Africa
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