The West’s politics of pity towards Africa relies on some easily available stereotypes that are ultimately offensive, inaccurate and help perpetuate fundamental ignorance that feeds a certain Western agenda. Here are some of the most common as satirised by James Wan. Just like other injustices against the people of Africa, this wilful pigeonholing needs to be eradicated.
Welcome to Africa, where everyone is starving, emaciated, diseased and dying. Where “the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”, and the only thing that grows from the arid ground is the thorny rose of despair. Welcome to the cradle of humanity, still frozen in time, where the innocent child-like masses are passive, helpless and too exhausted to even swat away the flies from their eyes.
Welcome to Africa, where war reigns, the only rain is of falling bullets, and wearing an AK-47 across your bare chest never goes out of fashion. Where militias with wild eyes, bared teeth and voodoo armour that stops them being killed roam the bush day and night. Welcome to a world of evil, dark-skinned Rambos.
The noble savage
Welcome to Africa, where all those ancient values that you cherish and that were so ruthlessly destroyed by pesky “modernity”, remain pure, untouched and still innocent. Where tall old men wander the savannah in exotic robes thinking wise thoughts, and villagers gather round to perform strange (but totally unthreatening) rituals and dance joyously at any occasion. Breathe in that nobility of spirit as the sun sets across the plains, silhouetting that grand old baobab tree.
The grateful child
Welcome to Africa, where the pocket money of faraway donors has rescued the once suffering masses, where those passive glares have been replaced with children’s toothy smiles, and their tears of despair are now tears of joy and gratitude. And all because there is a well or a school or a clinic where once there was none. Africa has been fixed and boy is it happy, thankful and indebted!
Welcome to Africa, where the only source of power is black magic, where witchdoctors shake monkey bones in the night to ward away evil spirits, and body parts are harvested for ancient malevolent rituals. Where the masses cower under the spell of an unscrupulous voodoo shaman and sadly there is no education to teach them any better.
The corrupt suit
Welcome to Africa, where those in power stay in power by hook or by crook and enrich themselves, their families and their tribes in the process. Where resources are abundant and possibilities are endless, but where Africans in suits can’t help but loot. They all steal with a smile, but stay number one by the gun.
Welcome to Africa, that scary world where – if you grew up in the diaspora – Mama threatens to send you when you misbehave. Where your cousins are lucky to get a meal, where your grandparents toiled in ways you could never imagine so your parents could escape, and where the kids certainly don’t have the games and gadgets you take for granted.
Welcome to Africa, where everything is fine! Actually, it’s great. Take everything you thought you knew about the continent, all the poverty, misery and disease, and flip it. Economies are booming, everyone’s getting rich, and all the news is good news. Africa is Rising. End of.