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= WHAT IS ‘SUB-SAHARA AFRICA’?
or the West’s leading news organisations (CNN, BBC, International Herald Tribune, Reuters, Associated Press, Fox News, Yahoo! News, etc., etc), the recent commemoration of 50 years of Ghana’s restoration-of-independence (after the British conquest and occupation) occasioned, once again, the increasing absurdity that underscores these agencies’ understanding of the fundamentals of political geography in describing Africa. The very ritualised invocation of the misleading, if not meaningless, epithet ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ was the choice of each of these media outlets in its description of Ghana in their respective anniversary coverage. Indeed all of Africa, except the five predominantly Arab states of north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) and Sudan, which has an African majority population but an Arab minority that has wielded supreme political power since the country’s restoration-of-independence from Britain in 1956, is also frivolously labelled ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ by these institutions in this outlandish classificatory schema.
It is not obvious, on the face of it, which of the four possible meanings of the prefix, ‘sub’, these agencies attach to their ‘Sahara Africa’. Is it ‘under’ or ‘part of’ / ’partly’? Or, presumably, ‘partially’ / ‘nearly’ or even the very unlikely (hopefully!) application of ‘in the style of, but inferior to’, especially considering that there is an Arab nationality sandwiched between Morocco and Mauritania (northwest Africa) which calls itself Saharan? The example of South Africa is apt here. Crucially, this is a reference underlined in the relevant literature of the epoch especially those emanating from Western states, the United Nations (principally UNDP, FAO, UNCTAD, ILO), the World Bank and IMF, the so-called NGOs / ‘aid’ groups, and some in academia, who are variously responsible for initiating and sustaining the operationalisation of this dogma.
Prior to the formal restoration of African majority government in 1994, South Africa was never designated ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ in this portrait unlike the rest of the 13 African-led states in southern Africa. South Africa then was either termed ‘white South Africa’ or the ‘South Africa sub-continent’ (as in the ‘India sub-continent’ usage, for instance) i.e. ‘almost’ / ‘partially’ a continent - quite clearly a usage of ‘admiration’ or ‘compliment’ employed by its subscribers to essentially project and valorise the perceived geo-strategic potentials or capabilities of the erstwhile European-minority occupying regime. But soon after the triumph of the African freedom movement there, South Africa became ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ in the quickly adjusted schema of this representation! What suddenly happened to South Africa’s ‘geography’ to be so differently classified?! Is it African liberation/rule that renders an African state ‘sub-Sahara’? Does this post-1994 West-inflected South Africa-changed classification make ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ any more intelligible?
Just as in its ‘continent’ example (above), the application of the ‘almost’ / ‘partially’ or indeed ‘part of’ / ‘partly’ meaning of prefix ‘sub-‘ to ‘Sahara Africa’ focuses unambiguously on Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, each of which has 25-75 per cent of its territory (especially to the south) covered by the Sahara Desert. It also focuses on Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, which variously have 25-75 per cent of their territories (to the north) covered by the same desert. In effect, these 10 states make up sub-Sahara Africa.
The five Arab north Africa states do not, correctly, describe themselves as Africans even though they unquestionably habituate African geography, the African continent. The West governments, press and the transnational bodies we referred to earlier (which are predominantly led by West personnel and interests) have consistently ‘conceded’ to this Arab insistence on racial identity. Presumably, this accounts for the West’s ludicrous non-designation of its ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ dogma to these states as well as the Sudan, whose successive Arab-minority regimes in the past 51 years have claimed, but incorrectly, that the Sudan ‘belongs’ to the Arab World. On this subject, the West does no doubt know that what it has been engaged in, all along, is blatant sophistry and not science. This, however, conveniently suits its current self-serving propaganda packaging on Africa, which we shall be elaborating on shortly.
It would appear that we still don’t seem to be any closer at establishing, conclusively, what the West media and allied institutions mean by ‘sub-Sahara Africa’. Could it, perhaps, just be a benign reference to all the countries ‘under’ the Sahara, whatever their distances from this desert, to interrogate our final, fourth probability? Presently, there are 53 sovereign states in Africa. If the five north Africa Arab states are said to be located ‘above’ the Sahara, then 49 are positioned ‘under’. The latter would therefore include all the five countries mentioned above whose north frontiers incorporate the southern stretches of the desert, countries in central Africa (the Congos, Rwanda, Burundi, etc., etc), for instance, despite being 2000-2500 miles away, and even the southern African states situated 3000-3500 miles away! In fact, all these 49 countries, except Sudan (alas, not included for the plausible reason already cited!), which is clearly ‘under’ the Sahara and situated within the same latitudes as Mali, Niger and Chad, are all categorised by the West as ‘sub-Sahara Africa’. To replicate this obvious farce of a classification elsewhere in the world, the following random exercise is not such an indistinct scenario:
- Australia hence becomes ‘sub-Great Sandy Australia’ after the hot deserts that cover much of west and central Australia
- East Russia, east of the Urals, becomes ‘sub-Siberia Asia’
- China, Japan and Indonesia are reclassified ‘sub-Gobi Asia’
- Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam become ‘sub-Himalaya Asia’
- All of Europe is ‘sub-Arctic Europe’
- Most of England, central and southern counties, is renamed ‘sub-Pennines Europe’
- East / southeast France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia are ‘sub-Alps Europe’
- The Americas become ‘sub-Arctic Americas’
- All of South America south of the Amazon is proclaimed ‘sub-Amazon South America’; Chile could be ‘sub-Atacama South America’
- Most of New Zealand’s South Island is renamed ‘sub-Southern Alps New Zealand’
- Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama become ‘sub-Rocky North America’
- The entire Caribbean becomes ‘sub-Appalachian Americas’
Rather than some benign construct, ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ is, in the end, a bizarre nomenclatural code that the West employs to depict an African-led sovereign state - anywhere in Africa, as distinct from an Arab-led one. It is of course the West’s non-inclusion of the Sudan in this grouping, despite its majority African population and geographical location, which gives the game away! More seriously to the point, though, the West uses ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ to create the stunning effect of a supposedly shrinking African geographical landmass in the popular imagination, coupled with the continent’s supposedly attendant geo-strategic global ‘irrelevance’. ‘Sub-Sahara Africa’ is undoubtedly a racist geo-political signature in which its users aim repeatedly to present the imagery of the desolation, aridity, and hopelessness of a desert environment. This is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of 700 million Africans do not live anywhere close to the Sahara, nor are their lives so affected by the implied impact of the very loaded meaning that this dogma intends to convey. Except this increasingly pervasive use of ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ is robustly challenged by rigorous African-centred scholarship and publicity work, the West will succeed in the coming decade to effectively substitute the name of the continent ‘Africa’ with ‘sub-Sahara Africa’ and the name of its peoples, ‘Africans’, with ‘sub-Sahara Africans’ or worse still ‘sub-Saharans’ in the realm of public memory and reckoning.
It should be noted that this characterisation of Africa comes in the wake of the virtual collapse of the continent’s economy in the 1980s. This was caused by the catastrophic failure of the so-called ‘economic structural adjustment programme’, formulated by the World Bank / IMF and implemented on the ground by the infamous African kakistocratic regimes. The age long terms of the glaring asymmetrical Africa-West socioeconomic relations, that have always favoured the West, worsened even further for Africans. Even though tagged a ‘developing continent’, Africa crucially became a net-exporter of capital to the West as a result, a cardinal feature of its economy since 1981. In these past 26 years, Africa has transferred the gargantuan sum of US?subject=From Website'>700 billion to the West. These exports include those routinely made by thieving heads of state and other state officials. The other stunning consequence of the economy’s collapse is the flight of its middle classes to the West and elsewhere. They are part of the 12 million Africans who have fled the continent in the past 20 years and who are now the principal external source of capital generation and transfer to Africa. In 2003, they dispatched the impressive sum of US?subject=From Website'>200 billion to Africa. These African emigres also include the cream of the post-restoration of independence intelligentsia (scholars, scientists, writers, artists, journalists, doctors, nurses, other medical / health professionals, engineers, accountants, teachers, etc., etc), very talented men and women who presently enrich, quite ironically, the West’s intellectual and cultural heritage most profoundly.
It cannot be stressed too often that the extant (European-created) African states that are immanently hostile to the overriding interests of the African humanity have not ceased to be havens that continuously enrich the West most dramatically. The flip side of the coin that tells the tale of the extraordinary wealth which the West and its African regime-clients expropriate from Africa, day in, day out, is the emaciated, starving and dying child, woman and man that has been the harrowing image of the African on television screens and other publicity channels across the world. At stake, of course, is the case that the state in Africa demonstrates a glaring inability to fulfil its basic role to provide security, welfare and transformative capacities for society’s developmental needs and objectives. It is still a conqueror’s and conquest state, precisely the way the European creator envisioned its ontology. It is virtually at war with its peoples, a genocide-state that has murdered 15 million in Biafra, Rwanda, Darfur and southern Sudan, the Congos and elsewhere on the continent in the past 40 years. It is the bane of African social existence. Africans now have no choice but to dismantle this state (‘sub-Sahara’, ‘sub-sub-Sahara’, ‘proto-Sahara’, ‘quasi-Sahara’, ‘supra-Sahara’, whatever!) and create new state forms that expressly serve their interests and aspirations. This is the most pressing African task of the contemporary era.
- Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of ‘Biafra Revisited’ (African Renaissance, 2006)
~ NUBIART COMMENT: The professor’s article echoes what we at Nubiart have been saying for years that the use of 'sub-Saharan' is for two purposes: as a code for distinguishing the 'poor impoverished dark-skinned' southern part from the Arab 'north' (for which Europeans still have some hope, even if they are Muslims) and to stop the Afrikan unity which was coming about during the years of Nkrumah, Fanon, etc.
'Sub-Saharan' is used by western commentators and politicians as a subliminal code for subhuman and subnormal. Continuing the three-fifths human and monkey / ape propaganda they have been peddling for the last couple of centuries. The phrase ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ became prominent at the same time as Afrikan children in Europe and America were being mis-educated and labeled ‘Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN)’ by racist education systems. The ‘Afrikans as monkey / ape / gorilla’ psyche of the European continues. This week a European in South Afrika was jailed for 20 years for murdering a Zimbabwean farmworker he considered a baboon and ill-treating four other farmworkers.
We should stop using ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ as many countries straddle or are actually in the Sahara as the Prof correctly points out and some Afrikan countries are over 3000 miles from the Sahara so what is their connection to it. We should stick to country or regional names recognising that all of Afrika is Afrikan and encourage all Afrikans (and guests, migrants, diasporans and commentators on the continent) to live up to some level of pan-Afrikan economic, political and moral standards.”
Nubiart also rejects the term ‘Ex-patriate’ for European migrants, immigrants and workers to other countries. They are the same as Afrikan migrants, (whether economic or political) who travel to other countries with the intention of seeing what it is like and studying or doing business. Ex-patriate is too cosy and paternalistic a term for the exploitation and mayhem many Europeans abroad engage in.
= 'HOW TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICA'
Binyavanga Wainaina - http://www.granta.com/extracts/2615
‘some tips: sunsets and starvation are good’
Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it - because you care.
Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.
Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love - take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.
Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.
Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity / aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).
Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.
Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life - but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.
Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.
Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values:
see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).
After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or 'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.
Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical - Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).
You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.
Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.
= Following requests from readers we have agreed to keep the following declaration written by Akyaaba Addai Sebo at the initiation of Black History Month in the UK in the mid-80s up on the site for the foreseeable future.
AFRICAN JUBILEE YEAR DECLARATION
Declaration presented by the London Strategic Policy Committee, the Association of London Authorities and the Inner London Education Authority as an expression of their commitment to counter racist strategies, to eliminate the practice of racism in every branch of local government activity and their commitment to the cause of human rights and justice; to pay tribute to the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey on the occasion of the centenary of his birth; the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, the one-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of emancipation in the Caribbean and in recognition of the monumental contributions of Africans and people of African descent to the political, economic and cultural life of London.
The Committee, the Association and the Authority declare their support for the demands of Africans, both at home and abroad, for just restitution and recognises that some of the root causes of racial discrimination, inequality of opportunity and poor relations between persons of different racial groups within their boroughs are imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. The years of incalculable damage done to the African continent based on the myth of white supremacy bears witness to this fact. Further the Committee, the Association and the Authority acknowledge that if they are to take their obligations under S.71 of the Race Relations Act 1986 seriously they must seek to address the concerns of all in the boroughs who are affected by these matters.
In keeping with the principles of human liberty and confraternity among all races as exemplified by the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey in his eloquent and principled support for the struggle for the independence of India, Ireland and all oppressed people the Committee, the Association and the Authority believe that the apartheid mentality both here and abroad undermines human dignity, liberty and rights and is a threat to world peace and racial harmony.
In accordance with these views the Committee, the Association and the Authority will, within limits of their legal powers, do whatever is necessary to end all links between themselves and the apartheid regime of South Africa, carry out their functions in such ways that do not militate against the independent vitality and validity of the struggles and sacrifices of African people for total political and economic liberation and unification and the struggles of blacks and other victims of racism for human rights and justice under active laws in the United Kingdom. In particular they will, whenever possible and appropriate, having regard to their legal powers and duties, pursue vigilant practices to:
1) Uphold the tenets of the GLC’s 1984 Anti-Apartheid and Anti-Racist Declarations;
2) Promote positive public images and an understanding of Africans and people of African descent and encourage the positive teaching and development of their history, culture and struggles;
3) Encourage the naming of streets, buildings and parks after Marcus Garvey and other prominent personalities of the Pan-African revolutionary process and the commemoration of historic connections between the Pan-African revolutionary struggle and London, including the erections of plaques, sculptures and murals in honour of such connections;
4) Support African organisations and liberation movements based in London;
5) Ensure that the London Strategic Policy Committee, the Association of London Authorities and the Inner London Education Authority and their agencies pursue policies consistent with this declaration.
The Committee, the Association and the Authority hereby declare the period between August 1987 and July 1988 as African Jubilee Year and the month of October 1987 (and every October thereafter) as Black History Month, and undertake to organise appropriate events to publicise and encourage and implement the adoption of this declaration and to encourage all other local authorities and organisations to do likewise.