Thursday, March 31, 2011

Knowledge-base Tool Kit: What's with all this not Getting "Africa" Right?

It is a familiar name for one of the largest tectonic plates on the planet and something that primary school kids can easily place on the map. There are very few places on the globe where the name "Africa" has not been heard, yet it seems to be the most inexplicably misconstrued and misused name. Thanks to basic geography lessons in schools, kids can pretty much get the basic idea of Africa right; so why can't full grown adults?

It seems simple enough of a concept, yet there seems to be too much trouble across "western" academia and media circles to get the idea of Africa right. Thanks to obsessive focus on negative coverage in 'western' news outlets, as discussed on this site before, the name has been plagued with a lot of baggage, and is invariably, despite its varying economies and cultures like anywhere else on the planet, branded as a "charity case". This distorted and highly exaggerated view of the continent has little wonder become the image cemented in the minds of averaged untraveled 'westerners'. However, the gratuitous negative branding is one thing; many 'westerners' simply cannot get the basic geographic understanding of Africa right. Is this simply a matter of ignorance, or is there cynical politics also involved?

Perhaps by way of their seclusionist attitude and arrogance, an untraveled 'westerner' may well be suffering from ignorance, but it is hard to wrap one's figure around the idea that full grown adult media pundits, journalist and academia figures, who assume career positions that have come to be expected of those meeting fairly strong educational background, can also be that much ignorant of something that is otherwise almost effortlessly simple to grasp. Therefore, the logical conclusion one will be enticed to arrive at here, is that there is politics involved, which clouds the judgment of the aforementioned "professionals". Let's start with examples across academia and media concerns, with the help of a few quotations...

The following author from al Jazeera, going by the name Azad Essa, himself reflects on the problems in journalistic circles, when it comes to correctly referring to Africa and African affairs; the first piece explores "The African Egypt versus the Arab Egypt" matter...

despite the fact that the rich banks of the Nile are sourced from central Africa, the world looked upon the uprising in Egypt solely as a Middle Eastern issue and commentators scrambled to predict what it would mean for the rest of the Arab world and, of course, Israel. Few seemed to care that Egypt was also part of Africa, a continent with a billion people, most living under despotic regimes and suffering economic strife and political suppression just like their Egyptian neighbours.

He goes onto point out...

"Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent," says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa.

Indeed, as the cited individual, Firoze Manji, points out and as has been also related on this site, by the way journalists and personalities in 'western' media talk, one would think that coastal northern African countries were on an autonomous floating island of its own, detached from the rest of the African tectonic plate. Heck, one sometimes even gets the impression that these 'western' personalities were striving to make northern Africa as more of an extension of Europe rather than that of the continent to which it is attached. In reality however, if anything, it is a portion of Europe, near the Mediterranean sea, that is actually an extension of Africa. A few might be in the know that a piece of the African plate, on the north end, has crushed against that of the European plate, thereby producing ripples forming the Alps mountain range on the European side. Part of the crust of the African plate is even visible amongst these peaks, one element of which is famed by the name the "Matterhorn". To this end, Africans have more bragging rights about a southern portion of Europe being an extension of Africa, rather than the reverse.
Click on the image for greater resoulution: A familiar view of the Matterhorn, which looks to be the east face of the peak directly facing the viewer and the north face partially in view on the right hand side. The Matterhorn is part of the Pennine Alps mountain range situated in the border between Switzerland and Italy. This mountain reportedly has two "summits": The most popularly viewed summit, i.e. the summit on the east—called the "Swiss summit", and the "Italian summit" on the west end of the mountain; a cross-like structure has been placed in between the said summits. The Swiss summit, ca. 4,478m, is relatively higher than the Italian counterpart, ca. 4,476m. The horn-looking piece of the peak seen above, is actually a piece of the African plate.
Mr. Essa proceeds as follows...

"Their histories have been intertwined for millennia. Some Egyptians may not feel they are Africans, but that is neither here nor there. They are part of the heritage of the continent."

There is truth to this, because the attitudes of modern Egyptians may be symptomatic of the type of overreaching effect 'western' propaganda outlets have beyond the borders of 'western' nations, be it through popular culture and/or news media, or curricular material. Yet, as correctly noted above, Egyptians remain an integral part of African heritage.

globalisation and the accompanying economic liberalisation has created circumstances in which the people of the global South share very similar experiences: "Increasing pauperisation, growing unemployment, declining power to hold their governments to account, declining income from agricultural production, increasing accumulation by dispossession - something that is growing on a vast scale - and increasing willingness of governments to comply with the political and economic wishes of the North.

This is a matter of fact that is so old a news to continental Africans, that it is stale. This can only be fresh news to people in the "west" and possibly other far off places outside the continent. In the rest of Mr. Essa's article, we are treated with more examples, i.e. specific ones, of the common experiences that tie the territories of the coastal north with the rest of continental Africa:

In the past three years, there been violent service delivery protests in South Africa and food riots in Cameroon, Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal.

However, after making several valid points about the politics that plagues 'western' understanding of Africa, the article begins to fall into the same trap it was accusing personalities in other news outlets and mass media of just moments ago. For instance, the article had earlier on characterized the muting of uprisings in sub-Saharan African countries as a consequence of the major global news organizations abandoning their responsibility to sufficiently report them, in contrast to the treatment afforded elsewhere, like say, in the case of recent uprisings in the coastal north African countries of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and to some extent, Algeria and Morocco. However, the article goes onto gloss over this earlier observation later on, and offers what can possibly be characterized as an apologia for this relinquishing of responsibility on the part of major global mass media organizations, by insinuating that maybe uprisings in "sub-Sahara" have not had the sensationalism they deserved, likely because they were not "successful" undertakings. The article does not say this per se, but sort of hints on it. The article figures that this relative lack of success may be attributable to higher ethnic diversity in sub-Saharan African societies when compared to the countries of the northern areas:

"In most of the countries that have had fairly 'successful riots' the societies are fairly homogeneous compared to sub-Saharan Africa where there are a multiplicity of ethnic groups that are themselves very polarised. In sub-Saharan Africa, where governments have been able to divide people along ethnic-political lines, it becomes easier to hijack an uprising because of ethnic differences, unlike in North Africa."

However, the article had just treated us with several examples in sub-Saharan Africa where ethnic differences were obviously put aside for the moment, and instead, attention was focused on common social and economic grievances. That is to say, the article had already cited African regions/countries that are reputed for hosting so many ethnic varieties, wherein defiant uprisings took hold nonetheless, but which we were earlier told, had received little news coverage, largely because journalists of international big business corp news outlets not only didn't satisfactorily rise to their responsibilities, but also applied double standards in their coverage of territories of the north and those of the more southern climes of Africa; take for instance, the article laments...

'Where is Anderson Cooper?'

Egypt and Tunisia may have been the catalysts for demonstrations across the Arab world, but will those ripples spread into the rest of Africa as well and, if they do, will the international media and its audience even notice?

...European and American media routinely reduce a conflict like [that in] Ivory Coast or Eastern Congo to a one-sentence news blurb at the bottom of the screen."...

..."The problem is that most American media compulsively ignore everything south of the Sahara and north of Johannesburg. A demonstration has to be filmed, photographed, streamed live into the offices of foreign leaders to achieve everything Egypt's achieved."

Several passages later, the article does redeem itself by identifying a more realistic underlying factor behind the low coverage of significant events in countries south of the Sahara, i.e. aside from the obvious "hands-off approach" bias in global big business corporate news media in covering progressive events in those parts of the continent; after acknowledging 'western' propensity for developing more interest in the "failing Africa" narrative via Nanjala , a political analyst at the University of Oxford, whom we are told "suggests this journalistic shortcoming stems from journalists' tendency "to favour explanations that fit the whole 'failing Africa' narrative", the article notes:

"There's no powerhouse media for the region like Al Jazeera"

This explanation strikes a chord as a more plausible factor than that proposed earlier about the culpability of "ethnic divisions south of the Sahara". It is not that no large uprisings take place "south of the Sahara", presumably because of ethnic divisions; in fact, they do. Rather, when they do, they get little to no media coverage, and so, eventually die out unnoticed, until another round of protests come about. The article's reference to Hinshaw's reaction to media coverage, serves as a case in point, in this regard:

Hinshaw is particularly troubled by the failure of the international media to pay due attention to events in Ivory Coast, where the UN estimates that at least 300 people have died and the opposition puts the figure at 500.

If there were centers in sub-Saharan Africa which had "powerhouse media" concerns like the role al Jazeera plays in the so-called "Middle East", then perhaps the pressure of competing in reaching more audiences would force big business media in 'western' nations to give more coverage to significant social movements in those parts of the continent. Of course, the fact that coastal northern African territories are "strategically located", such that events in those areas have a tendency to impact countries in the Levant and the oil rich regions of Arabian peninsula, played no small part in getting the undivided attention of 'western' media concerns. This is to say, that areas near or along the path of areas of "high strategic interest" to the imperialist elites of 'western' nations, coupled with the capacity of the likes of regional non-western media concerns like al Jazeera to tap into not only audiences of these areas, but also segments of those in the 'west', have a tendency to lure big business 'western' media concerns to those regions of strategic interest in times of social unrest, as they seek to not only compete for international audiences who might tune into satellite dish programs, but also audiences who use the internet to get the bulk of their news. The priority may vary, but 'western' strategic "interests" generally exist in pretty much any resource-rich territory, and any potential gems of new markets, and so, much of sub-Saharan Africa won't have trouble in getting attention to that end, if they could somehow set up "powerhouse media" of their own. This way, these African regions can be impactful in shaping news coverage of said regions not only locally, but also globally, in ways that are reasonably advantageous to African societies.

In the next few segments, this is where the weakness of Mr. Essa's article is most notable, since the article itself falls into the trap of the mistakes it sought to inform its audience about other journalist concerns.

"It's not clear to me that social media played a massive role in organising protests," says Zuckerman. "[But] I do think it played a critical role in helping expose those protests to a global audience, particularly in Tunisia, where the media environment was so constrained."

So, could the same thing happen in Africa?...

Notice that Tunisia was a subject of the piece above. Tunisia is obviously understood as an African country by anyone remotely familiar with basic geography. Against this backdrop, momentarily after mentioning Tunisia, the piece goes onto ask a strange question. It asks whether the same thing that happened in Tunisia, which itself is in Africa, could happen "in Africa". In another passage, didn't the article already point out that Tunisia itself is "another African country"? So, why now phrase a question that implies that what happened in Tunisia was NOT in Africa? The question at hand is strange in detail, because the said question makes it appear that Tunisia is not African to begin with. This is the very sort of thing that the article itself was purportedly criticizing, yet ironically goes onto commit it itself.

These sort of "errors" are rampant across just about every section of mass media in "western" countries. As an example, in a recent segment of the Fox News program, the "O' Reilly Factor", on the subject of the events unfolding in Libya and the debate as to why the U.S. decided to intervene in that country but not other hot spots of conflict, the then guest of the show—Laura Ingraham—asked the host Bill O' Reilly a question that went like this: "Why didn't we do it in Africa?"

The equally unalert O' Reilly answered as follows: "Logistically, it was impossible [to intervene militarily] in Africa." On the surface, one who is a capable geography student will have to dismiss Mr. O' Reilly and his guest as flunkies in geography or else unmindful about the geographical whereabouts of Libya. In a similar manner, another TV news personality, Anderson Cooper, in a segment about the Libyan conflict that aired in the early evening hours of 3/31/2011, was caught saying that one of  Gaddafi's son's was "upset, because he couldn't go on a safari in Africa". Cooper was having a conversation with a guest about the possible future implications of the reported "defection" of a former Gaddafi administration official going by the name of "Musa Kusa", wherein he reckoned that there might be a scenario under which Gaddafi's children could defect as well, presumably brought upon by restrictions placed on their freedom to lavishly travel around the globe as a result of international sanctions, but anyone with an attentive mind can clearly see that Libya, as the main subject of the conversation, is an African country. Mr. Cooper's misuse of the terms "in Africa", like that of Mr. O' Reilly, makes it appear as though Libya was not in Africa to begin with. As such, "in Africa" no longer means the name of a continent, but now tacitly means "black Africa" or "the lands of black Africans".

It really is embarrassing to see purported journalists, of all people and at this stage of their profession, making clumsy errors such a these, that primary school kids are unlikely to make and are fairly avoidable with just a little dose of attention paid to what is being said. Sadly, this dreadful habit is picked up by captivated audiences of such TV programs and emulated in daily conversation.

Another popular Euro-centered way of geographically obscuring coastal north African territories, is through invariably applying terms like the "Middle East" or "Near East", another subject of previous discussion on this site. These days, this purely geopolitical term is carelessly and invariably applied to even Maghreb nations, which have not been traditionally included in the construct by its European authors. The result: northern Africa becomes geographically ambiguous to the inattentive mind. Turning to the aforementioned Mr. Essa article, not surprisingly, this very matter came up too:

"In that sense, people in Africa recognise the experiences of citizens in the Middle East. There is enormous potential for solidarity to grow out from that. In any case, where does Africa end and the Middle East begin?"

That is the sort of question Eurocentric personalities should be stumped with, since after all, the word is the fictional conception of 'westerners'. "Middle East" [or its equivalent the "Near East"] is neither an autonomous island, nor a standalone tectonic plate, but listening to 'westerners' use this word, one gets the impression that it is a continent of its own. The word has become embraced by various governments of the Arab-speaking world, just as the colonial boundaries forced onto Africans were subsequently embraced by upcoming leaders of newly "independent" African nations. The word is so heavily used in 'western' big business media, that captive audiences around the world have picked up the habit and even subconsciously used the word in daily speak. It has become so bad, that some of the folks who use this term, when told that Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, etc are in Africa, or when pressed on the whereabouts of these countries, they'd reply back that said territories are in "the Middle East". Against this backdrop, the name "Africa" has evolved into a whole new meaning. This new meaning, in the hands of 'westerners', is one which is used interchangeably with "sub-Saharan Africa", another word plagued by misuse, whereby the words now only implicitly mean "sub-Saharan Africans who have a western African origin". It is little wonder, that supposed educated people like C.Loring Brace apply words like "have a hint of sub-Saharan" when describing sub-Saharan specimens. The way Brace uses that word, "sub-Saharan" no longer means any territory beneath the Sahara; instead, it only applies to populations who supposedly have a "western African origin" at some point or another. The word "Africa" has been used in a fairly similar sense by 'western' personalities, not by those whom one might expect to make such insensible use of the term—i.e. uneducated persons, but rather, it is perpetrated by supposedly highly "degreed" personalities, whom many of us suppose should be able to easily pass basic geography tests. Few other continents are so distorted in this manner and approached so carelessly  by 'westerners'. One has to wonder if the incessant screwing up of such a simple geographical concept as "Africa" comes from a gratuitously defensive need to stigmatize "Africa", whereby anything perceived as having the potential to alter the romanticized 'western' manufactured stereotype of the "failing Africa" is excised from its African association.

*Look for possible future updates.
_____________________________________________________________
*References:

— Azad Essa, In search of an African revolution, courtesy of english.aljazeera.net, 2/21/2011.

— Brace et al., The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form, 2005.

—Personal notes, 2011.

Relevant reading: Africa's Image: A case of Misbranding

8 comments:

mghani said...

Good article. But what i noticed also in the media's coverage was the myth of the black mercenaries--black africans supposedly hired from abroad to massacre light skin indigenous libyans. Such coverage suggests that blacks in Libya or North Africa are not indigenous groups, but all foreigners.Reminds me of poor Maiherpra, the New Kingdom prince discovered in the Valley of the Kings, who was just too black to be Egyptian so they called him Nubian.

Mystery Solver said...

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
Yes, it is surely embarassing that important people don't recognize that Egypt and Libya and Tunisia are in Africa, an undisputable fact.

That is the whole point of the topic. The inability of supposed grown ups to get simple geography right.

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
One has to be intentionally self-deceiving not to recognize that North Africa is far stronger cultural ties and historical ties to Arabia than to Sub-Saharan Africa.

If by "stronger cultural ties", you mean "Arabic-speaking", then yes. That in any case, is immaterial to the topic, which is about geography.

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
North Africa is predominantly Muslim, Sub-Saharan Africa is not.

What are you talking about? Territory stretched from Sahel/"sub-Saharan" Western Africa to Sahel/"sub-Saharan" eastern Africa have "predominantly Muslim" societies. You are guilty of the stereotyping that I alluded to in the topic. It strikes me that you merely make assumptions about a continent you hardly know, and probably never even set foot on, and assume it will be taken at face value that you know what you are talking about. There are a lot more layers to Africa than what you learn from BBC or National Geography from the comfort of your home

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
North Africa's pre-colonial languages are Afro-Asiatic, Sub-Saharan pre-colonial languages are mostly Nilo-Saharan or Niger-Congo or Khoisan in affiliation.

That's another fairy tale. Using "mostly" isn't going to authenticate your rationale. So-called "Afro-Asiatic" is determined to be of "sub-Saharan" origin to begin with, where it most diverse. The language family is spread from southeastern Africa to western Africa. Likewise, Nilo-Saharan used to have a spread all the way to coastal northern Africa, even though it is now mostly spread along the Sahel from west to east, and also sub-Saharan eastern Africa. Above all, none of this dichotomization is irrelevant to the topic you are responding to. So why are you making them? Africa is a continent of highly diverse culture as well as people. That is a no-brainer, but that is besides the point; geography is!

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
North Africans are generally much more similar to Middle Easterners and Iberians than to most of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Naturally, "North Africans" will have more similarities to folks of said areas than the rest of Africans would to said areas, since coastal North Africa is geographically closer to the said areas. What's your point?

Biologically speaking, "North Africans" are generally intermediate between populations of northern latitudes and populations of low latitudes. That too, is a no-brainer.
Out of curiosity, where does your "North Africa" begin and where does it end?

You make all of these dichotomies, many of which are highly dubious, and I ask what your point is, since they are irrelevant to the topic. It strikes me that you are trying to divide the continent into biological and cultural "Bantustans" as an apologia for geographically distorting Africa? If so, then the topic is addressing this sort of embarrassing behavior.

Andrew Oh-Willeke:
The divide is not tectonic, but it is geographic.

The continent is a tectonic plate. That is supposed to be a no-brainer. It is a good thing I raised this topic; a lot of people could use the education.

Look, judging from your rambling about "differences" amongst Africans, it seems that you want to make this topic a lot more complicated than what it is. Plain and simple, it is about getting the geography right!

To the extent the topic delved deeper into the issue of "western" blind-sightedness about the rest of Africa, it did so, to explore the effect of this phenomenon in clouding the judgment of 'westerners' in getting simple geography of Africa right.

Mystery Solver said...

mghani:
Good article. But what i noticed also in the media's coverage was the myth of the black mercenaries--black africans supposedly hired from abroad to massacre light skin indigenous libyans. Such coverage suggests that blacks in Libya or North Africa are not indigenous groups, but all foreigners.Reminds me of poor Maiherpra, the New Kingdom prince discovered in the Valley of the Kings, who was just too black to be Egyptian so they called him Nubian.

True!

Too Tall Jones said...

A. Wilkie said:
One has to be intentionally self-deceiving not to recognize that North Africa is far stronger cultural ties and historical ties to Arabia than to Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa is predominantly Muslim, Sub-Saharan Africa is not. North Africa's pre-colonial languages are Afro-Asiatic, Sub-Saharan pre-colonial languages are mostly Nilo-Saharan or Niger-Congo or Khoisan in affiliation.

Wilkie's logic here is flawed. It is misleading to say that "North Africa" has stronger cultural and historical ties to Arabia than 'sub Saharan' Africa. The more correct claim is "Arabized coastal North Africa" has such ties. As far as the Arab era goes, with it population movements, conquest and imposition of the Islamic religion, sure. But there is ANOTHER North Africa in place on the continent that covers large swathes of Mali, Chad, Niger, the Sudan etc.., and despite Arabized influence and Islam, it is highly misleading to say that THIS part of "North Africa" has so called "stronger ties" with Arabia. Wilkie follows his initial error with another, when as part of his example he tries to make a dichotomy between 'Afro-Asiatic" and 'Sub-Saharan" languages, unable to grasp that the "Afro Asiatic" languages originated in "sub-Saharan" Africa, and were in place there LONG BEFORE the Arab or Phonecian era.

Too Tall Jones said...

Wilkie says:
North Africans are generally much more similar to Middle Easterners and Iberians than to most of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa was part of the Roman Empire, Sub-Saharan Africa was not. North Africa was part of Phoencian trade routes, Sub-Saharan Africa was not. The genetic divide is at least as old as the drying up of the "wet sahara" based on ancient DNA evidence that shows continuity between very old North African populations and the existing ones.

WIlkie's claim of absent or lacking cultural and historical ties between North Africa and 'sub Saharan' Africa ignores the historical fact that the Sahara was once a lush greenbelt that covered one-third of Africa, rendering his notion of "historical" "sub Saharan" Africa dubious. Exactly when did the millennia prior to the Arab or Phonecian era cease to be "historical"? Furthermore massive areas ABOVE the current Sahara includes huge parts of the Sudan, Chad, Niger and Mali. Fabled Timbuktu for example is located ABOVE the Saharan line. The peoples of these areas are not "much more similar" to Middle Easterners and Iberians. The strained dichtomy vis a vis so-called 'sub Saharan' Africa doesn't hold up under detailed examination. And since the post deals with geography, the physical geography of North Africa includes much more than the Arabized coastal strip. Claims about "North Africa" need to specify whether they are talking about said coastal strip, or the vast areas in Chad, Niger, Mali or the Sudan. Too often blanket claims are made about "North Africa" - when said claimants can only speak for the coastal strip.

In addition, Wilkie is misleading about the broad historical picture. The Arab interlude in Africa, like the Roman and Greek one is comparatively recent. Long before the arrival of these peoples "North Africa" had plenty of cultural links with so-called "sub-Saharan areas. Egypt is a case in point. The peoples who populated the Nile Valley and founded the Dynastic Egyptian civilization are themselves from "sub Saharan" Africa, and left behind numerous cultural artifacts to do with the physical evidence (Keita 2005, Redford 2001, Zakrewski 2007 etc, etc). Berber populations in other countries such as Morocco or Algeria have experienced some gene flow from Europe, but they also show substantial gene flow from "sub saharan" Africa well before Greeks or Phonecians appeared (Frigi 2010). These historical facts also make Wilke's claim about a so-called "genetic divide" dubious. Even in the UN's official geoscheme labeling of regions, (which somewhat follows political conventions) "North Africa" also includes all of the Sudan. It is dubious to claim that the peoples of the Sudan are genetically more akin to Arabs than fellow nearby Africans.

Since this topic is about geography, a number of standard, physical geography textbooks show "North Africa" as more than the coastal strip of Arabized polities, as shown below. It should be noted that some of the countries shown, such as Ethiopia and Somalia are themselves "sub Saharan". Again, it is dubious to claim that the peoples of countries such as Chad, Mali, Sudan, Somalia or Ethiopia are more akin to Arabs and Iberians than other sub-Saharan Africans.
image: http://knol.google.com/k/-/-/3q8x30897t2cs/pjyb8j/mapofnorthafricaphysicalgeography.jpg

Mystery Solver said...

Accidentally erased this comment by Andrew Oh-Willeke:

Yes, it is surely embarassing that important people don't recognize that Egypt and Libya and Tunisia are in Africa, an undisputable fact. But, these Freudian slips reflect truths about the human makeup of the regions.

One has to be intentionally self-deceiving not to recognize that North Africa is far stronger cultural ties and historical ties to Arabia than to Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa is predominantly Muslim, Sub-Saharan Africa is not. North Africa's pre-colonial languages are Afro-Asiatic, Sub-Saharan pre-colonial languages are mostly Nilo-Saharan or Niger-Congo or Khoisan in affiliation. North Africans are generally much more similar to Middle Easterners and Iberians than to most of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa was part of the Roman Empire, Sub-Saharan Africa was not. North Africa was part of Phoencian trade routes, Sub-Saharan Africa was not. The genetic divide is at least as old as the drying up of the "wet sahara" based on ancient DNA evidence that shows continuity between very old North African populations and the existing ones. North Africa and Subsaharan Africa have quite different political problems as well. Subsaharan Africa is coping with AIDS, malaria, and extreme cultural fragmentation of populations arbitrarily lumped together in countries by colonial rules. North Africans are coping with repressive oil rich dictators in countries whose boundaries, while also arbitrary colonial impositions, are much more culturally unified.

The divide is not tectonic, but it is geographic. The Sahara is an immense and formidable physical barrier. The intensity of this divide is even more stark when one looks at population density maps of Africa rather than political boundaries. North African populations overwhelmingly live within 50 km or so of the coast, with the exception of high population densities in the Nile River Valley.

There are liminal areas in Africa where there is not a clear affinity to North Africa and the Middle East on one hand, or to Subsaharan Africa on the other, of course. Those liminal areas are in places like Sudan, Upper Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Zanzibar.

As for American media blindness to Africa, this needs to be understood in the context of American media blindness to the internal affairs of Europe, of Australia and Oceania, of Asia and of Latin America as well. A lack of strong colonial ties has produced a media that is oblivious in general to places where we are not at war (hot or cold), that are not Israel.

Mystery Solver said...

Too Tall Jones, go on ahead -- teach Mr. Willeke away.

Mystery Solver said...

In reply to Andrew Oh-Willeke:

Andrew,

you are in dire need of basic history lessons on Africa. The blog entry is actually directed at the sort of ignorance and/or misinformation you display in your comments. Your "black & white" dichotomy of the "north African problem" and "sub-Saharan problem" is an assuring sign that you don't even keep up with "news" (aka propaganda) from 'western' news channels. At least even they are aware that despotic leadership is a rampant and universal African problem, not just a "north African" problem. I could teach you about "problems" in "north Africa" extending well into culture, like the struggle between the Tamazight movement and the Arabized establishment, including ethnic targeting against fellow citizens based on skin color, and that the "sub-Saharan problem", on the other hand, is not the monotypic one you imagined out of thin air, but frankly I just don't have the time. One would have to be clueless about the historic trans-Saharan trade network, not to mention the fact that humans had been populating coastal north Africa even before any human set foot outside of the continent. Where do you suppose these humans originally came from, if not "sub-Saharan" Africa?! BTW, that's just a rhetorical question.

You need to just as well get acquainted with basics of African Y-DNA and mtDNA phylogeny and distribution patterns, as I gather it is lack of this fundamental grounding that leads you to speak of fictitious "genetic discontinuity" between "north Africa" and "sub-Saharan Africa". This site's postings could help you a great deal with getting started in that respect, though I caution the material will likely still be too technical for you.

Ps: The shortage of mindfulness towards Africa in "western" media that I was addressing in the blog entry pertained to "western" countries in general, not just the USA, whose actions in Africa you also seem to be severely in the dark about.