Guest post by Nadia Monsengo, a graphic artist living in the Netherlands.
My thoughts on Africa’s Image Problem
A while ago I read a book in Dutch called: Hoe Congolees Zijn De Congolezen? It means, how Congolese Are The Congolese people? A very interesting book. It is basically about how the image and identity of the Congolese people has been lost due to the colonization. I would recommend this book; unfortunately, it is written only in Dutch. Well, for a more general view, we could look at the media of the Western world.
The way they feed on the negativity of Africa is disconcerting. The media only shows negative images of Africa (poor kids living on the streets, diseases, war). They show that Africa depends on them. Mainly through charities. They take advantage of the negativity of Africa and take advantage of the positive light it shines on them for giving generously. In the media there is almost nothing about the kingdoms of Africa. The way they ruled, what kingdoms there were. Basically, not much is written before the history of the colonization of Africa. I find this unfortunate. It looks as if Africans/Africa (except Egypt) did not exist before the colonization. It seems as if the image of Africans depends on the Western World.
Let’s talk about Ancient Egypt. I happen to know that there are many disagreements about the identity of the ancient Egyptians. Many believe that the ancient Egyptians were black and others (the Western World) believe that the ancient Egyptians were white. I do not know how the ancient Egyptians looked like, but I do not believe that they were white (like Europeans). Egypt is in Africa, so the most logical to me is that they had dark skin. Egypt is one of the ancient civilizations that was very developed in terms of society and many other things.
A very developed country like Egypt could’ve been built by people of colour. And why not? A while ago I saw a documentary on the history of Africa. In this documentary they talked about the great monuments in Zimbabwe (then called Rhode Islands). During exploration of the country, the British refused to believe that the monuments (which were the remains of a great kingdom) were built by black people. They were convinced that these monuments were remnants of an old white civilization, that black people could not have built this. Again, I could not believe the image people then already had of Africans. This negative image of Africa/Africans, the Western World has goes way back.
Why doesn’t the film industry produce more movies about great kingdoms of Africa? Why are there so many slave movies? Movies where black people are poor or slaves don’t contribute to a positive image of Africa. Why do people think that there is always war in Africa? Why do people think that a lot of Africans have HIV? If there is one thing I’ve noticed in the media, is that they ALWAYS use a black person in a commercial for HIV.
A former colleague of mine (she is Cape Verdean) told me once that her little sister always told everyone that she was not African and that Cape Verde was not a part of Africa. Only because of the bad image that people have about Africa. She was so much ashamed that she tried to convince people that Cape Verde was not a part of Africa! I was very much suprised when I heard this. I could not believe this.
I mostly blame the media for the poor image of Africa. Of course there are a lot of Africans that are ignorant and don’t care. I find this unfortunate. But I don’t fully blame them. When you look at Africa’s history, it is understandable how a lot Africans became this way. I once asked my mother if she could tell me something about our history before the colonization. And she did not know. It is very sad.