Western people often have a distorted perception of Africa, and sometimes it is completely wrong. It is often the image of a hostile place, in that “south of the world” which is difficult to locate and where diseases, poverty, chaos and armed conflicts reign. A place to forget about, theatre of terroristic movements and terrible epidemies. These images are created because of, on the one hand, Africa’s inability to talk about its peculiar characteristics and its talents, on the other hand, the superficiality western people show when talking about Africa.
From a political point of view, this continent is quite insignificant: except for South Africa, no one of its countries join G7, the powerful people’s banquet. It attends G7 meetings when there are extraordinary and very serious occasions, such as pandemics – like Ebola’s – or hot political problems – like migration flows’ management. World’s leaders invite African representatives, listen to their speeches and then dismiss them. In world’s big originations, such as World Bank and International Money Fund, they are less worth than they could be. Within UN they can’t create a critical mass.
Anyway, despite all difficulties, something is moving: African Union, 136 for example, is starting to make its first steps, from its creation in 2002. This year, a deal for continental free trade has been signed; it could attract global investments. Lots of regional and interregional organizations, with their institutions, are starting to emerge; they are becoming international interlocutors, they are enforcing Africa’s position in the world and creating that federalism which could be important to break a too huge continent into smaller pieces.
After north Africa’s Arab Spring slowed down economy and politics, sub-Saharan countries are now gaining a major role in the continent: Nigeria for example has just overtaken South Africa, with a 574 billion dollars GDP, against the 350 billion dollars GDP of South Africa. In facts, raw materials, such as petroleum and gas, can be found mainly in sub-Saharan area, and they can turn those countries into engines for growth.
But in general, African fights are not known by the world and can’t be heard of out of its borders, except for poverty, which is the image of Africa. The big fight against poverty, which has entered all western citizens’ houses, thanks to campaigns and fund raisings by NGOs, is the picture of Africa. Pictures showing starved children, abandoned minors, houses damaged by armed conflicts, child soldiers, touched millions of people, who in last years have become donors. If on the one hand, these non-profit campaigns promoted the development of some project, on the other hand they helped to create an image of Africa which is poor and constantly in danger, at all costs. And during globalization era, image is all.
As it happens at a personal level, each continent offers an image of itself to the world: USA are represented by symbols of wealth, technology and hegemony, Europe is the image of culture, democracy and a big industrial force, China is the world’s new protagonist and India is the country of development. South America seems to lack a common identity, maybe because Brazil has almost absorbed it in its race towards wealth.
The image of Africa is poverty.
This continent must learn to show its riches and skills, more than its weaknesses. Obviously, it will need valid contents and real proposals to work on its image and improve it before foreign countries’ eyes: it will be interesting to see what African leaders will think of to face this important challenge.