Since when were Egypt and Tunisia in the Middle East? Anyone looking at a map of the continent of Africa can clearly see that both countries are in Africa. So why do the news media and politicians persist with this notion that North African countries are in the Middle East when none of them are on the Asian continent?
The answer to that question is the socially constructed issue of race. African peoples, whether they are Arab, Tuareg, Berber, Kru, Igbo or Bantu will all identify themselves as African and will remind selectively deaf Westerners of that fact. But Western commentators continue to divide the continent into shades of skin tone. The phrases “sub-Saharan” and “Black Africa” that are used by newscasters are very telling indeed. These terms are relics of imperialism and ought be cast aside forthwith. But the former colonialists desperately cling to their outmoded assumptions of the former subjugated peoples of the old colonies. Even Obama has fallen into the trap and has, himself, used the term . On a trip to Ghana he said,
Ghana’s history is rich, the ties between our two countries are strong, and I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the United States of America.
In an interesting article on Africannewsworld, Chika Onyeati says,
“Sub-Saharan Africa” is a pejorative term. It is an euphemism for contemptuousness employed by the continent’s detractors to delineate between the five Arab countries that make up north Africa from the other 42 countries and the islands that make up the rest of Africa. According to what the term “Sub-Saharan Africa” entails right now, it means north Africa is consisted of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Who decided on the line of demarcation between “north” and “south” Africa? I wouldn’t argue that the term “Sub-Saharan Africa” is racist, but it is on the borderline of being a racist term.
What about those ‘sub-Saharan’ countries that sit right in the middle of the Sahara? There’s Chad, Niger, Mali, all of which are labelled sub-Saharan by western commentators. Yet geographically speaking, they are not sub-Saharan at all.
The term “sub-Saharan” seems to have been coined in the 1990’s. Onyeati again,
This disparaging and contemptuous term started being used in the early nineties with the AIDS/HIV pandemic in Africa, with its accompanying decimation of millions of people, as well as scourge of poverty across the continent. It was a way of telling us, “you people are lepers, you don’t belong to the human race.” It hearkens back to the time when Africans were regarded as animals, you remember the term, “sub-human,” property of the masters, chattels to be sold and maltreated as indentured servants.
This idea of a divided Africa is a product, not only of colonialism, but of slavery. Black people were regarded as fit only for hard, physical labour; they were the beasts of burden on the plantations of the New World.
All the nations on the African continent are members of the African Union (with exception of Morocco). The North African countries, along with Sudan, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Somalia are part of the Arab League because of the cultural ties between those nations and the Arab countries of the Middle East (some people try to include Iran as a Middle Eastern country but it remains steadfastly Central Asian in spite of the media’s attempts to geographically reassign it).
I read a tweet the other day from an Egyptian protester which ended with “We are Africans”. I only wish the idiots in the newsrooms would see that.