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Africa: Still the Dark Continent
The continent of Africa as a whole has not lived up to the hopes and dreams that its people had as most of the countries became independent in the second half of the 20th century. To all intents and purposes Africa is still the Dark Continent politically, socially and economically. The world media virtually goes for months or even years without mentioning anything about what's going on in Sub-Saharan Africa. The northern Arab and Muslim states have gotten a lot of media coverage due to the Arab Spring revolts in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but the rest of the continent is still basically a blank in the mind of the world.
The backwardness of Africa is oftentimes blamed on European colonialism of the continent. This is just a cheap way of placing the blame. European colonialism lasted from the early 1880s to about the early 1970s, and even less in many areas. Blaming the situation of the whole continent on what happened for about one century is not going to help the continent. Of course many point at the slave trade, and usually solely at the part of Europeans in the slave trade. The fact that Africans and Arabs had been involved in the African slave trade for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans is ignored. The Europeans did not invent the slave trade in Africa. In fact, it was in large part due to the efforts of Britain and France that the slave trade in Africa was largely stopped in the late 19th century. African chiefs and slave traders of various tribes made livings raiding other tribes and selling the people they caught as slaves to the Persian Gulf Arabs and for a time to Europeans. The reason why there are so many people of African descent in Saudi Arabia for instance is because their ancestors were sent their as slaves.
Another criticism of the legacy of European colonialism is that the present borders of African states are largely artificial, most countries incorporating many diverse and oftentimes antagonistic tribes and religions which have been a source of constant tension. This is true indeed. However, we must also remember that before colonialism Africa was not some heaven on earth where everyone got along happily as some historians would have us believe. There were various kingdoms that came and went and which were at war with the kingdoms of other tribes. Pagan Africans and Muslim Africans have been at odds for centuries. Warfare between various African ethnic groups have been a reality for centuries, but now that they sometimes make the news (see Rwanda, Somalia, Congo), people tend to think these are a result of the colonial experience, when in fact it has almost nothing to do with that.
The only real traces of European colonialism that can be seen in Africa are the languages spoken in the various countries reflecting whose colonies they were: French, English, Portuguese. In fact, these languages have allowed many Africans to be able to communicate with members of other tribes whose native languages have prevented this in the past. Also, Africans have been able to join the international community to some extent because of their knowledge of major world languages. Besides language Africa also has the remnants of a once great transportation network of railways and roads and airports, which have sadly become largely decrepit since independence.
It seems that the only time that the media looks to Africa is to show famine, civil war or some aspect of the AIDS crisis on the continent, or for a nature documentary. Many people have no conception of the history of the continent and how colonialism has effected the region. Instead of blaming colonialism for all of the continents problems, it would be better to educate people as to the details and facts of the legacy of the colonial years. If European countries had never been in Africa, we would know even less about what is going on there and there would be a much harder time in communicating with the continent's people. There is some small degree of light that has been shed on the continent, but it is slowly becoming darker and darker again as people the world over have misconceptions about the history and conditions of the continent.