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Africa Is a Country

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Ah yes, the country of Africa. Samuel L. Jackson came from there right?

"In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular."
— Binyavanga Wainaina, How to Write About Africa
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Africa just can't catch a break, can it?

The main character and his crew journey to Britain, Croatia, Ukraine, and Poland in order to fight against evil. The work does its best to properly reflect the culture and diversity of Europe as long as it's relevant. But our heroes cannot stay in Europe. Now they must brave the land of Africa.

"Where in Africa?" You ask? Well... Africa. It's just one big country, right? Full of starving black children?

No? Well there's a book about this right... there it is.

There is a longstanding misconception that Africa is just one giant country. This comes from lack of cultural awareness regarding the continent compared to others but some choose to remain ignorant. When a work takes place in a country or culture other than the target audience's, creators will go with what they know. The average American audience might be more aware of the love rich culture of France and the beef-rich cuisine in Germany than the urban cities of South Africa or the dense rainforests of Madagascar. So a mostly white team to a mostly white audience would just lump the whole thing together. Or better yet refer to it as Nigeria when the story is clearly taking place in Sudan.

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The very large motley of cultures in Africa might be stereotyped and crudely amalgamated. Most of the Africans in-story might be living in villages or mud-huts. And even if it's respected as an intelligent and innovative society (in possession of phones, having a local KFC, teeming with business), it will still be known as just Africa instead of a particular country. Good luck finding an average Joe who can name an African country other than "Egypt" or "South Africa", and that's if he even considers them countries rather than regions.

Even African-Americans are sometimes guilty of this trope, because they are thoroughly Westernized and consume Western media. A perennial failure is the attempt to "reclaim the culture of their homeland" with zero knowledge of what it means, resulting in cultural appropriation. An example is the erroneous usage of Swahili, a language from Eastern Africa that would have been totally foreign to the ancestors of most African-Americans, who came from Western Africa. In fact, the very term "African-American" became so much more prevalent than "European-American" for white Americans in part because of this trope. While European-Americans are usually well aware of which European country their ancestors came from and thus are more likely to call themselves "Irish-American", "German-American" etc, the descendants of slaves usually only know their ancestors were abducted from somewhere in Africa.

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Northern Africa is an exception to this stereotyping, because it is culturally, demographically, and historically distinct from sub-Saharan Africa, having experienced an extended period of Roman and Arab conquests since antiquity. That is not to say that it does not have its own problem of generalization, though that means this trope rarely applies to it.

It is sad to say, but the trope is very much still in play in popular culture. Even satirical works often fall victim to this trap. In contrast, its sister trope, Interchangeable Asian Cultures, is slowly going into Dead Horse Trope territory by this point. This is because Asia has undergone significant development in the last century that saw its population gaining more and more representations in pop culture, not to mention producing globally-renowned entertainment in their own right, which makes them able to fight off generalization. Africa, on the other hand, continues to lag behind the other continents in all sectors and as a result has little representation in mass media. Longstanding racism and xenophobia, not to mention instability that unfortunately continues to persist in many countries of the continent, mean that barring some places, it is rarely visited by foreigners, perpetuating its status as an eternally unstable "country".

This trope if for when the African continent and its people are generalized to the point of undermining their diversity. If Africa is seen as one big continent and not a country, this trope does not apply. Even when not demonstrated in-story calling it a continent comes with the pre-existing notion that there are multiple countries and cultures within it. Neglecting to portray Africa in any capacity counts as a complete aversion of the trope, if displaced Africans and Afro-American/British culture are present. This trope also does not apply if other nations are referenced by their continent name, this is Global Ignorance, as the whole world is being generalized for ease rather than out of ignorance. A particular country does not have to be mentioned for this trope to be averted, an understanding of Africa's diversity in the work or an equal level of ignorance presented when depicting other continents will do.

Tropes Are Tools, of course. Like other continents, Africa is home to a variety of cultures, languages and countries, so creators might want to simplify things. That said, creators should do some research rather than generalizing a continent worth of people they do not know, lest they will be accused of Critical Research Failure.

Wikipedia includes this in its list of African stereotypes. Africa is home to over 54 different countries with their own distinct cultures, histories, and backgrounds. On scale to most of European history. 25% of the languages spoken in Africa are not recognized by international agencies like the United Nations, which is a testament to its diversity.

Subtrope to Global Ignorance. Compare Interchangeable Asian Cultures and Mayincatec, where Asian and Native American cultures are treated similarly Ancient Grome and Scotireland are where European sub-cultures are mixed for the sake of ease rather than stereotypes. Spexico is where Spain and Mexico are seen as one and the same. See also Darkest Africa, where the entire continent is depicted as a dark and mysterious place, and Bulungi, a fictitious African country which incorporates many of the same stereotypes.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • A meta example. In a SBS manga column for One Piece, a fan asked Eiichiro Oda which real-world countries each of the Straw Hats would come from. He answers by saying that Luffy would be Brazilian, Zoro is Japanese, Nami's Swedish, Sanji's French, Chopper's Canadian, Robin's Russian, Franky's American, Brook's Austrian... and Usopp? Oda says that he's African.
  • While few stereotypes were in play, Kengan Ashura is a martial-arts focused anime/manga with mainly Japanese fighters. Although the Annihilation Tournament had few foreign fighters, Adam Dudley from Texas, USA, Julius Reinhold from Germany, Mokichi Robinson from the UK, and Muteba Gizenga from Africa.
  • Zig-Zagged in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. African-Americans and other displaced Africans are infrequent, and the series demonstrates good knowledge of African-American struggles. Although Africa itself is only referred to twice through the entire manga, and no country is referenced.
    • Joseph Joestar learns in the Stardust Crusaders arc that Dio Brando's coffin was found near "The Coast of Africa". The entire arc is focused on the gang's trek through the Middle East & Egypt, the latter depicted moreso as a Middle-Eastern nation than an African one. Strangely Muhammad Avdol is a black man born and raised in Egypt the same way any white man would be born and raised in France or Germany.
    • During the Vento Aureo arc, Polnareff and Jotaro travel the world looking for dangerous Stand Users. Polnareff decides to search through Africa... then Europe. While Jotaro searches the Americas and Asia. A single person searching an entire continent seems a bit silly, even taking into account how Stand Users tend to be innately drawn to each other.
  • Dr. Stone plays this very straight. Senku Ishagami is high school student, extremely versed in most cultures as they relate to science. He's intelligent he's committed all of this knowledge to memory after the world reverted back to the Stone Age. But of course his jock sidekick Taiju can't relate to that. This must be why he dumbed his extensive research of African cultures and diseases, as well as ancient African vaccination science as a deadpan "Traveling to Africa to research Ebola". Though he had not problem talking to Taiju about Germany, France, America, Britain, and China's scientific pursuits.
  • In the original run of Cyborg 009, each member of the team had a home country, except for Pyunma, the token black character, whose home was listed as "Africa". In 1992, he was finally retconned into being Kenyan.

    Comic Books 
  • Hellboy: During his soul-searching wanderings, Hellboy speaks to the "spirit of Africa" at one point, who appears as a gigantic rhinoceros.

    Films — Animation 
  • Pictured above from The Rescuers. In the Rescue Aid Society meeting, a group of mice sit at desks with the names of individual countries on them. One brown mouse with an Afro hairdo has an "Africa" name plate in front of her.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Santa Claus (1959), Santa's workshop is staffed with children from all over the world, with some of them grouped by country, some by continent, and some by subcontinental regions. Naturally the kids from Africa are all lumped together, with "the Orient". The Caribbean, South America, and "Central America" also getting the same treatment. Meanwhile China, Japan, Russia, England, France, Germany, The USA, and Mexico all get individually featured.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron was derided for having one battle set in the "Coast of Southern Africa".
    • Later films in the franchise seemed to have learned the mistake, with the opening scene of Captain America: Civil War being explicitly set in "Lagos", averting "London, England" Syndrome as well.
    • Black Panther obviously averts this trope, giving a clear distinction between the continent and the country of Wakanda. However, viewers who are not well-versed in ethnography will not recognize that Wakanda is culturally a chop suey, being basically a miniature version of the entire African continent. Even though the country is located in Eastern Africa (maps suggest that it is located between Uganda and Kenya), it features, among other things, the usage of Xhosa (from South Africa) and Yoruba (a Western African language mostly spoken in Nigeria), a scoring influenced by Senegalese (Western African) ethnic music, and a costuming that draws inspiration from far-flung places in the continent. Wakanda is made up of 5 separate tribes, so perhaps each of them came from a different part of Africa, but still.
  • The Saddest Music in the World is set in the 1920s and revolves around musicians from different countries competing for the world's saddest music (similar to Eurovision Song Contest). In one round, Canada battles Africa.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Drew Carey called Africa a great country. Greg Proops responds "It's also a continent if you're a geographer!" The contestants turned it into a Running Gag for the rest of the episode.
  • Bone Kickers: This attitude makes up a big part of "Warriors", despite trying (emphasis on trying) to show the team's respect and sympathy for the bodies of slaves they find (from ten years after Britian outlawed slavery), they act like the continent has a single culture talking about returning the bodies to "Africa", and performing a what is supposedly traditional funeral dance without doing anything to determine if its applicable to these people (or even one of them). Diamanda Hagan ripped them apart for this in her review.
  • Discussed in The Good Place. Chidi (from Senegal) asks Eleanor what country he's from. "Is it racist if I say Africa?" "Yes, and Africa is not a country."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In warning against this trope, the Mutants & Masterminds Atlas of Earth-Prime says, "Treating a continent the size of Africa as the same everywhere is more unrealistic than giant-robot apes and dinosaur men wearing jetpacks."

    Theme Parks 
  • At Epcot's World Showcase, the treatment of Africa seems to come off like this. The only African country with a pavilion dedicated to it is Morocco, a North African, Muslim nation. The rest of the continent is represented solely by a small "African-themed" snack stand called The Outpost, located between the China and Germany pavilions.

    Video Games 
  • Downplayed in Age of Empires II: African Kingdoms, which added Ethiopia and Mali as a civilization. They share the same architectural style, which is based on Sudano-Sahelian archeture with some Aksumite architecture in their Imperial Age, but are distinct in their playstyle.
    • Ethiopia is a defensive civilization with free upgrades to their spearman, increased vision of their towers, cheap and quickly-built Shotel Warriors, and fast firing archers.
    • Mali is an offensive civilization with infantry with high pierce armor, free upgrades to their gold gathering, Gbeto warriors that throw daggers, low wood requirement for buildings, an upgrade that increases cavalry's attack, and quick-to-research University upgrades.
    • While Berber is a North African country, it uses the Middle Eastern architecture to reference its conversion to Islam and uses camels like most Middle Eastern civilizations with their unique unit being camel.
  • While the rest of the Metal Gear franchise is sensitive enough to specify an African country when relevant (Raiden is a Caucasian child soldier born in Liberia), Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance opens up with Raiden and Prime Minister N'mani talking about the effectiveness of threats of violence in reducing military conflict. The event is called "Ambush in Africa", while not identifying which country. Sundowner gives a rousing speech about "Africa" getting to peaceful, not only undermining the fact N'Mani is minister to a single country within Africa but also playing into "War-torn Africa" stereotypes without any Metal Gear lore to support it. Every character in the game simply refers to it as "Africa". The Metal Gear Wiki did a better job to just name it "N'mani's country (Africa)"
  • Downplayed in Empire Earth II's expansion, which adds the Zulu (South African) and Maasai (central African) civilizations, who share the same wonders and civilization powers, and are only distinguished through their passive bonuses and unique units:
    • The Manyatta of the Warriors (a Maasai building), the Market of Djenne and Sankore Institute, both of which are based on the mosque of Djenne and the university of Sankore respectively (which are in West Africa).
    • The civ powers are based on tribal warfare and houdoun (also a West African tradition).
    • The Maasai can build a Moran spearman, a Combat Medic, and a futuristic bomber; while the Zulu can build an Iklwa spearman, a priest/healer, and an artillery unit called the Horn of the Impi (they also get a unique formation called the Beast Horns that lets their spearmen do more damage).
  • Satirized in Broforce, where one of the later levels in the finished game is "the mysterious land of Afreeka" and the entire African continent is highlighted, rather than just a single country. However, the game has previously poked fun at the main characters and their commanding officer, implying that they're well meaning but obnoxious Americans with a pretty severe case of Global Ignorance. As the game's developers are from South Africa, it's pretty safe to assume that they're in on the joke.

    Web Original 
  • Quoted above, How To Write About Africa is a viciously sarcastic take on the Condescending Compassion and ignorance displayed by Westerners with regard to Africa, such as treating all its inhabitants as interchangeable and only there for the main character to demonstrate his liberalism.
  • Moviebob referred to Africa as "a beautiful country" in an episode of The Game Overthinker discussing racism. To his credit, he apologized for that error in a later video.

    Western Animation 
  • Wolverine and the X-Men: Episode 4 revolved around a catastrophe occurring in Africa so horrible that no one survives. The show refers to specific European and Asian countries but refers to Africa as "Africa". Mud-Hut stereotypes were also present in the episode.

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Ancient Greeks called the entire African continent with just three names. Egypt, by virtue of being the closest to their civilization and the most advanced (in their eyes), was known by that name. "Libya" was used to refer to the rest of North Africa, specifically the one populated by ethnic Berbers. "Ethiopia" was used to refer to everywhere else.
  • Pan-Africanism sees the current African countries as the arbitrary creations of European colonialism, and seeks to unify Africa economically and politically, invoking the trope.
  • Consider these terms: "African-American", "Afro-Caribbean", "Afro-Brazilian". Terms meant to describe any black person who are descended from slaves brought in to the New World. No white person is ever described as anything like "European American", it is always something like "Irish American" or "Italian American". And when their specific European ancestors cannot be tracked they are just American.
    • Such generalized terms actually make perfect sense for those knowing their history. For example, although they are descended from slaves brought from Africa, African-Americans have assimilated into a Westernized culture for hundreds of years, developing a cultural niche that nevertheless still makes them a part of the West. Their ancestors consisted of a plethora of ethnic groups who had nothing in common with each other and were brought unwillingly to a region they did not know exists. They had no preparation for what's to come and before long had to occupy their new society's lowest ladder, forcing them to abandon their old thinking and construct a new system. By the time they gained a voice to speak for themselves, they are no longer the same people as their ancestors from Africa. Contrast this with descendants of Europeans and Asians in the Americas, who immigrated knowing exactly what they did and as a result had prepared themselves.
    • Averted for the recent (as in, the period after the abolition of slavery) African migrants to the United States and their descendants, who came on their own accord. Although they are still classified as "black" in the census, they are not thought of as African-American unless they consciously assimilate to that culture (e.g. Barack Obama, whose father was a first-generation Kenyan, but considers himself African-American). Cultural terms like Ethiopian-American or Somali-American are readily recognized for these people.
  • During the debut of the mobile game Salaam at the 2019 Game Awards, Sudanese videogame developer Lual Mayen says he is "From Africa, as a refugee". Since he obviously knows he grew up in Sudan, he must've felt it wasn't important to specify. Invoking this trope.
  • In Derren Brown's The Gathering special, he randomly selects an audience member and asks her to think of a country. Her country? Africa. Not only does Derren not call her out on her obvious mistake, but has her reach under her seat and find a note he left there with the description of the woman in question and her choice of country. That's right, even Derren is guilty of this.

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