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.
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", "Nigeria" 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.note 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 or purchased from somewhere in Africa.
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 cyclical, as Asia has seen its population gaining more and more representations in Western pop culture, fighting off generalization. Africa, on the other hand, has little representation in mass media. Longstanding racism and xenophobia from foreigners, not to mention the appearance of instability or the perception thereof, mean that barring some places, it is rarely visited by foreigners, perpetuating its status as an eternally unstable "country".
This trope is 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.
Wikipedia includes this in its list of African stereotypes. Africa is home to over 50 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 (and by extension, other Hispanic countries) 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. Often linked to Developing Nations Lack Cities when Africa is just seen as rural and poor with no metropolis area.
If much or even all of Africa's many countries merged into a single super-state, see Space-Filling Empire.
- 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 JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 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 more 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 JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, 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 Ishigami is a Teen Genius, extremely versed in most cultures as they relate to science. He's intelligent enough that 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 down 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 no 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.
- Hellboy: During his soul-searching wanderings, Hellboy speaks to the "spirit of Africa" at one point, who appears as a gigantic rhinoceros.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: Wondy once tracked a group of Nazis hiding in Africa, and then told Steve to fly her plane to her, in "Africa" as though this was a useful descriptor of her location. He found her very shortly after arriving, though he did seem to think it was a bit ridiculous for her to think he'd just run into her. The natives are also depicted very poorly, in an unfortunate reflection of what was socially acceptable at the time it was published.
- Zig-zagged with Batwing in Grant Morrison's Batman. David Zavimbe is introduced as specifically operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but is also referred to as "the Batman of Africa", and appears to be the only Batman Incorporated representative on the entire continent. By contrast, there are three members based in the UK: Knight, Squire, and the Hood, while the US has almost the entire "core" Bat-Family, plus Man-of-Bats and Raven Red.
- In the Rescue Aid Society meeting in The Rescuers, 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.
- The film A Far Off Place was shot in Namibia and Zimbabwe, but when the character Harry lands at the Parkers preserve, it is not made clear which country hes in and he just refers to Africa itself. Later, Nonnies father arguably invokes the trope when he is in a heated conversation with the films Big Bad.
Ricketts: I really don't think you understand the kind of men you're dealing with.Mr. Parker: I understand they're butchering the soul of Africa.Ricketts: You talk like a bloody missionary.Mr. Parker: And why not? This is the last country with a soul.
- The 1950 adaptation of King Solomon's Mines was notable for being filmed on-location in Africa...in multiple countries. Scenes were shot in Kenya (east), DRC (central), Uganda (east-central) and Tanganyika (also east). Presumably the characters move from the east to the centre but it's never specified where in Africa this story is taking place. Notably the original book was quite specific; Allan Quartermain lives in South Africa (the city of Durban in fact) and their destination is in the Democratic Republic of Congo - and the fictional Kukuana people do resemble many southern African cultures.
- In-universe in Mean Girls. Cady grew up in Africa, because her parents were zoologists, and they travelled the whole continent for twelve years. At school, she's only ever said to be from Africa, presumably because of this trope. Kevin G likewise literally nicknames her 'Africa'. The musical clarifies that she spent her childhood in Kenya.
- 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 (with some of the kids in multiple groups just to make it confusing).
- The Quest is a tournament-style movie depicting martial artists from numerous countries coming to South-East Asia to partake in a championship duel. While the fighters are clearly represented by their home countries (America, Russia, China, France, etc) one of the participating fighters is listed as from Africa.
- 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.
- The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency:
- Zig-Zagged. Many local characters refer to Africa as their homeland, but it's obvious that by Africa they mean "the country of Botswana", where the stories are set, and have their own prejudices against various African ethnic groups. Similarly, many references to African attitudes (compared to, for example, European or American) generally only apply to the specific language, climate and culture of that region of Botswana.
- There's also mention of "a boy with an African heart", the son of an American couple who can't go back to his previous lifestyle in the West due to his upbringing in Botswana.
- Happens In-Universe in The Pillars of the Earth. One of the "natives" Jack brings home along with a new idol claims that he comes from a country called Africa. The ignorant townspeople buy it, but Philip, who is more educated, realises that they're just some random Englishmen that Jack has recruited to add more dazzle to the idol.
- There is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture example in A Song of Ice and Fire. Westeros and Essos, the series' counterpart of Great Britain and Eurasia, are explored in detail and have many places identified. In contrast, Sothoryos, the equivalent of Africa, has no named regions, places, or cities. The islands around it are identified (the Summer Isles is mentioned quite often, while Naath is where Daenerys' translator, Missandei, came from), but not the continent itself. The World of Ice & Fire namedrops several cities in northern Sothoryos, but all of them have been long abandoned, hence why they are never mentioned in the main series. Because of the pre-modern tech, no one from Westeros and Essos have managed to chart the entire world, though. Presumably, there are cities in southern Sothoryos.
- Legend Trilogy has a literal example. Characters refer to Africa as a country... because the continent really has been united into a single country. On the flipside, it is one of the world's three major superpowers (alongside China and Antarctica, which is now a lush land instead of a frozen wasteland), eclipsing Europe, many of whose people have migrated to Africa after the sea level rose in search of a better life.
- 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 Britain 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 when Chidi, who is Senegalese, checks to see if Eleanor was paying attention during his introduction to her by asking her if she remembers what country he's from. Eleanor replies by asking if it's racist if she says Africa.
- Lampooned in The Goon Show. In one episode the villain escapes Britain, and the only clue is that he's somewhere in Africa. Our hero's response: "Now we've got him cornered!" They try to go down the alphabet, but they don't even make it to Algeria...
- 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."
- 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.
- 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 too 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.
- Sonic Unleashed seems to play this trope straight with its second HUB world being an expy of your good old mud-hut Africa, succeeding a pretty average portrayal of Greece. The trope is subverted with future HUB worlds being slightly less iffy European and Asian mosh pits.
- When the Maasai-inspired Elena first debuted in Street Fighter III, she was the first continental African character depicted in the seminal series, but true to form her birthplace was only ever noted as Africa in promotional materials, unlike all of her fellow fighters, whose nationalities were specified. This was quickly corrected though in the games second iteration (2nd Impact), where Elena was unambiguously (and suitably) assigned Kenya as her birthplace.
- Played straight and averted in Super Dodge Ball. The arcade version has your national dodgeball team go against countries like England, Iceland, China... and (the continent) Africa. Averted in the NES version where Africa was changed to Kenya.
- Averted throughout the Civilization series, which consistently portrays specific countries in Africa. Most of them are historical, however; the only one that leans towards modernity is Ethiopia in V, and even then it's presented as it was under Haile Selassie.
- A 1980s boxing video game featured 8 culturally-stereotypical opponents, ranging from 'Ravioli Mafiosi' from Italy, to 'Andra Puncheredov' from the USSR, to 'Tribal Trouble' from Africa. This is especially embarassing as the game in question is Frank Bruno's Boxing, licensed by a British boxer of Jamaican and Dominican parentage.
- 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.
- There is a website actually called "Africa* Is a Country". A footnote states "*Not the continent with 55 countries".
- In Simba Jr. and the Football World Cup (from the makers of The Legend of the Titanic, and just as bizarre and plagiaristic as you would expect), the titular Simba Jr. and his friends compete in The World Cup as the "Africa I" team. The only other African team is, well, Africa II.
- Zig-Zagged when The Simpsons win a trip to Africa in "Simpson Safari". According to the writers themselves, some stuff was made deliberately wrong to annoy viewers who cared about accuracy. However, the director of the episode, Mark Kirkland, decided to tone things down after finding the script "all over the place geographically", and made the visuals as close as he could to how he remembered things from his own visit to Kenya when he was sixteen. The final episode is set in a fantasy version of Tanzania.
- Wolverine and the X-Men (2009): 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.
- A necessity to describe the descendants of the American slave population (African-Americans, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Brazilian). These populations 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 was 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 were no longer the same people as their ancestors from Africa.
- One particular form of Pan-Africanism sees the current African countries as the arbitrary creations of European colonialism,note and seeks to unify Africa economically and politically, invoking the trope. However, Ghanaian president and revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah proposed a far more suitable arrangement: creating an economic and political union between all African states, similar to today's EU. An African Union actually does exist and includes all African nations, though so far it's a much looser organization than the EU.
- During the debut of the mobile game Salaam at the 2019 Game Awards, Sudanese video game developer Lual Mayen said 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.