Follow TV Tropes


Africa Is a Country

Go To
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

Africa just can't catch a break, can it?

The main character and his crew may journey across the landscapes of Britain, Croatia, Ukraine, and Poland in their quest 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 forever. Eventually, they must brave the land of Africa.

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

No? Well, what's really going on in Africa?


Christ there's a book about this somewhere. Right?

... There it is! Ahem.

Africa has often been depicted as being analogous to one giant country, with a single culture group and ethnicity present throughout. Its environment is stereotyped as being similarly ubiquitous, full of only grassy savannas and arid deserts. In reality, these images couldn't be further from the truth: Africa is an incredibly diverse continent with 54 nations, thousands of different languages and ethnicities, and a number of varied biomes.

Such misconceptions about Africa comes from a widespread lack of cultural awareness regarding the continent. When a work takes place in a country or culture other than the target audience's, creators will often just go with what they know. The average American is usually much more aware of the familiar cultures of France and Germany than of faraway places like Mauritania and Tanzania. When tasked with creating depictions of Africa, a Western team catering to a Western audience may just lump the whole continent together.

When a work's protagonists visit the continent, they'll often refer to it just as "Africa" instead of naming any particular country. The large collection of cultures in Africa might be stereotyped and crudely amalgamated. Sometimes, the Africans shown in-universe might all be living in villages or mud-huts; other times, they're all suffering from famines and war-torn landscapes. In the worst-case scenarios, Africa might not even be depicted as having intelligent or innovative societies, lacking "civilized" things such as businesses or modern technologies.

Even people of African descent can fall victim to this trope. Many members of the African diaspora are far-removed from their ancestors' cultures, and therefore may have more Western conceptions (or misconceptions) of the continent. 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 these stereotypes, 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's not to say that it doesn't suffer from a different type of generalization.

Though this has become a Discredited Trope, it still occasionally comes into play due to cultural ignorance and Africa's relatively small amount of representation in mass media. Longstanding racism and xenophobia from foreigners, not to mention widespread instability (or the perception thereof) across the continent, mean that much of Africa is rarely visited by Westerners, 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. 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.

Remember, Tropes Are Tools. Since Africa is home to so many cultures, languages and countries, some creators might want to simplify things if the continent doesn't play a large role in their work. That being said, creators should do a little extra research instead of generalizing a whole continent full of people they don't know much about.

The other wiki includes this trope in its list of African stereotypes. Subtrope of 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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Captain Harlock: In episode 7, when the crew of Arcadia are discussing the whereabouts of the Mazone, they name the Bermuda sea, the Nazca Plateau, the Mayan and Incan ruins, Easter island and Africa.
  • Happens quite a lot in Daltanious. According to Earl, Beralios and Meralion were brought "from Africa" to Helios at the behest of the Emperor and in an early episode, Kento offers to take Ochame to Africa so that she can see all their exotic animals. Keep in mind the anime also mentions Japan and America as countries, so they don't have an excuse here.
  • One Piece: A meta example. In a SBS manga column, 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. It's clarified later on that Muteba is Congolese.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • African-Americans and other members of the African diaspora are infrequent. You can count the amount of times Africa is mentioned throughout the first 6 "Parts" of manga on one hand, and no country is referenced.
    • Joseph Joestar learns in 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.
    • It is mentioned passingly in Golden Wind that Polnareff and Jotaro were traveling 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.
  • Cyborg 009: In the original run, each member of the team had a home country, except for Pyunma, the token black character, whose home was listed as "Africa". Later Averted in the 1992 series where he is specifically 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.
  • 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 Batman (Grant Morrison). 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.
  • Judge Dredd: The universe has two Mega-Cities in Africa: Luxor City, which is Egypt (and is still ancient), and Simba City, which is everywhere else, plus the even more vaguely defined region of "Pan-Africa". To be fair, some writers have attempted to give "Pan-Africa" a bit more depth, and it's not like the portrayal of other areas is much different (there's also a single Euro City).

    Films — Animated 
  • 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. Averted in the sequel, however, where there are individual mice representing countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia.

    Films — Live Action 
  • 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 he's in and he just refers to Africa itself. Invoked by Nonnie's father when he is in a heated conversation with the film's 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.
  • Elimination Game a reboot/remake of Turkey Shoot, has an assassin from Africa, but Africa is referred to as a country, not a continent. This was joked about by some reviewers.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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. A Dragon Rider from the former Valyrian Freehold attempted to explore the continent on dragonback for three full years, but only found endless jungle and desert before turning back.
  • Legend Series 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 Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, the story states that the characters live in an African village, but never specifies where that is, and the cover's subtitle is "An African Tale". The author's notes claim that the inspiration for the book was a folktale in a collection called "Kaffir Folktales"note , which consisted of Xhosa stories, and the illustrations were based on the wildlife in Zimbabwe. The characters' names are all in Shona, also a Zimbabwe language.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: In one episode, 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, pointing out (among other things) that since they don't know which part of Africa the dead slaves were taken from, the "funeral dance" could come from their worst enemies.
  • 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.
  • At the end of season 7 of That '70s Show, Eric moves to Africa for a year (they show had to get rid of the character because the actor who played him quit). It's never mentioned which country he's going to; he always just says "Africa".
  • Subverted in season 6 of Snowfall. Leon originally says he wants to 'move to Africa'. He later goes to Ghana, where he learns about the history and politics of the country.

  • 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...

    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, a remnant from unused plans for a cancelled "Equatorial Africa" pavilion proposal, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Played straight with Martial Champion for the Arcade: as usual for the time, the cast features stereotypical characters from around the world (e.g., a Kabuki man from Japan, a martial arts master from China, etc.). There is even a character that hails from Kenya, named Mahambah. On his character profile screen, the Kenyan flag is clearly shown, but the profile lists his nationality as "African".
  • 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)"
  • 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 game’s 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.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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".
  • Diamanda Hagan: During her review of the Turkey Shoot reboot Elimination Game she repeatedly points out that Africa is a continent not a country, only to jokingly go along with it to mock the film. Eventually one of her smarter minions corrects her, aggravating her in the process.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • 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.