Tuesday, 28 August 2012

“Sub-Sahara Africa” is racist*

It appears increasingly fashionable for a number of broadcasters, websites, news agencies, newspapers and magazines, the United Nations/allied agencies and some governments, writers and academics to use the term “sub-Sahara Africa” to refer to all of Africa (54 countries) except the 5 predominantly Arab states of north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and the Sudan, a northcentral African country. Even though its territory is mostly located south of the Sahara Desert, the Sudan is excluded from the “sub-Sahara Africa” tagging by those who promote the use of the epithet because the regime in power in Khartoum describes the country as “Arab” despite its majority African population. 

Which science?

As we now demonstrate, the concept “sub-Sahara Africa” is absurd, misleading, if not a meaningless classificatory schema. Its use defies the science of the fundamentals of geography but prioritises hackneyed, stereotypical, racist labelling. It is not obvious, on the face of it, which of the four possible meanings of the prefix, “sub”, its users attach to the “sub-Sahara Africa” labelling. Is it “under” the Sahara Desert or “part of”/“partly” the Sahara Desert? Or, presumably, “partially”/“nearly” the Sahara Desert or even the very unlikely (hopefully!) application of “in the style of, but inferior to” the Sahara Desert, especially considering that there is an Arab people sandwiched between Morocco and Mauritania (northwest Africa) called Saharan? 

The example of South Africa is appropriate here. Crucially, this is a reference underlined in the relevant literature of the era especially those emanating from the West, the United Nations (principally UNDP, FAO, WHO, UNCTAD), the World Bank and IMF, the so-called NGOs/“aid” groups, and some in academia who all are variously responsible for initiating and sustaining the operationalisation of this “sub-Sahara Africa” dogma. The point is that prior to the formal restoration of African majority government in 1994, South Africa was never designated “sub-Sahara Africa” by anyone in this portrait, unlike the rest of the 13 African-led states in southern Africa, which were also often referred to at the time as the “frontline states”. South Africa then was either termed “white South Africa” or the “South Africa sub-continent” (as in the “India sub-continent” usage, for instance), meaning “almost”/“partially” a continent – quite clearly a usage of “admiration” or “compliment” employed by its subscribers to essentially project and valorise the perceived geostrategic potentials or capabilities of the erstwhile European minority occupation regime-led country. 

But soon after the triumph of the African freedom movement there, South Africa became “sub-Sahara Africa” in the quickly adjusted schema of this representation! What happened suddenly to South Africa’s geography to be so differently classified?! Is it African liberation/rule that renders an African state “sub-Sahara”?[1] Does this post-1994 West-inflected South Africa-changed classification make “sub-Sahara Africa” any more intelligible? Interestingly, just as in the South Africa “sub-continent” example, the application of the “almost”/“partially” or indeed “part of”/“partly” meaning of prefix “sub-” to “Sahara Africa” focuses unambiguously on the following countries of Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, each of which has 25-75 per cent of its territory (especially to the south) covered by the Sahara Desert. It also focuses on Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and the Sudan, which variously have 25-75 per cent of their territories (to the north) covered by the same desert. In effect, these ten states would make up sub-Sahara Africa. 

Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the five Arab north Africa countries, do not, correctly, describe themselves as Africans even though they unquestionably habituate African geography, the African continent, since the Arab conquest and occupation of this north one-third of African territory in the 7th century CE. The West governments, press and the transnational bodies we referred to earlier (which are led predominantly by West personnel and interests) have consistently “conceded” to this Arab cultural insistence on racial identity. Presumably, this accounts for the West’s non-designation of its “sub-Sahara Africa” dogma to these countries as well as the Sudan, whose successive Arab-minority regimes since January 1956 have claimed, but incorrectly, that the Sudan “belongs” to the Arab World. On this subject, the West does no doubt know that what it has been engaged in, all along, is blatant sophistry and not science. This, however, conveniently suits its current propaganda packaging on Africa, which we shall be elaborating on shortly. 

It would appear that we still don’t seem to be any closer at establishing, conclusively, what its users mean by “sub-Sahara Africa”. Could it, perhaps, just be a benign reference to all the countries “under” the Sahara, whatever their distances from this desert, to interrogate our final, fourth probability? Presently, there are 54 so-called sovereign states in Africa. If the 5 north Africa Arab states are said to be located “above” the Sahara, then 49 are positioned “under”. The latter would therefore include all the 5 countries mentioned above whose north frontiers incorporate the southern stretches of the desert (namely, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and the Sudan), countries in central Africa (the Congos, Rwanda, Burundi, etc., etc), for instance, despite being 2000-2500 miles away, and even the southern African states situated 3000-3500 miles away! In fact, all these 49 countries, except the Sudan (alas, not included for the plausible reason already cited!), which is clearly “under” the Sahara and situated within the same latitudes as Mali, Niger and Chad (i.e., between 10 and 20 degrees north of the equator), are all categorised by the “sub-Sahara Africa” users as “sub-Sahara Africa”. 

“Sub-”s of the world?

To replicate this obvious farce of a classification elsewhere in the world, the following random exercise is not such an indistinct scenario for universal, everyday, referencing: 

1. Australia hence becomes “sub-Great Sandy Australia” after the hot deserts that cover much of west and central Australia 

2. East Russia, east of the Urals, becomes “sub-Siberia Asia” 

3. China, Japan and Indonesia are reclassified “sub-Gobi Asia” 

4. Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam become “sub-Himalaya Asia” 

5. All of Europe is “sub-Arctic Europe” 

6. Most of England, central and southern counties, is renamed “sub-Pennines Europe” 

7. East/southeast France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia are “sub-Alps Europe” 

8. The Americas become “sub-Arctic Americas” 

9. All of South America south of the Amazon is proclaimed “sub-Amazon South America”; Chile could be “sub-Atacama South America” 

10. Most of New Zealand’s South Island is renamed “sub-Southern Alps New Zealand” 

11. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama become “sub-Rocky North America” 

12. The entire Caribbean becomes “sub-Appalachian Americas”

African-centred scholarship

So, rather than some benign construct, “sub-Sahara Africa” is, in the end, an outlandish nomenclatural code that its users employ to depict an African-led “sovereign” state – anywhere in Africa, as distinct from an Arab-led one. It is the users’ non-inclusion of the Sudan in this grouping (despite its majority African population and geographical location) but its inclusion of South Africa only after the latter’s 1994 liberation that gives the game away! More seriously to the point, “sub-Sahara Africa” is employed to create the stunning effect of a supposedly shrinking African geographical landmass in the popular imagination, coupled with the continent’s supposedly attendant geostrategic global “irrelevance”. 

“Sub-Sahara Africa” is undoubtedly a racist geopolitical signature in which its users aim repeatedly to present the imagery of the desolation, aridity, and hopelessness of a desert environment. This is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of 1 billion Africans do not live anywhere close to the Sahara, nor are their lives so affected by the implied impact of the very loaded meaning that this dogma intends to convey. Except this steadily pervasive use of “sub-Sahara Africa” is robustly challenged by rigorous African-centred scholarship and publicity work, its proponents will succeed, eventually, in substituting the name of the continent “Africa” with “sub Sahara Africa” and the name of its peoples, “Africans”, with “sub-Sahara Africans” or, worse still, “sub-Saharans” in the realm of public memory and reckoning.

*This essay is a slightly updated version of a paper entitled “What is ‘sub-Sahara Africa’”?, read at the IDeoGRAMS Conference: Contemporary Media, University of Leicester, 14 September 2007.

 Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe

[1]Roger Tangri, Politics in Sub-Sahara Africa (London and Portsmouth, N. H.:  James Currey, 1985), p. ix, passim.

Monday, 20 August 2012


The Thursday 16 August 2012 South African police massacre of 34 striking miners at the Lonmin-owned platinum mines at Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg, is outrageous, beastly and tragically ironic. An observer would be forgiven if they thought that the gruesome footage emanating from the scenes of this slaughter was ripped off from the catalogue of the incessant and long-stretched police/military-organised murdering of Africans during the epoch of the European-minority occupation of South Africa: Weenen, Rand, Sharpeville, Boipatong, Lellefontein, Bisho, Shell House, Sizzlers, Soweto…

No state has the right to turn its guns on people – its own or indeed others whatever the circumstances. Not least the state in Africa given its atrocious legacy since the Igbo genocide, 1966-1970, when it has murdered 15 million Africans in all genocides and other wars across the continent.

Notably, President Zuma reflects on the “sanctity of human life and the right to life” in his official statement on the Marikana murders, a conviction his police officers responsible for the outrage don’t appear to share. Africans and the rest of the world expect the Zuma administration to respond urgently to the multifold ramifications of this carnage which include the following:

1. All persons and institutions responsible for the murder of these miners must account for their actions and punished accordingly

2. All victims (the dead, the wounded and those variously victimised by the mine owners and others, and all their families) must have full reparations on their ordeal paid for by the state and Lonmin

3. The working conditions and pay in Lonmin’s Marikana mines must be comparable to the high standards tenable elsewhere in the world

4. Never again does the South Africa police/military shoot the people

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Hedge-notes for the denialists?

Less than 24 hours after the spectacular crash of that obligatory haematophagous monster at the London 30th Olympiad, with the ignominious tally of bronze medals=zero, silver medals=zero, gold medals=zero, two revanchist commentators, Y and Z, each representing two of the tripartite genocidist bloc that executed the Igbo genocide, beginning 46 years ago, had an unlikely reunion. Both must have felt so weighed down with grief by their country’s abysmal performance. Just one item dominated their grisly exchange: Which of their contributing constituencies murdered more of the total 3.1 million Igbo during the 44 months of extirpation? “We did!” thundered Z, “C’mon listen to me, little one! We started this slaughter. Yes, we, who own this place, launched it. Check the history! We slaughtered more Igbo than you ever could and did – beginning from our backyard, across our backyard, starting mid-morning on the 29th of that May, fourteen straight months before you stomached the courage to join us. Indeed, not before we warned your [genocidist] ‘theorist’ to open the uninterrupted slaughter-corridor to Biafra. Or – ”

“No! No! No! My dear frien’,” the incredulous Y got so riled up: “It was my people that deployed the real-slaughtering generals, the real-slaughtering generals across swathes of Biafra, especially its south, slaughtering and slaughtering and slaughtering the Igbo and devastating and devastating and devastating their prized land. It was our real-slaughtering generals, my dear frien’, who accomplished this task. OK? Please check the history. It is there! Will you? Maybe you reneged on our collective understanding to allow our great theorist to be president after the slaughter because you didn’t really appreciate the role of our real-slaughtering generals in the slaughter of the Igbo.” 

In April 2009, Nigeria was not invited to attend the London G-20 summit. Head of regime Umaru Yar’Adua mournfully noted his disappointment: “Today is a sad day for Nigeria as a country. This is because we are not invited to a meeting of the 20 world leaders. We have the population, we have the resources and we have the potential”. Predictably, Yar’Adua referred to those hackneyed, bogus indices (“population”, “resources”, “potential”) that every school child knows obfuscate the immanent fragility, infamy and hopelessness that chart the quagmire that is Nigeria. 

It is impossible to overstate that the Igbo genocide put paid to any Nigeria pretensions to transform itself to a serious state of global contention. Nigeria, which the Igbo had strategically led to liberate from 60 years of British occupation, collapsed, irremediably, on 29 May 1966. This is the date that interlocutor Z rightly referenced as the beginning of the genocide during the macabre reminiscences with Y. On this day, students, teachers, civil servants, community leaders, varying security personnel, clergy, alimajiri and the like in north Nigeria planned and descended on Igbo children, women and men domiciled in the region: murdering, raping, maiming, looting, destroying… The first phase of the genocide, the most gruesome and devastating in Africa not seen since the 1900s, was now underway. Starting on 6 July 1967, the Nigerians expanded their murdering zones of operation to liquidate the Igbo by attacking the entire stretch of Igboland – from Issele-Ukwu, Agbo, Anioma, Ugwuta and Onicha in the west to Ehuugbo, Aba and Umuahia to the east; from Nsukka and Eha Amuufu in the north to Igwe Ocha/Port Harcourt, Umu Ubani/Bonny and Igwe Nga/Opobo to the south. 

On the morrow of this pulverising season of slaughtering, the only tangible capability that the murderers have acquired is one to commit even more murders – nothing else … definitely, not the more challenging capacity to develop and transform its human potential and economy and, in turn, attract and merit the accolades and recognitions from peers elsewhere.

With such an unenviable legacy, it would indeed have been quite bizarre for anyone to expect this Malebolge to win anything “respectable” in the just concluded London games. Understandably, the world is eagerly looking forward to welcoming the elegant and focussed men and women athletes from these southwestcentral contours of Africa flying the indomitable flag of the Land of the Rising Sun in future Olympiads – with Rio, a tantalising marker?

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Join this movement of the age – Ban all arms to Africa

(excerpts from Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature [pp. 183-194] which you may find helpful as you decide to join the movement)

… It should therefore be stressed that whilst the dichotomy often placed between “legal arms” and “illegal arms” by some observers (in the African militarisation, genocide and war debate) has some analytical credit, its outcome on the ground, particularly in enabling us evaluate the comparative impact that the two categories ultimately pose on African social co-existence and security, always comes as a shock! Contrary to the initial value judgement that most people would make between the “legality” of a particular commodity (in this case, arms) and its “illegality”, it is definitely no comfort at all when it is shown at the end of the exercise that the overwhelming majority of the 15 million murdered in Africa’s genocide and wars in the past 45 years were in fact slaughtered with the use of “legal” armaments, operated seemingly legally by the armed forces of the state and their allies. The examples of the Nigerian state in 1966-1970, the Rwandan central government in the 1990s, and the current Arab regime in Khartoum are acutely illustrative of this cataclysmic sequence. In effect, whether “legal” or “illegal”, armaments in Africa, controlled overwhelmingly by the African state and its allies, are used to murder targeted African nations and populations domiciled within these states; the African states, since the Igbo genocide, have deployed armaments in their armouries to murder their peoples most brutally, massively and extensively. These states, starting from Nigeria, have murdered a ghastly total of 15 million Africans in a generation. They are still murdering without let up… They have devastated communities. They have disfigured and traumatised peoples’ lives and aspirations. In the hands of the typical African state, since the Igbo genocide, these armaments, even though classified “conventional”, are indeed weapons of mass destruction. Nothing else, but weapons of mass destruction… In Africa, the pistol, the rifle, the grenade, the rocket, the bazooka, the landmine, the helicopter gunship, the naval gunship, the fighter aircraft, the bomber, the tank – each and every one of these items, imported by and large from abroad, is a killer used primarily by the state to murder targeted peoples within its border. The African state should and must be stopped from murdering peoples within its frontiers. The rest of the world, especially from where weapons to these African states originate, day in and day out, can no longer remain bystanders as this orgy of death is brazenly played out in Africa. Since the Igbo genocide, the African state has been destroying African lives; they are presently destroying African lives; they will continue to destroy African lives until stopped. The African state must surely be stopped from its pursuit of this pulverising mission of death…

… On this score, the ethos that governs the African journey of recovery is the commitment of all Africans and the demand that they need to make to the rest of the world to place a mandatory embargo on all arms sales and transfers to all of Africa, as well as a complete demilitarisation of the continent. Africa needs justice and peace for, and with itself, to enable it embark on the much-vaunted era of reconstruction…

 … On this, Africa’s challenge to the rest of the world couldn’t be clearer: those who live outside Africa but “care so much for Africa” should now scale down their multitudinous “aid-ventures for Africa” and turn their incredible talents to lobbying their respective states and other institutions in their countries and elsewhere to ban arms sales/transfers to Africa. This new focus for the world’s leading charities, away from the band-aid syndrome, will surely be more exciting, even less taxing, but definitely more rewarding for the ultimate outcome for Africa and the rest of the world alike. Africa seeks no resources from anyone, not even for one US dollar, to accomplish its current transformative mission to dismantle the genocide state. It is simply asking the world to completely seal off its vast armouries to deny access to the deadly claws of the African genocide state. For once, no one is asking anyone to raise money for Africa! Given the devastating impact of arms, arming, armies, genocide and other armed conflicts on Africa’s tragic history and the present, Africa, today, projects an unwavering signpost for the world’s attention that proclaims: Africa Is An Arms-Free Zone. A demilitarised continent. No More Arms Sales Or Transfers To Africa…

(Why not get a copy of Readings from Reading today, read through the argument and join the movement to ban all arms to Africa. There is no centralising arm of this movement. You are the centre! Form yours today by sharing with family and friends and colleagues everywhere – at discussion/entertainment venues, work, places of worship and spiritual fellowship, union meetings [trades, schools/colleges, family/village/town/district/regional, etc., etc.], next surgery with your electoral ward/precinct/local government representative, member of parliament/congressperson/senator… You can begin and join this movement wherever you are in the world. To ban arms to Africa is at once supporting African wellbeing and that of the rest of humanity. Now is the time!)

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe