There is something strange in the habits of Western journalists covering African news. They keep adding “former colony of…” to the names of African countries in their content.
For example, every time Nigeria’s name pops up in an article, reportage or documentary, it is accompanied by a journalist’s remark “a former British colony”. If Chad pops up, you immediately see “a former French colony” added. If it’s Angola, they could not miss out the opportunity to stress that the country is “a former Portuguese colony”.
Here are a few examples from the BBC, CNN, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post:
Why these same journalists don’t feel the need to do the same when writing about Western countries? What if, for instance, they added “a former British colony” every time the name of the United States of America was mentioned? Or, when describing Finland, they would invariably add “a former Russian colony”, or “a Swedish dominion”?
Now, let’s imagine African journalists following this pattern while discussing Western countries, saying things like “France, a former Nazi-occupied country,” or “Barack Obama, president of the United States (a former British colony), is visiting London this week”?!
Do Western journalists think that we Africans wear our colonial past as a badge of honour?
Does a woman who was raped go around calling herself “a former raped woman”? Would any sane member of that woman’s community add “a former raped woman” to her name every time she was mentioned in a conversation if the intention is not to disrespect or further humiliate her?
Today, Africans don’t have any power yet to compel Western media to stop using humiliating wordings when relating to African people and countries. However, as a matter of reciprocity, African journalists could start mentioning past events that shook Western countries as a defining and indelible part of their identity every time they are mentioned in a conversation.
Every time France pops up in the news, we will add “a past German colony”, “a former Nazi-occupied country”; or, while covering some recent events, say, for example,“France, a country which alone has not win any war since Waterloo, is sending troops to West Africa to fight terrorism”.
When it comes to the United states, we’ll immediately add “a former British colony”, “the Guantanamo country”, “the country where they continue to lynch black people”, or“the United States, a country which sponsored the killing of the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, is now sponsoring a leadership program to train young African leaders through a program called Mandela Fellowship”, etc.
When it comes to Germany, we’ll always add “the former Nazi country”, “the country of Hitler”, or “the country which exterminated Herero population in Namibia”.
When it comes to Italy, we’ll just add “the country of Mussolini”, or “the only European country which lost a colonial war in Africa”.
We’ll say about Britain “the country which sponsored the actions of the most notorious terrorists in the last two centuries”, or “the country of Cecile Rodhes, who massacred thousand of Africans”, etc.
Belgium? “The country of the criminal Leopold II who massacred millions of Congolese for profit”, or “the country responsible for the Rwanda genocide”.
Netherlands? “The country of Boers in South Africa who have killed thousands of Africans during apartheid”.
No matter what Western country, just dig a bit into to their dark history and point out something they will definitely be happy to hear. We all have a glorious past.
Now, after reading this, some people might start shouting: “Mawuna, you hate the West, this is divisive! You are a hater! This is not helping anyone!”
Were Africans the ones to start any of this?
My purpose is to shed light on remnants of colonialism and humiliating lexicon which western journalists still use to plague Africa.
We wish for a “truce”. Stop talking trash about Africa. Stop adding “former colony” or “colonized by” to our identity. We don’t want to be defined by the humiliation of colonization, the shameful event of our past, in the same way as you wouldn’t want to be defined by your past.
The semantic violence against Africa has to stop!
This Post first appeared on naij.com on March 24, 2015.