In 1878, a British journalist and explorer named Henry M. Stanley wrote a book characterizing his experience in Africa called, Through the Dark Continent.
After this time, the term “dark continent” was used in many other accounts of Africa, many times used in literature that talked about the benefits and justifications behind colonialism.
This term was not only accompanied by a racist undertone, but carried a stigma that suggested primitivism and uncivilized violence that shaped negative stereotypes about Africa, and the people that inhabited it.
More recently, western media, often reporting on Africa as a troubled case of war, disease and poverty, continually perpetuates these images.
As the term “dark continent” is no longer used, the language found in most literature and investigative pieces describing African countries in today’s news isn’t much better.
Even western movies have contributed to these stereotypes by displaying sensationalist images of violence, death, and corruption. Movies such as Tears of the Sun or Blood Diamond tell stories of violent environments that leave hundreds dead and countries in turmoil.
As it can be argued that these movies are revealing some real issues for many people who wouldn’t otherwise know them, it is a bit damaging to assume that violent movies can serve as a educating tool for audiences across the world.
Unfortunately, many NGOs and aid organizations inadvertently do many of the same things. Groups like Invisible Children, an ever-popular advocacy and fundraising initiative started in the U.S, have become extremely popular to young people all over the country and beyond.
The organization forwards the causes of peace and assistance to the people of Uganda, in response to the long-running conflict in the North.
Although their initiatives have no doubt yielded both educational and infrastructural benefits to people of Uganda, they have also perpetuated images of violence, suffering, and war to people in western countries.
The group first became famous by showing documentaries and videos of young children of Uganda explaining their experiences as soldiers and the horrific scenes they have witnessed in their lives.
These documentaries are viewed by thousands of people outside of Africa, who are typically shocked and appalled by the life stories of the children in the videos.
As these videos have helped them raise money and resources to assist their cause, they have also left a negative impression of Uganda and of Africa in the minds of thousands of people.
In the end, the organization should be praised for greatly assisting the people of Uganda and criticized for greatly harming the overall image of Africa.
In most cases it is not that an aid organization sets out to be voyeuristic or sensational when working with the image of Africa. Violence and misery can be an attention grabber. The problem is gaining attention to African issues solely through the use of violent displays and emotional tales of violence and death.
If ever Africa is to evolve from the Dark Continent image, then it must begin in minds and hearts of the people who supposedly know the region best; the people who set out to help communities of Africa in whatever vocation they have identified as a need; and the people who set out to educate and inform others about specific issues.
Additionally, it is the responsibility of Africans themselves to express their discontent with the way their country their people are being portrayed.
It is not necessarily disagreeing with the help that an organization intends to give a country, but rather disagreeing with the way they are exposing the people of the country to the world.
This is indeed and important aspect of abolishing prejudice and establishing a deeper and more accurate understanding of Africa. Images of Africa need to start sending messages of hope and positive growth, messages of beauty and reconciliation.
The most important things aid organizations need to realize is that they are not just assisting with the effects of poverty; they are fighting intolerance and cultural revulsion.
They are dealing with a lack of resources, and a lack of education on the part of many and time to dream up solutions that address all these problems, instead of the most obvious ones.