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”
Rather than some benign construct, “sub-Sahara Africa” is, in the end, a bizarre nomenclatural code that the West employs to depict an African-led sovereign state – anywhere in Africa, as distinct from an Arab-led one. It is of course the West’s non-inclusion of the Sudan in this grouping, despite its majority African population and geographical location, which gives the game away! More seriously to the point, though, the West uses “sub-Sahara Africa” to create the stunning effect of a supposedly shrinking African geographical landmass in the popular imagination, coupled with the continent’s supposedly attendant geo-strategic global “irrelevance”. “Sub-Sahara Africa” is undoubtedly a racist geo-political 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 700 million 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 increasingly pervasive use of “sub-Sahara Africa” is robustly challenged by rigorous African-centred scholarship and publicity work, the West will succeed in the coming decade to effectively substitute 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.
It should be noted that this characterisation of Africa comes in the wake of the virtual collapse of the continent’s economy in the 1980s. This was caused by the catastrophic failure of the so-called “economic structural adjustment programme”, formulated by the World Bank/IMF and implemented on the ground by the infamous African kakistocratic regimes. The age long terms of the glaring asymmetrical Africa-West socioeconomic relations, that have always favoured the West, worsened even further for Africans. Even though tagged a “developing continent”, Africa crucially became a net-exporter of capital to the West as a result, a cardinal feature of its economy since 1981. In these past 26 years, Africa has transferred the gargantuan sum of US$700 billion to the West. These exports do not include those routinely made by thieving heads of state and other state officials. The other stunning consequence of the economy’s collapse is the flight of its middle classes to the West and elsewhere. They are part of the 12 million Africans who have fled the continent in the past 20 years and who are now the principal external source of capital generation and transfer to Africa. In 2003, they dispatched the impressive sum of US$200 billion to Africa. These African émigrés also include the cream of the post-restoration of independence intelligentsia (scholars, scientists, writers, artists, journalists, doctors, nurses, other medical/health professionals, engineers, accountants, teachers, etc., etc), very talented men and women who presently enrich, quite ironically, the West’s intellectual and cultural heritage most profoundly.
It cannot be stressed too often that the extant (European-created) African states that are immanently hostile to the overriding interests of the African humanity have not ceased to be havens that continuously enrich the West most dramatically. The flip side of the coin that tells the tale of the extraordinary wealth which the West and its African regime-clients expropriate from Africa, day in, day out, is the emaciated, starving and dying child, woman and man that has been the harrowing image of the African on television screens and other publicity channels across the world. At stake, of course, is the case that the state in Africa demonstrates a glaring inability to fulfil its basic role to provide security, welfare and transformative capacities for society’s developmental needs and objectives. It is still a conqueror’s and conquest state, precisely the way the European creator envisioned its ontology. It is virtually at war with its peoples, a genocide-state that has murdered 15 million in Biafra, Rwanda, Darfur and southern Sudan, the Congos and elsewhere on the continent in the past 40 years. It is the bane of African social existence. Africans now have no choice but to dismantle this state (“sub-Sahara”, “sub-sub-Sahara”, “proto-Sahara”, “quasi-Sahara”, “supra-Sahara”, whatever!) and create new state forms that expressly serve their interests and aspirations. This is the most pressing African task of the contemporary era.
Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Biafra Revisited (African Renaissance, 2006).