Which stereotypes can China not overcome?

Development in Africa

Rainer Gries

To person

is a social scientist; He has evaluated consulting projects in Africa and, as a former employee of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, gave seminars on Africa and supervised scholarship holders from Africa.
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Africa, our neighboring continent, from which numerous people have recently been pushing their way to Europe as migrants or refugees: This creates a media-conveyed image of Africa as a "continent in crisis". Can we imagine that in Africa, too, people not only survive, but live and cope with their everyday lives? Or as the Swedish writer Henning Mankell put it: "We know everything about how Africans die and we know nothing about how they live." [1]

Can we get a realistic picture of Africa and its inhabitants through media coverage? The cartographic representation of Africa in the school atlas often provides a distorted picture of the proportions between Europe and Africa, the second largest continent on earth with over 30 million square kilometers, with over a billion people and hundreds of languages.

It is true that we have changed our terminology for a long time; we hardly speak of "development aid" any more, but rather of "development cooperation". But have we overcome the colonial view of our neighboring continent and our relationships with it? With a view to migration and migration policy, it can currently be said that neither the image of Africa in Europe nor the image of Europe in Africa seem realistic and suitable for depicting the living conditions on both continents.

To the image of Africa in Germany

For a long time Africa was a topic in the background of public interest in Germany - the perception was largely determined by clichés: "Underdeveloped" always meant "not as developed as we". People looked down on people in Africa, at best poor people whom we have to help somehow. To this day, the general "image of Africa" ​​has been largely influenced by colonialist, paternalistic stereotypes. Direct contact with people in and from Africa is still rather rare. For most of us, Africa's history begins with the colonial era from the 16th century.

The reproduced stereotypes of Africa show the close interlinking of colonialism, racism and images of Africa: The English scholar and Africa scholar Susan Arndt has pointed out that the formation of racism can be seen as an ideology of justification for the European and North American conquests. The Africa stereotypes would have a legitimation, relief and concealment function. [2] When describing the earlier images of Africa, some of which are still widespread today, as colonialist and racist, it should also be noted that the inhuman degradation of the people of Africa was based on the enforcement of the economic interests of European "conquerors" and politicians, portraying Africans as without history and them to deny any major personal cultural achievement. [3]

As early as the mid-1960s, the political scientist and Africa researcher Franz Ansprenger therefore named it as his first task to gradually reform the clichéd image of Africa, which is all too often found in the West German public, through scientific research, teaching and publication. [4] And Julius K. Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, also turned against the attempt in 1961 to convey an image of Africa to Africans that hides their history: "Sometimes Europeans talk as if we should be ashamed of our own heritage. We are not. On the other hand sometimes they talk as if we should put aside everything which is not 'traditionally African' and live forever as though the Europeans had never come into contact with us. But this too would demand that we deny our own history; we cannot do it. We are what all our past, known and unknown, has made us. "[5]

In the 1980s, Kwame Opoku, the Ghanaian deputy director of the legal office of the United Nations Organization for Industrial Development, also emphasized the different perspectives in Africa and Europe with regard to the colonial era and the image of Africa that it shaped in Europe: while Europeans often differ even as charitable, helpful people, the colonial times in Africa were the time of destruction. The image of Africa based on this, which is spread by the European press, also hinders a common view of problems. People in Europe have no understanding of the continent because of their image of Africa: "At least in their own country they could start to correct this image of Africa, which prevents them from seeing the real problems of Africa from a realistic perspective." [6]

Between "crisis continent" and "opportunity continent"

Has anything changed since then? According to an investigation into the image of Africa in German school books, the deficiencies had not yet been eliminated at the beginning of this millennium: The author of the investigation, the educationalist Anke Poenicke, concluded that the prerequisites for understanding - including respect and recognition of others - were examined in many History books can only be found in rudiments or not at all. There are also some positive examples, but "self-reflection as a prerequisite for understanding is not met where European standards are applied without reflection". Self-reflection also includes questioning colonial images and recognizing everyday racism. [7]

More recent studies also show that the topic of sub-Saharan Africa still plays a rather subordinate role in school books. [8] There is still a problem in that Africa is often only dealt with very briefly and the description of the history of the continent usually only begins with the colonial era. It also remains a challenge to give children and young people an almost realistic picture of everyday life and the everyday problems of their peers in Africa. It is important to arouse the children's curiosity and interest - perhaps together with classmates whose parents came to Germany from Africa.

Even today, in many cases, the image of Africa conveyed through the media, school and youth books neither realistically and appropriately reflects the developments in our neighboring continent nor our relationships with it, there are positive exceptions and materials that are useful for school and extracurricular political Education are appropriate. [9] And there is also civil society commitment to a revision of the image of Africa: For example, in 2013 several representatives of civil society organizations as well as from research and teaching called on various school book publishers in an open letter to remove racist terms, content and concepts from their school books because their Dissemination has a negative impact on social perception. [10]