“This is a CD, do you know what a computer is?” This was my first encounter with unmasked ignorance in Europe, more specifically the Netherlands. It was merely my second day in this wonderful country I have grown to love and I was already feeling insulted. This was only the beginning. …
A couple of weeks later I get asked, do you relieve yourselves in cardboard boxes in Africa?
Seriously . There is also a neighbor who once said to me after he had picked up some “dutch courage” , “ I am lucky to be born here because I can have all this”, referring to his rented modern apartment, party treats and his 1990s model car. I note that all this ignorance comes from the negative perceptions of Africa that the media paints. The irony is that the media’s purpose is to build awareness and educate the public.
First let me introduce myself. I am a female citizen of Tanzania but have lived in Botswana all my life. Both countries are in Africa (Africa is not a country), eastern and southern Africa respectively.
I grew up in a large city with modern infrastructure, ablution services, modern technology , shopping malls etc. I attended very good schools ( English taught) with good curriculums and later graduated in Law from the University of Botswana. I then went on to practice Law for five years. I owned my own fully paid newly bought car and could afford to buy my own modern little house (fenced yard, running water, inside toilet, air conditioner, built in kitchen etc) in my second year of work. I also happen have a Masters degree in International Crimes and Criminology. Now why am I telling you all this? Well, apart from most people here thinking Africa is a country (it is a continent) I want to highlight the negative perceptions and beliefs people have of my beloved continent and its people. I am not out to bash anyone nor am I bitter about these negative perceptions. I have over time come to accept that the media shows for the most part negative news about Africa. If it is not people killing each other, it is abject poverty, corrupt ill-qualified leaders, ignorant un-educated people ( especially females because it is believed Africans undermine women) disease and pestilence.
Let me put things into perspective. Firstly I do know what a computer is and have used computers from primary school ( Yes,in Africa). Also, no we do not relieve ourselves in cardboard boxes! I have yet to hear of any person from any country in Africa, town or village who uses such as a toilet.
Africa has one of the fastest growing urban population and has had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world (Urbanization and Green Growth in Africa, Report No 1, 2013).
Urbanization demands improved delivery of services leading to sustainable development. This is the new Africa, powered by capitalism, globalization and dispensing the shackles of colonialism which were in the past crippling to the economy. Gone are the days when Africans came to Europe in search of greener pastures. Not everyone wants to flee to the West to make it good.
There are so many learned scholars and leaders in Africa who have and are positively changing the countries. For example, Botswana is hardly in the media because it is peaceful, has a stable economy and democratic rule. You would never know that it is the second largest producer of diamonds in the world (Kimberly Process Rough Diamond Statistics Annual Global Summary: 2013 Production) and is a major exporter of beef, mainly to Europe or that it has the highest monetary economic value in Africa (Encyclopedia of the Nations; Botswana). The cities and towns in Botswana boast of skyscrapers, very good tarred roads and big shopping malls that could rival many in Europe. The only difference is that life is cheaper there because money goes a long way. I for one, lead a less glamorous life in the Netherlands than I did in Botswana. I cannot afford a full time maid, a live-in nanny, a gardener or spa and salon treatments every month. I rely a lot on public transportation because of the high road and vehicle taxes and I actually have to make a budget for entertainment. I never had to worry about this in Africa. So yes, we do have all that you find here but we have it better because even the middle class can afford to splash money on luxuries.
Upon reflection of all that, it pains me that I have on occasion, walked down the streets here and been asked by people if I am available to clean houses for them. I have gone to Employment agencies where before even looking at my resume I have been handed a folder of Thuiszorg(home care) placements and factory work. Of course I see nothing wrong with cleaning houses, working in a production line at a factory or bathing geriatrics in an Old Age home and I may even do it if necessity requires. These are honorable jobs. The problem I have is with the wide perception that as Africans in the West, we are not educated enough to have a formal education and job. This is largely because the media paints a picture of shabby rundown buildings or shaded trees with hardly any books being used as schools. Never mind the fact that if the teachers are locals with local accents then it means they are not good enough because they obviously “qualified” locally. This gives the impression that education is at a very low level in Africa, that Africans can be skilled in unskilled labor but surely cannot be expected to have adequate qualifications and live up to a top profession. However, there are some of us who went to schools in Africa and can measure up with the best of them professionally in this world. You may be thinking that I am one of the few exceptions to the stereotypical rule but the truth is there are many of us walking the streets of the Netherlands. You just do not see us.
So you see you can have an educated woman from Africa who knows how to use a computer. FYI, I typed this article on my computer and saved it on a USB memory stick and Dropbox (see, I even know what this is) because CDs are so outdated.
Please do not judge a book by its cover.