Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Real Africa - The Authentic West

In week two, ICV Samuel and UKV James discuss the misconceptions they had before they joined the ICS programme.

The Real Africa
There has never been more attention on Africa than the present day. Western media is filled with images, news stories and statistics which paint a picture of Africa that is just not true. We are all guilty of watching aid appeals and feeling sorry for ‘Africans’ in ‘poverty’ but we need to be cautious of this generalisation.
One of the most common misconceptions is that Africa is a country. It is not. Africa is a continent made up of 54 very separate nations. Each country has their own rich culture and history which needs to be respected and preserved. The contrast and diversity between themselves and the west should be appreciated.
From my own experience it has certainly been a culture shock but that does not mean the culture is wrong. Eating with your hands for example, this is not related to wealth or class but a tradition. Walking to collect water is not a chore but part of everyday life. We should not look down on these ways of life because they are different but instead enjoy them because they are not the same as ours.
As cheesy as it may sound, life would be boring if we were all the same. The western way is not necessarily the right way. There are areas of Africa which do need to be developed, there are problems which bring into question basic human rights. For example access to clean water and food, education and healthcare. We have a duty as human beings to question practices and attitudes which promote inequality and abuse human rights, such as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). But at the same time, poverty is not confined to Africa. In the UK we have the world’s 6th largest economy yet 1 in 5 live below the poverty line. Other countries do not receive televised appeals to help those in the UK living below the line, and I am not suggesting that poverty is on the same scale as developing countries. What I am suggesting is that we must beware of western perceptions of Africa.
My own perception of Africa and Ghana in particular has changed massively in the past 3 weeks. The reality is we can all be blinded by our own stereotypes and assumptions; what we must be open to is learning and understanding one another’s culture and valuing that difference.

James Jones

The Authentic West
I have lived in Ghana, Africa for 22 years. Recently, since taking part in International Service and meeting Western people for the first time I have now realised that Africans hold a few misconceptions about Western people. The following statements explain how most Africans think about western people.
Africans believe that all westerners are strange which I think is because they are not seen locally. They are also perceived as ‘alien’ because their skin is so different to ours. It as an African view that most Europeans don’t believe in God because they are strange and take part in bad acts. However now I understand that the reason they are not religious is because they are advanced in technology, which has allowed them use concepts and theories to dismiss the possibility of God.
Westerners are associated with witchcraft as they have invented things such as the car, plane, rocket etc., out of nothing in effect westerners don’t believe in magic and witchcraft at all. However, these innovations come as a result of a more economically developed society. Another misconception about western people is that they are all rude, stubborn and unsociable. This is not the case, every westerner is different, again the westerns are more of a nuclear family system so they don’t interfere into each other’s issues, and hence they mind their own business    
Westerners are often perceived to be aggressive when reacting to situations. For example, having possession of guns, but this is the case everywhere in the world and basically depends on the individual in the country rather than the area. Apparently westerners are honest and don’t want to be offensive and take immediate action when they have been offended. Another misconception is that western people are always wealthy and intelligent. It is often seen that white people are well educated and wealthy, however most western people speak English as their first language and this doesn’t mean he or she is well educated. Due to the constant depreciation and instability of African currency, Africans see the westerners to more wealthy.
Although I have only been on the International Service program for a very short time; I have learnt a lot about Western culture as well as my own. The main thing that I have learnt is that just because society stereotypes a category of people in one way, it does not mean that they are right. Although I joined International Service wanting to learn about Western culture I thought that the UK volunteers would not be friendly or respectful as this is what African society has lead me to believe so I had no reason to question it. However I could not have been more wrong. As soon as I met the UK volunteers I instantly realised that for all my 22 years I have been misled about Western culture.

   A. Sowa Samuel

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