Facing reality without fear.

Author:Versi, Anver
Position:From the Editor - Perceptions of Africa - Editorial

The Rorschach test is a tool used by phycologists to analyse how subjects perceive things, among other measures. It usually consists of some ink-blots and the subject is asked what images he or she can see in the undefined design. What people end up seeing is often astonishing. Some see animals, some faces, some all sorts of amazing images.

Of course, what the Rorschach design illuminates is not what is there in the squiggly patterns, but in the mind of the observer. In short, we project what is in our minds and end up seeing what we want to see.

Africa has often been described as the modern world's Rorschach test. Everybody looks at Africa and sees different things. This includes Africans themselves.

Some see nothing but poverty and conflict and no matter how hard they look or from which angle they do so, all they can see is poverty.

Some see visions of great cities and prosperous people going about life with a song in their hearts and a smile on their faces.

Some see corruption and decay; some see beauty and vigour. Some see endless conflict and bloodletting; some see the spirit of humanism and Ubuntu. Some see trickery and fraud; some see honesty and innocence; some see hostility and danger; some see friendliness and safety.

It is the same Africa but it is astounding how many different versions of it seem to be around. And each person, or group of people actually believe that what they see of Africa is what Africa really is.

This leads to the constant complaint from Africans that the world, by and large, only sees one image of Africa and that is usually a negative one.

Even when influential people from outside the continent project Africa in glowing terms--as for example, the UK's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, did during the recent UK-Africa summit in London, there is scepticism. And not only among foreigners. Talk about fast growing countries in Africa in the diaspora and they will applaud you. Repeat the same words in the streets of Lagos, Harare or Nairobi and they will turn their backs on you and ask you then why are they poor?

The point is of course that while the 'Rorschach pattern' that Africa represents tells us more about the viewer than the object itself, there is a kernel of truth in all these views.

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