The Africa that never was.

Author:Boatend, Osei
Position:Dossier - "The Hearts of Darkness" - Book Review
 
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For decades, Africans have wondered why the continent gets such bad press in the West. In the last four years, New African has tried to explain why. Now, thanks to a brilliant new book by the New York-based Ugandan journalist, Milton Allimadi, (titled, The Hearts of Darkness), we can have a fuller understanding.

When the English naturalist, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), formulated his theory of evolution in 1859, he tided his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Lift. Nowadays, the book is simply known as On The Origin of Species; the second part of the title has conveniently been dropped apparently because "the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life" gives the game so away.

You don't really have to ask Darwin who were (or are) the "favoured races" to be "preserved in the struggle for life". Don't mention Africa or its people, for they surely did not register on Darwin's radar in 1859. But, reading Milton Allimadi's book, you cannot fail to realise that Africa's place in this "struggle for life" has everything to do with the unremitting bad reporting of the continent and its people in the Western media and academia.

Allimadi chose his title with care--The Hearts of Darkness. It is a pun, he says, on Joseph Conrad's 1902 book, Heart of Darkness, which itself might have been inspired by two earlier works by Georg Schweinfurth's Heart of Africa and Henry Morton Stanley's Darkest Africa.

"It is not Africa that is the heart of darkness," Allimadi told New African, "but rather the Western writers who created this racist image of Africa who had hearts full of darkness." Pleading justification, Allimadi repeats what is already public knowledge--that the predominant image of Africa in the West over the last two centuries has been a continent inhabited by savages.

So effective, he says, has been this portrayal that many contemporary Western writers still view Africa through this distorted prism created by their ancestors.

Here, Allimadi is supported by other writers who have written on the subject long before him. "Take this description of an African from a speech by the English explorer John Hanning Speke in the 1860s," wrote the former BBC Africa correspondent George Alagiah in 1999.

'As his father did, so does he. He works his wife, sells his children, enslaves all he can lay his hands upon and unless fighting for the lands of others, contents himself with drinking, singing, and dancing like a baboon to drive dull care away.

"It's an ugly thought," Alagiah continued, "but I would bet one of my new suits that there are many our there for whom those words still have resonance... There is an awful lot of historical baggage to cut through when reporting Africa: the 20th century view of the continent is, even now, infected with the prevailing wisdom of the 19th century."

Anne Koch, the executive editor of BBC Radio Current Affairs, agrees. On 23 May 2001, she openly admitted at a media conference in London: "Like it or not, most people in Britain do associate Congo with Heart of Darkness."

How sad. But the roots of this go a long way back into history. 'As early as the 5th century (BC), when the Creak historian, Herodotus [484-425 BC]...

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