The sequel that nobody asked for but everybody needs. Africa is big! It’s complicated! Someone just mentioned something about Sudanese gangs! Where is Sudan? Wait, what the fuck, there’s two of them? Don’t you worry. With this piece by your side, you’ll be able to pretend you understand everything that this complex continent offers us! While you could watch the Lion King for far less money than I spent on my international relations degree and come away with far greater insights, we felt like it was still worth giving you a quick guide to help you out.
Step 1 – ‘African politics’ doesn’t exist
The very first thing you need to understand about African politics is that you need to relentlessly berate people who talk about ‘African politics’.
Be that person who points out Africa isn’t a country to this inferior pleb in front of you. Make sure you mention that all 54 countries in Africa (big brownie points for chucking out the correct number of countries) have their own political complexities and nuances and shouldn’t all be lumped together. Assuming things are homogenous is dumb and countries in Africa are not al the same like Perth suburbs. Our little North/South of the river rivalry is absolutely nothing compared to North vs. South of Sudan.
As always, you don’t need to actually know anything about those nuances, because the point is that you’re intellectually superior for pointing out that they exist. When preparing for this chat, open Google maps and just flick across to Africa for a second. Pick three countries that sound similar. Then just chuck them out like it’s no problem for you at all. “Yeah like, Nigeria, Algeria and Liberia might sound similar, but these places are completely different.” You just explained that THREE whole countries in Africa are different. Everyone is going to be blown away. Someone will buy you a drink. You’ve dealt with the elephant in the room and pointed out that it is in fact native to the Congo Basin in central Africa you absolute fucking star.
Step 2 – It’s time for a fun game of ‘Which colonial power fucked up this country?’
Have you ever been annoyed by the British or the French? Have you ever needed a fantastic outlet for this frustration? Well, you’re in luck! Colonialism is the vehicle for your rage. Ignore the deeply entrenched social stigma that means your anger about colonialism is given far more weight than the many African voices that have been making this point for decades. It’ll just distract you from the good work you’re doing! What’s really great about this simple trick is that it’s accurate as well! Mention how dumb the borders are. They’re pretty dumb. There was a thing called the Berlin Conference in 1884 where a bunch of old dudes drew lines on maps and carved up Africa. Again, none of this is inaccurate so you’re pretty much set to rant hardcore. If you ever need to take a guess as to which European country fucked up which African country, here’s your overly generalised guide.
France – Anything in Northwest or West Africa. If you ever took a French 101 class and wondered why they were giving you the French words for very specific countries in Africa, now you know why!
UK – find Egypt, draw a line that goes straight down to South Africa, basically all of the countries that the line hits. This is not a joke.
Everywhere else got screwed over by a combination of Germany, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Except Ethiopia – go Ethiopia! Sound really smart and mention that it wasn’t just France and the UK, everyone was doing it! It was the style of the time. Take this as your one and only opportunity in life to be angry at Belgium. This Belgian dude called King Leopold II ran the territory of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was essentially the worst person imaginable. He exploited and sacked the country for everything he could and by most accounts was responsible for the deaths of about 10 million Congolese. He was terrible and if you mention his name you will sound woke about colonialism. If you remember more than 50% of Step 2 you’ll already be doing better than everyone you know.
Step 3 – Name-dropping
That tab with Google maps you opened beforehand? Keep it open. The next step is to double down on step one and prove you know Africa is not one country. It’s incredible how much you can sound like you know things by just remembering that a country exists. Thankfully, they’re really easy to remember because a lot of them come in pairs.
We’ve got two Sudans (as mentioned earlier), we’ve got two Congos (Democratic Republic and just regular old Republic) and three Guineas (Equatorial, Guinea-Bissau and your standard Guinea)! Then you’ve got two that just tell you where they are. South Africa is down south and the Central African Republic is in the centre. Chad is easy to remember because we all know a Chad, but do we all know about the awful activities of ExxonMobil in Chad and the record $74 billion fine they are fighting for not paying out royalties? Poor Chad.
Djibouti sounds like ‘ya booty’ but make sure that you tell people not to laugh at it because there’s a storied history to that name you ignorant fuck. Chuck Nigeria and Niger (mate, it’s pronounced knee-jer get it together) into the mix and you’ve already named like 20 countries. There’s no way in hell anyone will ask you to name more than that. You’re an expert on African politics and will be handy in a pinch at a quiz night.
Step 4 – mention the bad things
You need to turn your intellectual superiority into moral superiority as quickly as possible. Not only are you better than everyone else for knowing things about Africa, but you need to make sure they know they are actively bad for not knowing things. And remember, they are. They aren’t allowed to enjoy Black Panther until they can give you a nuanced take on the Algerian civil war. Kick everyone else while they’re down. They haven’t heard about the Rwandan genocide? The Second Congo War? Gosh, they really should pay more attention to the news…
The Rwandan Genocide – have you seen Hotel Rwanda? If not, go watch it and you’ll get an idea. Just remember these easy numbers: 1994, ~1 million people, 100 days. Yeah don’t break that down into days and minutes, it’s terrifying.
The Second Congo War – kinda linked to the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, but is far too complicated to explain. It’s sometimes called ‘Africa’s World War’, so say that. It was the deadliest conflict since World War II so maybe mention that 5.4 million people dying is a pretty big deal. Make them feel guilty. The Congo is still a mess. They hadn’t even HEARD of it because they hate all Africans.
Maybe the Rwandan Genocide could have been prevented if more people cared about what happens in Africa… You’re not saying they were responsible for the genocide, but if you imply it heavily enough you’ll be sure to force them into furiously Googling things and wishing they were as well-informed as you.
Step 5 – mention the good things
Lastly, you need to finish up by making sure to tell everyone that things in Africa are actually improving heaps! Ignore all your earlier posturing about not lumping everything together and how they didn’t know about all the awful shit that has gone down. Now tell everyone that things are actually awesome. Six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa! Democracy is spreading across the continent! Giraffes, lions, zebras!
Pick a country. If there’s no civil war going on, the economy is probably doing great! Amazing even! Then say something about China. China is in Africa now. Wow. That’s a thing. Don’t get bogged down in the details here, we’re not China experts. Old dictators are getting kicked out (Zimbabwe, The Gambia) and young people are being awesome all over the place.
Congratulations! Now when your Uber driver tells you he’s from Senegal, you’ll be ready to chat to him about the Rwandan genocide! Go you! Wait that doesn’t seem right…
Cormac Power | @CmacPower
Cormac is doing an IR degree so you don’t have to. You should follow him on Twitter.